Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Sunlight Patch
Author: Harris, Credo Fitch, 1874-1956
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sunlight Patch" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



generously made available by Kentuckiana Digital Library
(http://kdl.kyvl.org/)



      Images of the original pages are available through
      Kentuckiana Digital Library. See
      http://kdl.kyvl.org/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=kyetexts;cc=kyetexts;xc=1&idno=b92-229-31183777&view=toc



SUNLIGHT PATCH

by

CREDO HARRIS

Author of "Toby: A Novel of Kentucky,"
"Motor Rambles in Italy," etc.



[Illustration: Without warning he sprang like a panther at the
offender's throat

_See page 12_]



[Illustration]

Boston
Small, Maynard & Company
Publishers

Copyright, 1915
by Small, Maynard & Company
(Incorporated)



  To
  MAUD BLANC HARRIS



  CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

        I OUT OF THE WILDERNESS                                        1

       II AN UNEXPECTED RESCUE                                         6

      III THE WOUNDED MOUNTAINEER                                     18

       IV A HUMAN ENIGMA                                              29

        V AN INTERRUPTED BREAKFAST                                    37

       VI THE BURNED CABIN                                            45

      VII DALE DAWSON'S PHILOSOPHY                                    55

     VIII THE INCONSEQUENT ENGINEER                                   66

       IX AT THE UNPAINTED HOUSE                                      75

        X THE SPIRIT OF SUNLIGHT PATCH                                82

       XI ON THE THRESHOLD                                            95

      XII A LIGHT ABOVE THE MOUNTAIN                                 105

     XIII IN THE CIRCLE OF CEDARS                                    111

      XIV A MEETING OF RASCALS                                       131

       XV TRYING TO PLAY FAIR                                        141

      XVI A SPRINGTIME SANTA CLAUS                                   155

     XVII AT TOP SPEED                                               167

    XVIII A DINNER OF SILENCES                                       179

      XIX THE MERITS OF HORSEFLESH                                   192

       XX A STARTLING CONFESSION                                     203

      XXI A VOICE AND A TAPER FLAME                                  216

     XXII TWO PLANS                                                  226

    XXIII THE SECOND PLAN                                            236

     XXIV THE CALL THAT MEANS SURRENDER                              245

      XXV ALMOST A RESOLUTION                                        256

     XXVI "WHAT EYES HAVE YOU?"                                      266

    XXVII A QUICK FUSE                                               286

   XXVIII AUNT TIMMIE HEARS A SECRET                                 296

     XXIX A PARALYSING DISCOVERY                                     306

      XXX "I'LL PAY THE DEBT!"                                       316

     XXXI OUT OF THE DYING DAY                                       329

    XXXII THE SHERIFF FORGETS HIS PRISONER                           336

   XXXIII THE MYSTIC GARDENER SHOWS HIS WORK                         341

    XXXIV A GIRL'S NOBILITY                                          355

     XXXV THE PRODUCT OF SUNLIGHT PATCH                              363

    XXXVI A TIN CYLINDER                                             372

   XXXVII TUSK                                                       380

  XXXVIII A LANE AT TWILIGHT                                         386

    XXXIX TRIUMPH                                                    390



SUNLIGHT PATCH



CHAPTER I

OUT OF THE WILDERNESS


He appeared an odd figure, sitting loosely on an old white mare which
held her nose to the ground and cautiously single-footed over the uneven
road. Unconcerned, perhaps unconscious that he bestrode a horse, his
head was thrown back and his gaze penetrated the lace-work of branches
to a sky exquisite blue where a few white, puffy clouds were aimlessly
suspended. And, like these clouds, his thoughts hovered between
unrealized hopes and the realistic mountains he was leaving; thoughts
interwoven with ambitions which had obsessed his waking hours and
glorified his dreams--dreams, desires, ambitions, always before his eyes
but out of reach. His hair fell to the opened collar of a homespun
shirt, and homespun were his trousers, tucked into a pair of homemade
boots. His saddle bore an obscure brand of the United States army, for
it had carried one of his people through the War of the States fifty
years before, and across its pummel balanced a long, ungainly rifle of
an earlier period.

It was an afternoon of that month when the spirit of Kentucky arises
from the loamy soil after a recreating sleep of winter. The fragrance of
the earth was everywhere. Overhead the trees met in great, silent
arches--Nature's Gothic, re-frescoed now in the delicate tints of spring
by the brush of Nature's Master--beneath which all life seemed
breathlessly poised as though in this dim-lit, sun-dappled cathedral of
the forest a mute service were in progress. But the man--he did not seem
to see, or feel, or be. Thus, without a sound except for the muffled
shuffle of the old mare's unshod hoofs, he rode.

They were coming down the mountain, he and the old white mare; coming
down into the valley, into the "settlements"; and to-day marked the last
stage of his journey from the center of those wild giants which had
bounded the territory of his twenty-two years' existence. To-day he
would emerge from the foothills into the open country; into the smiling
country of his imagination, from somewhere in whose expanding fields now
came the call of a toiling plowboy. It was this which finally brought
him from his reverie in the sky, from his lofty dreams to the smell of
earth.

Drawing down his gaze, he saw that here, indeed, was the open threshold
of a new world, and his eyes distended with a veritable glory of sight.
They had seen distance, but not like this. They had ranged from mountain
peak to mountain peak, or across the scarred tops of intervening peaks
to a skyline untamed even by the coaxing tints of rose and purple
sunsets; but before him now lay distance of another kind: hills upon
hills, 'twas true, yet low; and whose once rough lines were mellowed by
the patient surgery of a hundred years of plowshares. Gentle slopes, and
shallow valleys, and slopes again--not standing like his graven monsters
of the Cumberlands, but lolling in peace and lazy unconcern, melting
into the azure west so artfully that he could not be definitely sure
where earth left off and sky began. And between these softly molded
forms was no towering harshness at whose contemplation his eyes would
intuitively have narrowed, but a subdued carpet of many fields, with
here and there a nestling home. A grand, sweeping canvas, it might have
been, whose browns of new-turned soil, whose light green tints of reborn
orchards and sprouting wheat, were gracefully interrupted by the deeper
tones of clustered trees--those remnants of primeval forest which the
unintentional landscape gardeners of pioneer days had chanced to leave
standing in this picturesque Kentucky valley.

A welcome seemed to rise from it like soothing fingers laid upon his
brow and his frame drooped in extreme contentment; for it portrayed the
country he had come to seek from his home back in that wilderness where
bridle-paths are boulevards and primitive log cabins the mansions of his
people. So he continued to sit spellbound, held between the
satisfaction of lingering and the impulse to ride down into it, and to
rest there as everything seemed to be resting in a soft growth of
plenty. This was decided by the mare which, of her own accord, turned
and started on.

He did not again draw rein for many miles. The needle of his nature
urged him forward, straight along a narrow valley lane that ambled
between mildewed fences and their inclosed fields; between untouched
walls of wild-grape, red-bud and blossoming dog-wood; and he knew that
his intuition was not sending him astray. This sweet-smelling road was
now making another turn which ushered him directly upon a frame
schoolhouse, set slightly back in a grove of trees. Quickly, he brought
the old mare to a stop.

That it was a schoolhouse--the very schoolhouse which had been the
reliquary of his dreams--he never doubted, so accurately did it fit the
description given by a mountain preacher; and to be actually facing it
in the material form filled him with a nameless fascination. Sitting
rigid, in an attitude bent forward, his tense stare directed on its
partly open door, he suggested a Marathon runner crouched for the start
of that great trial; and somewhere in his subconsciousness a voice
whispered that this day, this hour, marked the beginning of his mortal
race. He comprehended a certain vague significance to which analysis was
denied.

Then slowly dismounting he led the mare deep into an opposite thicket.
There was no necessity for doing this, no reason, except the latent
sense of caution a wild creature feels in strange places; and, having
concealed his rifle beneath a fallen log, he turned back to the road.
But now he hesitated, putting one hand against a tree for support. A
close observer might have seen that his body was swaying slightly from
side to side with a curious movement, not unlike the restive motion of a
caged beast; and a glance at his face would have confirmed the
existence of some overwhelming emotion. In a deep, drawling voice, he
spoke:

"Wall, Ruth, I reckon hyar hit air, 'cause hit looks jest like the
preacher said! Now help my arms ter keep hit with me, 'n' pray the Lawd
ter make my haid larn all the larnin' hit's got shet up in thar! 'N'
tell Him ter give my eyes the fu'st sight of ary danged skunk that'll
try ter crowd me outen hit, so's I kin kill 'im till he rots in hell;
'n' I'll be the Christian ye asked me ter!"

A gentle, almost a childish smile of satisfaction played across his
mouth, and the next moment he was walking forward, carefully and
reverently, as though the little schoolhouse were on holy ground.

The afternoon was waning, and the declining sun cast a genial glow upon
the weatherboarded front; gilding, too, the near side of a crooked
flag-pole set jauntily in the yard. Except for evidences of recent life
the place seemed utterly deserted, and emboldened, even though
disappointed by this, he went up to the door. Here again he hesitated,
for some one within was speaking. It was a woman's voice, raised in
command and fear.



CHAPTER II

AN UNEXPECTED RESCUE


"You may go home now," she was saying. There was a pause which carried
no sign or sound of movement. "You may go home, don't you understand?"

It was a voice that to the listening mountaineer seemed inexpressibly
sweet and caressing, in spite of the determination which made it a bit
unsteady. Still no answer. The silence was becoming unnatural.

"Tusk," she said again, "don't stand before me like this! Go home!"

Not knowing exactly what to do, but in a vague way feeling that he might
be needed, the stranger stepped cautiously to the door and peered in.

With her back to the blackboard and her arms rigid against her sides,
altogether in an attitude of one at bay, stood a girl. He first noticed
that her hands were tightly clenched, and then his look went upward.
Streaming through the window the same golden rays that burnished the
weatherboards and flag-pole touched the looser strands of her hair.
This, against the background of black, framed her upraised face with a
halo of lustrous glory, softening the parted lips rather than showing
them to be stamped with fear, but not disguising the terror which leapt
from her eyes as they stared, fairly hypnotized, at an ungainly man who
stood leering down at her. His head was set deep between massive,
stooping shoulders, and his arms were abnormally long, while the color
of his face indicated a diet, at some period of his life, of clay and
berries. Two fang-like teeth, curving outward as the tusks of a wild
boar--having furnished inspiration for the name by which he was most
popularly known--added a last fierce touch to his repulsive features.

"Go home," the girl repeated, now in a weaker voice.

"It ain't time to go home," he growled. "When kids don't know their
lessons you make 'em stay in, don't you? Well, I'm a-stayin', too!"

"Let me by this instant," she commanded, plucking another crumb of
courage from the sheer imminence of danger.

"Aw, come off yoh high airs," he leered. "Ain't you been standin' me up
afore the school an' actin' me like a fool? I ain't kicked, have I?
Well, what you want to go cuttin' up for now?"

Brains partly numbed, or over-excited by shock, sometimes take queer and
irrelevant channels of thought, and now the only thing on which she
seemed able to concentrate was a duel she had witnessed on that very
schoolhouse window sill but the previous day: a duel between a locust
and a wasp. They had fallen there in deadly embrace, the clumsier
holding his antagonist by brute strength that ultimately would break its
frail body; but the wily wasp, conscious of this danger, sent thrust
after thrust of its venomous stinger with lightning stabs up and down
its enemy's armor, trusting to chance that a vulnerable spot might be
found between the scales. She had watched this struggle with a
breathless pleasure--for at times she could be pagan as of old--and when
at last the little point slipped through, she felt no pity for the
locust; rather, was she tempted to stroke the victor as it crawled from
the suddenly relaxed grip of its stiffening foe, laved its wings,
polished its legs, and rose into the air.

Weak with the consciousness of her peril, this mental by-play urged her
to the necessity of speed; and, like the stinger, her mind began an
hysterical thrusting for a more subtle method of defense.

"Tusk, I'm sorry I stood you up before the class," she tried, in
speaking kindly, to hide her loathing. "But now you must go home at
once, or I shall never be able to let you come to school again!"

He laughed outright.

"Won't never let me come, no moh! Well, now jest heah that! Why, sissy,
you'd ortent git so mad! Kiss me like a nice gal, an' let's make up!"

"You beast," she cried, her fear suddenly bursting into an irresistible
rage. "You beast," she cried again, striking him in the face with all
her strength. "You'll be killed for this!"

For an instant he was stunned by the surprise of her attack, but then,
blind with fury, his gorilla-like arms shot out and caught her just as
she was turning to dash toward the door.

During this scene the newcomer had made several determinations to enter,
yet each was checked by a consciousness that he did not belong to this
country where he had been told strange customs prevailed. He was not at
all sure but that an interference would be seriously inapt. Once or
twice he had been on the verge of stealing back into the thicket for his
rifle, yet the schoolhouse drama held him too firmly chained for this.
Adopting now a middle course, he went up the four steps and entered with
an innocent air of one having just arrived. Blinking with a pretended
effort to make out the interior, he mildly asked:

"Is this Miss Jane's school?"

Tusk sprang back with a snarl, while the girl, twisting free and
frantically recovering her balance, came toward the new voice with hands
outstretched, bumping against the desks as one who had suddenly gone
blind. She could not speak, she could scarcely think, and only by the
sternest force of will would her knees bear up; but somewhere in front
of her stood deliverance, and to this she groped.

"Howdy," the new voice spoke again, as she felt a hand take one of her
own and press her toward a seat. "Ye look peak-éd; maybe ye'd better
set!"

Her composure was returning in bounds; for this girl, herself born in
the mountains, possessed too much innate fortitude to be long dominated
by fear.

"Thank you," her voice still trembled. "I--I must have been frightened."
Then quickly: "Yes, this is Miss Jane's school, and I am Miss Jane."

A curious sound rattled in the newcomer's throat, and his chin dropped
with stupid amazement. For a long moment he stared at her, his pupils
dilating and contracting in a strangely fascinating way, and his body
beginning slowly to rock from side to side as it had done in the thicket
across the road. But just now she was meeting his gaze with a look of
excited gladness.

"Yeou! Miss Jane?" he murmured, each syllable vibrating with some deep
timbre of admiration and protection. Another moment he stared, then his
eyes turned and rested unflinchingly on Tusk. It was a look particularly
expressive neither of surprise nor condemnation, hatred nor scorn, yet
its very impassivity carried a pulsing sense of danger, as though
something terrible were on the verge of happening and the various
elements of destruction were being hurriedly assembled. But quietly he
turned again to the girl.

"Lucy's outside. Maybe ye'd better let her take ye home!"

"Oh, ask her to come in," she cried, feeling the need of a woman perhaps
more than at any time in her life, and now fearful of another sort of
tragedy. She was not sure of how much this newcomer had seen, but his
look at Tusk was eloquent of one thing: that if these men were left
alone the building would receive its first stain of human blood. She
wanted to spare her schoolhouse this. It was her boast that no life
should go out by violence beneath its roof: for it had long been a
recognized custom in wilder regions of this country for men to choose
the wayside schools, the scattered churches or crossroads stores as
places from which to usher obtrusive neighbors into eternal rest.

"Wall, she can't do that," the newcomer thoughtfully replied, "seein' as
how she's my ole mare. But ye mought take her 'n' go home. Me 'n' this
feller'll watch yo' school!"

Looking from one to the other, weighing the chances of outwitting Tusk,
she lightly suggested:

"My own horse is in the shed. You may help me put on the saddle!"

"All right," he readily answered. "'N' yeou," he turned to Tusk, now
watching them with growing malignancy, "wait hyar till I git back: then
verily, verily, I say unto ye, we'll cast another devil outen the Lawd's
temple!"

She was alert to acquiesce in this. Her instinct said that unless
something tentative were left in view, some further part of the drama
held out to be played, the simple-minded Tusk would stop their going.
His dwarfed intelligence, gauged to one idea, might be satisfied to wait
only if waiting promised a climax. And as for the other's
returning--this new-found deliverer who was so thoroughly of the
mountains, yet whose dialect just now had savored of the "circuit-rider"
type--she felt able to cope with that exigency after they were outside.
So in her eagerness she had arisen, when Tusk stepped roughly to the
door and slammed it.

"Nobody's goin' home to-night," he growled, turning and glaring at them.

His eyes, set unusually deep and close together, flashed murder, and the
girl sank weakly back into a seat. For she knew Tusk's strength. She had
seen him shoulder a log under which two men were struggling and walk
firmly away with it. The very consciousness alone of this power was
oppressive. He could crush this other man with a blow.

"A soft answer turneth away wrath," a quiet voice whispered down to her,
and continued: "Let the gal out; she wants ter go home!"

"If you're some kind of a preacher," Tusk snarled at him, having also
noticed the Biblical character of speech, "git out yohse'f. But the gal
stays right heah till I'm ready fer her to go! An', young feller, mebbe
she'll be let go home, or mebbe she'll come 'long with me--I ain't
decided, but I won't be hindered by no one!" His voice was trembling
with increasing passion. "Now's yoh time to git, Mister Preacher, or, by
Gawd--" He drew a long, dirty knife from a hidden sheath, and seemed
unable to complete the sentence for his excited breathing.

"I hain't a preacher," the other quietly replied to him, "but I've jest
been sendin' a message ter the Lawd this very evenin', 'n' I reckon He
had me come in heah ter look ye over, bein' as how ye air one of them
sorry skunks I'm arter." And without warning he sprang like a panther at
the offender's throat.

The shock of his body sent Tusk backwards, tripping him over a desk
where both men went down in a heap. Almost before they struck the floor
the newcomer cried to her:

"Git the critter 'n' ride, Schoolteacher! Hit's yo' only chance!"

He had no more time to warn, for a series of sounds, sickening, bestial
sounds, told of a terrific struggle as feet and bodies and elbows dully
crashed against the desks on either side. It was a narrow aisle in which
to fight.

Yet she was not made of the stuff that would mount a horse and fly. Her
early life, when as a slip of a girl she stood many a night with rifle
in hand filling the place of lookout for an outlaw father who trafficked
in moonshine whisky, had taught her to be careless of physical dangers.
The terrors of a different sort of passion she had never known; but now,
with this averted, her nature leapt beyond the past eight years of
training--eight years spent in fitting herself as teacher for this
school--and transported her to those early days of partial savagery.
Again she was the little mountain outlaw, and the feeling was good, and
her heart bounded with a primeval pleasure of this excitement which was
routing every previous qualm of fright. Bent breathlessly forward, her
hands clenched into revengeful little fists, her cheeks and eyes aflame
and eager, her lips apart, and her nostrils dilated as though in very
truth they sought the smell of battle, she was not a picture of one who
would mount a horse and fly.

At the first rush Tusk's knife had fallen from his hand and now lay
almost at her feet. Stooping impulsively, she seized it, while at the
same moment he uttered a low chuckle of satisfaction and started to
arise. He did not move as one entirely free, but clinging to a burden,
and when his shoulders slowly appeared she saw that he was lifting the
other man, who still struck ineffectually at his face. Handling him
with no great exertion, he backed against a desk and forced the body
between his knees; then placing one huge, hairy hand behind his victim's
ear, and the other beneath his chin, he began calmly to twist.

Jane realized the hellishness of this move which with cruel certainty
would break the yielding neck. The mountaineer also knew, and put his
remaining strength into the struggle, yet only for a moment did it seem
to divert Tusk's purpose.

If the girl had previously looked the beautiful savage, she now became
its incarnation. With an agonized cry she screamed at him to stop, but
his answer was to pin the man more firmly and recommence the murderous
twisting.

It was a matter of seconds now. Any instant she might hear the snap, and
see the one who was giving his life for her quiver and become still. No
longer hesitating, she flew at them with the blade raised high and
poised herself for the stroke. Yet she could not send it. Again she
tried, and a sob of rage burst from her throat as the hand refused to
obey. Had the creature turned, it might have been less difficult; but
the utter revulsion of driving steel into unsuspecting and unresisting
flesh was more than she could master. Slowly the head was yielding to
those horrible hands, and the newcomer's eyes rested on her own for the
merest instant. It was the look of a courageous man sinking beneath
waves; but the sweat and whipcord veins were eloquent of his frenzied
resistance.

"Someone's coming! Someone's coming!" she suddenly cried, rushing to the
door and flinging it wide open.

Tusk looked up with a snarl.

"Quick! Quick!" she cried again. "Here, this way--quick! He's killing a
man! Oh, thank God!" She sprang back into the room, rapturously clasping
the knife to her breast. "They've come! They've come!"

With an oath Tusk flung his victim heavily to the floor and dashed to a
rear window through which he disappeared. She watched only long enough
to see that his rout was absolute--that her ruse of approaching help had
been successful. Then she turned.

The room seemed dark to her eyes which had just been peering into the
sunset's fading glow, and she walked with feeling steps toward the spot
where she knew the body lay, asking in a whisper: "Are you alive?" The
heavy silence made her shiver. There, at her feet, sprawled the shadowy
bulk, twisted and grotesque, and an uncontrollable feeling of loathing
crept over her.

With startling suddenness a quail, close by the open door, ripped out
his evening call, and she sprang back as though the thing upon the floor
had moved. Yet she continued to stare down at it, her cold hands pressed
against her burning cheeks--fascinated, horrified. A few little minutes
ago he had been a moving, feeling being like herself; and now he had
entered the portals of that mysterious eternity--at this very moment he
was standing before the calm scrutiny of God Himself! How was he
behaving in that great inspection? Trembling with bowed head, like
herself? Or smiling with a courage he had shown during his last earthly
moments while giving his life for her?

So vivid were these thoughts which raced like fury through her brain
that when the body did actually move she gave a piercing shriek of
terror. But she had recovered even before the echo of her voice
resounded through the little room and, instantly alert, brought the
drinking bucket from its shelf to bathe his face.

Kneeling there--or, rather, in an attitude of sitting on her crossed
feet--eagerly watching for another sign of life, the tenderness which
spoke in mute eloquence from every movement of her ministrations for the
stranger who had stood between her and insult, was a boon that might
have repaid any man for worse hurts than his. She drew his head upon her
lap and began carefully to staunch a trickle of blood flowing from a
small cut in his temple.

The sun went down, regretfully backing out of sight, and by its slow
retreat seeming loath to leave them to the somber night. She did not
notice its decline, but in the afterglow leaned nearer, pushing back his
matted hair and searching each of his well-molded features. There was
nothing of a personal interest in the look; there was nothing in the
contact of their touch that aroused in her the least personal appeal. He
was merely a thing hurt, a thing wounded in her defense.

Again from outside the window came a call, the swinging, twilight-eerie
notes of a whip-poor-will; while, from afar off, somewhere in the black
woods, hooted an owl. Softly, but with a restless spirit, the
night-wind began to stir; and a murmur, like the winnowing of many
wings, passed tremulously through the branches which swept the
schoolhouse roof. But now she was unafraid.



CHAPTER III

THE WOUNDED MOUNTAINEER


She was no longer fearful for his life. Saner deductions had recalled
how he was fighting up to the moment Tusk threw him off, and this
precluded the probability of a broken neck. The small abrasion over his
temple, where it must have struck a desk, could alone be responsible for
the unconsciousness which, she now felt assured, would soon be passing.

Had Jane been dressed as a nun, the picture she made with the young
mountaineer's head upon her lap would have startled the world. None of
those discerning critics who stalk the galleries on varnishing day could
have passed a canvas such as this without bending their rusty knees at
least one creak in humble reverence. For God had carefully blessed her
with a Madonna-like loveliness, a matchless purity, which held
enthralled all who came suddenly upon that look. Perhaps it was not
known in Heaven where she got her smile. It was this, when rippling from
eyes to mouth, and lingering about the ovals of her cheeks, that could
have swayed Faith upon its base or chained it thrice firmly to the Rock.

She had first acquired a pleasant suspicion of this years before in the
convent up the valley, where the good sisters had given her shelter.
Early one morning on mischief bent, at the very peep of dawn, she had
filched the garb of old sister Methtune and, supporting its bulky skirt,
demurely walked into the Mother Superior's sanctified chamber. What that
good woman thought as she raised herself up from her couch is not
recorded even in her conscience, but Jane was sent in haste to replace
the nun's attire. While passing a glass door in a dimly lit hall she
saw, for the first time in her life, her own face. For five, ten minutes
she continued to look back into this heretofore undiscovered and sinful
reflector, sometimes laughing, sometimes making grimaces. Then for
another ten minutes she simply stared. Sister Methune was late getting
to her devotions that morning.

But this incident had occurred eight years ago, when she was scarcely
thirteen. Until then she had literally grown up like a weed--or a wild
rose--a half-savage little creature of the Cumberlands, loving
passionately, hating blindly, doing all things with the full intensity
of a vivid, whole-souled temperament. She lived in a cabin many miles
from the more civilized country where the convent lay, under the
questionable protection of a noted feudist father, who was usually
making moonshine when not stalking his enemies. Her cherished glimpses
of civilization came during one month each year--July--when she picked
especially fat and luscious blackberries in remote spots known only to
her, and sold them in the valley to Colonel John May, whose white
columned house might be seen on clear days from the convent tower.

One of her visits happened upon a day when the place was enlivened by
his daughter's approaching wedding. A distinguished house-party had
assembled, among whom a city-bred young fellow had been attracted by her
wild beauty. Safe from the eyes of his friends he followed her through
the woodland pasture, and talked to her; and it had seemed a very
natural thing. Mountain girls mature early, and she was a woman for all
her tender years; a twelve and a half year old woman, partly savage,
masquerading in the guise of a girl. He was dazzling to her and
pleasing. But suddenly he kissed her and, infuriated, she flung the
empty bucket in his face and fled. The gods may know where she learned
the difference between right and wrong.

In a passion of shame and bitter hatred, she hurled back at him every
oath her father, in his most prolific moments, had ever used. It was a
wondrous collection. Her only idea was to reach home and return with the
rifle, and so insistent was this that she ran most of the twelve
intervening miles. Reaching at last the cabin clearing, she panted up
its steep side, through burnt stumps and sparsely growing corn, to the
door; but there across the sill her father lay face down and motionless.
He might have been drunk, and so at first she thought, until her
approach revealed a little hole in the back of his head. She stared at
him like an image of wood, then sank upon the floor, putting her lips
close to his ear.

"Pappy," she said, in a quick whisper, "Pappy, tell me who done hit! I
know ye air daid--but can't ye tell me jest that?"

Her first impulse was of revenge, but slowly the love--unmerited as it
may have been--and the sense of loss, of loneliness, came over her like
a great wave, and with her face on his still shoulder she wailed her
wretched grief to the silent wilderness. When she looked up it was
sundown. She realized that whoever had killed him might come back for
her--might now, indeed, be "layin' out" for her; and yet she could not
leave him unburied! Her hands grasped his shirt and she frantically
tugged, bracing her heels against the roughly hewn log door-step, in a
vague way hoping that she might drag him to a spot where the ground
would be soft enough to dig. A few minutes of this fruitless effort
compelled her to give it up.

"Pappy, can't ye help me, jest a leetle?" she had whispered in despair.
And then the tears would flow again.

She went stealthily to the edge of the corn patch and listened. A
lingering afterglow touched the broken rows of skyward-pointing tassels,
but the valley below her lay shrouded in gloom. Night was creeping up
the mountain side; she could see it, feel it in the horrible silence.
All alone in that stark vastness of crags, disregarding those who might
be "layin' out" for her, she put her hands to her mouth and called; then
leaned forward, holding her breath and listening. There was not even an
echo. So she turned wearily back to the cabin and tenderly covered that
which she was leaving with a quilt from her own bed, whispering:

"Gawd, nor nobody, don't seem ter heah me tonight--ye poh, ole Pappy!"

The only cabin where she might hope for help was three miles away; the
home of a partial friend--at least no enemy. Reaching it after a
perilous walk through a roadless, bridgeless wilderness, she stood
outside the crooked gate and called "Hallo." Again and again she called
till, in desperation scoffing at the risk--for it is never wise to
approach the Kentucky mountaineer's home nearer than his front gate
without an invitation--she walked boldly to the door. It was open, and
she peered into the darkness. No fire had been lighted for supper. She
kneeled on the sill and felt around with her hand. First she touched an
overturned chair, then a piece of broken lamp chimney, then a man's
foot; but the man was not standing, the toes were up. Her heart turned
to ice, yet the need of help was too imperative to turn away from any
hope, so again she reached for the clumsy boot and fearfully moved it to
see if he might be merely asleep, or drunk. The leg was stiff, and, with
another shudder, she turned and fled.

By early morning she had dragged herself down from the mountains and
staggered through the convent gate. Here, at least, in one of those
modest retreats, which generations ago slipped into the remoter valleys
of young Kentucky for their voluntary exile, she would find help! Many
an afternoon when the world was blithe she had been wont to stop and
listen to the mellow peal of its bell floating across her mountains on
an easterly evening breeze, and in all of this torturing night of
wandering she imagined it was calling. The good sisters gathered her in
as though she were that more treasured lamb than the ninety and nine,
nor would they hearken to her leaving. The sheriff soon came to their
call, and in his honest, gruff voice promised reverently to perform the
last services at her cabin. Then she began to find peace.

But after three years here, when she had absorbed all that their patient
teaching could impart, her mind grew disturbed with a new restlessness.
It may have been that life was becoming monotonous; or that pictures of
the great world, of which she had only had a glimpse, whetted her
curiosity to go forth and see; or, more than these, it may have been her
innate love for those mountains, and those mountain people--after all,
her people. For she had come to learn that the blow she suffered had
been struck through simple ignorance, and from this knowledge gradually
developed a resolution, inspiring her with courage to approach the
Mother Superior for permission to go back into the world and teach. She
reminded the good woman that she had taken no vows, and horrified her by
admitting that she had accepted no creed, save that of help to fellow
man. After an hour of tearful, never-to-be-forgotten argument, the
Mother gave signs of yielding.

It happened that upon this same afternoon Colonel May arrived, bringing
some of his guests to see the convent. He was held in very high esteem
by these nuns, although differing from their religious views, and if he
did not quite atone for this by the frequent intervals with which the
bounties of his farm added to their modest comfort, he did, at least,
merit their impersonal affection. So it followed that the good Mother,
being perplexed and sore in mind over her duty to the girl, led him
aside.

He was deeply affected by her story, and recalled the child who
suggested faint memories of toothsome berries. Conscious of the pressing
need for more schools in the rural districts of his State--especially in
the neighborhood of his own home--and spontaneously in sympathy with her
ambition, he so earnestly espoused her cause with promises to keep her
under his protection, that the last doubt vanished from the good woman's
eyes.

What the sisters had been unable to do for her, the generous Colonel
fully accomplished. She was taken away to a most excellent school and,
after five years, returned to him a thoroughly proficient young lady.
Graceful, possessing a finish and magnetism which her wild origin made
more peculiarly attractive, sympathetic, frank, normal, and exceedingly
good to look upon, she excelled even those hopes which he had built
during her absence. A fortnight later the quail and whip-poor-wills,
near the thicket where the wounded mountaineer's mare now stood, had
been startled by the rat-tat of hammers and the song of saws; and that
September she found herself, at nearly twenty-one, in possession of a
well equipped schoolhouse, whose fame spread far during this, its first
year of existence. But while her own years of study and acquiring
culture had charmingly toned the surface of her nature, the earlier
intensity, the freedom of thought and behavior which are the natural
heritage of those born in wild places, still simmered like a resting
volcano.

And now, as her handkerchief went mechanically from the pail to the
forehead of the wounded man, a shadowy procession of these thoughts
glided by in a fantastic panorama. In the stillness of the place ghosts
of the old life reached out and clasped hands with actualities of the
new; clasped hands, and danced, and arabesqued before her fancy until it
seemed as if her entire life were performing there upon the dusky floor.
If only her future could perform! She pressed the handkerchief more
firmly to the wound, and waited.

Some distance along the road two men were hurriedly driving. The breeze
carried this sound to her quick ears and, gently lowering the
mountaineer's head, she went to the door. The whip-poor-wills abruptly
hushed, for they, too, had caught the sound; and amidst that strained
expectancy of woods life, which grows so tense as daylight fails, she
waited.

When the approaching buggy came out of the dusk she saw what she had
been expecting, Colonel May driving a powerful chestnut, and, with him,
Bob Hart; not so great in stature, but resembling the older man in grace
and manner as though he might in fact have been his son, instead of his
daughter's husband.

A groan from the room made her hesitate on the point of rushing out to
meet them, so she halloed between her hands while they alighted. A smile
of extreme relief crossed her face as they came up.

"Oh, I'm so glad you're here," she cried, with pretended lightness.

"And you, my dear," the Colonel panted in his eagerness to reach her,
"are more welcome still to us! What has happened that kept you?"

"Don't be alarmed," she answered, touched by the anxiety in his voice.
"There's a man hurt in here. He's been unconscious for an hour--but just
groaned!"

"Stabbed or shot?" Bob asked, pushing in and lighting the kerosene
ceiling lamp. Its flame rose stupidly, but soon cast a luminous circle
that framed the man, the bucket, the sodden handkerchief and splashes of
blood-stained water on the floor, in a tragic, still-life picture.

"Stabbed or shot?" the Colonel repeated after Bob.

"Neither," she murmured. "He fought Tusk Potter, but I'm sure it's no
worse than a blow on the head as he fell."

"My word! My word!" the old gentleman exploded. "I've always been
concerned about your permitting that half-witted outlaw to come here!
Where is he now?" He glared into the dark corners with the light of
battle in his eyes.

The unconscious man mumbled and stirred, moving as one asleep will
sometimes shift to a more comfortable position. Bob, already by him on
the floor, looked up, saying:

"He's coming about all right. What shall we do, Colonel?"

"Leave him down the road," the Colonel snapped. "Tom Hewlet's house'll
be good enough, and I'll pay the rascal's niece to nurse him, if he
requires it. Why did they fight?" He turned abruptly to Jane.

"He--he resented something Tusk said."

"Something Tusk said to _you_?" The old warrior looked more ferocious
than ever.

She nodded.

The Colonel's jaws came together with a snap. "By God, sir," he
exclaimed to Bob, "we'll take him home, sir! He shall have the best room
in Arden, sir, and all the doctors in the county! No gentleman can
defend you, my dear," he took her hand, "and be left at run-down hovels
on the roadside. The very suggestion, sir," he turned his frowning brows
again on Bob, "is unworthy, sir!"

The young planter burst into a spontaneous laugh.

"It was certainly careless of me," he admitted, "and when our friend
here perks up I'll apologise. I say, old chap," taking one of the inert
wrists, "can't you come to for awhile?"

There was a slight twitching about the mouth, then the eyes opened,
wearily at first, but the next moment wide with surprise. The Colonel
bent over him.

"You have met with a mishap, sir," he said most gently. "If you've no
friends hereabouts I offer you the hospitality of my home, which I trust
you will honor me by accepting."

The mountaineer slowly raised himself to a sitting position, passed a
hand over his forehead, and asked:

"What's hospitality?"

The question, the drawling quality of his voice which sounded as mellow
as though someone had struck a chord upon a harp, surprised them out of
an answer. Rousing further, he continued:

"I hain't got no friends 'round hyar--lest, as Ruth says, all things is
friends."

"Must be a Shaker," Bob whispered, and the Colonel, with an indulgent
smile, remarked:

"I bow to the charity of Miss Ruth's opinion, though I should scarcely
expect so prompt an indorsement from one in your present position. But
come, sir, and we'll help you to our buggy."



CHAPTER IV

A HUMAN ENIGMA


When the mountaineer had been assisted to his feet, he stood for a
moment, with his legs apart, swaying with giddiness; then, aware that
they were observing this, he looked at the Colonel and laughed. It was a
silent laugh, of the eyes and mouth and a movement in the throat. One
could not help thinking that should he let it out it would be deep and
musical.

With growing interest, and no slight amusement, they followed him to the
door where he gave a low whinnying sound that made Bob's stylish
chestnut look up with intelligent expectancy. Then back in the thicket
sounded a faint answer, followed by a crackling of brush, as the old
mare came obediently forward. Jane's horse, also, spoke inquisitively
from the shed where it was stabled, and the night sounds hushed again at
this intrusion of noises.

"I am Colonel May, of this county, sir," the old gentleman said, smiling
at the man's knack of mimicry. "My home, Arden, is but a few miles off."

"Howdy," replied the mountaineer, taking the proffered hand an instant
late and not seeming to realize they might want to be knowing who he
was. The Colonel and Bob exchanged glances.

"Perhaps," he ventured again, "you should drive with me and let Mr. Hart
here ride your horse. This is Mr. Hart, sir!"

"Howdy," Bob soberly put out his hand. "My whole name is Bob Hart, this
county, sir; and my home is known as Flat Rock--also at your service!"

The mountaineer thanked the Colonel with one perfunctory word, said
"Howdy" to Bob, then stepped out to Lucy who gave another low whinny of
welcome and rubbed her nose fondly into his hand. But something seemed
to be weighing heavily on his mind; his brows were contracted, his head
inclined in thought; and at last, having apparently worked it out, he
turned to them, announcing simply:

"This is Lucy!"

"Howdy," said Bob, still keeping an impassive face.

There came another moment of thought. Then:

"I'm Dale Dawson, of Sunlight Patch, in the mountings, suh." He said
this in so clever an imitation of their own introductions that it seemed
a caricature.

"_Chapeaux bas!_" the Colonel murmured, throwing Jane into the most
unlady-like fit of giggles.

"Where did it come from?" Bob asked later. He was riding with her a
hundred yards behind the buggy that held the Colonel and Dale, the old
rifle sticking out at the back like a bean pole.

"A heaven-sent deliverer," she quietly answered.

"I appreciate that," he said, in a more serious vein.

Her very reticence told him how deeply she had been shocked, and that it
was a subject to be avoided, for the present, at least. Bob was quick
to divine situations. For the moment, then, he drifted into another
channel, saying with a laugh that could hardly have been called
spontaneous:

"If he's an example of celestial types I'll--"

"Lead a different life?" she interrupted, smiling.

"No such plagiarism, thank you," he retorted. "I was about to say
something else!"

"You've been giving Bip some most unfatherly theories about that place,
by the way," she observed. "He has confided in me."

"Bip," Bob quietly remarked, with an oozing pride in the subject of his
six-year-old son, "has reached the age of embarrassing questions."

"And is being fed unpardonable answers," she said. "Between old Aunt
Timmie's declaration that it'll smell like heliotrope and taste like
possum the year 'round, and Uncle Zack swearing it's just a big race
track where everybody's horse will win, and doubtless the Colonel's word
for it that it's a perpetual spring flowing with ice-cold mint juleps, I
quite despair of the child's salvation. How have you been picturing it?"

"I passed that on," he ruefully admitted. "You and Ann can tackle it."

"I wasn't home this afternoon at his lesson time. Did he miss me?"

"Miss you! Ann says he went to your room about five o'clock, and then
came running to her saying something had happened to you. She was quite
a while getting him settled. And then, much shame to us, we realized
you'd not got back. I drove over to the Colonel's really expecting you
had stopped there." After a brief pause he asked: "Was that fellow much
unruly? I wouldn't disturb you about it, but think you ought to tell
us."

"About five o'clock," the girl mused. "That's most interesting, Bob.
I've told you, haven't I, that the child is tremendously psychic?"

"I don't know just what psychic is," he laughed. "It sounds like
medicine." And then repeated his other question: "Was Tusk much unruly?"

"Oh, no," she lightly answered. "Has Mr. McElroy been up in the hills
today?"

"There's the laziest chap in clothes," he declared. "I don't believe
he's done a lick of work since he came--and that's two months ago!
Personally, I don't care. He's bully company, and I'm not rabid for that
dinky little railroad, anyhow."

"It'll make all the difference to the mountaineers' future," she said.

"Quite right," he agreed, "and cut through my best pasture."

"Not your best pasture, surely!"

"My dear Jane, don't you know that when a railroad kills your cow it's
always your best cow? Pastures accordingly! Still," he added with a wry
look, "the people's good comes first, doesn't it! That's the proper
motto!" And suddenly he began to laugh. "Brent and your new friend up
there in the buggy ought to be a combination to keep the Colonel amused
for awhile! What do you think?"

She, too, had to laugh. The mental picture of the immaculate,
devil-may-care Brent McElroy--sent down in behalf of his father's
corporation to develop coal fields, to run a line for the little
railroad which Bob had just characterized as "dinky," and otherwise to
put into practice college experiences not included in its
curriculum--chumming with this new child of nature, threw them again
into peals of mirth.

"I wish someone would urge him on faster, anyhow," she said, more
seriously now.

"Why don't you try," he suggested.

They had turned into the lane, a mile of cool meanderings that led from
the pike to hospitable Arden, and for awhile rode in contemplative
silence. Faintly glimmering lights, yellow between the trees, from time
to time twinkled a welcome from the classic old house. Through four
generations of the Colonel's family this place had stood; occasionally
being altered to meet the requirements of comfort, but its stately
colonial front and thick brick walls remained intact. And for four
generations the neighborhood had looked at it with deep respect.

Valiantly had it held the fortification against encroaching modernism,
yet by slow degrees surrendering. A telephone had taken the place of the
more picturesque negro on a mule; the rural delivery of mail had made
another breach in the walls of seclusion. Only an automobile the Colonel
would not essay, declaring himself too much a lover of horseflesh to
offend his thoroughbreds with this; but when a touring car occasionally
penetrated as far as Arden, it was noticeable that his horses viewed it
with less suspicion than their master. Fortunately for the old
gentleman's peace of mind such a form of vehicle remained a novelty in
this section of Kentucky. The pike out of Buckville was good for a few
miles only, and then came almost impassable stretches of unworked roads
before connecting with those beautiful highways which wind and interwind
through the creamier centers of the State--a condition that did not
invite motorists.

Now as they drew near to the vine and tree entangled yard, the massive
white columns stood out through the gloom to meet them. From some of the
outlying cabins, former quarters of slaves, came low, minor singing of
present day field hands. However many times Bob approached this place,
his thoughts reverted to the evenings--half a score of years behind
him--when he would ride across from his own farm to court the Colonel's
daughter. He was thinking of this, of its sweetness to him then, of its
blessings to him now, and quietly said:

"When you marry I hope you will be as happy as I am."

"Existence is satisfying enough with you and Ann and Bip," she lightly
replied, "unless you want to get rid of me!"

He flushed, and turned almost angrily.

"There, I take it back," she said in tones as soft as the night. "It was
horrid! You've been so splendid in giving me a home--although I do
sometimes feel guilty for not being with the Colonel after all he's
done! Yet, were I there, I couldn't give nearly as much time to Bip.
Nothing can--"

"I wish you'd chop that," he growled. "You talk like you're under an
obligation, when you know darn well--"

"I was saying," she looked up brightly, "that nothing can take its
place, not even your suggested slavery; and there isn't a man in the
world whom I wouldn't despise for asking me. I just don't feel a bit
like it!"

"Lord help us!" he cried. "When will D. Cupid, Esquire, discover this
pristine hunting ground? You've a blue ribbon surprise in store for you,
that's all!"

"Perhaps Mr. D. Dawson will spring it," she laughed.

"Or the _blasé_ B. McElroy," he suggested.

She made a grimace at this.

Lucy whinnied, and they saw the Colonel and Dale waiting at the bottom
step.

"Come in for awhile," the old gentleman urged.

"Now, Colonel," Bob said reproachfully, "do you know anything of Ann's
temper when under suspense?"

"I see, sir," his eyes wrinkled into a merry smile, "that you're as much
of a nigger about the house over there as I was when she honored me by
living here. Go home to your tyrant, sir, but come over, all of you,
tomorrow for dinner."

Lucy, now free of her burden, crossed to the silent but watchful
mountaineer and nestled her nose in his arm. It was an evidence of
affection which touched them all.

As Bob and Jane were leaving, in the buggy this time, they heard the
Colonel ask Uncle Zack if Mr. McElroy were home, and that old darky of
diminutive stature answer:

"No, sah, Cunnel, he done rid off harf hour ago."

"Maybe," Jane presently suggested, when they were well on their way,
"he's gone over to our house!"

"Maybe," Bob replied, wondering where of late the young engineer had
been spending his evenings.

"Do you know," she said irrelevantly, after a silence of several
minutes, "I believe a man in whom animals show implicit faith is to be
trusted."

"In this particular case, perhaps," he agreed, for it just so happened
that he, too, now was thinking of Dale. "Yet old Tom Hewlet has a lot of
dogs which fawn all over him!"

"That's so," she acquiesced, and both again fell silent.



CHAPTER V

AN INTERRUPTED BREAKFAST


About the time that Colonel May was finishing breakfast, consisting this
particular morning of strawberries raised in his own greenhouse, calf's
brains, omelet, fried apples and bacon, fried sweet potatoes, beaten
biscuits, rice cakes, and coffee, Bob Hart was riding across the open
country toward Arden. His right arm hung limberly down in a graceful
perpendicular, unaffected by the galloping motion of his horse, and his
fingers were clasped about the lock of a repeating rifle, pointed muzzle
to the ground. On his face was stamped a look of stern absorption that
relaxed only as he neared occasional fences, but when these had been
hurdled and his mount had again caught its stride, the preoccupation
returned. Although his eyes were lowered, he did not see the ground, nor
the mild surprise of grazing Jerseys past which he dashed. He saw
nothing now beyond a most unpleasant picture which circumstance was
holding up to him.

Jumping into an open woodland pasture he reined to a more leisurely
canter; for here were the very young colts, now crowding nearer the
protection of their dams, which, in one or two instances, with heads and
tails high, trotted toward this impertinent horseman as though
questioning his right of entrance. They soon abandoned this, but stood
looking after him like watchful sentinels until he had risen to the next
fence, and they felt that their foals were free from menace. But he
cantered on, hardly mindful of their unrest. Through ancient beeches now
he went, trees whose downward sweeping boughs spread out in mute
protection above the carpet of spring grass and violets; then he turned
into the cedar-bordered avenue, and soon passed between the crumbling
brick-and-plaster gate-posts to the tangled yard of Arden.

It was then, glancing across the side terrace, that Colonel May observed
him, and laying aside his napkin he went somewhat hastily through the
cool, deep hall and out upon the front porch. A tender expression
lingered about his strong face as the younger man swung into the circle;
a tenderness mingled with approval for the stylish animal that picked up
its feet from the odorous tanbark with a precision bespeaking
generations of thoroughbred ancestors. The Colonel was a great believer
in breeding.

Only when Bob dismounted did the old gentleman see the rifle, and the
seriousness in his eyes. He made no move or comment, but waited while a
darky led back the horse and Bob was seated.

"Has Brant gone out to work?" were the young man's first words.

"I think he's not yet up," the Colonel's look of anxiety deepened. "You
don't want to see him for--for anything?"

"No," Bob smiled. "And Dale--er--Dawson?"

"Left before I came downstairs, sir," the Colonel answered. "What is it,
Bob? Tell me!"

Bob's eyes passed the Colonel and rested on the drive up which he had
just come. With an attempt at casualness he said:

"That Potter fellow did more yesterday than I guessed."

There was no alteration in the old gentleman's attitude; he did not sit
bolt upright in his chair, or grasp its arms until his knuckles showed
white, but simply said:

"Tell me!"

"She went straight to her room when we got home," Bob continued in a
more excited undertone. "Ann followed, of course, and found her
desperately nervous, half crying with rage." He then related practically
what had happened at the school, concluding: "Aunt Timmie slept in her
room all night, and when Jane asks her to do that you know she's upset."

They heard Uncle Zack moving inside the hall, and the Colonel called
him:

"Have Tempest brought up," he said, and to Bob: "I shall be right down,
sir."

Uncle Zack came quickly back to the porch, for his eyes had seen things
which electrified him. This old darky, shriveled up with his burden of
toil and years, who had been the Colonel's servant, adviser, and
comforter since both of them were boys, was too truly a member of the
family to permit anything to occur without pushing well into its
secrets. Until a few years ago, his wife, Aunt Timmie, had divided this
welcome office with him; but after the wedding, and about the time when
Bob's household began to walk on tiptoe in fearful and happy expectancy,
old Timmie left, bag and baggage, for the younger home, where she had
thereafter remained as nurse, comforter, scolder and chief director of
the new heir, as well as of the premises in general. The Colonel having
lately suggested that Mr. Hart, Jr.,--or Bip, for short--being now six
years of age, was too big for her to manage, had called forth an
eloquent outburst, which concluded with the terse observation: "If I
could handle his Pappy an' Mammy, an' his Gran'pappy an' Gran'mammy
befoh him, an' all de Mays an' Harts borned dese las' hund'ed yeahs,
how-cum I ain' able to handle him?" And that had settled it, so each
household gloried in the possession of one of these rare servants,
spoiled by love, mellowed by age, and wise by scores of years of
experience.

Old Zack now whispered, looking Bob squarely in the eyes:

"Whar you-all gwine, Marse Bob?"

"Hunting, Uncle Zack."

"Huntin'!" he gave a snort of impatience. "Dat ain' no shot-gun! Hit's
man huntin' you'se all arter, dat's what! Dar's been funny doin's 'round
heah dis mawnin', 'caze dat gemmen wid de long haih what come las' night
done skin out 'foh sun-up, ridin' dat onery white cradle of his'n what
he calls a hawse, an' totin' de rustiest, wickedest ole gun I ever seen.
He say _he's_ gwine huntin', too; arter squir'ls, he say, an' I'se fool
'nuff to believe him. Is a wah done broke out, Marse Bob?"

"I expect he really did go after squirrels, Uncle Zack, sure enough I
do. But the Colonel and I won't be long, and it's nothing serious, so
you just keep mum about it. Whatever you do, don't let Miss Liz know."

"She's de ve'y fu'st one I'se gwine tell, lest I git mah brains better
sot on dis heah fracas!" He gave a low chuckle, adding: "Lor', chile,
Miss Liz ain' gwine know nuthin'. Ole Zack kin keep mum an' fool de
smartes' of 'em! Didn' I fetch Marse John's djeulin' pistols one Sunday
mawnin' right under de Bible layin' on de cushion we cyarried to chu'ch
fer ole Miss to kneel on? An' didn' we-all walk plumb up de aisle, an'
fix her nice an' easy in her pew, an' den slip out an' go down on de
crick whar de gemmens wuz waitin', an' shoot dat young Mister Green in
de lung? 'Deed we did," he chuckled again, scratching his head as though
the reminiscence were ticklesome--then looked up with a sly smile:
"Whilst we wuz a-drivin' home dat day, ole Miss she say: 'You wuz late,
son,' she say; an' I heah him say: 'Yes mam, a gemmen sont word he'd lak
to see me,' he say. Den ole Miss ax: 'Did you find 'im, son?' 'Yes mam,'
Marse John say, 'I foun' 'im, all right.' Ole Miss pat de back of his
han', croonin' in dat soft voice of her'n: 'You'se a great comfo't, an'
always so 'siderate of others!' At dat, I jest bust plumb out
a-laughin', but turned it to sich a wicked-soundin' chokin' spell dat
dey's 'bleeged to lean over an' beat mah back; an' while Marse John wuz
a-puttin' on de licks, an' mighty nigh killin' me, he whisper: 'You
black rascal, ef you don' behave I'll shoot you nex' Sunday!' Oh, dem
wuz days what wuz days, Marse Bob; dey wuz fer a fac'! Ain' you-all
gwine fight no one dis mawnin'?"

"You bloodthirsty old villain," Bob laughed. "Don't you know that
gentlemen now go to law in adjusting their differences?"

Uncle Zack stood a moment looking at the rifle, apparently in
retrospective reverie. Finally he observed:

"I spec dat's right. Dey may 'just dey diff'ences wid deyse'ves
dat-a-way, but dey sholy make 'em 'parrent to de neighbors. In de ole
days, a gemmen say to a gemmen: 'Yoh fence is too fur on mah line, sah!'
An' de gemmen answer back: ''Tain' no sich a-thing, sah!' So dey frien's
come by in de mawnin', an' has a julep, an' slips out de back way; an'
dat evenin' de neighbors is all sayin': 'Too bad! Bofe sich fine
gemmen!' Nowdays," he concluded, "dey go to cou't wid dey diff'ences,
an' when it's all over de neighbors say: 'My! Who'd ever thought dem men
wuz sich skallawags!' De cou'ts may be all right in dey way, Marse Bob,
but dey suttenly do strip a man of his se'f respec'."

The Colonel came out drawing on his gloves. He made a striking figure in
his riding togs. Tall, dignified, careful of address and slow of
movement--though not the slowness of embonpoint--he would have attracted
attention anywhere. Years had added no roundness to his frame. His nose
was aquiline, perhaps a trifle too fine in lines; and his mouth might
have been too large if uncovered by a silvery white mustache, whose
training bespoke a minute, an almost effeminate, care. Now he looked
every inch a gentleman going for a morning canter, except for the
compact, high-powered rifle resting easily in the hollow of his arm.

"Zack," he cautioned, "when Miss Liz comes down, merely say that Mr.
Robert and I are riding."

"Lor', Marse John, she ain' gwine know nuthin' 'bout it. She's jest lak
yoh mammy dat-a-way; never 'spectin' folks to git in no devilment."

"What do you mean, you black rascal," the Colonel thundered.

Zack rolled his eyes from the old gentleman's face to his rifle, and
back again. Then his own face disappeared into a multitude of wrinkles
while he silently chuckled.

"You-alls jest as pure as de Heaven's blue," he murmured, holding his
sides and shaking. "Reckon I'd better git mah coat!"

"Oh, no, Zack," the Colonel stopped him. "You must stay here."

"Marse John," the old darky approached with a troubled look, "you never
used to go on dese heah trips widout Zack! Ain' you gwine take 'im
'long? Dar ain' no one else is got de knack of holdin' you up ef you
gits stung some, an' you knows it, Marse John!"

He stood in an humble attitude of pleading, looking up at his white
master with eyes as brown and soft as a deer's, notwithstanding the
opaque circles which age had begun to form about their irises. The
Colonel smiled affectionately down at him.

"This is to be nothing of that sort, Zack," he said, "or I would take
you, truly I would. We will return shortly, and shall be expecting some
of your best juleps." For the Colonel belonged to that school of
Kentucky gentlemen, still existing if not flourishing as of yore, whose
daily routine was punctuated into poetic rhythm by fragrant mint and
venerable bourbon with a regularity that would have brought confusion to
a younger generation. Once in a great while he took too much, and once
every year he slipped off to "the springs" as a safeguard against gout.
His type was passing, and for this reason he was even more beloved; but
his example was present, which brought its measure of regret to those
who loved him best. Zack, alone, encouraged the Colonel in whatsoever he
desired; at toddy time, or duel, the old darky had always been found
ready and proud to assist.



CHAPTER VI

THE BURNED CABIN


A thoroughbred man, sitting a thoroughbred horse, with an articulation
that makes them both seem molded into one piece of flesh, is a magnet
for admiration; and when Uncle Zack saw both the Colonel and Bob gallop
out through the trees, their heads up, their rifles swinging gracefully
down, their mounts bristling with power and intelligence, his eyes
sparkled and he took a deep breath of satisfaction.

Passing by the stable way, the riders entered a dirt road and held a
course due east. Finally Colonel May broke the silence.

"Do you know where he lives?"

"Near about," Bob answered. "We won't have any trouble finding it."

"It's a pity the sheriff can't take this duty from us," the older man
said. "It's a pity we have no system of law that will spare women from
unpleasant notoriety under such conditions. Men of the South would be
less quick to take matters into their own hands if they were assured
that the occasional women who may suffer would be spared the further
suffering of public embarrassment in open court."

"Yes," Bob assented, "but this is our only way, so far. Shall we kill
him?"

"My mind is still in solution as to that," the Colonel gravely answered.
"It has not yet crystallized. If he were not the poor half-wit he is, we
would by all means. Under the circumstances, I hardly think we have the
right. Yet, after all is said, he may be just the sort who should be put
out of harm's way. However, the most we will do will be to frighten him
out of the country;--unless he stands his ground."

"He'll doubtless do that, and open on us when we come in sight," Bob
suggested. "Of course, he'll know what we're after."

"I think it likely," the Colonel replied. "Let me caution you against
unnecessary risks."

Some two or three miles from Arden the dirt road sharply began its climb
into the Knobs, and through this rough and wooded foothill country of
the farther Cumberlands, scarred by cliffs and ravines, they rode in
silence. At last Bob spoke.

"We're not far off. His shack is somewhere in here."

They were riding at a quick walk, alert, watching up each ravine for
signs of habitation, when suddenly a man, rifle in hand, stepped out two
hundred yards ahead of them. A lightning touch of rein and spur, and
both horses had sprung instantly apart, while the two repeaters flew
with exact precision to the riders' shoulders. To their surprise,
however, the man raised his hand.

"What do you make of this?" the Colonel asked in a cautious tone, when
they had recognized Dale advancing, instead of the expected Potter.

"Squirrel hunting," Bob answered. "He told Zack."

Dale came with the long stride peculiar to his people, the stride with
which they cover thirty miles a day and think it no great walk.

"Good mawnin'," he called, in a drawling voice. "There's no game in
these parts."

He advanced with perfect ease--the ease of a wild thing walking at
will--and the smile that illumined his face made it almost handsome.
Absorbed even as the Colonel and Bob were in their own mission, and
surprised by this unexpected interruption, they exchanged glances at his
rather correct form of speech. Several times the evening before Colonel
May had been impressed by this, and had thought of it after getting into
bed, determining then to speak of it in the morning. So, recurring to
him now, he said in an undertone:

"That fellow knows how to talk well."

"He does, and he doesn't," Bob replied. "Jane and I were speaking of it
last night. If you'll notice, when he gets excited, or much interested,
he's like a typical mountaineer. Only when careful is it otherwise. He's
a funny cuss, but, gee, Colonel, look at that power! I'll bet he can run
a hundred miles without turning a hair!"

The figure was almost up to them.

"There isn't anything to shoot," he said again, with a meaning smile of
confidence.

"What are you hunting, sir?" the Colonel asked, after a polite exchange
of greetings.

Dale looked at them and chuckled. It was a sign of comradeship, of
fellowship; the sort of chuckle in which two boys might indulge if,
having entered a jam closet from opposite sides and each unknown to the
other, they suddenly meet face to face.

"I'm huntin' the same sort of game you-all air, I reckon," he remarked,
pushing back his hat. "But it's gone."

"Squirrels?"

The mountaineer regarded them with something pathetic in his eyes, and
when he spoke his voice was tinged with disappointment.

"Last night," he said, "I thought ye war both my friends--'n' I war
a-ready ter be yourn. Why do ye want ter lie ter me?"

A flush of anger spread over their faces, and the Colonel was framing a
scorching retort, when Dale continued:

"No, hit hain't squir'ls; hit's that varmint Tusk Potter. I hain't
afeerd ter tell. His shack's back thar;" jerking his thumb over his
shoulder, "or, I'd ought ter say, what's left of hit's thar. He's gone."

"Did you kill him?" the Colonel asked, looking squarely into his eyes.

"That hain't jest a question one man ought ter be askin' of another
man," he quickly answered. "But as hit turned out, I didn't kill him;
'n' I didn't mean ter. I kind of swore off killin' folks when I war a
kid, 'n' hain't done hit much since. But I did mean ter run him outen
the country, 'n' burn his cabin. If he'd ruther've stayed 'n' got kilt,
that war his business."

By a common impulse the three started back, Dale leading them some half
a mile when they dismounted and threaded their way along an obscure
trail. This led up a deep ravine, through which trickled the South Fork
of Blacksnake Creek, and eventually brought them out at a small
clearing. In the center smouldered the ruins of a cabin, with a few
fitful flames still spurting from the ashes and charred log ends.

"You've done well, Dale," the Colonel observed. "Bob, leave a notice for
him here. He can read, I suppose?"

"He's been going to school for several months," Bob said, tearing off
the back of an envelope and stooping to write.

Dale came close on tiptoe and watched this process over the young man's
shoulder. He stood in an attitude of rapt attention and, as the pencil
made stroke after stroke of the printed letters, his own finger traced
each line in the air, as though he were memorizing their directions and
positions. Only after the notice had been pressed on a sharpened stick
and placed before the ruined threshold could he leave it. Turning to
them he said in an awed voice:

"That's the fu'st writin' I ever seed! What does hit mean?"

While Bob repeated it the mountaineer's lips moved after him, as he
tried carefully to fit each sentence to the pencil strokes. But from
his deep breath of uncertainty at the end it appeared to bring him
little satisfaction; and he was turning away when suddenly his frame
stiffened and his hand touched Bob's shoulder.

To the east of them stood Snarly Knob, so called because of its serrated
crest resembling a row of teeth from which the lips had been drawn back
in an angry snarl. Half way up its almost perpendicular side a spur
jutted into the air, and on this a figure stood. Only the hawk-like eyes
of Dale could have seen the clenched fists raised high in a gesture of
fury, eloquent of a flow of oaths which he knew were being hurled upon
the trespassers in the clearing. The Colonel and Bob, following his
steady gaze, saw and understood. Bob's face went white with anger, but
the older man's held a troubled look. Dale's face told no story
whatsoever.

"I wish he'd fall," Bob gritted his teeth. "He's just above the
disappearing stream, Colonel!"

"What's the disappearin' stream?" Dale asked.

"It's a good sized creek that comes tearing down and tumbles into a sort
of cave. Nobody knows where it comes out, and if it ever catches a man
he's gone. The hole and suction is directly under that spur."

"Couldn't fetch 'im with one of them new-fangled guns of your'n, could
ye?"

"Oh, no, Dale; that spur must be easily two miles."

"Come," said the Colonel, "let us go back. Our mission here is done, and
now we must see that it remains well done. Dale, how did you find this
place?"

"I came from the schoolhouse," he answered.

"You mean," Bob cried, "that you trailed him half a dozen miles?"

"Yep," he answered.

"You damned Indian," the young planter admiringly exclaimed; "that's the
smoothest trick I ever saw!"

"'Tain't no trick," Dale simply replied. "I allers find folks that
a-way, same as varmints do. Hit's Nature's way."

"Since we have come together this morning," the Colonel observed,
smiling a frank compliment at Dale's woodcraft, "we may as well drop
the bars, shake hands across the gap, and speak plainly one with the
other. First, I want to thank you, sir, for your chivalry yesterday
evening to Miss Jane--"

"What's chivalry?" the mountaineer interrupted.

"Chivalry? Why, bless my soul, sir," the old gentleman exclaimed,
"chivalry, sir, chivalry is what we all have, sir!" He wiped his brow
and stood in the path, planting himself firmly with a glare that defied
contradiction.

"Chivalry, Dale," Bob said, not daring to laugh, "is the skeleton, or
framework, on which gentlemen are built."

"Bones?" he asked, with a perplexed pucker between his eyes.

"Not bones, exactly," Bob smiled now. "And yet it is a sort of backbone,
too, when you come to think of it."

"Bob, your ignorance is colossal, sir," the Colonel sternly looked at
him. "Chivalry, Dale, is what we all have, and what prompted you to
tackle that ruffian yesterday. The definition is quite simple, and of
course you follow me. As I was saying, sir, we prefer to thank you now
in behalf of Miss Jane, since any further reference to the matter will
be unnecessary. You appreciate this?"

"What's appreciate?" he asked.

The old gentleman told him and, while his face still held a troubled
look, he nodded as though understanding--not only the word, but the
delicacy imposed on him.

"I don't want nobody ter thank me," he said. "I didn't do nothin' fer
_her_!"

He said this quietly, so simply, that its peculiarity did not at once
seem apparent, and before they had time to wonder at it, Dale, who now
was leading, turned in the path and glared at them. His eyes were as
stern as those of a wrathful god, and his lips as resolute as Thor.

"Do ye reckon I'd hev let that damned hound scare the teacher away, when
I've jest now got hyar fer the big larnin'? If I hadn't stepped in, he'd
a-tuck her ter his cabin; 'n' if I hadn't burned 'im out, he'd be likely
ter stay 'round; 'n' as long as he'd be likely ter stay 'round, she'd be
likely ter stay away from school. Then how'd I git my larnin'?" He
gritted his teeth, and suddenly yelled at them: "I won't take no
chances! I'll git the larnin', I tell ye! 'N' if one, or a hund'ed,
tries ter come 'tween me 'n' hit--" He did not finish, but stood swaying
from side to side with an overwhelming intensity of feeling.

Bob's inclination was to smile; not at what he said so much as at the
grotesque figure he made while saying it. The long hair that had been
flying back from his forehead as a lion might have tossed its shaggy
mane, the homespun trousers tucked into wrinkled boots which were
planted well apart as foundations for the swaying body, the antiquated
rifle on which he leaned, all seemed to be the very antithesis of mental
advancement.

The Colonel, on the other hand, had not been impressed by the clothes;
or, at any rate, he had been more impressed by something which robbed
them of their oddity. His observing eyes were fixed with growing
interest on the purposeful face still thrust forward, and for a moment
they were startled by something uncanny, something back of a normal
human enthusiasm. It was only for a moment, only for a fleeting glimpse
through the dilating pupils which shot defiance out at him; but in that
moment he would have sworn that he had seen enthusiasm gone mad.

And yet, so brief had been the glimpse, that his conscious feeling was
but of charm, inspired by the primal strength of this wild and
unconquerable thing before him. The restive swaying of the body brought
to the old gentleman's mind an incident he once had seen at a circus,
when an elephant, fretted by its ankle chain, rocked from foot to foot
in sullen disquiet. He pictured an ankle chain on this well made youth
before him now, the ankle chain of ignorance, and a wave of pity made
him resolve to be the means of breaking it.

"If that is what you want, Dale," he gently said, "you shall have it,
all that you can store away." And he smiled at the flush of pleasure
which followed his words. "I'll talk to you about it this afternoon," he
added. "Let us now hurry; we must reach the horses."



CHAPTER VII

DALE DAWSON'S PHILOSOPHY


Passing out to the road, the Colonel being somewhat in advance, Bob laid
his hand on Dale's shoulder.

"There are lots of things to be learned out of schools, as well as in,"
he said, falling into step, "and some of them I can teach you better
than Miss Jane. You mustn't hesitate to ask me, nor be put
out--offended, I mean--if I volunteer things for your own good.
Understand?"

"Hit seems thar hain't nuthin' but goodness down hyar," the mountaineer
murmured.

"How about that cabin behind us?" the young planter laughed.

"Shucks, he hain't yo' kind," Dale said in a tone of deep disgust. "He
belongs moh ter my people, I reckon, than ter yourn."

"Why shouldn't your people and my people be the same?" Bob asked. "We're
the same stock, and live in the same State, and speak the same
language."

"Three chestnuts come outen the same burr," Dale slowly answered, "but
ye hain't never seed all three alike yit! 'N' they're the same stock,
too, 'n' live in the same house, 'n' borned of the same tree! Hit don't
foller what ye say is right!"

"But they're chestnuts, all the same," Bob laughed, pleased with the
simile.

"'N' I never said they warn't," the other replied. "'N' yeou're a man,
'n' I'm a man, 'n' we're white men, too, 'n' borned in Kaintuck; but
thar hain't only one thing as kin make us alike. That's the one thing
Natur' hain't provided fer--education! Accordin' ter my way of thinkin',
education draws the line 'tween a man 'n' a dawg; 'tween a woman 'n' a
sow. A man kin git hit, but a dawg can't; 'n' if a man don't, then he's
even wuss'n a dawg. I've done a lot of thinkin' 'bout hit," he added in
a reverential, wistful voice, "since Ruth come back ter Sunlight Patch."

"You seem to take things pretty seriously, Dale." Bob gave his shoulder
a slap. "Don't draw your lines too fine with Nature. It's apt to make
you ride over the hounds; it's risky."

"How do ye mean risky?" he quickly asked.

"Lots of ways," Bob laughed, trying to think even of one. "In Nature,
for instance, water flows down hill, but man must continually go up hill
if he expects to be any account--even though he's mostly all made of
water, at that! There's one way for you." And Bob felt proud of this,
and glad the Colonel was listening. And the Colonel, still stalking on
before them, nodded his head in approval.

"'Doth Nature itself not teach you?'" Dale sternly replied in faultless
English. "That's in the Good Book, 'cause Ruth read it out; 'n' that's
what fu'st made me look in the woods 'n' mountings fer my larnin'.
Natur' hain't lied ter me yit--but," he added suspiciously, "hit hain't
said nuthin' 'bout folks being mostly made of water!"

The Colonel gave an explosive snort, but did not turn around.

"It won't lie to you either," Bob said in good humor, "but neither will
it give up all its secrets; and the danger is in thinking you have
guessed what isn't there. Who's Ruth?"

"Ruth?" he turned as though the question surprised him. "She's the
slocum of Sunlight Patch."

"The--slocum?" Bob again asked.

"Yes, the slocum," he answered simply.

"I don't remember having heard of a slocum. Is that one of Nature's
lessons?"

"Bob," the Colonel spoke in a tone of warning, "you astonish me by your
ignorance, sir. Everybody knows what a slocum is!"

They had reached the road, and Dale gave a long, low whinny, in so exact
an imitation that even before Lucy answered and was heard coming toward
him, the other horses, near by, had also whinnied a response. Bob
laughed outright, and the Colonel chuckled.

"Upon my word, sir," he said, "I thought there was a horse right at the
back of my neck! You do it remarkably well!"

Dale smiled, for compliments, even the simplest, he had not experienced.
His people were unversed in many of the gentler ways, and this brought
him a pleasant sense of being appreciated.

"Can you imitate other things?" Bob asked.

"All thar is in the mountings," he answered. "I've talked with 'em ever
since I war a brat."

"They have a language, then?" Bob winked at the Colonel, who replied
with another warning look.

"'Course they hev a language. They talk jest like we-uns do, but 'thout
so many words. Lucy, hyar," he continued, after having patted her nose,
"'n' all critters, has one kind of whinny fer hunger 'n' thirst, another
when somethin's scarin' 'em, another when they're hurt, another when
they're callin' a critter, 'n' another when they're answerin'. Most all
varmints has those, too; jest the same as a critter--'cept the hunger
call."

"I don't quite follow your distinction between critters, as you call
them, and varmints," the Colonel turned curiously.

"Bob-cats, 'n' foxes, 'n' skunks, 'n' coons, 'n' them sech, is varmints.
Lucy is a critter," he said simply. "'N' they all have 'bout the same
sort of calls--'ceptin' hunger calls."

"But wild animals get hungry," the Colonel exclaimed, taking a still
deeper interest in what this observer was saying.

"Wall, yes," he drawled, "but some don't make no fuss 'bout hit. Take a
bob-cat! He'd be a purty thing a-yellin' all through the mountings when
he's hungry, now wouldn't he? _He's_ got ter move like a grey cloud, 'n'
slip up on things! A bob-cat," he added with his peculiar chuckle,
"that'd yell when he went a-huntin' wouldn't take long ter starve. 'N'
the wilder a thing is, the moh uncomplainin' hit is, too. Shoot a fox,
'n' he'll pull hisse'f along till he drops daid--jest grittin' his teeth
'n' standin' hit; but a dawg'll holler somethin' awful. Hit's most
allers that-a-way with birds, too. Ketch a chicken, 'n' folks'll think
ye're killin' her; but ketch a pa'tridge, 'n' she'll jest lay in yo'
hand 'n' breathe fast, 'n' hate ye."

"How do you account for that?" the Colonel asked. "The fox and the dog
belong to the same family; likewise the chicken and partridge!"

"That's jest why I picked them kind out ter tell ye 'bout," he answered.
"I reckon the reason is bein' 'round human folks, Cunnel. When a varmint
loses his wildness, he loses his grit, 'n' I may say he's apt ter go
down in health. Ruth says that Injuns could stand bein' burned with fyar
'n' not flinch. Thar hain't no white men now-days kin do hit. I've
tried," he rolled back his sleeve and showed a long scar on his forearm.
"I tried jest ter see, 'n' had ter quit. Hit made me plumb sick. 'N'
that's jest the same with varmints."

They mounted their horses and turned down the road. Colonel May and Bob,
being for the moment together, the old gentleman whispered;

"Interesting sort of fellow."

Bob nodded. "Nervy to try fire, wasn't he?"

"Dale," the Colonel called, "ride up with us! Is it then your
impression," he asked, when the lowly head of Lucy was abreast with the
arched necks of the thoroughbreds, "that civilization has a bad
influence?"

Dale fairly rose in his stirrups. "I never said that," he cried. "I
never said no sech a-thing! Hit hain't so! I said that bein' 'round
folks makes varmints 'n' critters lose thar grit, 'n' be moh apt ter git
sick; bein' brought up in stalls, 'n' stables, 'n' pens, 'n' havin'
their victuals fetched ter 'em all the time, 'n' bein' drove 'n'
bullied, makes 'em lose thar fightin' sperit; 'n' when a thing loses
that hit'll go down. The same way with folks. Why, Cunnel, I knowed a
man who laid behind two rocks 'n' fit all day long with nine bullets in
him, 'cause his son war in the cabin jest below, 'n' both war a-holdin'
off a passel of fellers. But to'ard evenin', when the ole man seed the
fellers rush in 'n' drag his boy out, 'n' kill 'im thar afore his eyes,
he rolled right over hisse'f 'n' died--'n' he hadn't been hit since
dinner. 'N' that jest showed, as long's he had the savage in 'im
fightin' fer the boy, he war all right; but when thar warn't no moh use,
he quit. That's one big trouble with civilization, as we-uns sees hit
from the mountings: hit takes the grit outen folks, 'n' makes 'em want
ter quit too soon."

The Colonel sat gazing moodily between his horse's ears, one of which
was tilted back and the other forward, as though at the same time
listening to the conversation and watching the road. He seemed to have
forgotten that an uncouth mountaineer had been talking; he seemed not to
have heard the low drawl, or in any way have been affected by its
musical crudity, but only by the man's point of view.

"So that's the way you people think of us?" he finally asked.

"Bob, hyar, says you-uns 'n' we-uns hain't no different." He had begun
calling Bob by his first name with child-like ingenuousness.

"But there is a distinction," the old gentleman insisted. "The
mountaineers are more--I might say more intense, as your act this
morning gives testimony. Altogether, I should say, as Miss Jane once put
it, that your aura is tinctured with savagery."

Dale hesitated. "I don't reckon," he said at last, "that what I did this
mawnin' war any wuss'n what you-uns war a-goin' ter do. What's aura?"

Bob burst into peals of laughter.

"I think he's got you on number one, Colonel! Now tell him what aura
is!"

But this was a knotty undertaking, and when he finished, quite
unassisted by Bob, Dale's face held a troubled look.

"If a fine man like yeou, Cunnel," he began, causing the old gentleman
to stiffen in his saddle with righteous pride, "don't know no moh'n that
'bout the English language, how, in Gawd's name, am I a-goin' ter larn?"

"Upon my word, sir! Upon my word!" the Colonel sputtered, red to the
roots of his silvery hair, "you haven't the capacity to understand, sir;
no matter how explicit I may be, sir!" And touching spur he galloped
ahead, not deigning to look at them again.

"Dale," Bob implored, trying to control his laughter, "for the love of
Mike cut 'aura' from your vocabulary! Honest, my friend, if you ever
should walk into the Colonel's drawing room in that costume and announce
that your aura is tinctured with savagery, it would be worse than
murder!"

Again the mountaineer's face became troubled; indeed, it held an
expression of childish helplessness, made so pathetic by a succeeding,
shy glance at his awkward costume of homespun, that the young planter
winced.

"That's all right," he said, contrite enough now, and giving the broad
shoulder another friendly slap. "Before long you'll be turning out
classier stuff than any of us. And we like your clothes."

"I'm a-goin' ter larn," Dale murmured through clenched teeth. "I'm
a-goin' ter larn all thar is, 'n' a whole lot moh; so help me Gawd I
will."

For awhile they rode without speaking until the Colonel was seen waiting
at a turn of the road. Then Dale asked:

"Ye reckon he meant that, 'bout me livin' with 'im?"

"'Course he meant it. He'll make you think you own the place in
twenty-four hours, and you won't feel the slightest obligation."

"What's obligation?"

Patiently Bob went through the definition, and Dale again asked:

"Who's the feller he calls Brent?"

"He's staying there, too; trying his wings on a survey for a railroad.
There's going to be a little road through here some day, and he's
looking to it."

"How does he?"

"Heaven pity us," Bob groaned. "I don't know how does he, Dale. Ask him.
Come, let's catch up!"

The Colonel was riding slowly ahead, and from the appearance of his back
Bob knew him to be sulking. Strong and big and fine as he was in both
physique and temperament, his _amour propre_ was an easy thing to wound.
Such hurts, however, were quickly healed by his blessed sense of humor,
and now as he wheeled and watched them, Bob saw that his spirits were
returning.

"In the eyes of babes," the old gentleman began, with a humorous
twitching about his mouth, "we see the mirror of our age--and, Mr.
Dawson, don't ask me what that means for I don't know! But come,
gentlemen, it is quite noon, and a cool house is calling us."

"When the mint is in the toddy, and the chair is in the shade," Bob
hummed, bringing another twinkle of amusement to the old gentleman's
lips.

"I reckon I'll turn off hyar," Dale said, "'n' go on ter school."

"What for?" the Colonel asked. "There's no school today."

"Hain't!" the mountaineer turned in a fury. "Why so?"

"Why so?" Bob answered, not exactly with patience. "For several reasons,
Dale; one being that they don't have school on Saturdays, and another,
quite sufficient in itself, that Miss Jane has a headache."

"What's Satu'day got ter do with hit?" He asked again, unconscious of
the other's growing ill humor.

"You darned boob," Bob laughed, "don't you know that Saturday is a
holiday? It always is! They never have school on that day!"

"D'ye mean they lose a whole day a week?" Dale cried, working himself
into a rage and giving the Colonel that same unpleasant, startled
feeling of witnessing something human out of gear. "That all that time
is jest plumb wasted, when I mought be larnin'? Hain't I come hyar fer
her ter teach me? Hain't I got the right? Hain't hit her business?"

"When Miss Jane doesn't feel like teaching," Bob began, turning a shade
pale and becoming unnaturally calm, "Saturday or no Saturday, she isn't
going to teach; and the Colonel and I'll see anyone in hell first.
Remember that, for it's a right important thing."

"Lord have pity on our mendacious world," the old gentleman sighed.

The mountaineer had not intended to give offense. As a matter of fact,
he held Jane in too sacred regard to suffer her the slightest
inconvenience--but it was a regard for the teacher, for the possessor of
that magic wand which would point him along the path of learning. She
inspired him with no other personality. To get into school had been for
so long the precious beacon of his desire that physical comforts or
discomforts were transient incidents to be utterly ignored. He would
have ignored his own bodily ailments, elbowed his way through pain of
flesh and weariness of mind, in an onward rush for that one thing his
soul craved--Learning. It craved, it blindly implored him, abjured him
with curses and sweet words, until he had reached a state where
obedience became an uncompromisable law. Nothing else came within his
mental horizon, and thus it was that Bob's words perplexed, rather than
offended, him.

The Colonel, ever ready to quiet fermenting anger, laid his hand
genially on the homespun-covered shoulder.

"You will find, my ambitious young friend," he said, "that it is better
in the long run to rest occasionally. Nature requires it, and, as you
yourself have said, Nature is the true standard to follow."

"Nature don't rest," he doggedly retorted. "Trees don't rest from
growin'!"

"They do, indeed," declared the Colonel, not quite sure of his ground,
but willing to venture it. "Every night they rest, and so do all growing
things."

Dale thought a moment, for this was a new idea.

"I don't believe it," he finally declared. Then smiling, and dropping
into the attractive drawl, he asked: "Cunnel, ye wouldn't go so fur as
ter say the trees takes Satu'day off ter quit growin', would ye?"

Bob laughed, but the old gentleman sighed.

"I fear you can't quite catch my meaning, sir," he compromised.
"However, you will be learning something this evening, because I want to
have a long talk with you. I want to know your ambitions and your plans.
I have determined to see you get all the education you can eat, drink,
and otherwise stuff into your system. Now, be satisfied for the moment,
until we discuss the matter."

Dale's eyes and cheeks showed the grateful effect of the old gentleman's
words. He wanted to thank him, but, not knowing quite how, remained
silent; and in this way the three entered the overgrown gate of Arden.



CHAPTER VIII

THE INCONSEQUENT ENGINEER


Uncle Zack's watchful eyes discerned the returning riders and busily he
went to prepare juleps, while, at the same time, a company of little
darkies dashed past the house eager to lead the horses stableward.

This aroused a man who had been day-dreaming on the deep, cool porch.
His feet were comfortably perched on the seat of an opposite chair, and
an open book lay face down on his lap. Within convenient reaching
distance stood a silver goblet topped with sprigs of mint. He was
dressed in immaculate white, a suit which showed the character of expert
tailorship when subjected to the arm and leg stretch of the frantic yawn
he now deliberately enjoyed. For young Mr. Brent McElroy was as well
groomed as he was good to look upon. Although Bod had called him the
laziest chap in clothes, and Miss Liz had berated his lack of ambition,
and all had sometimes resented his ironies, a very critical glance at
his face would have belied these faults. For his chin was cast in a good
mould, and his eyes looked at one with steady, honest interest. They
were spirited, but tender, and a trained observer would have found in
them a deep, lingering hunger for something which seemed not to have
come. He would also have found strength in the mouth, ordinarily too
cynical.

Brent managed to get along pretty well with everything but work, and in
severing diplomatic relations with this he usually found himself persona
non grata with Jane and her strongest ally, Miss Liz. For Jane, more
than all of them, realized the blessings a railroad would bring to her
people in that wild area beyond Snarly Knob. She knew how each artery
leading from the virgin heart of those mountains, carrying to the world
its stream of warmth, would return twofold riches to the benighted
denizens of their antiquity. She knew that through each vein from the
distant centers of the world's culture would flow back a broader
understanding of life, its responsibilities, ambitions, opportunities.
To her, the little road was a savior, to such a degree God-sent, that it
seemed a sacrilege to let it halt. Moreover, since Brent came, she felt
that the Colonel had been given fresh inspiration to imbibe. It had not
occurred to her to reverse this indictment, which might have been done
with an equal amount of truth. At any rate, she had lost patience with
the good-looking engineer, while the Colonel was finding him more and
more attractive.

He arose now as the men dismounted, stretched again, and smiled down at
them.

"Ah, sir," the Colonel cried, "I'm glad you are home in time to join
us!"

"I've just been joining," he laughed, "but, of course, if you can't get
along without me--" he waved a hand toward his empty goblet. Uncle Zack
had made provision for this--Uncle Zack, who believed that a
thoroughbred gentleman should always be "jes' a li'l bit toddied up."

Dale stood at the bottom step staring with the open curiosity
characteristic of his kind, and convinced that he was gazing upon the
most elegant gentleman in all creation. No detail of the toilette
escaped his minute scrutiny--from the white buckskin shoes to the white
cravat, from the immaculate linen to the flashing teeth; and for a
second time that day his eyes lowered to pass slowly over the crudeness
of his own attire.

The Colonel saw this and smiled, but it was not a mirthful smile. His
former interest had become quickened by this helpless and pathetic look,
and mentally he strengthened a previous resolution.

"Brent," he said, "I want you to know Dale Dawson! Mr. McElroy," he
turned to the still staring mountaineer, "is staying with me, and making
a survey for the railroad we hope to see running through here before
long, sir."

"I hain't never seed a train but onct," Dale exclaimed, shaking hands
with more open admiration. "Then hit 'most scared the gizzard outen me!
How do ye make 'em?"

"Oh," Brent laughed, "screws, and nuts, and hammers, and things. But I
don't make trains, old fellow; I'm just making the survey!"

"Good-bye everybody!" Bob gurgled, swinging into the saddle. The Colonel
called him sternly back.

"Now, Bob," he whispered, stepping out to the tanbark drive, "you've no
right to leave me like this, sir. I can't put up with it, I tell you!
Why, God bless my soul, the fellow hasn't a rag except what's on his
back! Must I ask him to sleep in the stable, sir? Those mountain people
are sensitive to the very core, you know that, and his feelings would be
immeasurably hurt if he suspected I complain of his clothes. But, Bob,
it's impossible! You're both of a size; help an old man out--there's a
good fellow!"

"I'll do anything but stay here and disgrace myself," Bob assured him.

"Tactfully, sir, tactfully," the Colonel warned.

"Trust me to do it tactfully," Bob whispered. "I'm not out to get shot."
And turning to the porch he called: "Dale, like to ride over and meet my
family? You might get a word with Miss Jane about the school, too!"

There was no reply to this except a quick step toward the old white
mare.

"Will hit be all right ter leave my rifle hyar, Cunnel?" he asked, with
one foot in the stirrup.

"Certainly, sir," that gentleman gave cheery acquiescence. "But take my
horse. Your own seems tired."

"Yourn _air_ faster," he nodded, passing unnoticed Lucy's invitation to
be caressed and rising into the Colonel's saddle. There was something
pathetic in the wistful way she looked after him, whinnying twice or
three times in a sudden panic of apprehension. The old gentleman stroked
her nose, murmuring:

"I don't think he ought to have done it just that way, old faithful. But
if I read the signs correctly you'd better get used to it now. There'll
be plenty more times."

Bob called from the gate: "Send Zack over; I want my hair cut!" And the
Colonel, understanding, waved his hand as they again cantered away--Dale
in advance, and the young planter evidently cautioning him to spare his
horse in the noon hour heat.

"Who's Bob's anthropoid friend?" Brent asked, as he and the Colonel now
stretched in their chairs.

"A young man from the mountains, violently in search of an education. He
will be asking you every question in the range of thought, Brent, and I
hope you will have patience with him. It's such a pity to see one so
hungry for knowledge--really starving for it--while the whole wide board
before him holds more than enough for all!"

"He's welcome to banquet on my feast of reason, but he'll get mighty
tired of it. Do you think he's serious?"

The Colonel smiled at this from Brent.

"It has been my observation that believing in people usually brings out
their best," he answered, "and so I think he is serious. I hope you
will, also."

"You bet I will," Brent cordially agreed, burying his nose in the mint.
"He's all right;--I like him!"

After a moment of affectionate contemplation of his own julep, the
Colonel said:

"Bob's household will be over to dinner tonight. I trust you can be with
us, sir!"

Before he could reply, Miss Liz appeared in the doorway, and both men
arose with courtly bows. When Brent had arranged a place for her--and
the Colonel had slipped into the house holding the telltale goblet
under his coat--this severe lady, balancing on the chair with prim
nicety, raised her lorgnette and observed:

"You have come home early!"

It was not hospitably done. Indeed, Miss Liz, sister of the Colonel's
angelic wife, inherited few of that departed lady's endearments. While
both had passed their girlhood in the Shenandoah, this one alone managed
to absorb and retain all the stern qualities from the surroundings of
her nativity. Now a spinster of perhaps sixty years, this firmness had
become imbedded in her nature as unalterably as the Blue Ridge rock; her
eyes and hair were as gray, and her voice--unless she were deeply
moved--as hard; also was her sense of duty as unyielding. Before her
sister's death she regularly visited Arden, and afterwards the Colonel
had insisted upon her making it a permanent home.

He paid the price for this, as he knew he would pay; but without a word,
and with as few outward signs as possible. For Miss Liz could not have
been termed in sympathy with the easy-going Colonel, nor, in her
self-righteous moods, sympathetic with any man. From long practice and
research she had at her fingers' tips the measurements of every male
transgressor from Cain to Judas Iscariot, and could work up about as
unhappy an hour for gay Lotharios as might be found this side of the
Spanish Inquisition. At any rate, Miss Liz did come to Arden, finding
rest and quiet and peace--not imparting them.

The little darkies never tired of twisting pieces of bale-wire into an
imitation of lorgnettes and airily strutting in her wake when she
visited the garden---being careful to keep their carousal well away from
the danger zone. At the same time, all who had been allowed peeps into
her gentler side were gripped with tentacles of affection as firm as was
her own relentless adherence to duty. In just one respect might Miss Liz
have been rated below par, and this was a hopeless incapacity to see
when others were teasing her. She took all in good faith when they
looked her straight in the eyes and told the most flagrant absurdities.

Brent now smiled blandly into her face and accepted the implied rebuke a
moment in silence.

"Isn't it extraordinary," he said at last, "that I guessed you would be
having on that becoming gown, and looking just this cool and
attractive?"

In spite of her stiffening shoulders and frown of extreme displeasure,
an echo of color crept slowly into her cheeks. For it is a curious fact
that, while stern and self-denying people may be found who are
impregnable to the fiercest attacks of passion, indifferent to the most
insidious lures of avarice, unmoved by the most convincing whispers of
jealousy, and impartial in every act toward fellowman--all, all will
yield an inch to the smile of flattery.

"Fiddlesticks!" she exclaimed. "I am old enough to be your grandmother!"

The lorgnette never faltered, and Brent's eyes lowered in feigned
distress.

"Yes, I suppose so," he quietly admitted. "The fact is, when you come
out on the porch this way and begin to talk so pleasantly, I'm always
forgetting that you're so--so terribly old as you insist. I'll try to
remember, Miss Liz."

"I am not inviting old age," she smiled, with a freezing lack of mirth;
but yet she may have yielded the inch, for one of her thin hands went
timidly up to the iron gray curls which hung before her ears, and her
eyes turned to gaze dreamily over the fields as though in search of some
long past, golden memory.

His own eyes took this opportunity to cast another sly look at the
tell-tale goblet, hoping to light upon some method of spiriting it away.

"Mr. McElroy," she suddenly exclaimed, "I have been talking to brother
John, and have told him my views about you!"

Brent's mouth opened a moment in surprise and then he frankly began to
laugh.

"I'm glad I wasn't in hearing distance!"

"You might have heard to your advantage. I told him that I considered
marriage to some determined girl your only chance of reformation."

"Marriage!" he almost rose out of his chair. "Heavens, Miss Liz! I've
got an alarm clock that does that sort of thing!"

"Alarm clock?" she gasped. "Pray, what do you suppose marriage is?"

"I've never tried to suppose! I don't want to suppose"

She arose with dignity and went toward the door. There was another
minute, while he stood making humble apologies to which she seemed
indifferent, and then her voice came like the crackling of dry twigs. "I
bid you good morning, Mr. McElroy!"



CHAPTER IX

AT THE UNPAINTED HOUSE


Brent sat down and took a deep breath, as men do when they have narrowly
escaped disaster. He saw Zack on a mule, heading for the gate, and
called him.

"Uncle Zack," he whispered, when the old darky had come hat in hand up
the steps, "rustle me another julep!"

"Lawd, Marse Brent," he cast a suspicious glance toward the front hall,
"I'se gotter go clar to Marse Bob's an' cut his haih!" But, translating
the look, Brent gave a low laugh, saying:

"She won't be out again for awhile. Hustle, Zack! I've just been frozen
to death!"

The old man thrust the empty goblet under his coat and quickly returned
with another, invitingly frosted.

"Ain' she turr'ble sometimes, Marse Brent?" he asked in a confidential
undertone. "She done tol' me yisterday dat I'se gwine git th'owed clar
to de bottom of hell, an' den criss-cross all over de coals, ef I don'
stop makin' juleps for Marse John an' you! Do you reckon I'se gwine git
all dat misery?"

"Betcher life," Brent answered, taking a few swallows and leaning back
with a sigh of satisfaction. "That's all coming to you; but d'you want
to know what the Colonel and I've decided to do if you quit making us
juleps, you old devil?"

Zack grinned.

"We'll take you out to the tool house, and press your teeth down on a
dry grinding-stone till they get hot and squeak and--"

"Hush, man, hush! In de name of goodness, hush!" Zack covered his
wrinkled mouth. "You makes mah jaws feel all scrouged up!"

And after he was again astride the mule, plodding toward Bob's place,
his hand continued to stroke with affectionate care those jaws that had
been thrown into such spasms of suggested torture, muttering:

"Who ever heerd tell of sech misery as puttin' mah onlies' toof on de
grind-stone!"

A mile from Arden stood a house, too near the road to give it the air of
being a place of many comforts, even were it in other respects
pretentious. But its lightly built porch, precariously nailed to an
unpainted frame front, stamped it with poverty.

Here dwelt Tom Hewlet, proprietor of ten acres and a bad name. It was
said that his first wife had all but died of neglect, and then burst an
artery in her brain while pursuing him with a skillet. The second Mrs.
Hewlet still held on. Both, no doubt, possessed virtues, but neighborly
sympathy clustered around the present incumbent, because she was the
present, and because of a frequently expressed regret that the good Lord
had not spared her predecessor until the skillet and Tom had made
connection. It was but a whispered wish, for Tom's second choice came
from the meek and lowly. He was taking no more chances.

Besides that exciting memory, however, the first Mrs. Hewlet, previously
the widow of a country parson, had left him a daughter by that marriage,
and this girl, Nancy, had stayed--for Tom's house was, after all, the
only place she had to stay. Arden's people and those of Bob's home had
felt in a mild way sorry for this girl, sometimes sending over "things,"
and in other ways showing a long-distance interest; yet the very fact
that she lived beneath the roof of such an old reprobate constituted a
barrier which many of the less established neighbors would not venture
to cross. Just, or unjust, this had made her shunned--at least, not
sought; and as she grew into young womanhood, she also grew into a life
of solitude. The native swains did not approach because they were afraid
of Tom, and girl friends were denied by a far more unrelenting
danger--compromise.

This particular spring, however, two events occurred which were vitally
affecting her life. The first, when she stopped Jane in the road and
asked if she might come to school. From that time forth the teacher
began to see many things which others had not given themselves the
opportunity to see, and her previous long-distance interest merged with
the girl's spirit of secret envy into a companionship--bounded for the
most part by school hours, yet a companionship, nevertheless.

Not until then was there exposed a lovelier side of character, doubtless
formed in early childhood with her father, the country parson. Jane
learned of the mutual adoration which had existed between these two,
and, when he had died, how death seemed also to lay a hand upon her
budding hopes of life and future. The mother's background she found more
difficult to place, and the only glimpse she could get of it was through
Nancy's possession of four books left from that forlorn woman's more
forlorn estate: the Bible, Swinburne's poems, "Adam Bede" and "Household
Hints." That she had been superior to Tom might be accepted without
question, and why she married him was simply one of those anomalies
which makes our neighbors interesting.

But the seed implanted by the father, a man of honest impulses, remained
somewhere the girl's consciousness--latent, nearly parched by the
brutality of subsequent environments; until Jane had begun to moisten it
with encouragement, and now it was budding. On the other hand, she had
seen in Nancy tendencies of less promise: a physical desire to be away
from the frame house by the roadside, and a character--not entirely
weak, but irresolute--easing its sense of obligation by the devil's
insidious argument of poverty; also, that the recent application to
perfect her modest learning was in parallel with an unexpressed hope of
independence in the cities. Frequently--and invariably after nights when
old Tom was on his sprees--Jane had found her pathetically near the
precipice of desperation, and it required some pointed talks to hold her
steady.

The second event in her life had been of more recent date: Brent.

As old Zack now neared the ramshackle house, he saw her leaning over
the crooked gate. Not infrequently of late he had carried a note to her,
and he rather felt that she might be looking for one today.

She smiled, showing a really exquisite line of teeth between lips full
and inviting. Her mouth was large, as though Nature, realizing her
possession of one exceptional quality, had made the most of it. Around
her neck hung a simple garnet pendant which Zack had noticed only in the
last few days; and now, as she stood with chin up-tilted, the sunlight
struck this stone sending a soft, crimson gleam of dull fire across the
white skin below her throat.

"Mawnin', Miss Nancy," he made a perfunctory bow.

"Good mornin', Uncle Zack."

"How's yoh folks?" the old man asked. It was warm, he was weary of the
ride and wanted to talk.

"They're well, thanks." She did not ask after those at Arden.

He folded his hands on the pummel and let his feet slip out of the
uncertain rope stirrups. Sitting thus relaxed, for a moment he looked
meditatively at the old mule's drooping ears, then reached in his
pocket, brought out a red handkerchief of the bandanna type and wiped
his brow. He had something to tell her--she knew this! But she knew,
too, from experience that when he brought a message he must take his own
time about delivering it.

"Dat's a mighty spry gemmen over to our house," he finally remarked.

"Mr. Brent?" she flushed a little.

"No-deedy! He's spry, too; but dis'n I'm talkin' 'bout jes' come."

"Yes, I heard about him," she said. "A sort of hill-billy, isn't he?"

"Now, how'd you heah dat?" the old fellow looked down at her. "He only
got dar las' night!"

"I don't remember--somebody came by an' told Pappy, I reckon."

"It do beat all how tales travel," he doubtfully shook his head. "But
don' you put no stock in him bein' a hill-billy! Long haih an' s'penders
don' make no greenhorn. Dey never has yit, an' dey never will--any moh'n
a Adam's Apple do; an' I got a Adam's Apple mahse'f, sech as 'tis! I got
sumfin else, too!" He slowly closed one eye and looked up at the sky.

"A note?" she laughed.

"Dat ain' so fur off!"

"A message?"

"You sho' guessed it dat time!" he chuckled. "Some-un suttenly do a lot
of thinkin' 'bout some-un--dat's all I got to say!"

"Does he?" she blushed. It pleased her to have this old man tease. It
was her only outlet; he was the only one who shared the secrets of their
trysts.

"He suttenly do! I don' reckon she's been outen his mind but onct dis
spring!"

"When could that have been?" she bantered.

The old fellow's face disappeared into a network of wrinkles. "Dat wuz
when he picked his gloves offen de po'ch an' got one on befoh knowin' a
hornet had done crawled in it. He come purty nigh fergittin' his
salvation, den! All de same," he added, still chuckling, "he say he's
comin' over dis 'way dis evenin', less'n de lightnin' strike 'im. Dar
ain' no cloud in de sky now," he looked up musingly.

He felt about for the stirrups with his boots and then took up the old
reins, still grinning and bowing his adieux with a gallantry that would
have done credit to the Colonel. And, as he rode away, she drew a deep,
trembling breath of happy anticipation.



CHAPTER X

THE SPIRIT OF SUNLIGHT PATCH


The old darky, after another half hour of plodding, sighed as he turned
into the welcome shade of Flat Rock. The pike had been shimmering white
and his eyes ached. Yet, as he followed the woodland road, he thought of
a garnet shadow on a young throat, and again he sighed. In a vague way
it meant a sign to him, and troubled his old heart.

A glimpse of Bob's house and its carefully kept grounds came into view,
each detail opening as he approached, until he saw Jane and the
mountaineer seated on the lawn. Passing by a side way to the rear, had
his eyes been good he might have seen her face flushed with interest in
the man whom she was drawing out and graciously dissecting.

For this was one of her own people--one of that very shut-in, restless,
hungry type, whom she had hoped by the perfecting of herself to help.
Other scholars at the school were not like him. They were, with a single
exception, of the valley and foothills, but this one came from primeval
grandeur. He alone possessed the absorbing craze to learn which had
dominated her own life, and so she felt peculiarly drawn to him.

"I must ask you," she was saying, "where you get your way of talking.
We of the mountains,"--and she noted his look of thanks for this
acknowledgment of mutual origin--"come out with our dialect pure; but I
find you mixing it up with bits of really correct speech!"

"I can't talk yet like I want to," he answered, carefully choosing his
words, "but what I've learned was up in Sunlight Patch. Some of the
finest speakin' in the world, I reckon, is up thar!"

"Up there," Jane corrected.

"Up there," he repeated after her, adding: "I knowed that, but forgot."

"What and where is Sunlight Patch? Twice you've spoken of it."

"Hit's a cabin 'n' a clarin'," he answered simply, "back in the
mountings. I war borned thar--there; all of we-uns war born there."

"An odd name," she mused, although she knew odd names were typical of
the mountains.

"Not when ye know how-cum-hit," he said. "Hit war called that-a-way by a
preacher onct. Yeou see, Miss Jane, my sister war born blind--leastways,
the fu'st thing they knowed of hit she war blind. Thar war four of us
brats in the cabin, two brothers older'n me who got shot, 'n' her. I war
the kid, ye mought say, 'n' when I war mighty small some-un took her off
ter the blind school in the settlements. She only come back 'bout two
year ago, 'n' fetched some blind books they'd give her."

"What were the books?" Jane softly asked, touched by the picture of that
poverty she had so well known.

"The New Testament," he answered. "Thar war five big books of that.
Then she had four big-uns of a feller named Dickens--'The Tale of Two
Cities,' that war. But what I liked most war the three wrote by a Cooper
feller--he warn't no kin ter our Coopers, Ruth says--called 'The Last of
the Mohigans.' That Injun, Uncas, war a man, I tell yeou! Thar war some
poetry I liked mighty well, too. Ruth says all of 'em wouldn't take up
so much room, if 'twarn't fer the blind writin'."

"Do you remember much of those books?" she asked.

"'Member much! Why, I know 'em purty nigh off by heart! That's how-cum I
kin talk so good--when I stop to think. By repeatin' arter her I know
the alphabet, the multiplication table, mental 'rithmetic up ter long
dervision, some history, 'n' some g'ography--but I hain't never seed a
map, nor writin'. Her books is writ in blind."

"I think you have learned a great deal," she smiled at him.

"Hit hain't nuthin' ter what I'm goin' ter larn," he declared. "But
moh'n what I've told ye, even, I larned from her readin'. Yeou see, Miss
Jane, she uster read ter ever'body who'd come, 'n' hit got so arter
'while--'specially Sundays--that folks 'd walk or ride ter our place
from as fur as twenty mile ter listen, jest like they war comin' ter a
singin', till the clarin' 'd be plumb full. They'd listen, 'n' watch her
fingers slip over them raised letters, 'n' keep a-listenin' till plumb
dark afore thinkin' 'bout goin' home. 'N' arter dark, too; 'cause ter
her the darkness didn't make no diff'ence. 'N' sometimes, with jest the
stars 'n' black trees 'round us up thar on the mounting side, hit seemed
right quar ter see folks a-settin' on the grass, 'n' her voice comin'
outen the night like one of them prophets what maybe she war a-readin'
'bout. Yeou see," his voice assumed a mystic, whispery tone, "she never
knowed when hit war night, 'n' the people wouldn't tell her, nur make a
move till she quit--beant hit even mawnin'. Arter readin', she'd talk
awhile; tellin' 'em things they'd orter do, 'n' things they'd orten't.
'N' onct she clean busted up a feud by makin' two ole fellers shake
han's. That caught the preacher's eye. When he heern tell of hit, he
called our cabin Sunlight Patch, 'n' said she war the slocum--'n' the
name's done stuck."

He paused; absently, almost unconsciously raising his fingers to brush
back the long hair. And when she gently encouraged him to continue, he
looked at her with another smile of grateful acknowledgment.

"I won't ever fergit that day, I reckon. She war settin' in the doh as
usual, 'n' on the step nigh her feet war ole Ben French 'n' Leister
Mann--two of the hatin'est fellers in our parts. But they'd wanted ter
come so bad that both sides compacted ter leave thar weepons behind.
This day she seemed ter be readin' stronger'n afore, 'n' she talked moh
like she war a-seein' things--I mean sure 'nough things; 'n' arter
'while the folks begun ter rock 'n' moan. They believe ter this day that
the Lawd give her sight back fer a minit then, 'cause she reached down
'n' took ole Ben's hand in one of hern, 'n' ole Leister's in t'other'n,
'n' asked 'em ter shake. They'd been settin' thar a-cryin' afore that,
so they shook friendly, 'n' all the fellers in the clarin' they shook,
too; 'n' the wimmin folks on both sides crossed over 'n' made up. That's
how-cum-hit."

"I don't remember those men," she murmured. "Leaders of that feud
changed so quickly and so often! It lasted a long time, didn't it!"

"Hit did, that! The fu'st I ever knowed thar war sich a thing war when
they brought Pappy home daid," he looked down at the ground. "I war only
a leetle brat, then, but ole Granny busted out a-wailin', 'n' put his
rifle in my han's, 'n' tetched my face with his blood, 'n'--but yeou
know how our people takes the oath; 'n' ye know hit hain't no nice
oath." She shuddered, but the mountaineer continued: "Wall, she done all
that, 'n' made me say arter her the things I wisht 'd strike me daid if
I didn't git the fellers what had got him. Then one day, from up in the
rocks, she p'inted 'em out, so'd I know 'em. One got drowned takin' a
raft down ter Frankfo't--he fell off jest arter I shot. 'N' t'other-un I
didn't git fer a long time. I ketched him--"

"Don't tell me any more, Dale," she pleaded. "I know you must have
ketched him."

"Wall," he mused, "'twusn't right ter make no leetle feller take a oath
like that, Miss Jane--'n' I moughtn't a-done hit, 'cept fer not knowin'
no better. I wouldn't be tellin' ye, neither, but Ruth said ye'd want
ter know afore takin' me in school. She says folks in the settlemints is
awful tetchy 'bout killin' folks."

"We'll pass the feud. Tell me how you happened to come here?"

"A circuit rider come through our parts one day, 'n' tol' us 'bout yo'
school. That war in the winter. Ruth war so set on me ter come, 'n' me
the same, I couldn't sleep. She said I'd be like Lincoln, 'n' Clay, 'n'
even finer--ef thar is sech a thing as bein' finer'n them! But I knowed
I'd be jest as fine, 'n' she did too. But ye see, with all our people
daid, 'cept me 'n' her, I couldn't leave. She knowed how 'twar, 'n' one
day a woman come from over the mounting ter live with us. I reckon Ruth
had the preacher ask her ter come 'n' stay thar whilst I war heah ter
school; fer her man had got caught makin' licker 'n' had ter do time
down in the settlemints."

"We say 'her husband'; not 'her man,' Dale."

"Thank-ee. Well, she come, 'n' Ruth says fer me ter light out, 'n' ter
tell ye all I know, as 'twon't take so long as tellin' ye all I don't.
'N' she give me the ole mare, 'n' nine dollars--all we had. The mawnin'
I left," his voice slipped back into the whispery accents, "she put her
arms 'round my neck, 'n' asked me ter make her one promise."

"What was that promise? Can you tell me?"

"Hit war jest somethin'," he hesitated, flushing. "She said she war
willin' fer me ter do any other kind of sinnin', ef I jest plain
couldn't git outen hit, but she hoped I might die afore doin' _that_.
Then she got on her knees 'n' fer most a hour prayed Gawd ter strike me
daid afore He'd see me do hit. She said," he added softly, "hit air on
accounten _that_ sin as how-cum she's blind."

Jane shuddered. She could picture the cabin room, the girl kneeling on
the rough board floor, her sightless eyes raised to the wall of logs and
mud, her frantic prayer to have this only brother kept safe and sent
back to her; but, if he were about to sin a certain sin, to strike him
dead.

She was too deeply moved to speak, and indeed she felt that words would
be out of place in this pause which seemed so eloquent of a curiously
comforting holiness. On his own part, he merely sat there looking down
at his awkward boots. Finally, with sincere, trembling regret in his
voice, he murmured:

"I'm sorry ye've a headache."

"Thank you, Dale." Her reply was tenderer than she knew, for now he
still further appealed to her. From men in the valley, this solicitation
might probably have denoted no more than ordinary politeness, but she
knew from experience that the phlegmatic mountaineers must be moved by
strong emotion to sympathize with one in pain. "It's all gone, now," she
added.

"Whoop-ee!" he gave a sudden yell, at the same time springing into the
air and striking his heels twice together in a wild dance of joy.
"Whoop-ee!" he yelled again. "Git hit, 'n' let's begin! Git hit, I say!"

"Dale!" she cried in consternation, drawing back from him. "Are you
mad?"

"Bob said ye couldn't teach 'counten yo' haid," he breathlessly
continued, his face glowing with excited pleasure. "But now ye kin! Now
ye kin git the book 'n' give me my larnin', can't ye?"

He was looking down at her with an expression she had never beheld in
anyone's face--enthusiasm, wildness, even madness; but his eyes were not
seeing her. They missed the parted, startled lips, the heightened color
of her oval cheeks, the pulsing throat, and the frightened breathing.
They watched only for her to produce the key to his religion--a book.

And she read this in his burning eyes as though it were written there in
cold, black, selfish letters. A deep smouldering and immoderate anger
seized her. That this man who had seemed such a power of softness should
so show himself to be a thing of self-centered flint, wounded her; and
Jane rebelled at wounds. For the moment they stared, seemingly
hypnotized; until at last her voice came as low and expressionless as
his had been full of fire.

"Sit down. I'll get a book, but before you look into it you shall learn
a lesson that will be more useful."

He obediently dropped into his chair, but she remained standing and, in
the same monotone, said:

"You've told me about your Sunlight Patch, and of a blind sister who
reads all day and into the nights to throngs of ignorant people for
their improvement; who gave the only horse and the last nine dollars on
the place, and left herself nearer helpless than she already was, in
order that you might start out to be a great man--a man like Lincoln, or
like Clay." He missed a touch of fine sarcasm here. "Now let us see what
you have done, and how far you have emulated the great hearts of those
noble patterns you've set out to follow: Yesterday you arrived, and,"
here her cheeks turned a deeper pink, "defended a school teacher
against insult. Understand, you did not champion a defenseless girl; it
was the school teacher, whom you considered as a necessity to your
future. This morning you went out before daylight--I've heard about
it--to punish, not an offender against society, but a probable menace to
your ambition. You are sorry if the school teacher has a headache, not
because a human being is suffering, but because your own desire is
thwarted. You have no more charity in your soul than a stone!"

He was silent, contrite and humble, but she had not finished with him
yet. While the instinct of the teacher had been stirred, more thoroughly
had been aroused a girl's offended pride. So in the same voice she went
relentlessly on:

"First learn that your mountain is not the only place which holds a
Sunlight Patch! There is one everywhere," her hand, unconsciously placed
against her breast, now pressed as she spoke. "In everyone there must be
that same selfless desire to give the last horse and the last nine
dollars to whomsoever it may carry to a higher goal, or mankind is a
failure. Learn this now. Do not think because you were born in Sunlight
Patch that any of its virtues are clinging to you. We carry no virtues
but our own--remember that! Don't forget that other people depend on you
just as much as you depend upon them, and that life is a big game of
give and take--the giver usually winding up with the largest share of
happiness. Now go to the house. Bob has called you twice!"

He rose slowly. There was a tightness in his throat; his head throbbed
and hurt. His capacity for learning, the true offspring of his
insatiable desire, had become so like a dry sponge drawing in from every
trickle of knowledge which flowed through his remote habitation, that he
missed no word of what she said--each had sunk deep into his mind as a
marble that is tossed into a limpid pool, gradually settling until it
rests on the clear bottom, forever to be undisturbed, but forever in
sight.

It suddenly occurred to him that Bob had really called, and he took a
step in that direction, but turned once more to look at her. No one
could have met that look unmoved, much less this girl who had been the
necessary cause of it. It was so haunted, so pleading for another
chance, and he seemed so pitifully helpless in his awkwardness and
homespun clothes, that in spite of herself two tears welled into her
eyes, balanced, and fell. She dashed them quickly away and turned her
back to him. Again the tightness seized his throat while wave after wave
of something particularly cruel swept through him.

His sister had never cried--or, at least, not in his presence; nor had
the few bare-footed girls he knew. They might have bawled their eyes out
and he would have calmly walked away. But this one was different, very
different, and he could not move; this was the teacher, his teacher, the
thing he had set up on a pedestal by the throne of God Himself--yes,
higher; or, at any rate, more continuously in his thoughts.

"Have you forgotten Bob wants you?" she finally asked.

"No'm," he answered. "I war jest 'bout ter go."

A woodpecker tapping on the dead top of a tree now stopped amidst a
breathless stillness. Bees were droning in the air, and softly over the
land came the song of a happy field hand. It was all very peaceful and
very quiet; too peaceful, too cloyingly quiet for Jane just then, and,
as he continued to stand, she fairly screamed at him:

"Are you petrified?"

"What's petrified?" he asked simply.

Slowly she turned and faced him; her eyes showing no tears, only
tolerant surprise and amusement.

"Really, Dale, you are the most extraordinary person! Petrified means
having become stone, or stony; sometimes stunned, or dazed. Now run
along to Bob!"

While she watched him striding over the lawn, a low, merry laugh made
her turn to behold Nancy, a picture of mischief--although with traces of
a recent storm in her own eyes. Yet, like so many of the physically
mature but mentally undeveloped, sorrows did not rest heavily upon her
for any length of time.

"I didn't mean to laugh," she apologized, "but it did sound so funny
sending that big feller away like that! That's all I heard," she added
quickly.

"He's really no more than a boy," Jane smiled. "You'll probably see him
in school Monday. What's the matter?"

"Oh, lots;" Nancy flopped, rather than sat, on the grass. "I can't keep
on goin' to school! I can't do these sums a-tall! Pappy's drunk again,
an' throwin' things around the house just awful. He can't mortgage the
farm for any more, an' the storekeeper in town says he's goin' to sue
him for what he owes, an' he's got drunk to forget it, I reckon. I can't
work out this old thing in long division, anyway, Miss Jane, let alone
when he's throwin' things!"

Most of this story had often before been poured into the teacher's
sympathetic ears.

"You must have more grit than that," she said, patting one of the girl's
hands. "You know I'll stand by you, and you know you're doing very
nicely!"

"I reckon I ought to know," Nancy sighed. "But, honest, Miss Jane, I've
used up enough grit for a flock of dominick hens! There isn't any more
left on our place!"

Jane laughed. "If I'm not terribly mistaken in the girl, you'll find
another supply before getting home."

"I reckon you're awful mistaken, then," she sighed dolefully. "I've just
plain got to the end of the pile. It's hard, Miss Jane, honest it is,
with Pappy cussin' an' drunk, an' barely enough to eat, an' not decent
clothes to wear! His mealy-mouthed wife stands for it, but I don't, an'
that makes things all the hotter. I'm tired of it! Why, I could have
everything I want if--if--"

"If what?" Jane quickly asked. She looked fixedly at the girl whose
face, suddenly crimson with blushes, made an effort to look calmly back.

"Oh, if nothin', I reckon," Nancy stammered.

"Sit over here nearer to me, Nan," Jane said after awhile. "I'm lonely
myself today, and I've just heard something I want to tell you."

In no school could she have acquired that faculty for reaching one's
confidence, and this artfully expressed feeling of loneliness touched a
response in the girl's nature which she now frankly confessed by timidly
snuggling against Jane's knees.

"Poor, tired thing," Jane murmured, her fingers touching Nancy's hair.
"Do you sometimes fancy everyone unsympathetic?"

"Sort of," came a trembling little sigh.

Again the bees droned their drowsy lullaby. The song of the field hand
was hushed, but in its place was the smell of new turned earth that told
of a labor finished.

With every detail vividly drawn, she related the story of the blind girl
in a remote wilderness which had achieved the name of Sunlight Patch; of
what she had accomplished; of all she had given to the lives of those
about her. And in a lowered voice told of the promise exacted of her
brother, her only brother and support. When she finished, Nancy was
looking up with wide open eyes.

"You mean to say she prayed for the only kin she had on earth to be
struck dead if he ever went wrong?--an' him a man? Well, that surely is
grit!"

"The thing is, Nan," Jane said softly, "that people with two eyes ought
to do at least as much!"

Nancy arose and brushed her skirt.

"I reckon," she murmured, "that girl can teach us a heap when it comes
to gettin' your teeth in things an' holdin' on. I ain't got a good
reason now for not goin' back an' fightin' the ole man; but I wish to
Gawd somethin' would strike _him_ dead! Much obliged, Miss Jane--I sort
of feel more like a Christian now."



CHAPTER XI

ON THE THRESHOLD


Toward evening Dale rode back to Arden. His mind was a confusion of
happy impressions, the result of having laid its touch upon the throttle
of power. From the dusky room where his life had sat wondering, he felt
now that a hand had pressed his shoulder, aroused him, and led him to
the silver threshold whose outlook was a landscape of golden
opportunity. As, twenty-four hours earlier, when his eyes for the first
time rapturously feasted on this valley of plenty, so now his mind
roamed across a dazzling future--a future which was his, his very own.

Tossing back his head he gave a yell, a wild, joyous yell, that startled
the horse and sent scurrying to higher branches an inquisitive squirrel
which had been looking down at him with chattering interest.

When he turned into the circle, the Colonel stood up and stretched,
welcoming him with an open smile of approval. He could imagine what tact
Bob had employed to bring about this new attire, but little did he guess
at what sacrifice to personal comfort. For the donation of clothes was
not what stamped Bob a philanthropist. He had taken Dale into his room
and there prosecuted a stragetic system; voluntarily submitting to Uncle
Zack's shears on his hair which required no cutting. Nor was this all.
He made the old servant shave him, a thing he despised from any hand but
his own. Then he tubbed, and continued this game of follow-the-leader
throughout the entire toilette, affably talking all the while, until
Dale emerged a different looking, and a much more gratified, man.

"Lawd, Marse Dale," Uncle Zack had exclaimed, "you suah does look
handsome! I'se gwine to shave you ever' mawnin' now, till you ketches on
for yohse'f!"

The Colonel's smile was immeasurably pleasing to his new guest, and when
the old gentleman playfully spoke of fine clothes Dale responded like a
happy boy.

"Ain't they fine!" he looked admiringly down at himself. "I reckon I
hain't never had on decent clothes before in all my life! D'ye reckon
I'll get used ter this collar? Bob said so!"

Under his arm were two books--a speller and a simple reader. These Jane
had given him as he left, after an afternoon spent in lessons on the
lawn. It was the first lesson, of course; a lesson, perhaps, which both
would remember all their lives; vivid to Dale because the tentacles of
his mind were beginning to stir and stretch in their new awakening;
vivid to her for many reasons. As the day had progressed she became more
and more astounded by his ability to learn, for in an incredibly short
time he had mastered the first four columns of her spelling book with an
ease which made her wonder if he had not before been over it.

Enthusiastically now he related this to the Colonel, who saw that he
was trembling--tingling, like a thoroughbred ready for the start in a
big race.

"You must use the library for your studies, sir," the old gentleman
declared with warmth. "In there you will find a dictionary--if you know
how to use one."

"Show me how!" the new student eagerly turned to him.

Laying aside his own volume, a treatise on the calorific power of
fuels--a brain-rasping subject which had been absorbing him since the
coal fields were in prospect--he led the way into that spacious, mellow
room, walled from floor to ceiling with shelves upon shelves of books.
Dale stood transfixed. His head was thrown back and his hands were
clenched, as though in very truth the secrets of this silent store-house
were already creeping out to enter his attentive brain. Colonel May
opened the clumsy dictionary, explaining it with a word the mountaineer
had already learned to spell, and left him in this paradise of fancies.

Some time later Uncle Zack opened the library door, announced dinner,
and left unheard. A few minutes after this he returned, but again left
unheard, and only when a hand pressed Dale's arm did the young man look
up. The Colonel was smiling down at him.

"Come, Sam Johnson. Dr. Jared Sparks, Ben Franklin, Davy Crockett, Abe
Lincoln, and more such indomitable shades rolled into one! Man must eat;
it is time for dinner!"

"What does that mean?" he asked, leaning back in his chair.

"Oh, Lord," the Colonel groaned. "I'll tell you another time. Come! You
understand 'dinner,' I hope?"

Entering the dining room Dale's mind was like a country pup walking
stiff-legged into a crowd of city dogs, its hair belligerently on end
and the tip of its tail wagging a friendly compromise. Not that he was
at all defiant, and of course not afraid, but his whole mental attitude
had become one of alert watchfulness, ready to spring this way or that,
to follow this new custom or that new custom, and not intending to lag
if the others made a move. So it was that when the Colonel held a chair
back for Miss Liz, and Bob was seating Jane, Dale, who never in his life
had seen anything of this sort, made a pretense of imitating them for
the convenience of Ann;--and even though she were rudely jolted by the
violence with which he shoved her into the table, her appreciative smile
made him determine to do this thing forever.

"How will you have your coffee, Mr. Dawson?" Miss Liz presently
asked--for dinner at the Colonel's was of the farm variety which scorned
the demitasse.

"A mite of long sweetenin', please Ma'm," he answered to that lady's
utter consternation. She laid down the tongs and stared at him.

"He'll take it as you fix Bob's, Miss Liz," Jane interposed readily
enough to save the situation, and at the next opportunity she turned in
a confidential undertone: "We don't use 'long sweetening' down here,
Dale. People in the valleys use sugar exclusively--'short sweetening,'
as you call it. They don't have to grind and stew up corn-stalks to get
sorghum for their coffee, as we used to do. But I remember how good
that molasses--that 'long sweetening'--was," she added, lying for the
benefit of charity. "Don't forget, they use 'short sweetening' all the
time here in coffee, but they never call it anything but sugar. While on
the subject of customs I want to correct you about something else.
Today, over home, you stood in the drive and halloed for Bob till he
came out for you. That isn't done in the settlements. Here you can walk
right up to anybody's front door and knock, or ring the bell, without
the slightest fear of having a rifle poked through a chink because
people may take you for an enemy. Of course, your way is the proper and
polite thing to do where we come from, but in the valley it isn't good
etiquette."

"What's etiquette?" he asked.

She explained it and continued:

"The etiquette of knives and forks and spoons also materially differs
between our people and these."

"I never seed one of these little fellers before," he picked up a
teaspoon and turned it curiously over.

"I didn't either," she laughed, "until I went to the convent. But now,
since I'm to be your teacher, you must let me teach you these things,
too."

"I want ye to teach me everything in the world," he whispered.

"Then watch how I use them," she replied, flushing at the way he said
this, "and which ones I use. Down here, people who eat with their knives
are murdered--I mean socially murdered. Break--" she was about to say:
break all the commandments before doing this! but thought better of it
and added: "yourself of that habit the very first--the very first thing
you do. And I want to hear more of that good English you say you know,"
she laughed at him. "You've been talking atrociously all day!"

"What's atrociously?" he asked.

"I don't see Brent," Miss Liz raised her lorgnette. "Is he ill?"

"No, my dear," the Colonel answered, "he is otherwise engaged and cannot
be with us."

"John," the good woman stared severely across at him, "I believe that
boy is working too hard! You must prevail upon him to take more rest."

A bomb exploding could scarcely have produced more surprise, yet one
could never know just at what point Miss Liz would "break out"--as Zack
called it. In the midst of their spellbound silence Ann giggled, and
Jane managed to say:

"That would be rather difficult, wouldn't it, Miss Liz?--I mean,
persuading him to take _more_ rest?"

"Well, your father must try," she insisted; for, when very much in
earnest, Miss Liz impartially denoted the Colonel as father to
whomsoever she might be speaking.

"He's makin' a railroad, ain't he?" Dale turned to Ann. "Do ye reckon
he'll show me how?"

"He'll turn it all over to you, no doubt!--he'll have to turn it over to
someone if it gets built! It only shows, Daddy," she laughed across to
the Colonel, "that one can't serve a corporation and a goddess both at
the same time! Isn't that a natty little epigram?"

"I don't follow the subject of your epigram," the Colonel smiled.

"Why, Brent, and the goddess, and the railroad," she replied.

"Goddess, my dear? What goddess?"

She and Jane exchanged glances.

"He's suspected of having a love somewhere; some mysterious love whom he
meets in the moonlit forest of Arden--when it's moonlight; and, maybe,
when it isn't."

"What have you to support this?" the old gentleman frowned. He, too, had
sometimes wondered what took Brent away so frequently of late. These
were uncomfortable thoughts to the Colonel, who allowed suspicions no
place in his estimate of people.

"Oh, we just support it for the sake of gossip," she laughed. "Aunt
Timmie dreamed it, I believe."

"I thought you were serious," he smiled, yet showing his distaste for
the subject, "nor will I permit any gossiping here!"

"But, Heavens, Daddy--"

"My dear," he interrupted her, "I trust you will never learn to gossip.
It is purely a trade, carried on by a breed of fawning Judases--of
self-satisfied butchers, to deal in the choicest cuts of their
unsuspecting friends' characters. The shelter of my roof must also
afford protection to the good name of my guest."

"'Good name' in the present instance is hardly a calculable statement,"
she murmured, for Ann could be biting, as well as sweet, when her
feelings were touched.

"I quite agree with John," Miss Liz arose to the occasion. "It is
strange," she added, turning the lorgnette this time carefully at Jane,
"that he does not find a nice young girl to marry."

"Such a cynosure of niceness, too," Ann added her little dig, and Jane
suggested:

"He might try advertising!"

"What's advertising?" Dale asked.

"Oh, Lord," the Colonel exploded into his napkin.

When dinner was over, Jane crossed the porch unnoticed and walked out
under the trees. The lorgnette which had said to her "it is strange he
does not find some nice girl to marry," left a disquieting effect. Ann
had only that day suggested the same idea, and Bob had laughed to her
about it the previous evening. Even Aunt Timmie, the ebony font of
wisdom, had but recently looked slyly at her, remarking: "'Foh long we's
gwine to have a weddin' in a private cyar!" (Aunt Timmie had never seen
a private car, but it typified her idea of grandeur). She now strolled
on beneath the trees, beneath giant clinging wild grape and trumpet
vines, to a circle of low spreading cedars, wherein lay a carpet of
odorous tanbark. It was a favorite spot with her.

Gliding carefully through the meeting branches which hid the path, she
dropped into a yielding hammock and gazed for several minutes up at the
network of black limbs, watching a star here and there which showed in
a few small patches of visible sky. One arm stretched down at full
length until her fingers touched the ground, and in this way she was
keeping the hammock gently in motion.

She made a wonderfully graceful shadow, reclining in this dark place,
and no judge of the human form could have passed without a quick breath
of admiration for its delicate blending of strength and frailty, its
stamp of being thoroughbred. And it was along the line of thoroughbreds
that her thoughts were wandering.

Having acquired much of the Colonel's reliance in breeding, and in the
fitness of appropriately mated things, she was wondering! Her father and
mother had been illiterate mountaineers, but did there not exist a time
prior to this when their ancestors were people of refinement? This, she
felt, must be surely so, because of her early love of refined
things--truly refined, to a degree far beyond the ken of mountain life.
Without substantiating records, she seemed to know that in early
Colonial days her family of gentle blood had floated with the migratory
tide across the Appalachian range. That was the origin of all
mountaineers! What had held some there, instead of sending them on to
the rich, unsurveyed plains? A birth enroute? That sometimes happened.
The man of the family died, or was killed, and the woman forced to build
a shelter as best she might until the boys grew big enough to help?
That, too, had happened. Whatever the reason, some of the best
Anglo-Saxon stock had been stranded in the Cumberlands, staying there
literally and figuratively while the world advanced.

Perhaps her strain was purer than the Colonel's! Few mountaineers made
alien marriages, for the very sufficient reason that they seldom
roamed--even though this had meant stagnation in their own environment.
Still, the strain was pure! If one occasionally escaped these mountain
fastnesses, why should he not--why should she not--with a free rein,
dash out to regain lost prestige? Why should she not with one stroke
blot out five or six generations of ignorance, and bring the stifled
line of her honorable ancestry to the place it had been rightfully
demanding for a century? But, in the face of uncertainties, would her
blood commingled with the blood of established lineage now be fair?
Would she ever feel a rebuke in infant eyes? Would they not burn her
soul if she wantonly summoned them to open on a world which might point
back with a superior smile? Could she ever kiss the little lips which
might some day praise the father and be silent of her?

Thus her sensitive thoughts, bringing a succession of confusions,
wandered dreamily on, while the hammock gradually ceased its swinging
and hung as a thing asleep.



CHAPTER XII

A LIGHT ABOVE THE MOUNTAIN


During the latter part of Jane's reflections Brent McElroy was having a
few strange minutes. He had left Arden shortly before sundown and, by
following two side roads, reached the rear gate of Tom Hewlet's farm
without having to appear on the pike. This was no unusual route for him
on evenings when the pike promised hazards such as a chance meeting with
the Harts or Jane.

Whenever Nancy, on the lookout, saw a cloud of dust rising above these
rambling, tree-lined lanes instead of from the white, direct way, a deep
flush of mortification tinged her face. She understood his
circumspection, but wisely refrained from showing it.

Tying his horse, he followed a path up to the gnarled orchard where he
knew she would be waiting. And there he spied her, idly plaiting dry
stems of last year's bluegrass, beneath the distorted old tree which he
had named Nirvana. A glow of extreme pleasure warmed him, for this
Rosalind with her rustic prettiness made an agreeable diversion from the
somewhat monotonous evenings at Arden, and he vastly enjoyed angling
about the edges of her rural pool. But he was unaware that she had never
left its limpid depths. He did not suspect--because he did not think it
possible--that, like a goldfish, she had only swum about in the limited
sphere of her transparent bowl, looking out at the universe with large
eyes which seemed, but were not, wise; and ready, if danger came, to
scurry back into the little frosted castle that constituted the center
of her constricted existence.

No kind words or deeds had reached that frosted little castle during the
years she most required them. It had remained cold and uninviting,
except as a place of shelter, and her soul had shrunk into a sort of
knot--until Brent came. Only at his coming did her hungry nature begin
to uncurl;--only at the coming of this polished gentleman from the great
world, who knew everything, who was the epitome of kindness, who fed her
with confidences and compliments, who inspired her with a sudden sense
of meaningness, of importance--only since then had she begun to realize
that for a long time her heart had craved affection.

He now remained another moment behind the trees to draw a half filled
flask from his pocket. Had he not had more than enough to drink that
day, he might have possessed the prudence to put this back untouched.
Instead, he drained it; then carelessly sent it flying across the fence
into an adjoining field rank with old weeds.

He came on after this, and Nancy sprang up, holding lightly to one of
the low hanging boughs. Before they spoke, and to her wild dismay, he
kissed her; and, as much to her dismay, she yielded, clinging to him in
a strange, sweet agony. For if two hearts are hungry, if two natures
have been strangled, there is a time when the touch of lips to lips lets
loose a sweep of human passion before which the hosts of heaven and the
laws of man draw back in awe.

But suddenly, with a piercing shriek, she sprang away; then, clutching
his arm, whirled him about.

"Look!" she whispered, pointing a trembling finger to a pale, mysterious
glow which seemed to be arising from the peaks of the distant
Cumberlands.

"The moon is coming up," he said, unsteadily.

This was the first time either had spoken, either had moved; but now she
commenced to sob in little gasps, backing farther from him as though he
were something she dared not touch again--reaching blindly behind her
for their old tree, whose strength in having resisted the fury of many
storms might be imparted to her now.

"What's the matter?" he asked, still stupidly.

"Oh, Brent," she whispered, "I thought it was that blind girl lookin'
down here an' tellin' me she'd rather see me dead! Go home, quick, for
the love of Christ!"

He would not ask her to explain. Non-understandable as her words had
been, they had given him time to look about and see upon what a perilous
brink their feet were standing.

Brent was not a godly man; he had not cultivated Nancy with a grain of
godly intention. But he was a manly man; and now as he suddenly
realized, with that certainty which has no law, no rule, no answer, that
she was good, he would not trust himself to speak. Shutting his teeth
hard, he turned abruptly and almost ran toward the horse.

Then it was that she threw herself upon the grass and sobbed great sobs
of thankfulness; and tried to laugh, and tried to pray; holding out her
clasped hands to that halo of light above a humble cabin somewhere in
the mountains, in whose door a blind face had seemed to look down at her
entreating: "I'd ruther see ye die!"

It was in a perturbed but thoroughly sober mind that Brent dragged back
the broken gate, whose openings and closings had worn a deep rut in the
ground. He was about to untie his horse when the figure of a man
appeared walking clumsily along the orchard fence.

"Wait there," the fellow called. "I want to see you!"

The heavy frame of Tom Hewlet came on, and no other word was spoken
until he stopped three feet away. Swaying slightly, and looking into
Brent's face with a simpering leer, in an undertone he said:

"Come over some evenin' next week."

"What for?"

"I might say it's 'cause you're so purty to look at," he guffawed at
this bit of humor. "But, fact is, it's on fam'ly matters."

"You're coming apart, Tom. Go in and get some sleep!"

"I was sleepin', till a empty whiskey bottle come sailin' through the
air an' hit me on my hand."

A cold shiver crawled up the engineer's spine, but he turned to unhitch
the horse, saying casually:

"You'll have blue mice sailing through the air if you don't sober up."

"Don't be in a hurry," hiccoughed Tom. "Don't leave yoh would-be
step-pappy without some kind of reminder. A fiver 'd go mighty fine
jest now, an' you wouldn't never miss it!"

Brent had wheeled on him.

"You're getting in mighty dangerous ground, Tom," he warned sharply.

"'Tain't half as dangerous as that orchard back there, if you didn't
come into it honest!--an' if you did come honest, there ain't no reason
why I can't borry a fiver--bein' a fam'ly matter, as you might say!"

"I came honest, and I'm leaving honest, you drunken fool," Brent raved
at him. "And don't try any blackmail dodges on me or I'll beat your head
off!"

"Blackmail!" Tom stepped back, not so much in surprise at the word as at
Brent's threatening attitude. "Well, I'll leave it to the Cunnel, an'
Miss Jane, an' them folks over there, if this ain't a fair an' squar
proposition--all in the fam'ly, as you might say;--bein' as you come
honest! For if fine gentlemen like you don't come honest, they'll say
Gawd pity the gal!"

They'll say: God pity the girl! It smote his soul like a whip. Why
should they not say it anyhow of the half-read country girl whom he
slipped around by back roads to meet at night? Heretofore, he had been
more the adventurer than criminal, but now he felt the brand of both.
Some day, after his work was finished and he had gone, Zack would tell
of the messages and notes, and all the sacred oaths of all the creeds
would not convince Arden and Flat Rock one little mite of her innocence!

Over in the orchard a girl, walking slowly to the house, had stopped,
terrified; shrinking for him, not for herself, as with the unerring
instinct of her sex she realized how his pride would cringe before such
an exposure.

"Tom," he said at last, "you may have the fiver, but not because I'm
afraid of anything you can say. Nancy hasn't a thing in God's world to
be ashamed of, and neither have I. But it's plain that I can't come
again as long as you're drunk and seeing things. Here," handing him a
bill. "But it isn't a loan, or hush money, or anything of the
sort;--just hope money."

"How hope money?" Tom grinned, crumpling it eagerly in his hand.

"Because I hope you'll drink yourself to death with it. Good night."

It was late that night, and not until she had made a hurried walk across
the country to Arden, when Nancy stole into the house. Her ears told her
that Tom was lost in slumber, and she crept to her room, fastening the
door with the back of a chair wedged firmly beneath the knob. She was
breathing fast--this time from physical exertion. Her skirt showed one
or two rents where, in her haste, it had been forced through stiff
underbrush, and the knuckles of her hands were stained with fresh earth,
as though she might have crouched upon the ground somewhere to escape
detection. Only upon her face was there no sign of violence. In it
rested a light translatable as a great peace which comes to one who has
forgiven nobly, at the sacrifice of toil, an erring friend.



CHAPTER XIII

IN THE CIRCLE OF CEDARS


Brent reached Arden behind a sweaty horse. The meeting with Hewlet was
filling him more and more with an agonizing unrest. He wanted to be
alone, and he wanted not to be alone. He wanted to think, and he wanted
not to think. At least, he could not face the Colonel and the others
just now, so turning past the house to the most secluded spot the lawn
afforded, he brushed through the screen of cedar branches, felt his way
across the tanbark to a seat, and sank into it with a low curse.

Jane had heard the quick approaching steps, and now, because her eyes
were accustomed to the shadowy gloom, she recognized at once, not only
the man but a measure of his agitation by the way he breathed and jammed
one fist into the palm of his other hand. Yet, in a spirit of fun, she
remained motionless, wondering how soon he would detect her. Then a deep
groan burst from his lips. It was a sound of poignant suffering that
went to the depths of her nature. Purposeless as seemed his life, she
still felt that it could not be altogether bad. The very charm of his
presence, which had a way of stamping him a gentleman born even when in
his khaki working clothes, stood for some defense; and, in spite of his
laziness, she rather guessed that a generous fund of masculine strength
lay within that frame--and of mental strength, if directed toward things
of his desire. She knew him to be a dreamer, a scoffer; but had not
accredited him with a capacity of worry or grief. The evidence of it now
perplexed as much as it stirred her. In the stillness of the place it
seemed almost as though she could hear his heart crying beneath its
breath in the grip of some remorseless sorrow. At once she was all pity,
and slowly, with her eyes resting on his bent head, asked:

"What has happened?"

He sprang up, peered at her, and then tried to laugh.

"You must forgive me," he bowed, "for bringing the dramatic club into
your sanctum. I'd no idea anyone was here."

"I know that," she said. Then asked again: "What has happened?"

"You're a bully fellow," he exclaimed in a tone of sincerity, but not
entirely free from the false echo of his laugh, "and I'd love to tell
you were you not certain to be bored stiff with it. Let me ask you,
instead, what you're thinking about in this charmed circle?"

"I'm sure you'd be bored stiff," she drily answered.

He waited a moment. Then:

"It wasn't very courteous of me, I know; but, as a matter of fact, I was
just having something out with myself. I've--I haven't been fair to
someone; and I'm sorry. So I can't tell you lest I betray."

She sat more erect with a shade of her former sympathy, asking as though
it had been a debatable point:

"Then you have a conscience?"

"I have a sense of proportion," he answered. "That's more logical than a
conscience."

"Will you ever exercise it for those poor mountain people of mine, who
are starving for civilization?"

"I already do--all sorts of ways."

He had himself in hand now, and, crossing over, sat down by her.

"I think you'll be more comfortable on the bench," she suggested, and he
returned to the rustic seat.

The pause was rather awkward, and she continued:

"I didn't mean to pry into your--sense of proportion, but thought you
might have had bad news. That's why I asked. In a place like this, you
know, where people are more or less detached from the usual worldly
interests, they sometimes feel as though they might help each other
without committing an unpardonable affront. That's all. Have you many
more rights of way to secure before the road can go ahead?"

"I should like to think, Miss Jane," he replied, passing the matter of
railroads, "that I really could turn to you for help sometimes. If
there's a fellow in all the world who needs it, and who abominably hates
to let people see he needs it, it's the luckless devil before you."

"If the world is to be kept in ignorance," she smiled, "you mustn't come
into dark places and begin swearing unless you know they're uninhabited.
It's romantic, but dangerous."

"Romantic things are always dangerous; ever think of that?"

"I haven't, but it isn't true," she answered.

"I can prove it without any trouble, but--" he arose, feeling his
pockets, "my--er--cigarettes! Will you wait a few minutes?"

She bowed, and he went out; not for the cigarettes, but to a side window
of the house where he beckoned Zack and told him to build, without
delay, a toddy. For Brent had been considerably unstrung by the
suddenness with which events moved across his stage since sunset, and he
turned to this concoction for temporary steadiness. Then he lighted a
cigarette and walked back to her in a more composed frame of mind.

"Now," he said, entering the cedars, "with your permission, why are
romantic things dangerous?"

"That happened to be your observation, and not interesting," she
answered. "You found your cigarettes?"

"You see I'm smoking," he smiled.

"And temporizing," she drily observed. "Really, Mr. McElroy, the truth
is not in you!"

"I beg your pardon?" he stiffened slightly.

"I am saying the truth is not in you," she directly answered. "When you
first came here tonight, you took a cigarette from your case and lighted
it."

"I should never have been so careless if something weren't on my mind,"
he laughed now. "The truth--the true truth--is that I needed a drink of
wicked whiskey. Forgive me?"

"I might not find it so difficult to forgive if, in the future, you
either stop trying to deceive me or talking to me; I really don't care
which!"

"I say!" he looked up in surprise. "That's pretty straight talk! But it
may be a worth-while thing for you to remember that a place does exist
where men can't answer every question put to them, and I very much doubt
your right to assume so much simply because I choose to keep a few of my
affairs to myself. When I first came in here you asked what had
happened. That was sympathetic, and I appreciated it; but it was
something I couldn't answer, and told you so. You may remember that you
seemed to resent that. Your manner was an invitation for me to make up
some sort of a fairy-tale to appease your curiosity; and if I had, and
you'd found it out, you would just as readily have called me a
what's-his-name. You're illogical. You don't seem to share my sense of
proportion, at any rate. I wanted a drink--I needed a drink; and I had
every right in the world to take it, providing I didn't offend anyone.
But it would have offended you--so why announce my intention? If I'm put
in a position where some sort of explanation is demanded, and the truth
can't in fairness be told, I'm thrown back on the resort which your own
sex has taught me--that delectable sex of sweet poisons and silent
stilettoes, versatile in the art of lying; queens of the art,
indeed--though innocent in it. And here's another plain truth: I'd love
to be frank with you, and tell you everything in the world I can,
because I think you are square with lots of things which most women
side-step. I can't just express it, but you're broadminded and
charitable, and smash right out from the shoulder at a thing as if you
didn't have skirts on. I don't put it very well, but you know what I
mean!"

She thought he did not put it very well, but she knew he put it
sincerely, and her reply held a vein of banter which he might not have
been expecting just then:

"Perhaps you'll begin by telling about your mysterious dryad in the
Forest of Arden!"

"Suspicion," he peered through the gloom at her reprovingly, "is the
solvent which disintegrates happiness; and happiness, reduced to its
component parts, is trash. Withdraw your question!"

"Happiness cannot be reduced to its component parts," she laughed,
"because its ingredients have strayed to us from the four corners of the
universe, and cannot ever be returned. I insist upon your answer!"

"You are drawing a long bow," he said more soberly. "You employ
femininity's imperfect warrant to shoot at random and trust her gods to
put something in the way of getting hit. It's a satire on honesty."

"Never mind about honesty," she laughed again. "Did my gods fail me?"

He puffed a few times at his cigarette, finally taking a deep inhalation
and blowing it slowly on the lighted end until the outlines of his face
became softly visible in the glow. She saw how serious it seemed, and
guessed he was purposely making it so.

"Since you insist--!" he began very carefully. "My dryad in this
enchanted wood is the most enticing spirit ever clothed in the graces
of woman. That's all."

Again he turned to his cigarette. Again the red glow and the serious
face. Again her accurate suspicion.

"If that is all, you're not playing fair. Does she live in a tree?"

"No. She lives in a big white house with big white columns; by night she
haunts me, but by day she holds school for mortals in a shady grove."

"I thought you were more original than that," she said, in an
expressionless voice. "So we're not to talk any more, are we!"

"But I swear--" he began.

"So do I," she interrupted him, "that you bore me to extinction with
things like that, Brent; honestly you do! If you can't be just a little
bit sincere, I can't be interested in you."

They had known each other for more than two months; two months of almost
daily, unconventional contact, but this was the first time she had
called him Brent. It came now as a master-stroke for true understanding,
and he threw back his head and laughed.

"My, but you're a corker--beg pardon--I mean a live wire!"

"Overwhelming flattery in either case," she smiled, "and that's the
second sincere thing you've said."

"The second! Well, I like that! Perhaps when you begin thinking less
about yourself, you'll be able to see more virtues in other people!"

"No one has ever accused me of thinking particularly about myself," she
righteously flushed.

"No one has to," he replied, teasingly. "Being a teacher--although a
very young and charming one--presupposes egotism."

"Your analysis is shrewd tonight," she coolly observed.

"Not at all," he affably continued. "An egoist, and a woman whose dress
is unhooked in the back, are always blissfully unconscious that the
world is seeing more of them than they normally would permit."

Her hand stole to the back of her waist. He saw this and again began to
laugh, saying:

"I fancy that part is all right. And you know how far I am from meaning
the other, too!"

"I'm probably different from most of your friends," she spoke rather
quickly, "because I'd rather tell an unpleasant truth than a
conventional falsehood. Truth, to me, is the bravest and most beautiful
thing in life. And one reason," she added, leaning imperceptibly nearer
to see his face, "that women so love it in a man is because it makes of
him a sort of restful harbor she can steer to from gathering worries. No
man can possibly know how comforting it is for a girl's course to be
laid within easy running distance of a safe harbor. He may know of
wrecks which occur without them, but seldom considers how easily many of
these might have been averted."

"Men sometimes feel that way about girls," he suggested. "Only, in
girls, they ask for tenderness."

She took the rebuke, simply adding:

"Girls feel tenderness for shelter, not for a destroying sea."

They were quiet then. The hum of night life was about them, and from the
house came faintly the mellow notes of a piano, where the Colonel and
Bob were watching out of shadow the enraptured light in Dale's face as
Ann introduced him for the first time in his life to that type of
instrumental music.

As though this were in some way made known to her, Jane broke the
silence.

"A man with an honest purpose in life," she gently said, "with a duty to
perform, who sticks to it through thick and thin, admitting no defeat,
hammering upon stubborn places, finds in good womankind an ever-ready
tenderness. It is the feminine answer to masculine courage."

"There are two kinds of courage," he replied after a polite pause, "just
as there are two kinds of duty, and two kinds of pride--each so closely
resembling its other self that men, and particularly women, are often
misled. When fear tugs at a fellow's heart (and without fear there would
be no courage) he is courageous who walks resolutely into every
uncertainty if duty chances to be there calling. I think you will agree
with me. But what is duty? There's your stumbling block! A false
conception of this--a belief that he sees ahead of him what there is
not--may cause him to be sacrificed as ignominiously as a bone tossed to
a dog; his life would be gobbled up for no better purpose. That's bad
business. Humanity would be bankrupt at such a rate. So, if a man of
courage be not also a man of foresight--"

"You mean that he would have no excuse for keeping out of danger," she
laughed. "That when he saw a duty, or heard its call, he would not be
able to justify himself in sitting calmly down to consider if the
sacrifice were worth while! Then, indeed, would the world be a sorry
place! Personally, I'd rather see fat dogs stalking over the earth than
just bones!"

"I hope you are deliberately misconstruing what I have said," he flushed
furiously. "Fear of physical and mental pains are just the same,
requiring the same courage to go through." He stopped, as though
weighing the wisdom of continuing. "Oh, I don't care," he moved
uneasily, "I want to tell you nearer what I mean. Once, a long time
ago--maybe three years or four--there was a girl for whom I'd have
suffered anything and thanked God for the pain. That's loving some! And
there was another chap, a sort of friend of mine, and a right decent
sort; steady, always at work, and people said she'd make a great mistake
by taking me. They saw him only when he was making money by his own
grinding, you know, and saw me only when I was spending my allowance. He
wanted her, too; and it was a pretty nice race between us, with a
foregone conclusion that she'd take one or the other. She didn't pay any
attention to what the people said, but one day I picked up some kind of
a self-righteous, courageous microbe, and decided the proper way for
her--I stepped aside."

"And?" she asked, when he did not continue.

"My courage was there, but my point of view was warped; I was out of
focus on duty," he quietly asserted. "She married the other fellow, and
it developed too late that his life was a shabby muss. Now her eyes are
heavy with an endless sorrow. I think that was when I tried--well, when
I began drinking some."

"Wouldn't you have done that anyway?" she asked.

"Perhaps," he slowly answered.

"If he had not married her, and she were here now, would you?"

"Not since you are here," he debonairly smiled.

She might not have heard this from the way she sat, looking down and
thinking.

"I suppose," she said at last, "that all men's lives are shabby musses.
You may think me unkind, but without a shadow of doubt you would have
made her unhappy, too. You are that type."

"I'm very much obliged to you," he murmured. "It seems that I've come to
a friend, and found a judge; that my search for sympathy has brought me
to a sentence. You're most encouraging, Jane. Perhaps it would be
interesting to know how you've found all this out!"

"Oh, I can't say just how," she answered, feeling that his rebuke held
more than a share of justice. "It comes from so many small things,
which, apart, might be immaterial, but, together, speak volumes and make
you quite an impossible quantity in the scheme of domesticity. For
instance, the other day, when you had someone's gun in your hands, you
deliberately fired at an overflying woodpecker to test your skill. The
dead bird was useless. That showed the instinct of a wanton destroyer,
and a wanton destroyer, my friend, is not just the safest place for a
girl's happiness."

"How do you know I wasn't keeping in practice, in order to become a good
protector?" he murmured, but she was not in the mood for flippancy, and
continued:

"You shirk responsibilities, and have that dear old Colonel drinking
more than he has done in years; while your own hedonism is shocking."

"Well, why not?" he looked up suddenly. "If pleasure's my god, whose
business is it?"

"Pride's," she softly answered. "It's the business of Pride, that makes
all male human beings men. Girls know, without having to reason, that a
man who is lacking in pride is lacking in self respect, and is unworthy
of himself; which means he is unworthy of anyone else. That may not be
very clear, but it's what I mean. If Dale, now, had the surveying of
your road, we could feel certain of it; or if you had more self control
like him--though I suppose he was born with it!"

He frowned, and she saw his teeth press hard upon his lower lip. Perhaps
that was why she added:

"See what a dependable man he is going to be!--what strength of
character!"

He looked away. Realizing how impossible it would be for her to say this
about himself, a feeling of rebellion began to stir against the
mountaineer. But he indignantly choked it with a ruthless hand, knowing
that her comparison, not Dale, must be held responsible. Then for a
moment he took a swift glance into the future, wondering how long it
might be before he could come abreast of this mountaineer's supposed
dependability--and, perhaps, pass on ahead of it! But Brent was not in
the habit of gazing future-ward, and he could not hold the focus for
long at a time. Now, quietly, he spoke to her, though without interest:

"I'm afraid your three little observations are illogical. In the first
place, self control is not a proof of dependability; in the second
place, Dale has no more self control than a kitten in a fit; and in the
third place, people are not born with self control. Is there anything
else you'd like to talk about?"

She flushed, but looked across at him smilingly:

"I want to talk about that!"

"Then let's get rid of Dale first. If I read the signs, you've got in
that chap a creature of limitless self indulgence. He's crazy to learn,
and I've no doubt that already he is studying like a steam engine; but
when he wants to do other things he'll do 'em with the same zeal. I
gather from the Colonel that he doesn't give a rap for anybody or
anything just so he gets to a book. Self control? He doesn't know any
more about it than water coming down a rain pipe!"

"Don't you think the desire to study is commendable?"

"Certainly, but it requires no self control. He studies just as he would
scratch his hand if it itched. I should call it natural, rather than
commendable; or fortunate, if you choose. Jane," he now looked her fully
and seriously in the eyes, "there are lots of people who go through life
with tense lines about their mouths, saying nothing, never getting into
devilment, and the world tiptoes behind them whispering: 'What
wonderful self control!' It's all rot! Self control is a thing we
unconsciously cultivate from the moment our minds begin to coordinate.
It's like building a dam across our hidden river of tendency; and a hit
or miss sort of structure it is, too. In one man the current of this
tendency may be like a trickling stream, and a handful of materials are
enough to keep it in check. In another, it may be a raging torrent, and
he may slave night and day, gathering stone and sand, and sealing them
with his very blood. But suppose in the end the torrent gets away from
him! He fails, you say. Yet is he weaker after that herculean task than
the other chap who dammed up his stream of tendency with the side of his
boot? He publicly goes under,--yes! But may he not still be finer than
his two-by-four brother whose temperament ran only from the ice-box to
family prayers and back to the ice-box? I want to tell you," he
concluded in the same low, even voice, "that in the Big Summing Up, the
Celestial Clearing House will show many a poor gutter-runner more
entitled to wear medals for having made a game fight for respectability
than some of his anemic superiors who all their days walked slowly, and
were called by their fellows examples of great character. Don't be too
quick to size up a chap's pace, Lady Jane, until you know how red his
blood is, and how much weight he's carrying. I must go now!"

While he had been speaking, the moon, full and mellow, climbed high
above the house and shed a mere suggestion of light--a sort of luminous
radiance--into the thickly sheltered circle. He stood up quickly with
the air of one who had said too much, reached for a cigarette, and then
for a match which he could not at once find. She saw that his face was
very white and drawn in this ghost-like gloaming.

"I wish you wouldn't," she hesitated. "I like to talk to you tonight."

He turned and looked down at her, as she added:

"You're a curious make-up;--and have some really fine things in you!"

"That starts out well," he laughed, lighting the cigarette and sinking
back on the bench.

"Do you ever ask women's permission before smoking?" she asked, a shade
offended by the persistent way he ignored her in this regard.

"I didn't think it was quite necessary out doors;--and you might say
no!"

"Then you haven't the diplomacy of a true Kentucky gentleman. I'll tell
you what one of the most true and gallant of them once told me, and he
would be an example for you to follow--in more than one particular. He
was over ninety years old, and smoking a pipe--a dear old pipe he was
seldom without--when I came up to him. Holding it toward me, he said: 'I
shall not ask if I may smoke in your presence! A long time ago that
request once met with a denial, so thereafter I merely implored the
ladies' permission to burn a little incense to their lovely charms. Nor
do I recall,' he smiled, 'one single refusal in the seventy-five years
which have passed since then!' This," Jane added, her voice tender with
the memory, "was General Simon Bolivar Buckner."

"Well, you've cut a notch too high for me," he answered seriously.
"Those few 'fine things' you just accused me of are nothing more than
fireflies flashing in a skull compared to that grand old man. How d'you
like the simile, by the way? Pretty good, isn't it?"

"A striking picture of you, Brent! I would recognize it anywhere!"

A ripple of good humor played about her mouth which made her dangerously
attractive, and, oddly enough, this was caused by that look of
seriousness she had seen in him--a look which she had not the slightest
doubt portrayed some mental suffering. To anyone else she would have
held out her hand and said: "Let me help--I know I can!" But now she
could only feel somehow glad to find that he was big enough, and fine
enough to suffer. She had not suspected it, and it threw a new light
about him. It sent, too, a riot of something pleasant tingling through
her blood--as she had felt sometimes at the lookout point above her
father's cabin, where she watched for spies while he "mashed" the corn,
and the white moonshine dripped, dripped from the rusty worm of his
home-made still; when, crouched beneath the stars, her quick ears had
caught some faint, suspicious sounds. Ruinous though they might turn out
to be, she used to love those tingle-giving sounds. The same sort of
thrill now reached past the culture-clothed sentinels around her heart
and gave it an honest shake for old time's sake. Slowly she began to
smile, and, seeing this, he moodily asked:

"Why are you smiling?"

"I don't know, Brent. I just want to smile, that's all." Then she arose,
murmured good night, and went out.

But the branches were still swaying where she had passed when he heard a
quick cry of surprise.

"Brent!"

He was beside her in a second, looking over her outstretched arm that
pointed toward the thickest portion of the grounds.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I don't know," she whispered. "Someone must have been here, and ran in
there!"

He dashed after whatever it was, plunging through the shrubbery and
threshing about for several minutes. Once she thought she heard a low
cry, or voice, and for awhile he was so quiet that she grew more uneasy;
but again the crackling sounds proclaimed him to be on the search, and
finally he emerged.

"It's nothing," he said, coming up. "Maybe a dog."

"It couldn't have been a dog. Let's go to the house--it makes me
creepy!"

They turned, crossing the little patches of moonlight filtered through
the trees upon the violet sprinkled ground. It was a wonderfully
seductive spot on a night like this! The mellow tinkle of the piano,
arising from Ann's nimble touch, floated out to them;--they might have
been walking in an enchanted fairy-land but for the turmoil about his
heart and the unrest in her own. Impulsively she faced him:

"What do you think that could have been?"

He was taken unawares, and had of course no suspicion of her cause for
nervousness.

"Brent," she said again, "I must know who was there!"

He stood humbly before her with his head bowed. When he spoke his voice
was absolutely sincere.

"I can't tell you, Jane."

This magnified her fears, for she thought he was trying mercifully to
spare her.

"You must tell me," she urged, betraying her terror by grasping his arm.
In his own preoccupation he did not notice this. "You must tell me," she
was pleading. "Oh, Brent, if we are ever to be friends, here, tell me!
There's a vital reason why I must know at once!"

"But, Jane, I can't," he earnestly replied to her. "It was someone to
see me!"

"You are cruel to try to spare me this way," she gasped, and the tears
in her voice turned him to a being of great tenderness. "Can't you see
I'm desperate?--that your evasions are torturing me? Who was that man?"

"Man?" he stared at her. "It wasn't a man!"

"Oh," she said, loosing his arm and stepping back with a half earnest,
half hysterical little laugh. "Oh," she repeated, "I--you must forgive
me! I thought it was someone--I thought it might be someone who touched
me very closely, Brent!"

He stood looking down at her. How could he know she had been fearful of
Potter?

"It seems," he slowly mused, "that we've nearly stumbled on each
other's secrets. I didn't suspect you were waiting for anyone, or I
shouldn't have stayed."

"But I wasn't," she quickly retorted.

"Certainly," he drily agreed with her. "Very stupid of me to suggest
it."

She stepped around in front of him, saying frankly:

"I give you my word of honor that I did not dream anyone would come
there, nor is there a man--"

"This isn't necessary," he smiled. "I quite agree with you; and it was
nothing that could have touched you at all closely."

She flushed, then turned and started slowly on, saying in a tremulous
whisper:

"Very well, you needn't believe me." But just before reaching the house
she again turned and faced him. "It hurts, Brent," she faltered, "to
know you are thinking unkind things of me! Your own worldliness makes
you utterly unsparing!"

"I would rather not have you persist in this," he said gently. "It seems
to be one of those cases where you can't tell the truth, so why should
you go to the other extreme unnecessarily? I'm not asking you 'what is
the matter?' or if you found your cigarettes! Please dismiss it! If you
want Dale to meet you in that charmed circle, I'm sure it's a harmless
pastime."

She wheeled and left him, quickly running up the steps and into the
house; but an echo of the pleading in her voice remained, and now gently
pushed aside his ill humor which, in turn, was succeeded by a feeling of
joyous relief;--because, hidden in the rhododendron thicket, a girl had
whispered for him to have no fear--that Tom Hewlet would not threaten
his peace again. In his surprise he had caught her arm and asked why she
had come, but she drew back, whispering: "That blind girl! And, Brent,
take this!" What had she meant again by the blind girl? And why had she
thrust into his hand the little garnet pendant he had given her?

For another minute he pondered over the strange complexity of girls,
then sighed and smiled, and by a side door reached his room.



CHAPTER XIV

A MEETING OF RASCALS


Sometime after dusk the following Saturday, Tusk Potter walked
cautiously toward the home of Tom Hewlet. There was no moon, but a
starry glow illumined the pike and he kept well beneath the overhanging
trees; for Tusk had learned, through a dim sort of reasoning, that when
he walked in life's comfortable shadows he usually walked away from
trouble. He now reached the broken gate and for awhile stood regarding
the house, listening to see what manner of sounds came from within.
Being satisfied, he called:

"Hey, Tom!"

The door opened, and Mrs. Hewlet's whining voice answered:

"What d'you want?"

"Is Tom home?" he asked, in a half whisper.

"What if he is?" she demanded.

"Nuthin'," Tusk answered, shifting his weight and leaning against the
fence.

"Oh, is that you, Tusk?" she exclaimed more hospitably. "I've tuck so
much quinine a body can't hear their ears! Come in an' set!"

"Naw, I reckon not," he evasively replied. "Tell him to come on out!"

The door closed and, after a wait of several minutes, Tom glided around
the corner of the house. He preferred this to coming the direct way.
There were many things in common between Tusk and Tom.

"Hullo, Tusk," he said.

"Hullo, Tom."

They stood for awhile in awkward silence. Finally Tusk got out his knife
and began to whittle on the gate. Tom watched this, then reached into
his own pocket and produced a twist of long-green tobacco from which he
gnawed off a chew.

"Got any licker 'bout you?" he asked.

"A mite," Tusk answered, and by mutual consent they moved farther down
the road.

After having each tipped the bottle, Tusk announced:

"I'm buhned out!"

"You are?" Tom's voice held a note of alarm. "When?"

"A week ago today."

"How'd it happen?"

"You know that feller over to Cunnel's?"

"Reckon I do! Was it him?"

Tusk nodded. Tom remained deep in thought, wondering how he might
proceed without Nancy's knowledge.

"He'll pay for it, all right," he said, at last. "He's been owin' me a
little sum for a spell, an' we'll ask him to come across for two!"

"Aw, hell," Tusk turned with an air of disgust, "that ain't him. This
here'n ain't got no money what I'm talkin' 'bout. I don't mean the
railroad feller!"

"That's so; I did hear tell as how another feller was over there!"

"Well, I'd sort of reckon," Tusk growled. "An' what's moh, he's a
Dawson! There ain't no love lost 'tween me an' you an' the Dawsons,
Tom!"

"Shucks, Tusk, that ole thing's been fixed up way back at home," Hewlet
evasively replied.

"It ain't fixed up when he comes down heah an' buhns me out, I reckon!"

"Naw, I reckon not," the other had to admit. "What you goin' to do?"

"What you reckon I'm goin' to do?" Tusk growled.

"Look-ee-heah," Tom exclaimed, having a sudden inspiration. "You help me
on somethin' fu'st, an' then we'll have money to git moh guns, if yoh're
a mind to start somethin'!"

"How you mean?" Tusk cautiously asked.

"The railroad feller owes me a hund'ed dollars--I wouldn't be s'prised
if it was moh, but a hund'ed'll do to start on. Now don't ask no
questions! It don't consarn nobody but him an' me. You git it for me,
an' I'll help you with that Dawson bird. You know the McElroy feller,
don't you?"

"I've saw him hangin' 'round; but I can't go over there," Tusk grumbled.
"Didn't I jest tell you Dawson buhned me out? Why don't you go?"

"Tusk, a gentl'man don't like to be askin' another gentl'man to pay him
back a little friendly loan. You don't know that, 'cause you ain't got
real good sense, Tusk, but it's so. 'Sides that, some business dealin's
has to go through a third party. That's how he done when he made Dawson
buhn you out, didn't he?"

"When he what?" Tusk glared.

"Why, durn yoh poh haid, don't you know he wants yoh land for the
railroad? Ain't he said time an' time agin he's goin' to have it; an'
ain't you said you wouldn't sell? Well, then how's he goin' to git it,
you tell me that?"

As though a veil had been drawn from Tusk's face he saw it all in an
instant, and the next few minutes he spent in a flow of lurid oaths. Tom
watched him, a slow smile flickering about the corners of his mouth.
Finally he said:

"'Tain't no use to cuss; that won't build yoh cabin. Jest go like you
don't know nuthin' 'bout it, an' say you've come for that hund'ed for
me. An' if he says he ain't goin' to send it, jest say all right, that
you'll go right on over to Arden an' ax the Cunnel an' his folks if they
don't think it's fair an' squar. Jest say that! An' tell him, in case he
ain't got it on him, to put it--let's see," Tom thought a moment; "tell
him to put it on the schoolhouse steps tomorrer night at nine. See? If
you do that, Tusk, an' fetch the coin, I'll give you five dollars an' a
new rifle; an' help you git squar', too."

"Where'll I find this heah railroad feller?" Tusk was growing excited.

"He's at the Cunnel's; I done told you that!"

"An' I done told you I dassant go there!"

"Then ketch him out somewhere."

Tusk thought a moment, and hopefully exclaimed:

"I kin ketch 'im at the schoolhouse when he leaves the money!"

Tom looked at his friend in pitying disgust.

"You blamed fool, how's he comin' to the schoolhouse less'n you tell
'im!"

The simple-minded giant was greatly perplexed at this. He drew out his
bottle and took another drink, then mechanically passed it to Tom.

"Well," this schemer said, drawing the back of his hand across his
mouth, "if you want the gun, you'll have to make it. Belly-achin' around
this a-way won't bring you nothin'. Let me know tomorrer night what you
kin do, 'cause there's plenty others'll jump at the chance." With that
he turned and went back to the house, while Tusk, dazed and thinking
hard, walked slowly and slouchily down the pike.

Chance succeeded where the ingenuity of Tusk might have failed. He
reached a dip in the road where a small stream crossed, and stopped to
drink. On his hands and knees, and with the water dripping from his
mouth and chin, he suddenly raised his head to listen, then scurried
into the bushes to watch, as he recognized the sound of a galloping
horse.

Brent, coming from town, felt his mount shy and saw Potter looking out
at him. He did not know, of course, the part Tusk had played in the
schoolhouse drama, or of the fire, or, indeed, anything about him except
that he owned a piece of land which Dulany, Buckville's legal hope, was
trying to buy for the railroad, and that someone else had said his
strength was as great as his intellect was lacking. Brent reined up.

"Hello, Potter! What are you doing in there?"

"Hello yohse'f," Tusk emerged. "Hold up a minute!"

"Well?" Brent asked.

There was a pause, and Brent asked again: "Well?"

"Tom says as how you kin git that hund'ed for buhnin' down my cabin!"

"I'll get a monkey-wrench, my friend; you rattle," Brent chuckled. "But
you get out of my way! I'm going!"

Tusk regarded him in sullen silence. His face was black with passion and
Brent saw the necessity of more affable tactics.

"What's on your mind?" he asked. "Tell me so I can understand!"

"Nothin' ain't on my mind," Potter answered, with more truth than he
realized. "Tom says you owe me a hund'ed dollars for buhnin' down my
cabin; an' he says to leave that an' the hund'ed you owes him on the
schoolhouse steps tomorrer night; an' if you don't hand 'em over now
I'm to put it up to the Cunnel!"

It was disconnected, but Brent understood the last part well enough.
Also, it had flashed across his mind that if Tusk were really burned
out, Tom had done it and concocted a plausible tale in order to gain
this fellow as an ally. So he sat for a minute trying to grasp the
dangling threads of this surprising situation.

"Tusk," he said, "I didn't know you were burned out, and, of course, I
didn't do it; but I will buy your land if you'll come in town Monday and
sign--that is, if Dulany finds the title clear. He's getting some other
pieces for me, and can put yours in. How much do you own?"

"Acre," Tusk answered. "Th' ain't no trick 'bout this?"

"Certainly not. But land up there where you are isn't worth a hundred
dollars an acre! What are you trying to put over on us, Tusk?"

"Don't make no difference," he growled. "I had a cabin, an' a bed, an
blanket; an' stove, too, sech as 'twas!"

"All right," Brent laughed. "I'll give you the hunner if you're at
Dulany's office Monday." A hundred was the exact maximum price he and
Dulany had decided on offering Potter for that little strip.

"How 'bout Tom's?"

"Tom's?" Brent looked down at him. "Oh, you just tell Tom to go to hell.
That's the place for him."

"Will I tell the Cunnel's folks to go there, too?" he asked, with
unintentional sagacity.

Brent hesitated; then, leaning over the saddle, put an impressive
question.

"Tusk, do you want to go to hell?"

"Shucks," he spat contemptuously, "hell ain't got nothin' on a feller
like me!"

"Then do you want to go to the penitentiary?"

"Fer Gawd sake," he sprang back, "what you mean?"

"Just this: You tell Tom that this blackmail has got to stop! Understand
the word?--Blackmail! Let it soak in well, Tusk:--Blackmail! It's a
penitentiary offense, and I'll have him up before the next Circuit
Court, sure! Or better still," he declared, growing more and more angry,
"I'll ride back and tell him myself!"

"Naw you don't," Tusk's hand went quickly to the bridle rein. "You don't
give me the slip that a-way!"

"I'm not trying to give you the slip, you poor fool! You come in town
day after tomorrow and get your money. That's all you want!"

"An' that's all you want, too, I reckon. But I ain't goin' nigh no town
arter this talk 'bout penitentries. Jest come 'crost with that hund'ed
now!"

"I won't do anything to you in town, simpleton!" Brent raged at him.

"That can be settled best by stayin' right heah, I reckon. Hand out the
money!"

"I haven't it with me, Tusk. Do what I say and you won't be hurt!"

"That's all right 'bout bein' hurt," the fellow growled. "If you ain't
got that money with you, I'm goin' to take its wu'th outen yoh hide. You
got yoh hide, ain't you?"

For the first time Brent realized he was about to have trouble. The
man's size impressed him with no particular awe. He did not think of
this. He was aroused now and becoming furious, and as willing for a
fight as one well could be. He felt that he had been reasonable enough,
even while the man's words were goading him; but, irrespective of this,
an act which invariably fires a horseman's anger had been committed--a
restraining hand had been put with violence on his bridle rein.

"Wait till I tie this beast," he said, "and you can peel off all the
hide you're able!"

Tusk clicked his tongue and chuckled in fiendish delight as he watched
Brent dismount. Dollars were nothing to him now. He was about to thrash
the "railroad feller"--to kill him, maybe--and the world seemed
transformed into a whirlwind of happiness.

Brent, coming slowly back, considered that in his recent college days
his right punch had been a potent factor. In the gym it had come to be
an unanswerable argument, and outside of the gym on one or two
occasions--perhaps others might have been recalled--it was respectfully,
even though dreamily, remembered.

But now, as he stood on the ground, the abnormally long arms of the
antagonist before him precluded any reasonable chance of putting this
narcotic into effect--at least, where it had heretofore proved its
value. The point of the jaw had been his favorite spot, but the point of
this fellow's jaw would be as difficult to reach as Mars. However, he
approached warily, taking a close look at the ground to make sure there
were no hindrances to footwork, and rather humorously whispering:
"Brent, if I didn't actually know better, I'd take you for as big an
idiot as this boob who'll probably crack your nut." He had as whimsical
a way of going into dangers as of going into pleasures, and now there
was no trace of anger.

Tusk, watching him approach, raised his hand and blinked at a stone he
had slyly picked up. But when he, too, saw his opponent on foot he
scorned the need of a weapon, even so primitive. Quite deliberately then
he rolled his tattered sleeves up on those powerful, freckled, hairy
arms; and grinned, showing the hideous yellow teeth.



CHAPTER XV

TRYING TO PLAY FAIR


"Put up your paddles now, Mr. Potter," Brent said, edging to the left.
His arms were working like slowly moving piston-rods of an engine, that
is capable of great speed. He was on his toes, and his sinuous movements
seemed to speak of highly tempered springs and oil. He was indeed a
different Brent from any which the countryside had heretofore seen.
"Come ahead, old mutton-top," he laughed. "I'm going to fill your eye!"

To Tusk's imagination this shy fighter who kept himself at safe
distances now became suddenly elongated, and then as suddenly grew
normal. In the meanwhile, however,--in that infinitesmal part of a
second during which the transformation occurred--a fist as hard as rocks
smashed into his mouth. It was the sting of the blow, more than its
actual force, which made the big fellow wild with rage; and as this
increased in fury Brent kept up a rapid conversation generously
punctuated with cool, insulting epithets. It was unbearable to the
simple-minded Tusk who struck with a savageness that would have felled
an ox. He charged his foe but never found him, he cursed and drooled and
charged again, until at last Brent said in a tone of great solicitude:

"Well, old throw-back, I reckon I'll have to uncouple you now, and let
in the twilight! Hate to do it--Ugh!" The right swing went smashing
out--not to the jaw, but at just the proper instant to the pit of Tusk's
stomach. In another fraction of a second Brent was five feet away,
wiping the perspiration from his forehead and watching the big fellow
crumple up.

For he was clutching, tearing open his shirt and swaying. His eyes
stared wildly, his face was drawn and his mouth was open to its fullest
capacity in a struggle for breath. Then he went down, all of a heap;
tried to regain his feet, but failed, and crawled about on his hands and
knees in the dust, still fighting for that first gasp of air which
seemed tauntingly to stand between him and eternity. When it came, he
rolled over on his back and lay there panting.

"Get up," Brent scowled. "We've got to finish this scrap, and I'm in a
hurry!"

Tusk blinked at him in sheer perplexity. "What's yoh idee of finish?" he
asked.

"I'll show you in a minute. Get up!"

"That don't sound like good sense to me," Tusk whined. "Say, how'd you
do that, anyhow? I've knocked a lot with fellers, but--"

There was a spirit of forgiveness in the voice, a whisper of
reconciliation, but Brent wanted his victory to be absolute. He appeared
to go into a towering rage, screwing his face into a distorted horror,
stamping about like a demon, and disfiguring himself as much as
possible--trying, Chinese fashion, the experiment of terrifying the
enemy into abject submission, and having a great deal of fun throughout.

Growing more and more superstitious about this mysteriously delivered
blow from a man of smaller stature, and his apparent confidence to do it
again any number of times, Tusk remained in a sitting position and
stared. He became gradually impressed with a feeling that here was his
master, and the more Brent raved the more he cringed. At last he whined:

"I don't want no moh!"

"Will you come back with me and tell Tom Hewlet what I say?"

"Yep."

"And make him believe it?"

"He's durn sure to believe it when I tell 'im 'bout this heah!"

"All right; get up. You and I can be good friends, or damn bad ones,
whichever you please; and it all depends on how you act tonight. Come
on, before he goes to bed!"

As they proceeded toward Tom's house, but a few hundred yards away,
Brent, still laughing under his breath, continued:

"You rub it in well, d'you hear? Tell him the Colonel, Mr. Dulany and I
will give the sheriff papers that'll send him to the pen. D'you know how
long people have to serve for blackmail? A hundred years; sometimes
twice as long! And they can't get pardoned, either, but just break rocks
every day, Sundays and Christmases, with their teeth."

"With yoh teeth!" Tusk cried.

"Of course, with your teeth," Brent chuckled. "Ain't your hands cut off?
And sometimes they feed the rocks to you hot, and you never get any
water--when you go up for blackmail! It takes--oh, I should say, about
fifty years for a man to go sort of crazy and begin to yell; but I
showed the keepers how to stop that. Now, they put fish hooks in your
tongue, and tie you up--"

"Great Gawd A'mighty!" Tusk screamed, springing away from him. "Don't
tell me no moh--it's plumb wicked!"

"I haven't begun to tell you half, yet!"

"Naw, naw. Mister Whatever-yoh-name-is, I won't listen to no moh!"

Brent carried a small electric torch, and this happened to be in his
hand while he was thus amusing himself with Potter. Absently now he
pressed the button and watched the light, shining behind his closed
fingers, turn them a bright, transparent red. He did not realize that
Tusk had been keeping a close eye on him until he heard another
exclamation of horror. For the instant he partially suspected mischief
and wheeled about, but one look at the half-wit dissipated all doubt. He
was standing with his mouth open, a picture of abject fear, trying to
speak, stammering, and finally staggered to the fence. Brent was really
concerned for him, thinking it might be some sort of a fit: but Tusk had
turned and, although cringing, was staring back with enchanted eyes.

"Devil!" he hoarsely whispered. "You're full of fire! I jest seen you
light up like a lightnin'-bug! You're a devil! I know; a devil!"

"Oh," Brent, more than ever delighted with this adventure, began to
understand, "I see what you mean! Yes, sure 'nough, I'm the devil--the
very old boy himself, dressed up this way to fool people. Zip!" He let
the torch flash again behind his closed fingers, and again Tusk gasped
and trembled as they turned magically aglow.

"Shut up," Brent commanded. "You'll scare Tom! And if you tell a soul
who I am--well, you can guess what I'll do to you! Now call Tom out, and
put it to him strong. I'll stand in the fence here and listen; and if
you don't put it to him strong!--" Again the electric torch.

Tusk's wavering call sounded before the broken gate, and the injured
voice of Mrs. Hewlet answered. In a few minutes Tom emerged from the
side of the house as before; but a moment after him crept another
figure, stealing through the shadows in a detour and stopping behind the
same bush which sheltered Brent. She was not seen by anyone but him, nor
did she know that he was there.

"Tom," the big fellow whined, "I jest seen 'im;--that--that man 'bout
yoh hund'ed."

Hewlet gave a sign of satisfaction, while Brent wanted to indulge a
chuckle which seemed to arise from all parts of him. He was immeasurably
pleased. He thought humorously of Frankenstein, and how he must have
felt with the monster in his keeping. It was weird, fascinating, and
altogether to his liking.

"He's just beat the hell out of me down the road," Tusk whimpered; "an
now him an' the Cunnel's goin' to town to git you 'rested."

Tom's jaw dropped in utter surprise at both of these statements.

"'Rested!" he cried. "What for?"

"That askin' for money was blackmail--blackmail, Tom! Don't forgit the
word. An' it's fifty year in the pen with fishhooks in yoh tongue."

"Shet up!" Tom cried again. "What you mean? They're after me?"

He failed to see that his informer was in a dripping perspiration and
hardly able to stand from fright. He saw nothing beyond a dawning fear
that he had gone too far.

"You mean they're already started, or talkin' 'bout startin'?" he asked
again.

"Don't ask me no moh," Tusk wailed. "It ain't decent to speak of! An',
oh, my Gawd, I'm a goner if you don't git this hammered inter you good
an' strong. I'd better do it now!"

Thereupon he made a grab for the luckless Hewlet, who eluded the iron
hands in the nick of time and retreated toward the house.

"Go home, Tusk," he warned. "You're drunk tonight. I'll be at yoh cabin
in the mawnin'." And, with this parting promise, he went in.

Tusk was even about to follow, having no intention of incurring the
devil's displeasure; but Brent spoke softly from his hiding place and
his satellite obediently returned.

"You've done very well, this time," the pseudo Mephisto whispered.
"Don't tackle him again till I say. Now go home." And to emphasize this
he put his teeth over the end of the little torch and flashed it. Again
Tusk sprang away with a snarl of fear, and Brent croaked in a sepulchral
voice: "Nothing'll hurt you as long as you obey me, Mr. Faust. Now beat
it!"

The terrified man did this willingly enough and when he had been
swallowed into the night Brent, stepping around the bush, confronted
Nancy.

"I didn't know you were heah when I came," she explained, with a shade
of uneasiness in her voice and embarrassment in her eyes.

"You heard everything, didn't you," he said regretfully. "I might have
spared you this."

"You needn't of," she replied. "Pappy came in boastin' of what Tusk was
goin' to do for him, so I slipped out to listen. But I tried to stop
him, honest I did; an' I'm awful sorry any of my people 'd treat you
that a-way!"

"Great God," he said in a husky voice, taking her hands, "how can you
feel sorry when I was all to blame!"

"Oh, Brent," she looked away, "we mustn't ever speak of that!" She had
withdrawn her hands and now stood somewhat apart, glancing toward the
house and contemplating a dash for it. He read this.

"Not yet," he said. "You can't go in yet, for I want to talk to you--I
want to be honest with you. Come!"

As though drawn by some invisible force she followed, and together they
walked down the pike until the house was shut from view. He turned then,
and was about to speak but waited, listening. It was one of those very
still nights of heavy atmosphere when sounds carry great distances, and
he had detected the leisurely galloping of two horses. Soon he heard
them slow down at the stream where he and Tusk had fought; then a wave
of laughter, mingled with the splash of water and iron shod hoofs
striking upon loose stones, reached him. After this the galloping
recommenced.

Had he wanted he might have stepped farther into the shadows and escaped
detection; but he waited until they were nearly abreast, then called.
Dale pulled up with a jerk, and Jane leaned over her pummel peering into
the darkness where they stood. He spoke now, and she answered:

"Hello, Brent! Oh, is it you, Nancy?"

Try as she did, with all of her might, to make this greeting natural,
the alert perception of the engineer heard only her surprise--her hurt
surprise--that Nancy was there. Had she come unexpectedly upon Nancy in
a foreign hospital bed, she might have said it--to Brent's ears--in
identically the same way.

"We didn't want you to pass without saying howdy," Brent explained.
"Where away in such a hurry?"

"I supped this night with my lord John May," she had rallied now, "and
Sir Dale is seeing me on the road. Whence lies your way?"

"The way of the penitent," he declared.

"'Tis not so hard as the transgressor's," she warned, galloping on.

"Why did you stop her?" Nancy asked, looking at him in wonder. "She
needn't have seen you heah?"

"I wanted her to see--how pretty you are," he answered; but during that
pause, slight as it was, she realized he had stubbornly, defiantly,
baffled his pride.

"Didn't you say something about bein' honest?" she naïvely asked.

His face grew sober. "I wanted her to see us; I want her to know I think
it's a compliment if you talk to me by the roadside. That's all. No, it
isn't all," he went on. "I want you to decide something, and now it'll
be easier for you to decide, because they did see us. I'm in earnest; I
don't want any prudish weights on this conversation. If they think
there's something wrong, so much the better. But the very first thing I
want to say to you is, that I've been a pup. I want to be a man with
you--as much of a man as you were a noble girl by coming over to Arden
the other night!" She was staring at him in utter amazement. "You saw
through me that night," he was talking more hurriedly. "You know what a
scoundrel I was! There's no use mincing words, no use holding up the
mask any more. If it hurts you, remember I'm not sparing myself;--I
couldn't spare myself, for you've made me feel too unutterably low. But
I do want to be honest with you!"

"Brent," she gave a curious little laugh, "what's the matter with you
tonight?"

"There's nothing the matter--yes, there is, too! There's everything the
matter. I'm just a curl of smoke from hell when I drink too much. Any
draft of desire takes me with it--sucks me up the black flues of
intrigue and adventure. I'm making no excuses, for I like it. It's
fascinatingly kaleidoscopic. It's Life; reflected and re-reflected in
Life's thousand mirrors, with the beauties magnified and the dull places
rubbed out. No apology for myself--but I'm accountable to you when
you're drawn into it!"

He was talking blindly, impulsively ahead, carried on a wave of self
denunciation, and not considering that she might be wholly perplexed by
the metaphors which sprang so rapidly from his tongue.

She merely stood looking up at him; understanding only that he was moved
by a tremendous force, and that somehow she--as he had just said--was
drawn into it.

"A week ago tonight," he began, but she gave a quick, inarticulate cry.

"Please don't say anything about that night," her voice was trembling.
"It burns my soul!"

"Yes, I will. We'll look at it squarely for this once, and your soul
will treat it calmly. Why not? Wasn't it your victory? Forget you're a
girl, and I a man, and for a minute let's have honest outspoken words
which might come from two people who've been through an hour neither one
of them will ever forget!"

"No, I won't ever forget," she murmured.

"Nor I. Did you know I was a sneak in pretending to love you then? Did
you know it was a lie?"

She could never have realized what it cost him to blurt out these words.

"I knew it when--I had a chance to think," she faltered, not feeling
that outspoken thoughts were as simple as he seemed to find them, "When
I saw it wasn't you that I loved, but just the things you said, I knew I
couldn't love you either. That's made it seem easier, Brent."

"And still you came to Arden to help me?" he looked curiously down at
her.

"But I'd forgiven you, an'--an' it wasn't all yoh fault!" Then, looking
up at him with hardly a trace of embarrassment, she added: "The blind
girl showed me! You'd ought to know her, Brent!"

"Who is that blind girl?"

"Who? Oh, Brent, don't you know a-tall? Listen!"

She turned him about and pointed to the horizon beyond Snarly Knob.
There was a subcurrent of excitement in her voice, and the night seemed
to grow more still as she went on speaking. The story was dramatic and
moving, and frequently her eyes would strain toward the distant sky-line
as though the face of some strong presence were gazing out with
inscrutable calmness. It was some time again before either of them
spoke, and, when he did, she was watching him with a new softness.

"Who'd ever suppose," he murmured, gazing into the blue-black east which
drew him with something more than a curious interest, "there was
anything like that up in those God-forsaken mountains!"

"Miss Jane says there are things like that everywhere, Brent."

"Maybe there are," he took a deep breath. "I've just happened to miss
'em. I wish I hadn't."

She could not help laughing just a little at his doleful
expression--and, moreover, she was happy, just a little, too.

"You seem to have repentance pasted all over you, Brent! Pappy gets that
way when his whiskey runs out. But it's moh becomin' to you! I wish Miss
Jane could see it!"

He flushed, and she laughed again.

"Miss Jane has already seen us tonight," he said in a low voice. "I
don't know about her, or Dale, but there are others who'll put an
entirely false construction on our being together. You know that. Tell
me something: would you be willing to marry me and go away tomorrow?"

Just how far Nancy's vision penetrated this speech, perhaps she did not
know; but she stood very still, scarcely breathing and holding her hands
in a vice-like grip. She tried to make another pretense of laughing, but
it failed; and her voice was sad when she turned to him.

"I don't reckon I'm the kind that'll be hurt much by what people say."
Coming nearer, her eyes searched his face which was still turned to the
ground, and she whispered: "Which'd be worse, Brent: goin' away married
an' without love, or unmarried an' with love?"

He looked up in surprise: "The world wouldn't talk if we were married!"

"Don't you believe it, Brent," she said quietly. "The world 'd talk if
you married a girl like me, moh'n it would if you didn't. I've been
awake for seven days, Brent, an' I ain't a girl no moh in some ways. An'
Brent," her cheeks were flaming now, "I might give you anythin' if we
honest loved, an' not be ashamed;--but as we don't, a thousand marriages
couldn't keep me from shrivelin' up whenever you looked at me! We'd
despise each other in no time," she added, with another forced laugh.

"I don't know," he murmured.

"Well, I do," she now exclaimed with her old time gaiety. "Stand right
still, an' shut yoh eyes, an' don't move till I say good night!
Promise?"

"What's the game?" he asked.

"Never mind! You do what I say!"

"All right, I promise," he smiled.

The seconds passed and he wondered what she was doing. He knew she could
not be very far away. Then there was a slight rustle and her lips
touched his cheek.

"This," she whispered, "is because for the first time in yoh life you've
got what Miss Jane calls grit. Don't move!" There was another pause, and
her lips touched his other cheek. "This," again she whispered, "means
the blind eyes over yonder are happy, 'cause you've made Nancy see. An'
this," she tenderly drew down his face and kissed his forehead, "is that
we'll be understandin' friends from now on till the day after never."

"Isn't there something else?" he pleaded.

"I reckon not," she whispered.

She must have moved silently, for in a few moments her voice called a
good night from the broken gate.

He opened his eyes then, and moved toward his patient horse. He had a
feeling that he may not have carried this interview gracefully; but he
had done it honestly, and at real personal cost. He began to wonder what
it might have cost Nancy--he had given that no thought. Were she a girl
of Jane's type, he suspected she would now be hating him. But she was
not like Jane; she was Nancy; and, even as his intuition whispered, her
cheeks were still flushed with a pleasant warmth of satisfaction. To her
it had been romantic and grateful. She seemed to feel that they were
honorably at quits.



CHAPTER XVI

A SPRINGTIME SANTA CLAUS


As May crept up the calendar the little schoolhouse became the center of
increased activity: commencement exercises were under daily rehearsal
and the light of excited interest shone in every face.

It was a heterogeneous flock which had answered the call of Jane's horn
eight months before: twenty-nine in all, ranging from children of eight
to a woman of thirty-five. Nor were their characteristics less diverse.
The tobacco-chewing, profane boy was there, with a stolen dirk thrust
into his trousers' band, suggesting a turbulent future; and the girl,
with the narrow forehead and close, deep-set eyes, was there,
pathologically indicating tendencies to kleptomania. But far outweighing
these were the straight, courageous bearing and the tender faces of
normal promise. Sturdy manhood and womanhood was written across the
countenances of many who had answered the call of Jane's horn!

Nancy was not one of this wholesome medley. She was being especially
taught aside;--and now, on this mid-May day, Jane sat with her beneath
the trees while the room within was wrapped in the unrestful silence of
tedious thought. Occasionally the teacher glanced at her when she
happened to sigh and bend more intently over the knotty problem on her
lap. Dale might have been here with them, for he had made strides during
the past four weeks which put him far in the van, and Jane was
satisfying this bewildering pace with extra work for the afternoons at
home. For his was, indeed, a bewildering pace, spurred by an insatiable
ambition that had become brutal in its determination to absorb every
lesson, every fact and figure, every little jot of information which her
schoolhouse and the Colonel's library contained. His time, from early
morning until late at night, was divided between these places; but he
advanced with so much greater speed in the seclusion of Arden that Jane
had lately persuaded him to work there, rather than be subjected to the
schoolroom noises which were as multitudinous as they were unavoidable.
Thus it was that she and Nancy now sat alone beneath the trees.

The morning was warm and without a breath of air. A two weeks' drought,
unusual at this season, had parched the country, bringing the wheat
prematurely to head and causing anxiety about the hemp. But since
tobacco, the most important crop, would not be set out till June, this
agricultural unrest permeated little farther than impolite remarks about
the weather. True, some of the springs were going dry, and all low
verdure beside the pike was bedraggled and bowed beneath a coat of
white dust. Out across the meadows of tired grass, and above the
yellow fields prepared and waiting in sultry patience for their Lady
Nicotiana,--everywhere along the level stretches that eye could
sweep--were tormenting, dancing heat waves. Sleepy-eyed cattle spent
their inert hours standing in the pasture pools with the water about
their knees, or mingling with groups of sweaty brood mares clustered in
the shady places. Dogs could not lie quiet; in the coolest corners of
the kennel they drooled and panted. Nor were the creatures of the air
immune; for directly above the girls a bird listlessly hopped from
branch to branch, its wings drooping, and its beak apart. Jane
sympathetically raised her eyes to it and began to fan herself with the
cover of a book--although it was not unbearably warm in the grove, and
the bird might have come from a long flight.

A child appeared in the doorway, hesitated and came out to her. Excusing
this approach was the desire for help with a certain sum, but the true
reason later became manifest when the little one, with dancing eyes,
whispered something to the teacher's inclined ear.

"That is nice," Jane smiled.

Happily, with the noiselessness of unshod creatures, she ran and skipped
back to the school room.

"Julia says that she's been promised a pair of shoes for commencement,"
Jane glanced over at Nancy. "I fear it's a case of sweeter anticipation
than realization."

"She'll suffer moh agonies than shoes that night," Nancy laughed.
"Hasn't she a piece to recite?"

Jane was about to answer when another youngster standing in the doorway
held her attention. He, too, came timidly forth for assistance; but, as
with Julia, his true reason was to impart in the same excited way a
confidence. When this had been accomplished with much mysterious
whispering, and he had again gone indoors, Jane looked at Nancy with a
broader smile.

"More agony," she said. "Jimmy is promised boots, mind you! This is a
gratifying proof that rural schools improve the understanding--but what
on earth they will do without toes to wiggle is beyond me!"

The girls were still laughing over the thought of Jimmy's direful future
when a third child appeared. It was a word in her reader now that
furnished the conventional stumbling block on which to mount to her
teacher's confidence.

"What?" that young woman exclaimed. "More shoes? Mercy! But it's very
nice! And now run back and finish the page before I ring the bell."

This time, turning to Nancy, Jane sighed: "More shoes! All of this
suffering humanity will surely not survive that night. Really, Nan, I
think it's the most extraordinary thing I ever encountered the way these
children's parents are shoeing them for commencement! Mark my words,
before the exercises are half over we'll be hearing shoes drop all over
the room. They simply won't keep them on! It'll be awful." She was about
to say more, when Mrs. Owsley appeared in the door.

Mrs. Owsley was the thirty-five-year-old scholar; and the only one,
until Dale came, who might strictly have been termed of the mountains.
She was, moreover, the mother of nine smaller Owsleys--the smallest of
whom she brought each day and laid in a box prepared for the purpose
near the teacher's desk. The previous autumn she had left "Bill an' the
other eight brats" back in their remote home, and moved down to Mother
Owsley's, four miles from school, to which she walked each day,
bare-footed, and carrying the infant. It was an enthusiasm for
education, characteristic of these mountaineers, which might not be met
anywhere else in a country termed civilized.

"Heavens!" gasped Jane. "I thought it was another child coming to tell
me about shoes!"

"Did you ever see how Mrs. Owsley does with her shoes?" Nancy asked,
being careful not to smile while the impassive woman's eyes were turned
in her direction.

"You mean across her shoulder?"

Nancy nodded, giggling a little.

"The poor, poverty stricken dears, all of them," Jane tenderly
exclaimed. "But that's a common custom in some parts of the mountains,
Nan. I've seen it when a circuit-rider had come through, and was going
to hold church somewhere; nearly all who possessed shoes would carry
them across their shoulders that way during their long walk to attend,
and then sit on the meetinghouse steps and put them on. Shoes have to
last a long time up there," she added wistfully. "They mustn't be worn
out by walking on them."

"I thought it was awful funny when I saw her do it," Nancy whispered.
"You don't look like you ever went barefoot, Miss Jane!"

"I never did," Jane laughed. "I hated it so that I used to pick
blackberries and sell them to keep myself supplied. My poor old Dad
thought it a wicked extravagance, but I'd rather have gone without
clothes than shoes."

"I hated it, too," Nancy quietly replied, "but never thought of makin'
money. I wish I had!"

Mrs. Owsley stepped down from the doorway and crossed to them. In
approaching her teacher she scorned any subterfuge, and spoke directly
to the point.

"What'd ye git, ef yeou wuz me, Miss Jane? I got shoes, a'ready--these
here'n; but this ole gingham's the onlies' dress I got, an' hit's a
sorry lookin' thing! Mr. Bowser sez ef I don't hanker arter shoes I
don't hev ter hev 'em;--he sez his store'll leave me take their wu'th
outen sumthin' else. I reckon hit'll be all right ter the trustee!"

"What trustee do you mean?" Jane asked. There was a pucker of
mystification between her eyes as she looked up at Mrs. Owsley.

But that countenance did not change. It never changed. The same
yellowish face, rather long and horse-like, beneath the same hair
plainly brushed back, looked at Jane now as it had looked at the world's
multitude of privations and pittance of joys, this last score of years.

"The trustee," she answered, "what sees as how we-uns goin' ter school
gits shoes--outen the school fund, I reckon 'twuz he said, or sumthin'
that a-way. He's a-stayin' down thar by the Cunnel's, some-un says, so
mebbe ye knows 'im. Not as I allow ter be beholden ter no one:--but
commencement's commencement!"

"Why, Mrs. Owsley!" an accusing voice cried from the window. "He made
us promise not to tell who he was!"

"'N' I don't kyeer what he done!" the imperturbable one answered. "I
want ye-all ter know I don't take nuthin' underhand from nobody, less'n
hit's my man, Bill!"

The accuser ducked from sight.

"Do you mean," Jane asked, "a man about twenty-four, or five, or six, or
maybe seven--with sort of brown or grayish eyes, and--and rather
handsome?"

"I don't know nuthin' 'bout all them colors in his eyes. I don't know
nuthin' 'bout that," she repeated, "but I do 'llow he smoked them vile
cigarettes till a body couldn't breathe!"

Jane's eyes left the mother of nine, swept past Nancy whom she saw still
bending over her work, and finally rested in the shadows of some cool
ferns. This somewhat unexpected announcement sent a wave of
pleasure--evanescent, perhaps hardly perceptible--sweeping over her.
Rather abruptly she said:

"I think your gingham looks very well, but you might get a nice
print--if you'll have time to make it!"

"That's jest what I war a-thinkin' t'other day," the impassive face
replied. "Red, with white dots on hit, sez I ter Mother Owsley, is jest
the nicest thing! 'N' I sez ter Mister Bowser as how I hankered fer a
dress like that; but he sez he done quit keepin' hit no moh. He sez he
did hev a sight of hit onct, but so many of the wimmin folks come in ter
buy hit, 'n' hit war sech a sight of trubble gittin' up 'n' settin' down
agin, cuttin' off pieces 'n' waitin' on 'em, that he jest th'owed out
what he had left 'n' allowed he wouldn't buy no moh."

This was all very serious to Mrs. Owsley and Jane replied in the same
vein:

"Then a blue polka dot. I know he has that, and maybe I can help you
make it up."

"Thank-ee," she turned to go back, "but I reckon Mother Owsley's Cyantha
kin help some." She stood a moment, hesitating, then faced around,
asking: "Ye hain't got a primer, or sumthin', I kin take ter Mother
Owsley, hev ye? She's been hankerin' so ter larn a mite of readin' 'n'
writin' since I went thar, 'n' can't git out ter come down hyar!"

"Is she too feeble?" Jane sympathetically asked.

"No, she hain't feeble; but she's got the craps ter look arter. Mother
Owsley's right peert, but with sech a sight ter do 'tween sun-up 'n'
dark holds her 'round home right tight. Her man's been crippled 'n'
pohly fer a spell."

"Could she leave him to come here to a moonlight school?" Jane asked; an
idea that had been forming for sometime now suddenly receiving fresh
impetus. "Maybe even your Bill could come, and the children, too!"

Mrs. Owsley's hesitation showed her to be on unfamiliar ground, and
Jane, who had spoken impulsively, added: "I'll talk to you about it this
afternoon," whereupon the mountain woman this time went in.

"Now!" Nancy exclaimed, holding up her paper of long division. "It's
come out even!"

"Good!--it's a hard one, too!"

"You bet it's a hard one," Nancy straightened her shoulders.

"We won't work any more today," Jane said and, after a pause, asked:
"Did you hear what Mrs. Owsley and I were talking about?"

"I was tryin' to," Nancy laughed. "But this last old thing wouldn't come
out even so I had to bring down two moh noughts, an' that sort of mixed
me up! Is her husband out of the pen?"

"Mercy! I didn't know he was there!"

"I don't either, but she said somethin' 'bout a trusty, an' I just
supposed it was him."

Jane began to laugh, somewhat immoderately for a teacher, and several
heads appeared at the window in giggling surprise. She had become quite
suddenly and thoroughly happy.

"She said trustee, Nan,--a school officer. But the only trustee for this
school is the Colonel. There's a hitch somewhere," her eyes were
dancing. "Did Brent tell you to buy something, too?"

Had Nancy not already been sitting on the ground, this unexpected
question might have toppled her over. She gasped once, turned furiously
red, and sat staring.

"Why, no, Miss Jane!"

"With his usual discretion he left you and Dale out," she mused. "I
really think it was downright decent of him--the shoes, I mean!"

"I'm beginnin' to think those shoes have got on yoh brain," Nancy cried,
and both again screamed with laughter.

"Nan, I don't understand how he succeeded, but he's palmed himself off
as a trustee to give authority to the act and, after making arrangements
with Mr. Bowser, sent all these children there to buy shoes, or
something they're in need of, for our commencement. Don't you honestly
think that's splendid? Who would have thought of it?"

"I wouldn't," Nancy murmured, looking at the ground. But the subject was
becoming a bit perilous, and she asked:

"Are you goin' to start a moonlight school, Miss Jane?"

"I hadn't really thought of it seriously until just now. Would you help
me with it if I did?"

"Good land, Miss Jane, I'd love that better'n anythin'! I'll drive 'em
in, an' you stuff 'em with these sums! I bet they'll know somethin'
then!"

"How many are there around here who can't read, do you suppose?"

"Well, old Hod Fugit can't; an' there's Willis--I forget his name, but
down at the mill, you know! I don't think the sheriff can, either."

"Can your father--I mean Tom Hewlet?"

"Well, he sort of pokes along at it, but it ain't just what you'd call
readin'. Sometimes, when he's right drunk, he gets a piece of old
newspaper an' moves his mouth around. Oh, he did the funniest thing
once!" she clapped her hands and bent over merrily. "He was workin'
himself up into an awful spree, but misplaced his demijohn an' had us
lookin' everywhere for it. I'd hid it, but never let on! He groaned
around a lot, an' I think sort of suspected me; but after 'while
settled down with the Bible. It was upside down, so that's how I don't
think he can read!"

"Then what?"

"Just guess!" Nancy went into more convulsions of laughter. "He began,
talkin' right loud an' rockin' his chair right fast: 'An' Solomen, the
wise man, says to his Democrats that if a step-darter treats her Pappy
mean, an' hides things, she'll go down--down--down--down--' an' all this
time, Miss Jane, his voice was gettin' lower an' lower till, when it
couldn't go no lower, he gurgled: 'ter hell!' Then he'd wait awhile,
lookin' sort of sneakin' at me, turn some pages an' do it all over
again--only each time he'd begin in a higher pitch so's he could get moh
'downs' in it, an' make it sound scarier. When I wouldn't pay any
attention, he threw the Bible at me an' stomped out!"

"Is he back yet?" Jane seemed to lose some of her gaiety when asking
this.

"No'm; an' I hope he won't never come back!"

"Have you any idea where he is?"

"Only he said he an' Tusk Potter were goin' in the mountains after
ginseng. They go most every yeah. You can't guess the peace there's been
at home this last month, Miss Jane!"

"I think I can," she murmured. "Nancy, suppose you were to work hard on
those sums, and be more careful in the way you speak, and the school
should grow enough for you to be my assistant, and Mr. McElroy should
run his railroad through your house--where would Tom Hewlet and his
wife go? Would they stay around here?"

"What a bully fairy-tale," the girl delightedly clasped one of Jane's
hands. "No'm, I reckon he'd go out to Missouri an' live with his
brother. He's always wantin' to. Why, Miss Jane? Is there any chance of
all that?"

"I don't know, Nan. Maybe I was just dreaming."

"Then dream some more," she murmured.

The morning had worn on without a bell for recess. The room had become
restive, and now Jane realized that the youngest of the Owsleys was
lustily bawling. She glanced at the little watch in her belt, crying:
"Heavens!" Then dashed toward the door to rescue her neglected charges;
leaving Nancy under the trees to patch up the interrupted dream.



CHAPTER XVII

AT TOP SPEED


Brent had at one time promised Dale to take him out on the survey. This
promise had been made in an unguarded moment--or, at least, without a
suspicion that the mountaineer would keep so tenaciously after him until
it was fulfilled. Now, with school closed the day before, he felt that
the evil hour could no longer be postponed. He had no objection to Dale,
or having him along on the work, if he would only take some recesses in
his interminable string of questions. But this impetuous student, whose
soul craved the heights of Lincoln and Clay, took no recesses.

Petulantly Brent had carried his woe to the Colonel, but, instead of
sympathy, he found the old gentleman radiant;--declaring Dale would
become so utterly absorbed in learning the secrets of this science, that
the engineer would find himself being led out by the ears each morning
at sunrise.

"The road is just as good as built," he had cried, "if you have along
Dale's example of application!" Which comforted Brent not at all.

So this very morning the Colonel was astir long before breakfast,
sharing in a measure the mountaineer's excitement. Anything, he had
jovially averred, which inspired Brent to work, was worth getting up
early to see.

"Don't stay out too long," he had counseled. "My Commencement dinner is
tonight!"

Standing on the terrace he watched them trudge off toward the knobs,
followed by five darkies carrying the lunch, axes, poles and transit. He
noted, also--just as upon that day when Bob first took Dale to Flat
Rock--that the mountaineer was forging ahead, and that his companion was
evidently cautioning less speed.

"A little bit of that will put the road through," he chuckled.

They were crossing a pasture luxuriant with bluegrass where Lucy had
been pensioned to while away in comfort her declining years; and now a
more tender light came into the old gentleman's face. For he saw her
head go up while yet a great way off from them, and saw her intently
looking. He knew what difficulty, and with what yearning, she was urging
her clouded eyes to do their best; and he guessed the exultation
gradually creeping through her frame as she began to realize that Dale
was near. Suddenly, as fast as age would permit, she broke into an
awkward gallop, furiously whinnying, excitedly calling out her delight.
Overtaking her master, who had not been once to see her in all these
days, she thrust her muzzle across his shoulder to be petted, as of
yore--and this deeply affected the Colonel. But the next instant he
stiffened as a man of iron, for the mountaineer, furious at the
interference, had struck her cruelly across the face. In utter
dejection now she stood, looking after him as he strode away.

"Did you see dat?" Uncle Zack cried, and not till then did the Colonel
know he was nearby.

"It wasn't fair! It wasn't fair, Zack! Take her out four quarts of
oats!"

"I don' see whar she's gwine put 'em, wid all dat grass inside her," he
laughed. "If she wuz a man, I'd a-tucken her a toddy 'foh now to cheer
her ole heart! But only de likes of me an' you kin eat ice-cream an' poh
down hot coffee, an' pickle 'em wid licker an' not git ourse'ves
kilt--ain' dat right, Marse John? Hawses an' dawgs an' cows an' sich,
cyarn' put de stuff in dey stumicks dat we kin. It takes a suah-nuff man
to do dat!"

The old gentleman was not listening. To his surprise he now saw Brent
quickly make up the intervening space, grasp Dale by the shoulder and
spin him around with every evidence of tremendous anger, then shake his
fist in the mountaineer's face as though he were emphasizing a speech.
To the Colonel's further astonishment he then saw Dale walk meekly back
to the mare, put out his hand, and for several moments stroke her nose.

"An' did you see dat?" Uncle Zack yelled in high glee.

"I wouldn't have missed it for a million," the old gentleman cried.

"Mebbe she don' need no oats now! But I reckon she'd better have 'em,
wid yoh com'liments, jest de same!"

"I wish Jane could have seen it," the Colonel murmured, keeping his eyes
on them.

"Dar ain' no reason why she cyarn' be tol' 'bout it," Zack winked to
himself, starting to the stables for a full measure of oats.

At the Colonel's request she came over early in the afternoon to see to
the decorations for his table, and brought a bag with the idea of
dressing there. While carrying this into the house Zack graphically made
known the drama in the pasture--which may or may not have been the
reason why, an hour later as she moved about the flowers, the old
gentleman several times wondered why he had never before remarked the
beauty of her voice.

This dinner was a new institution at Arden. It came into existence with
the opening day of school, when the old gentleman announced his
intention of entertaining after each commencement for the girl who had
made the greatest progress. When Jane told him a week ago that Nancy was
to be his guest of honor, he had received the news as though she were a
princess. However he might have flinched inside, no suspicion of it
reached as far as his eyes or face. That very night other guests were
appropriately selected from the neighborhood, and the invitations sent
forthwith.

The sun hung low in the sky when the surveyors returned. Dale, as might
have been expected, came leading, and dashed up the steps with scarcely
a nod to the Colonel who sat amusedly looking on. He impetuously entered
the library, searched feverishly along the shelves for a text book on
surveying that he had previously seen, jerked it out and began to scan
its pages. Brent, on the other hand, was dragging himself along,
groaning wearily. When he reached the porch he flopped into a chair and
again groaned.

"Uncle Zack, you'll have to bring my dinner up stairs. I can't dress, or
anything!"

"Why, sir," the Colonel turned in alarm, "what has happened?"

"Everything's happened," Brent groaned. "That boob in there walked my
legs off, and talked my head off, and I'm all in! Gee!--push my foot out
a little farther, Uncle Zack! Oh, Lord! Can't somebody catch somebody's
eye? The seven-year drought of Egypt's in my throat!"

The Colonel began to laugh, while Zack, highly elated, said:

"Dat wuz a plague, Marse Brent!"

"Well, don't I know it?" he looked pitifully up at him.

"Naw, sah," Zack laughed again. "I mean de 'Gyptians didn' have no
drought; dey had de plague dem seben yeahs! I 'member dat story!"

"Zack, this isn't any time to split hairs over what the Egyptians had.
Come out of the ages, and focus your mind on what I've got!"

The old fellow disappeared with a chuckle, still audible after reaching
the dining-room. The Colonel, too, was chuckling.

"It's all right to laugh, Colonel, and make everybody hate you, but
I'll bet we walked forty miles! From the very moment that human engine
cranked himself up this morning, he's been pressing the accelerator with
spark advanced every second of the time. Don't think I'm crazy, but gas
engine terms are the only ones to describe him. The next time he and I
go on that survey, I go alone--which accounts for the Mac in McElroy,"
he added with a grin.

"Never mind," the old gentleman said, "you'll feel better in a few
minutes."

"That's just the trouble," Brent complained. "If I hadn't lapped up so
much of your delectable nose-paint, that hayseed couldn't have walked me
to death. I'm as good a man as he is any day--when in condition!"

Jane, standing within the hall, heard this, and at once perceived the
great dawning hope which chance had suddenly thrust before her. It was a
hope for the railroad, for her people. Passing into the library she
looked over Dale's shoulder, took the book from his hand, and smiled at
it.

"You can't make anything out of this, yet," she said. "If you want to
build railroads yourself some time, what you need now is actual
experience; and you can get it if you persist."

"How?" he asked eagerly.

"Make Brent go out every day till the work is done--then I've a plan for
you."

"What?" he was growing very much excited.

"Sh," she laughed. "I'll tell you some other time. Now go up and dress;
dinner will be ready in half an hour."

As he sprang to obey, a glance at his determined jaw, the enthusiasm of
his stride, told her that Brent might not henceforth have such an idle
time of it. His voice came in to her now.

"----and he threw all the lunch away," he was telling the Colonel,
"because he said we didn't have time to eat it. I wanted to kill him;
and would, if it hadn't struck me as being so darned funny! But I will
say that we did more than I've ever seen done in a day--even with a
trained party! What's more, we can save three miles. Dale did that,
too!"

"This is encouraging, sir!" the old gentleman cried.

"It's more than that, Colonel--it's a find! Entirely disregarding the
fact that I'd made a reconnaissance, he dragged me about like a toy, and
finally, blest if he didn't scoot into a natural tunnel. I knew it was
there, too, but never thought of following it up! We can go through it
without turning a shovel of earth or shooting a stone. It not only saves
the three miles I spoke of, but a terrible amount of cutting, and
doesn't add a fraction to our ruling grade; bringing us out--I'll tell
you where it brings us out! You know a place, about three hundred feet
under a bold spur sticking to the north face of Snarly?--where a stream
boils down into a sort of cave and disappears?"

"Oh, yes. That is our natural freak around this country--that and your
tunnel! I know them well!"

"Well, we come out there, about two miles above this disappearing
stream. It's a cinch! By the way, what becomes of that stream?"

"No one knows. Years ago we painted several pieces of wood, and hacked
some logs in a certain way for identification, then let them all float
down and be sucked into that hole. None ever bobbed up at our end, and,
so far as we ever heard, they were never found floating on other
streams. I fancy the water rushes into some vast subterranean sea."

Zack came out with the beverage, Brent bowed to the Colonel, drank it
and sighed. It was an atrociously strong toddy, purposely made so by the
old servant to compensate for the long day's absence; and almost at
once, especially as he had eaten nothing since breakfast, its strength
began to tell.

"Zack, when Doctor Meal comes tonight, I wish you'd send him up to graft
a dozen mule legs on me."

"Mule legs, Marse Brent!" the old negro peered at him.

"I haven't heard from Meal," the old gentleman laughed. "But there is a
young doctor named Stone who will be here; he might do it."

There were, indeed, now two doctors in Buckville: the former old man
with a soft name, who wore long whiskers which served to hide the
missing collar and cravat, who had for forty years ministered to the
needs of the surrounding country, who rode a pacing mare and carried
medicines in a saddle-bag across her back;--and he of the hard name, who
had lately come as graduate of the University, who visited the sick in
a gasoline runabout of uncertain age which steered with a lever and
heaved prodigiously, who wrote prescriptions to be filled at the
drug-store. If Doctor Meal were not among his bees, or grafting pear
buds, he might be found in a tilted chair on the sidewalk, beneath the
giant locust trees which shaded the town's one pharmacy. But Doctor
Stone's telephone was invariably answered by a trained servant who, if
he were away, knew exactly where to find him. Perhaps in no other
respects was the changing life of Buckville better illustrated than by
these two doctors: the old and the new; the passing and the coming. And
because it was the passing, Doctor Meal had not yet gone as far as the
post office for his mail; but in less than an hour after the stamp had
been cancelled on Stone's invitation, the Colonel received his
acceptance by telephone.

"Well," Brent sighed, "I've got to get 'em somewhere!"

"You might gallop up stairs on the four you have," the Colonel
suggested. "Our guests will soon be arriving."

"And Dale will beat you down," Jane called from the library.

"Oh, Jane, I'm all in," he groaned. "I can't, honest!"

"Are you so much more tired than Dale?" she asked sweetly.

"Certainly not," he flushed.

He pushed himself slowly out of the chair and went to the French
window.

"Where are you?" he began asking before stepping through. "I want some
encouragment to climb those stairs!"

She was sitting, balanced lightly on the library table, with her hands
clasped about one knee.

"What an old man you've suddenly become," she laughed.

"You'd be an old man, too," he said, "if you'd been paced all day by a
camel!"

"I thought engineers were inured to those things;--I thought they could
withstand all manner of hardships;--that, really, the elements
themselves were playthings in their hands!"

He leaned against the table and looked down at her. That toddy, put into
his tired and empty frame, was gripping him with surprising activity.

"No," he slowly replied. "Engineers can't master all the elements;--at
least, I know one who can't. I wish he could!"

She may have flushed slightly, but her chin kept its tantalizing tip and
her eyes their laughing mischief.

"One never knows what one can do until one tries," she said; and after a
dangerous hesitation, added: "I believe this is the first day you've
really attempted any serious work since you came."

Now, when a girl balances on the edge of a table in a softly lighted
room, with her hands clasped about one of her knees, her chin tipped
enticingly up, and a riot of mischief rippling through her eyes and
parted lips, she has no business telling an over-toddied gentleman that
he'll never know what he can do until he tries. She may add that she
refers to the building of a railroad, to the conquering of a nation, to
the playing of a hand of bridge--but he will see nothing beyond the
seductive challenge. And Brent looked another instant at that enticing
picture, then stooped down and kissed her hair.

There was no tilted chin, no laughing challenge, now as she sprang up
and faced him. The change in her was like that of a limpid pool which
has suddenly become roiled by a violent splash, and her eyes flashed as
though all the vials of hate were about to be broken upon his head.

"I thought you were a gentleman." Her voice came slowly, with such utter
contempt that he winced.

"Your thought is quite correct," he said. "I am a gentleman, and a man,
and therefore vulnerable to such a temptation as you willfully threw at
me."

Her cheeks flamed. "I never dreamed of such a thing!"

"Don't misunderstand me. I didn't say invitation; I said temptation."

"But you meant invitation," she hotly retorted.

"I know I did," he surprised her by admitting, "and you meant
invitation, also. If you didn't, you're stupid;--and I'd rather think of
you as daring than stupid."

"You will please not think of me at all, or speak to me, ever again!"
she coolly said, and left the room.

Brent looked at the door through which she had disappeared. For several
minutes he stood, without any sign of movement, except that his teeth
were pressing rather hard upon his lower lip.

"John Barleycorn, you're a damned sneak," he muttered. "I've half a
notion never to speak to you again!"

Then, with a sigh, he went up stairs to dress.



CHAPTER XVIII

A DINNER OF SILENCES


The dinner was late, because Uncle Zack, wishing to make an everlasting
impression upon these neighbors of more moderate circumstances, had
spurred the cook to the limit of her capacity. So family and guests were
scattered about the porch, conversationally distrait as people are wont
to be while momentarily expecting the servant's announcement.

Nancy, in whose toilette discerning eyes would have seen a generous
share of Ann and Jane, was talking to the Colonel; who, in his turn, was
making her position of honor guest less trying than she had pictured it
during that long day of suspense.

Brent, terribly in the blues, sat at the extreme end of the porch,
pretending to read the morning paper which had come in that afternoon's
rural mail. Jane and Ann were near by, and Jane was noticeably quiet.
Bob, having in mind his tobacco crop, called to the reader:

"What's the weather prediction for this section, old scout?"

The engineer sighed and let his eyes travel to Jane who was gazing in
moody silence out at the tangle of trees and vines. Turning again to the
paper, and with much rustling of the pages, he made a pretense of
reading:

"The high barometric pressure and lovely sunshine generally spreading
over central and southeastern Kentucky is showing no disposition to move
in the direction of Arden. Forecast for the next twenty-four hours:
great humility, and low, angry clouds, accompanied by moisture in the
eyes and a crackling drought under the fourth left rib. Here," he handed
the paper to Bob, and sent another questioning glance at Jane, "read it
for yourself. I'm going in before the storm bursts!"

Bob looked after him, and then his surprised eyes sought Ann; but that
young matron answered with a comprehensive smile, whereupon he sank
comfortably behind the pages. Ann might have smiled again had she
followed Brent to the dining-room, and there watched him change two
place-cards.

Thus it chanced that Jane found herself seated next to him, and, having
arranged the place-cards herself, understood exactly how it came about.
The situation was decidedly awkward, and she came very near wishing
their quarrel might have been postponed a few hours; especially as she
realized that her other side was flanked by the Colonel, with Nancy on
his right--a condition positively closing any hope of attention from
this kind-hearted host. In a few minutes she was driven to seek refuge
across the table in Dale; but Ann--having made a shrewd, though by no
means accurate, diagnosis of the situation--determinedly held the
mountaineer in leash. She then turned to Bob, but he had become
engrossed with a neighbor on the subject of crops. Miss Liz was next
sounded, but that lady, frivolously entangled with various occupations,
proved hopeless. Finally, she tried eating, but the silence of her plate
became utterly intolerable. Brent had been waiting for this.

"It's no use," he softly told her. "Suppose we make up!"

She might not have heard him.

"Don't you think it is inconsiderate to our host, and the others?" he
asked. "They're sure to notice it!"

Silence.

"I didn't mean to offend you;--I was just bowled over, that's the simple
truth!"

He might have been talking to an empty room.

"You've been so much like a sister to me," he ventured again, "that I
didn't stop to think; and only--only acted on the very same impulse I
would if you actually were my sister!" (Oh, Brent, you unconscionable
liar!)

Still there was silence.

"Let's count," he suggested. "It won't be talking, and, at least, will
deceive the table."

Silence.

"We might say the Lord's Prayer! That's certainly proper, and you can
leave out 'as we forgive others.'"

In spite of herself the faintest shadow of a smile touched her lips, but
their silence was absolute.

"Or we might try Mother Goose," again came the pleading voice. "We
needn't speak after tonight--rather after this dinner. We can't, in
fact, if I'm going home tomorrow! Shouldn't we make some effort to keep
from spoiling the others' good time?"

Going home tomorrow? She had not heard of that! What would become of the
railroad? What would become--but nothing mattered except the railroad!
Was he acute enough to reason that he could move her by this threat, she
wondered? And if he were, and if she yielded, would he not use it as a
weapon for future forgivenesses, when he might again be taking her for
his sister--something which he did not possess? This idea sealed her
determination. Yet, on second thought she relented--oh, it could
scarcely be called relenting--just a wee bit and, still looking
steadfastly down at her plate, in a monotonous voice, said:

"Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard."

"Fine!" he laughed, but she quietly interrupted him:

"Nothing but Mother Goose--and, after this evening, nothing, ever!"

He drew a wry face, murmuring:

"Little Jack Sprite is very contrite, and wants to make up with his
lady!"

She puzzled a moment over Little Jack Sprite. It did not seem quite
relevant to the nursery classic which, only a few years back, she had
read many times to Bip.

"That isn't Mother Goose," she finally stated. "I shan't do this any
more."

"But it is," he protested, "and I'll show it to you in the book! They
were reading Mother Goose to me long after you lost interest in it."

There was no rise to this, and he cautiously added:

"My poor brain, while ages older, has never developed up to yours. Do
you know any rhymes, at all?"

Silence.

She looked again at Dale and found him listening to Ann. Again the
Colonel proved unpromising. One slight remark was entirely lost on
someone else, and Miss Liz offered more remote possibilities than
before. After the situation recommenced its torture, rather wearily she
said to her plate:

"Hey, diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the
moon."

"I love that one," he whispered, and, taking up her meter, continued:
"The little dog howled, and the pretty girl scowled, but promised to
make up soon! That's the second verse."

Another silence, but not so prolonged, when her voice reached him:

"Brent, Brent, the rich man's son, broke his word and away he run!"

"Heart," he corrected. "'Broke his heart,' is the way that goes!"

The silence was desperate now, and, after he had exhausted many forms of
pleading, she simply said:

"Hark, hark, the dogs do bark, the beggars are coming to town!"

"I don't think it's nice to be so personal in our Mother Goose party,"
he reproved her. "However, if you insist--"

"But I don't insist!"

He shrugged his shoulders. "I was just going to repeat: 'There was a
little boy and a little girl lived in an alley.' Will you finish it
out?"

"I don't remember it," she said, too hurriedly to be convincing. "I'll
say this one: 'Birds of a feather flock together, and so will pigs and
swine; rats and mice will have their choice, and so will I have mine.'"

"You have a choice collection, at any rate," he grinned.

"Some verses," she explained, "were added to the very recent editions
used in my childhood."

His grin became broader. "I hoped you might come across on that before
the evening was over. Has your very recent edition the one in it about:
'Jane was saucy, Jane was pert'?"

"You're a bit shocking tonight," she said, turning to the Colonel, whose
attention was still on Nancy.

Brent waited a minute, then: "Maybe you don't remember this one in your
very recent edition: 'A hard-hearted Queen from Flat Rock, Whose anger
came as a great shock, Said: I will not speak, sir, To you for a week,
sir, So he went out and--' but I haven't had time to make the last line
fit. You ought to laugh now!"

"I wish I could."

"It's original!"

"So I judge."

"Is that open window too cool for you?"

Silence.

"Here's another out of your very recent edition," he began, when she
desperately turned to him.

"I wish you'd play fair!"

"Have you played fair?" he asked.

"I might have expected an evasion from you!"

"Don't muddy the water, please. Let's whittle on one stick at a time.
Have you played fair?"

"Of course, I have!"

"That's all I want to know."

But this reply suggested a subtle accusation which she did not like, and
she asked:

"What do you mean?"

"Only this," he leaned so that his words could not be overheard, and his
voice was tense with a strange seriousness. "You knew perfectly well
that I was hardly to blame--and, blamable as that defense may be, what I
did was done reverently. You may not know, though I'll tell you now,
that you were the most exquisite thing I have ever beheld!--absolutely
the most adorable and exquisite! You literally balanced yourself before
my eyes, you literally taunted me with words which were a challenge of
unresisting sweetness, you literally drew me, and when I came, you flew
into a rage. You call that fair? I call it grossly unfair! Take it from
me, Jane, that a girl who willfully fires a man, as Almighty God fires
the heavens in a tempest, and then springs behind her propriety to
escape, has a serious form of pyromania that'll consume her some day,
just as sure as I'm talking to you--but not before it drives a lot of
decent fellows to eternal flames!"

"You're talking like a madman!" she gasped.

"Far from it. I'm talking the most rational stuff you ever heard in all
your life! In fact, your very presence compels me to be rational."

"An enigmatic compliment," she could not help smiling. "What kind of
deliriant have you been taking tonight?"

"You!" he whispered. "Just you, who intoxicate and torture me! And as
for enigmatic compliments, I swear that you inspire me with only the
highest reverence at all times. Don't think the library episode
indicates a lack of respect! It was the very soul of reverence
speaking--though," he slowly added, "it would not have spoken in just
that way if Zack's toddy--"

"I'm beginning to hate the very word of julep and toddy," she said
passionately; and the Colonel, hearing this, turned with an amused
expression of surprise.

Ann had let Dale off her leash, and he now was making mental charges
across the table to Jane, very much as a playful puppy would physically
have done to one it wished to attract. She caught his eye and smiled,
and then saw the haunted look in his face which aroused her at once to
what was going on.

The table had centered in a general conversation, and Miss Liz, without
suspecting the sting it carried, had launched into a tirade against the
lawlessness of the mountaineers who killed and were killed with an
abandon worthy of Apaches. That he should now be so frantically
signalling, as though he knew in her would be found help, touched the
girl's responsive nature. Brent, seeing this--as he saw much that passed
about him--whispered to her:

"After all's said and done, it's a good feeling--that of being needed,
isn't it?"

"Our mountaineers are not law breakers, Lizzie," the Colonel was saying
with more than ordinary sharpness in defense of his guest--and of his
State. "They keep the law extraordinarily well."

"How can you make such a statement!" the good lady cried. "I constantly
hear of men being killed up in that wicked country!"

"It's very much exaggerated, as Brent would say," he chuckled. "At any
rate," he cleared his throat, "I refer to the common law."

Bob and Brent exchanged winks. They knew the old gentleman was getting
frightfully tangled, and were curious to see how he would work himself
out of it.

"Then I suppose you mean," her voice rang with the challenge, "that
killing people is compatible with the common law?"

"Legal hangings are," he smiled blandly. "But, what I do seriously mean
is this: the common law of a country, and therefore the common law of a
place, is merely--and nothing more than--a common custom plus the power
to change that custom. This being the case, the mountaineer of Kentucky
is within the common law of his section, providing that he kills only
within that section where it is a common custom--plus the power to
change that custom."

Miss Liz sighed. "It doesn't sound like good sense," she said, "but may
be correct. I have always thought that law is law, everywhere."

"Law is law, my dear," he gently explained to her, "until it is changed;
certainly. But it is not always good sense. Take our waterways
hereabouts! They are every one governed by the same old law of riparian
rights which we took from England, whose waterways are no more like
those in this country than threads are like ropes. And, moreover,
England's law was construed long before the dream of artificial power,
having to do merely with streams adapted to navigation. Who cared then
for a falls or rapids? Who would have been mad enough to think of
bridled electricity? So today, these falls and rapids, which are quite
out of the question for navigable purposes, but possess as great a value
in other respects to the people at large, are entirely demoralized
through the application of an antiquated law framed to deal with streams
of a totally different character. Don't you see, my dear, how fallible
may be the thing called law if it runs counter to public good? And does
it not show you that every common law must be--in order to be
sensible--a consensus of public consent? Therefore, do I maintain that
the mountaineers of our proud State, who in common consent prosecute
their own feuds in their own domain, are within the common law of that
domain. Some day, when Brent's and other railroads have poured into them
a different civilization, their environment will be changed;--there will
arise amongst them a giant to turn things upside down--as Jeremy Bentham
threw defiance to the law of diodens."

The Colonel now, having distorted a little knowledge into a great flow
of verbal pyrotechnics which hopelessly confused and downed Miss Liz,
turned back to Nancy with a satisfied smile.

"Wasn't diodens a sort of old law that confiscated anything which
destroyed life?" Brent, in an undertone, asked Jane.

It seemed a safe enough subject, and she nodded: "I think so."

"I was just wondering," he whispered, "that if this law prevailed now,
which would the State confiscate--your eyes, your mouth, the tip of your
chin, your--"

"If thoughts kill," she frowned, "my mind would be seized. I've murdered
you several times with that."

"You've murdered me several times with everything about you! I wish I
were the State!"

"State of Idiocy? Why carry coals to Newcastle?"

"To heap on your head," he laughed, "and scorch your uncharitable soul!"

"My poor lost soul," she murmured.

"Then take notice that, if finders are keepers, I'm heading a search
party."

She looked gaily up at him, for it was hard to remember that she was
angry; but quickly her face sobered.

"I forgot, and I must not forget, that you've mortally offended me."

There was something very serious in the way she said it--something
totally beyond the slightest echo of banter--that affected him. She was
looking back fearlessly into his face, and he saw the hurt in her
eyes--and he saw in her eyes that she was anxious. A certain faint and
subtle element of surprise and wonderment had passed across them, like a
cloud shadow over a sunlit field of waving grain. It thrilled him to the
very depth of his nature. For the first time in his life he was being
driven by an influence, by a storm, or what you will, which contained
not one element of self.

"For the love of God, what have you done?" he whispered, almost
accusingly in his earnestness.

"Done?" she asked, looking away from him. "You are saying queer things
tonight!"

"I am experiencing queer things tonight," his voice trembled. "May I
come tomorrow and apologize properly?"

"Apologies are futile; besides, I am going to church with Bip."

"Then the next Sunday!" he entreated. "I know you've a lot to
forgive--but I'm so terribly sorry! It hasn't murdered our friendship,
has it, Jane?"

"I--I don't know. I'm tired tonight, and maybe can't see things as I
should."

"I'm coming tomorrow, anyway, and explain," he whispered.

"No. And please promise you will never refer to this evening again!"

"Very well. And there's another promise I'll make you, too--"

But Miss Liz had arisen, and the others were pushing back their chairs,
so Jane did not hear this other promise he would have made; for she was
moving from the table with Doctor Stone, having pinned that gentleman as
they first arose with no intention of letting him leave her. He had made
one or two amateurish efforts to wait for Nancy, and now in a bewildered
sort of way wondered why he continued with this other girl against his
will. Doctor Stone's university course had not included psychodynamics
in the female species. Thus it was that he walked from the dining-room
to its carefully trimmed terrace with Jane, and thus it was that Nancy
slowly followed with the Colonel, who had filled her arms with a
gorgeous bouquet of peonies.

The honor guest's face was flushed, but it had been flushed throughout
the dinner. Never had she sat down at so well appointed a table, and
never had she openly been shown attention by one of the Colonel's social
standing. She was excited and happy; she wanted to run and dance, as a
flower-laden child might run and dance along a sun-kissed, wooded path!



CHAPTER XIX

THE MERITS OF HORSEFLESH


June hung suspended as ripe fruit. Rains had come. The country was
blossoming with a promise of abundant crops. No longer were there
breaths of sultry air in shady places. The heavy foliage, fattened by
reinvigorated sap and fanned by refreshing breezes, rustled as though it
were sprinkling ozone to the ground; and the Colonel complained of
exhaustion from the sheer indulgence of joyous deep breathing.

These last two months had brought a settled condition to those at Arden.
At first pleasantly aroused by the advent of Dale, they were again
comfortably back in their accustomed grooves, while he, also, found a
niche which fitted his cosmos with a fair degree of ease. He was at home
with them now, and natural; and--when not absorbed with study--talked
freely in a slow magnetic way that compelled listeners. The early
reticence had given place to the full sway of an enthusiast, and
everyone within his orbit felt the influence of a peculiarly strong
attraction.

More and more was he surprising them. Merging from obscurity to the
light of action, he had developed into a human dynamo, generating power
at a high rate of speed and storing it in the dry cells of his brain.
Brent accused him of consuming so much of the atmosphere that nothing
remained; he said the air seemed lifeless after this absorbing student
had passed. He was perilously near done for, he confided to the Colonel,
if Dale's mental instrument corralled all the energetic thought waves of
Arden, and Miss Liz captured the peace and independence. And the old
gentleman had laughed like a boy, because the mountaineer was so
generously surpassing Jane's most sanguine hope.

The happiest laugh of all was from Dale, himself--that low, inaudible
movement of the throat wherewith he expressed his gayest moods. He had
been turned out in the pasture of his heart's desire, and was gathering
a harvest with feverish hands. Since the first Monday morning after his
arrival, when he crept to the schoolhouse at break of day and waited in
the opposite thicket with his long rifle to see if Tusk would come
again, the mantle of civilization wrapped quickly about him.

In the succeeding days, the mysteries of spelling and other problems
flew like chaff before his irresistible energy. He had struck a gait
which created wonderment in all. Hours bounded in no way his efforts.
Late afternoons, evenings, and nights, had been devoted to intense study
of which he could not tire. Early mornings, before breakfast, had found
him poring over a book, and the day's lessons were recited with unerring
accuracy while he dressed.

Since school had closed this zeal did not cease; rather did it grow more
ardent as Jane gave him her undivided time by especially directing
studies apace with his rapid advancement. As she fed, he devoured--as a
ravenous animal would have torn its food--and fiercely demanded more.
From the blind girl he had acquired, with this thirst for knowledge, a
tremendous power of concentration; but, to the regret of those about
him, had failed utterly to absorb any of her power of self-sacrifice.
That spiritual side--that all important lesson of unselfishness--had
never reached him. He was as blind to it as she was to the light of day,
and in spite of all Jane could do, or the Colonel could do, his nature
closed tighter about the one idea of self-advancement.

For a week after his memorable first day upon the survey, he had rushed
to Brent's room each morning at dawn to get the party started; and Brent
had good-naturedly submitted. But now the engineer suddenly balked,
flatly refusing to take him out again. Miss Liz arose in her wrath, but
he told her that he would not risk another day of starvation should this
fanatic choose to throw the lunch away--and it was too much work going
every day, anyhow. But, the fact of the matter was, Dale had become a
serious handicap. He was not content to act as pole-man, or carry the
chain. He could have done either of these well enough, because Brent had
taught two of the brighter negroes whom he regularly took along. No,
Dale must be continually at the transit, looking through it, changing
its direction, asking a thousand irrelevant questions, and demoralizing
the entire force. So after one week of struggle, Brent told him that he
should not come any more until he had at least learned enough to
realize how little he knew. It was a disappointment to Jane, but she
persuaded Miss Liz not to press the issue, deciding that it might be
better in the long run for Dale to proceed more systematically in
fundamental things and lay his foundation with greater care.

In the freshness of this June morning he was back again in the library,
bent over the pages of a book, and the room seemed quieter for his
intensity. Outside, on the shady porch, the Colonel showed indications
of reading, but in reality his eyes had slyly turned to the lawn where
Zack and Bip were in a heated argument over the respective merits of
horseflesh.

An hour before, this sturdy six-year-old heir apparent to the house of
Hart, had arrived on his Shetland pony to see Grandfather May--a usual
weekly procedure. Along with him, as was also the invariable custom,
ponderous Aunt Timmie drove in her buggy--"her" buggy by adoption after
it had been discarded by "de white folks." Whenever she climbed into
this moth-eaten vehicle, whose wheels pointed outward and inward all at
the same time, she never permitted the child to forget that it was her
own sweet willingness thus to risk her life which made these excursions
possible. She was in the big house now, inspecting every surface and
crevice for a particle of dust, contemptuously sniffing and
soliloquizing:

"De place is jest nachelly gwine to rack an' ruin! Zack ain' got no moh
sense 'bout takin' cyare of a house den a rag-dawl!"

The Shetland pony, meanwhile, was standing at a safe distance from Uncle
Zack's mule, looking very wicked indeed with its long forelock hanging
frowsily between its eyes, and seeming to have comprehended some of the
slanders which this old darky--making a great pretense of being
angry--had uttered. To the side, and ready to champion her little
friend, stood Mesmie, daughter of Bradford, the overseer, with one bare
foot pressing nervously on the instep of its mate, and her fingers
twisting the end of her long, golden plait. This was apprehension, not
embarrassment. The old negro's pretended anger invariably deceived this
little girl--as it frequently puzzled the boy.

"Dar ain' no use talkin'," Uncle Zack stamped the ground. "I'se been
waitin' on de May fam'ly fer up'ards of a hund'ed yeahs, an' dis am de
fu'st time any of 'em done 'sult me!"

There was a pause while Bip looked at him with wide, serious eyes, and
the Colonel from his secluded vantage point silently chuckled.

"I didn't mean to insult you, Uncle Zack," the little boy explained. "I
only said that Daniel, here, couldn't have anything to do with such a
mis'rable mule. Daniel's a thoroughbred!"

"Thurerbred!" Zack scornfully repeated. "Jes' heah dat! Why, he ain' big
'nough to be no kind o' bred! He ain' got 'nough blood in 'im to call it
real breedin'!"

The boy's face flushed. "He's by Shadeland Wildon," he cried, "and out
of Hurstbourne Trinket! I'd like to see you find any pony stock better'n
that!"

Uncle Zack appeared to ponder over this. As a matter of fact, he had
once told Bip this same thing in these very words. Now he temporized by
squinting up at the sun.

"An' what's more," the little fellow hotly declared, "they're both
registered way back to the war--an' lots before that! Grandfather says
if he didn't know Daniel was Daniel, he'd think he was Shadeland Wildon
every time I rode him in here--'cause he's got his sire's chestnut an'
white markin's to a dot, an' his size to a hair! Now what you got to say
'bout breedin'!"

"'Pears to me," the old fellow soliloquized, still squinting upward,
"'twon't be long 'foh lunch time. Didn' I heah somefin 'bout gwine down
whar de Willer-de-Wispies lives at?"

"Oh, yes," Bip cried, his anger passing like a bird shadow. "But, Uncle
Zack, you've got to ride a horse! I can't have Daniel learnin' laziness
from that old mule!"

"Laziness!" the old man exclaimed. Then, all at once, he seemed to be
watching something in the trees. "I 'member onct," he began in a
ruminating fashion, "when a li'l boy come up to me an' sez: 'Unc Zack,'
he sez, 'which is de oldes', ladies or gemmen?'"

He watched the boy with a downward glance from the corner of his eye,
but the little fellow maintained a dignified composure. How often did he
wish Uncle Zack would forget those questions which now seemed to him a
hundred times more infantile by the old man's interpretation! How many
times had Uncle Zack prevailed in having his own way by merely referring
to them! Now he continued:

"An' onct, when I wuz settin' in mah doh, dis same li'l man come pokin'
'long an' sez, sez he: 'Unc Zack, how-cum you kin see yoh knuckles when
yoh fist is shet up tight, an' cyarn' see 'em when yoh han's out
straight?'"

"That's one thing you never did tell me," the boy accusingly cried. "You
couldn't!"

"I couldn'?" he asked in pained surprise. "Does you mean I couldn'? Why,
ain' you 'shamed of yohse'f talkin' dat a-way to ole Zack! I could
a-tol' you, spry's yoh please, but it warn't good fer li'l boys jes'
den."

"Then tell me now!" Bip challenged.

"How ole is you, honey?" came the irrelevant question.

"I'll be seven next time," he answered.

"Seven nex' time!" The wrinkled face became more wrinkled as he looked
out over the fields and began to shake with laughter. "Seven nex' time!
What you know 'bout dat!"

"What's funny, Uncle Zack?"

"Jes' dat, dat's all. Come 'long, now, an' we'll git de mule ready!"

"Ain't you going to tell me 'bout my knuckles?" the little boy asked, as
they moved to the horse-block where, in deep humility, an old saddle
rested.

"Shucks! Dat ain' no fun!" Zack contemptuously asserted. "Knuckles is
cu'ious things, knuckles is; an' dar ain' no sense gittin' all riled up
'bout 'em, no way. Didn' I never tell you 'bout de bantam hen dat got
her knuckles scyared up wid de water snake?"

"No, you didn't! But tell me first 'bout mine!" The little boy was
trotting to keep up now, and the old man lengthened his strides.

"An' didn' I never tell you 'bout de chicken hawk as busted his knuckles
all up tryin' to fly off wid de weather-vane down on de stable dar?"

"Oh, no, Uncle Zack! But tell me 'bout mine, first!"

The old negro stopped stock still and looked down with a frown.

"You'se de mos' pestiferistes' pusson on dis heah place!" Then, catching
an inspiration, he asked: "Why does you swaller when you'se chawin' a
piece of cake?"

"I don't know;--just do. I reckon!"

"Dar now, Mesmie, ain' he a smart li'l man?" the old fellow chuckled.
"Dat's de ve'y reason--you jes' do! An' dat's 'zackly what de knuckles
does--dey jes' do! Now, since we done relieve ourse'ves on dat pint,
le's move 'long!"

Both seemed to have forgotten the discussion on thoroughbreds, but the
old negro still pretended to be haughty; and now, slowly approaching the
mule which narrowly watched from the corner of his eye, he casually
observed:

"De ve'y idee of sayin' mah mule's lazy! Why, he kin nacherly out-run de
life outen a li'l sawed-off dumplin' lak one I sees standin' 'round
heah!"

This was the touch of spark to powder. The boy thrust his hand deep into
his pocket, brought it forth and opened it, then stepped quickly
forward:

"I'll bet you a nickel--an' here it is--that Daniel an' I can beat you
to the pike an' back!"

"Keep 'way! Keep 'way, son!" the old man hastily warned. "Keep 'way from
his heah whirlwind!"

Bip backed slowly off. He understood the uncertainties of this location,
and carefully watched the mule's anticipative ears which were symbols of
treachery.

"Git on 'way, now," Zack again warned. "I'se gwine heist up de saddle!"

"He can't kick me over here," the boy said.

"Don' you believe no sich a-thing," the negro emphatically exclaimed.
"De op'rashions of dis heah telescope extends to jest whar you happen to
be standin'--no moh, an' no less. All he wants to know is yoh ad-dress,
an' he'll pop you suah!"

"Then I'm as safe here as I would be at home," came the logical retort.

Zack stopped what he was about to do and stood with a broad grin on his
face. Slowly he looked from the sturdy little youngster to the mule, and
at last back again.

"De onlies' diff'ence is," he scratched his head, "dat ef you cross de
road now, mebbe you kin do it lak a li'l gemmen; but ef you keep on
foolin' 'roun' dis mule's back-doh, you'se apt to git heisted crost lak
a jay-bird. It's mighty good sense to press yoh luck as fur's it'll go,
honey, but a oudacious sin to set right out to bust it. An' 'member
what ole Zack say 'bout dat, 'caze it mought do you a heap of good some
day!"

Zack's saddle was finally tied on with a piece of clothesline and,
putting his foot in a rope stirrup, he mounted.

"Now I'se gwine arter dat nickel," he declared. "Scramble up on yoh
dumplin' an' come 'long! Li'l Mesmie," he looked down at the girl, "you
stan' right dar an' squint yoh eyes good, an' you'll see de hottes'
Kentucky Derby ever run!"

Bip led his pony to the horseblock, and by much squirming managed to
wriggle on; then trotted over to Uncle Zack.

"We're ready," he cried, his face alight with excitement. "How much
start'll you give me?"

"Staht! I ain' gwine give you _no_ staht! You'se wuss'n a gal!"

"Why ain' you gwine give him no staht?" an indignant voice called, and,
turning, he beheld Aunt Timmie leaning against the house complacently
regarding them.

"Of course you'll give him a start!" the Colonel thundered, thereby
showing to what extent he had been reading during the past half hour.

"It wouldn't be sporty not to give him a start, Uncle Zack," came still
another voice, this time from the shrubbery where Brent, returning from
a dabble at his work, had halted in the keenest amusement.

"Well, 'pon mah word," the old fellow scratched his head. "It looks lak
I'se booked to race de whole fam'ly. Marse John, how much you reckon I'd
ought to give 'im? 'Foh you answers, jes' keep in mind dat dis heah keg
of dynermite I'se ridin' ain' got no shoes on, an' dese heah ropes is
mighty rotten; an', ef we goes our best, de mule ain' gwine be de
onlies' one dat'll need a hawse-doctor! I ain' got no nickel, no-way!"

Timmie was shaking with mirth. "I wish you'd git yohse'f kilt," she
affectionately laughed at him. "Go on, den, an' find de
Willer-de-Wispies. De chile's done been honin' 'bout 'em in his sleep.
An' mind, don' let 'im git nigh no pisen-ivy! An' Zack," she called, as
they were riding away with Mesmie now up behind Bip, "git 'im back heah
by twelve!"

Still chuckling, she waddled around to the front, where only she and
Zack, of all the servants, were permitted to tarry, and sat upon the
lowest step.



CHAPTER XX

A STARTLING CONFESSION


"That ought to have been a fine race, Brent," the Colonel wiped his
forehead and laughed. "But I suspect it would have made Timmie a widow."

"A widow?" Brent asked, passing her with a cheery nod. "Uncle Zack told
me they were twins!"

"So we is twins," the old woman asserted, "but dat don' keep me from
bein' a widder, do it?"

"The fact of the matter is, Brent," Colonel May said with a twinkle
about his eyes, "it requires stupendous acumen to understand this
situation. Timmie and Zack were born on the same day, at precisely the
same hour, and in adjoining cabins. So that makes them twins. I hope you
follow me?"

"Like a hound, sir," Brent assured him.

"Then Timmie has never told you how it all came about, and how they got
their names!" The Colonel looked down at her. Occasionally, when he was
in a particularly gay mood, he made one or both of these old people
amuse his company. It was their boast, their greatest pride, that this
story of how they became twins, how they were named, and finally
married, had been recited before governors and other dignitaries, each
of whom they delighted to enumerate. She looked up saying with a shade
of rebuke in her voice:

"Marse John's done tol' you 'bout de twins part an' de marr'in'--an' as
for de namin', why, dat won't take no time. You see, when I wuz 'bout to
be borned mah mammy wuz in a turrible state. Most cullud folks is, at
dat time, an' most of 'em gits de 'ligion, 'caze it kinder ease 'em up.
Well, sah, whilst mah mammy wuz havin' de 'ligion an' me, Zack's mammy
wuz havin' de 'ligion an' him. Our cabins set jest lak yoh two han's
togerr--dat a-way--an' dar warn't no secrets 'tween dem famblys, dat's a
fac'! Well, when 'twuz all over, mah mammy's so thankful she say she
gwine name me outen de Scriptires. Zack's mammy heah dat, an' she lay
low an' study 'bout a name, too. De upshot wuz dat mah mammy settle on
de fu'st line of de hymn: 'Timorous-is-we-poh-mortal-worms.' Dat stun
'em some, you bet; but towa'ds evenin' Zack's mammy raise up an' shout
she's done foun' de name, an' when dey-alls run to her doh she say:
''Zackly-how-thankful-I-is-dat-dis-heah-trial-an'-tribulachun-am-over-
de-Lawd-in-His-goodness-only-knows! An' dat's mah son's name!' Well,
sah, de niggers fer miles 'round wuz jest bustin' dey jaws tryin' to
say dem gran' names, but a coolness set in on mah mammy. She got mighty
uppish, an' say it warn't fayh fer Zack's mammy to wait an' go her one
better, dat a-way. So dey sent fer ole Aunt Moony Jorden. Ever'body
stepped 'round fer Aunt Moony, 'caze she's bohn wid a cawl on her face
an' could see speer'ts; so she got out a dried buzzard's foot an'
whispers to it, an' den says ever'body mought as well make up, 'caze
someday de li'l chillun is gwine git mahr'd, anyway. An' sho' nuff,"
Aunt Timmie sighed, "we did."

The Colonel gave Brent a wink.

"Well, that was most fortunate," he mused, "for Zack has been a very
upright husband."

The old woman bristled. Glaring at him she said in a low voice:

"Upright ain' so diffe'nt from downright! You knows how oudacious he
done treat me 'bout dat 'surance!"

"Oh, yes, you mean about that policy!"

She maintained a moody silence, and the Colonel ventured:

"You see, Brent, Timmie thought so much of Zack--"

"Now, Marse John, you's jest pesterin'! De truff is, sah," she turned to
Brent, "dat 'long back yonder when Miss Ann's 'bout de size of li'l Bip,
a man come down heah an' says ef I takes a policy out on Zack, when de
ole nigger's daid, he say, I'll be wu'th somethin'. I turned it over an'
over in mah haid, an' reckoned dat, ef Zack had to go, dar warn't no sin
in ole Timmie gittin' all de comfo't outen it she could. So de man size
Zack up mighty smart, an' say a twenty-yeah policy'll be plenty long
'nough to out-stretch him. De fu'st of eve'y month I sont mah good money
up to Loui'ville, an' 'bout a yeah ago de day come fer dat policy to git
ripe. All de evenin' befoh I treat Zack mighty gentle. I cook him a
scrumptuous supper, an' dat night go down in mah trunk an' git out mah
mournin' clothes an' mah funeral hat, an' cry mahse'f to sleep. An'
what you reckon! From dat ve'y day he's been sprier'n he ever wuz! Jest
wait till I ketch some of dem 'surance men 'bout heah agin!"

With a deep sigh she rose laboriously and started back around the house.

"Where's Dale?" Brent asked, more to keep from laughing than from any
particular interest in the mountaineer just then.

"In the library, as usual," answered the Colonel, "digging out
analects."

Timmie, overhearing this, wheeled about.

"Mah sakes alive," she cried, a look of horror coming into her face.
"You never had nuthin' lak dat in yoh house while I 'uz tendin' to it,
Marse John! I'll bet dat liberry ain' fit fer a pusson to set in!"

The laughter which greeted this detracted nothing from her indignation,
and she turned again toward the rear premises, shaking her head and
mumbling direful things.

"That Dale, by the way," the Colonel said at last, "is a curious and
remarkable chap. Positively, sir, he gives me a fresh and agreeable
surprise each day!"

"I like the way he wears his clothes," Brent replied. "It isn't every
fellow who can put on hand-me-downs and still look like they're made for
him. Perhaps a small matter," he added, noting a smile of indulgence
come into the old gentleman's face, "but you'll admit that it shows up
favorably. It's probably an avatism pointing back to royalty; as Aunt
Timmie would say, a sure sign of quality."

"You may be right, sir. But in other ways he shows up more
extraordinarily. His mind is so retentive that nothing ever escapes from
it. Any date, or fact, or figure that he has ever heard, may be
instantly and accurately recalled. Why, sir, I would as soon contradict
an encyclopedia! He is truthful to a fault!"

"I wouldn't condemn him for a little thing like that," Brent murmured.

"Condemn! Why, sir, I admire him for it! I was early taught to love the
truth and shame the devil!"

Brent laughed softly. He got a great deal of fun out of ragging the old
gentleman a bit at times.

"If shaming the devil were all," he said; "but think of your neighbors!"

"I think of no one, sir!" The Colonel was fuming now, and glaring
impartially at everything about him.

"Then I wonder you've got a friend left. But, all joking aside, I
wouldn't take anything for Dale, and have really grown to like him a
whole lot. If he could just get over giving me the creeps! I can't
describe what there is about him--his native crudity, doubtless."

"I should forgive crudities in one whose heart is right," the Colonel
temporized. "It's in oysters that pearls are found, and surely oysters
could not be termed finished."

"Your originality is dazzling," Brent looked across at him, "even though
I can't agree with you. I've usually found oysters finished all too
soon;--and much easier to swallow than your superannuated moral axioms."

The old gentleman began to laugh. "On my word, sir, you are hopeless!
But, if he meets Jane's expectations, you will see him one of these days
with a masterful grasp on the abstruse questions of life, and striding
on to undisputed success. Jane has never been so enthusiastic about
anything as this rapid development. She's planning wonders with him!"

Brent was silent, gloomily watching the smoke from his cigarette.
Pointedly ignoring the personal element, at last he said:

"I was just trying to decide whether success in life depends as much on
grasping its abstruse questions, as the faculty of picking out its soft
snaps! But he's a poverty stricken beggar, and I wish him luck."

The old gentleman's eyes twinkled as he observed Brent's gloom. It had
an effect of pleasing him, and he banteringly advanced another moral
axiom:

"There are worse misfortunes than being poor!"

"That may be, Colonel," he sighed. "I'm not familiar with all the
tortures. Anyway, I'll bury the issue, along with my nose, in the
delectable juleps Timmie is bringing."

"You must have caught her eye," the old gentleman smiled, watching her
waddle through the hall with an inviting tray.

"Or Miss Liz is taking a nap," the other suggested, raising one of the
frosted goblets. "Here's to the gratification of your merest whim, sir!"

Both drank a swallow, and then sat upright staring at each other in
amazement.

"God bless my soul!" the Colonel gasped, "what is this stuff?"

"It tastes like raspberry juice," Brent answered, warily taking another
sip. "But it's sort of good--it's real good!"

The old gentleman gingerly sipped it now, and then once more, while his
lips made the soft smacking noise of taste on an investigation.

"By Godfry, it is good," he wagged his head convincingly. "It's mighty
good, sir!--er--perhaps Lizzie was not asleep, after all!"

After a few moments of contented silence--when Aunt Timmie had tiptoed
back to the kitchen and was relating to Miss Liz the success of their
undertaking--the Colonel asked:

"How is the road coming on?"

A month earlier Brent would have evaded this subject, but now his eyes
sparkled with pleasure.

"Bully! I've been able to make speed by the fortunate possession of a
hand map by Thruston--that super-accurate geologist, metallurgist and
engineer who tramped every foot of these mountains twenty-five years
ago--and it's making things easy. We've nothing to equal it, even
today!"

"Do you know," the Colonel slapped his knee, "I have suspected you were
slipping out oftener of late! I've been missing my niggers!--and was
going to tell Jane about it!"

"Don't," Brent said seriously, "I want--I just had an idea, that maybe
it would be nice to finish up for--well, about the time of her birthday
this summer. So, if you've noticed any especial activity, you'll have to
respect my confidence."

"Why, sir, I call that handsome, sir!" he cried. "Ladies might not
object to birthdays if cavaliers laid railroads at their feet! Tell me
more!"

"Well," Brent flushed, "the line is short and surprisingly simple:
distance from Buckville to the coal, sixteen miles. There was only one
choice of locations: the valley line, where the ruling grade is about
nominal. I'll come past here half a mile--or more, Colonel, if you
desire it--and scoot up the North Fork of Blacksnake, through the
natural tunnel, follow alongside the disappearing stream, and there you
are! A few rights of way are still unsecured, but I've had Dulany out
trying to gather them up. He's known hereabouts, and bargains better
than I."

"Well, well, I am charmed! Dulany is a good man! I take it that things
will soon begin to show in earnest?"

"It depends on what you mean by earnest," Brent laughed. "If
construction work, that doesn't begin till after I've done!"

"Of course, of course! I had forgotten! Where do you cross the pike,
sir?"

Brent looked at him a moment, then slowly began to smile.

"I'm going through the front parlor of my friend Tom Hewlet's house."

"Good riddance," the old gentleman chuckled.

"And," Brent continued, "I fear I'll have to go through the reception
room of one of your friends."

"Why, this is serious, Brent! Whom do you mean?"

"It might be serious," the engineer laughed. "It's a chap named
Potter--very much in love with you."

The Colonel looked grave. "His cabin burned down this spring; I supposed
he had moved away!"

"No, he is rebuilding," Brent casually replied, and glancing slyly
across at the serious face, murmured: "He doesn't think you had a right
to burn him out."

Colonel May sprang to his feet: "The impudence of him, sir!" he
wrathfully exclaimed. "The impudence of him! Why, sir, he grossly
insulted--" and quickly remembering that this insult to Jane must not be
known, added: "insulted me, sir! Of course, I had a right to burn him
out!"

"I'm glad you did," Brent soothingly agreed. "I only knew the facts
yesterday, when he happened to be telling about it."

"Telling about it! What do you mean, sir? What lie could that scoundrel
have invented?"

For a moment Brent looked the excited man steadily in the eyes, and the
Colonel realized that further dissimulation was useless. After this
silent message had passed between them, he said:

"I was resting under a tree yesterday, back from the road. As a matter
of fact, I was trying to write a verse. Dale and Bob came by on
horseback. Potter, who it seems has returned from his long and
mysterious absence with Tom Hewlet, appeared pretty well up the hill on
the other side. Seeing Dale, he yelled at him, and shot his pistol in
the air, and--and said a lot of things about the fire. He was too far
away for them to get him."

"This is detestable," the old gentleman locked his jaws. "It's
positively dangerous for that dear girl to go about! I shall not let her
leave Bob's place without some of the hounds!"

"Hounds wouldn't amount to anything. If she tried to set them on anyone,
they'd think it was a cast and be off!" Then quietly added: "I've wired
home for an airedale terrier. With him as her friend, she can go
anywhere!"

"That is most thoughtful," the old gentleman murmured. "But, Brent, that
damned half-wit will take savage delight in spreading his story--" the
Colonel gritted his teeth and could not finish.

"I hardly think so," Brent reassured him. "It just happens that I've
placed him in a most superstitious dread of me--through a little
encounter we had because of an attempt Tom Hewlet made to blackmail me.
Though I mention this in confidence, sir."

"Blackmail! Why, Brent, what does this mean? I feel as though I were
dreaming!" But a deeper anxiety came into his eyes as he recalled some
whisperings of two months back.

"Don't let it worry you. It has been cooked by proper threats of the
penitentiary--" He stopped short, becoming for the first time aware of
Aunt Timmie's presence as she was taking up the goblets with more than
necessary deliberation. When she left, he added: "Anyway, what I
started out to say is, Tusk will keep his mouth shut forever after I get
hold of him. I looked for him in town, and at his half finished cabin,
but he wasn't around. So I'll try again today."

"Do you really think you can stop this?" the Colonel leaned hopefully
forward.

"I know it, unless Tom has successfully disillusioned his mind about my
being a devil."

"A matter which would doubtless require more eloquence than Tom
possesses," the old gentleman's eyes twinkled: but he added in the
former serious voice: "If you can't, sir, I--I shall have his life! I
will, sir!--by God, sir. I will!"

Dale had come quietly to the French window. At his place in the library,
where he had been poring over books, the conversation could have been
heard, but none of it drew his attention until the Colonel's first
outburst of rage. He stood now, looking calmly down at the old
gentleman's flushed face, then stepped out and approached them.

"You won't have to do that," he said. "I killed 'im this mornin'."

A deadly, sickening hush came over his listeners, and gradually through
it the rythmic strokes of a galloping horse fell upon their ears. Brent
turned and saw Jane. In a dry voice he said:

"The hell you did."

For once the adaptable engineer seemed helpless to rise to the
situation. It was the Colonel who pulled himself together, saying
hurriedly:

"Here's Jane! Go out, Brent, and entertain her! I'll take Dale indoors
and see what this means!"

"I haven't time," the mountaineer irritably replied. "I'm readin', and
can't stop!"

"I'll bet you a cooky you can stop, sir," the old Colonel snapped. "You
come and talk to me! Hurry, Brent!"

Entering the French window to the library he turned nervously to Dale.

"Now, what does this mean?"

"Brent told you," the mountaineer answered. "He told you how the varmint
yelled, an' what he said. This mornin' I went 'foh sun an' laid out near
his cabin. That's all."

The reproach in the Colonel's eyes fell upon Dale like a lash, and he
angrily continued:

"You said you'd do it, didn't you? If I hadn't--or somebody hadn't--he'd
kept on shoutin' those things, an' maybe worse, till she wouldn't have
opened school next yeah! Would she? Then what would I do? I tell you,
Tusk had to be kilt!"

"I was merely angry, and talking, sir," the Colonel protested, with not
the same regard for truth he had formerly boasted.

"An' I was angry an' not talkin'," Dale sullenly retorted.

The silence that followed was broken by the old gentleman's brief
question:

"Dead?"

"I reckon. He went down."

"We must go and see. Come!"

"I ain't got time to fool with 'im," the mountaineer looked restlessly
at the open book and then back at his interrogator. "I've got to study.
You go, if you think you'd ought, an' take some niggers."

The Colonel shuddered: "By God, but you're a cold one!" then hastily
went out to consult the faithful Zack. But the mountaineer reseated
himself at the long mahogany table, and plunged furiously into the maze
of erudition.



CHAPTER XXI

A VOICE AND A TAPER FLAME


Brent, who for some days had not been gracious to the sight of Jane,
went out to meet her in a state of mind so dazed that it bordered on the
humorous. At heart most things were jests with this devil-may-care young
man (it may have been a trait cultivated through sheer necessity) and
whether Dale killed or were killed might some weeks ago have passed into
his continuous performance of human comedies and tragedies. But there
was a new element about this which shocked him to the foundation of his
nature, and the revulsion became more acute as he looked up into her
face smiling politely down at him.

He had watched her interest in Dale, and now guessed her depth of
disappointment when she were told how the mountaineer's career had gone
dashing into the black wall of ruin. But he had watched with a twinge of
jealousy which, as jealousy has the knack of doing, exaggerated both the
extent and kind of interest she may have felt.

Many opportunities had come to Brent, and it was not all his fault that
most of them had been neglected. His capacity for achievement was as an
arm perpetually carried in a sling; no one's fingers had untied the knot
and massaged the cramped muscles, nor had anyone's lips bidden him
strike the right sort of blow. His mother breathed his name when a
trained nurse had laid him down beside her on the bed; and that was the
only time he might have heard her voice. His father was a man so
threaded in the loom of finance that the rearing of a baby boy seemed
wasted energy for one of his activities. The governess whom he employed
to assume this duty came with recommendations; that was all--came with
recommendations. And the boy's days were without intelligent direction
of any kind.

The only trait in his character which this governess strongly developed,
was a desire to hide from every one his deepest and best impulses. Since
one day, when his four-year-old arms had clasped a homeless puppy hurt
by a passing wagon, and she had poked her finger and laughed at his
tears in order to keep his clothes from becoming worse soiled, his
generous side shrank back into itself and froze. Then he began to clasp
this newly bruised thing--a little boy's wounded nobility; so jealously
guarding it from the cruelty of other laughs, from other curled lips and
fingers of scorn, that few might have suspected it lived in him at all.

Later in life there appeared an object he might have cherished--the girl
of whom he had told Jane; but this did not leave the regret he tried to
make himself believe. He had never been able to rise above a lingering
disappointment because her fingers made no effort to untie the
knot;--rather, had she drawn it tighter by applauding those things which
inherently he realized needed rebuking. For in his soul lived a voice
comparing her to an ideal known only to his dreams--a being, somewhere,
who would tear off the sling with brave and loving hands, and not be
content to see him drift. His closely guarded better nature was
persistently pleading with him to face about, while her pouting lips
imperiously demanded his mornings and afternoons for her entertainment.
Then, very softly, a consciousness began to dawn upon this little
romance, showing its glitter to be the veriest tinsel; and, so it was,
in a make-believe fervor of self-righteousness, he pressed the pseudo
crown of martyrdom upon his brow and "stepped aside."

If the truth were known, his soul had many times craved
self-sacrifice--a hunger from which true men and women do not long
escape. So he hugged the imitation, knowing it to be an imitation, but
pretending it was real; before this false altar he "stepped aside,"
crying within himself that he had done a noble act, and knowing it was
counterfeit. The knowledge, not the sacrifice, was bitter; nevertheless,
this false altar sweetly fed his innate hunger--and, to keep the false
in an attitude of real, he dreamed more, drank more. In the three years
which had passed since then he retained only the love of drifting.

As he now looked seriously up into Jane's face he was swept by one
thought: tragedy, cruelty, disappointment were entitled to no place in
the atmosphere of her dwelling. With a pang he realized that Dale was
bringing them all to her. With a bound, something that was very far
from being false, awoke in his heart, whispering how she might be
spared. Then he perceived her still smiling down at him.

"Dreaming?" she asked.

"Fascinated," he murmured.

Without assistance she slipped from the saddle, exclaiming:

"My, but it's a lovely day!"

"Isn't it! Oh, you can't interrupt the Colonel and Dale just now," he
warned, seeing her intention. "They're hard at it. Come with me while I
tie your horse, and then let's go to your charmed circle and talk. Have
you forgiven my--er--shortcomings?"

"I'd forgotten you were so afflicted," she laughed, knowing he had no
reference to the dinner--that absolutely closed subject.

"I didn't know I was either, till you told me one day. In fact, you're
always enlightening me. How wonderful you must be to discover so many
things in a chap!"

"My insight is very clear," she observed, without enthusiasm.

"A vision filtered through such wonderful eyes should transform
everything to beauty," he smiled. "In a negative way I might feel
complimented."

"It would be so negative. How long will the Colonel and Dale be
closeted?"

"Lord knows. They've lots to talk about. Dale has reached a place where
the Colonel finds him exciting."

"Isn't he a marvel!" she exclaimed.

"Oh, he's a marvel, all right," Brent grumbled. "But his vanity will
surpass his great achievements;--don't delude yourself about that!"

"Well; you're an authority on that condition of life. Do you enjoy it?"

"If you'll give me more reason to be vain, I'll tell you."

She ignored this, and when they were among the cedars he began again;
not caring what he talked about as much as to be talking. He felt that
if he stopped, she might read through his depression.

"Do you remember the last time we were here? You lectured me for
loafing, and shooting woodpeckers. There were other things, but you
couldn't recall them at the moment. I've been doing some right stiff
thinking since then!"

"Retrospection is good for the soul," she smiled at him.

"On the contrary, retrospection makes for hollow eyes, and introspection
is tinged with bitterness. Keep your face to the future if you would
have your soul contented."

"And what is your future?" she archly inquired.

"These coming minutes while you are here with me."

"Really," she flashed him a rather bewildering look, "I did think for
once you were going to be serious!"

"I am serious," he dug the heel of his boot thoughtfully into the
tanbark. "I wish I weren't--or didn't have to be."

"Has something gone wrong--with the road?" There was a slight tinge of
irony in the suggestion.

"No, but something's gone wrong with the world. I wish," he suddenly
looked up at her, "that I could be as sure of laying a smooth grade
for--for my friends as I am for trains of coal!"

"Your friends might have to wait a long time before traveling about,"
she laughed, but there was a note of apprehension in her voice which
again put him on his guard;--and yet he could not help feeling that a
partial preparation was only fair to her.

"It wouldn't be a bad thing if some people never traveled about," he
smiled. "I might then succeed in keeping you here, and those hot-headed
mountaineers would stay back in their holes and rot forever, as they
ought."

"Oh, Brent," she exclaimed, in a hurt voice, "there is such a wealth of
splendid human material up there if we can only get hold of it! They're
all ambitious--if stirred!"

He waited, asking: "And what else?"

"Nothing else."

"But you didn't say anything nice about Dale!"

She laughed. "I thought you knew about Dale--and me; for I'm of the
mountains!"

"You didn't belong to those people," he murmured. "You're a spirit who
lived in a deep spring, and you just floated down with the brook. I
know, because I've dreamed about you. And I know, too," he shook off the
spell, "a little something about stirring the ambition of _real_ people
up there. I've seen it tried in a mining camp where a railroad has been
running for years! I've seen a fair and square company build model
cottages, and in every way try to improve conditions. It put in baths,
and the tubs were used for vegetable bins. It built a reading room, and
the walls were covered with charcoal pictures. Two men used their little
front porches for firewood, rather than pick up all they wanted a
hundred yards away. One winter coal took a jump. The mine had a bonanza
chance, and the men who had been making their two and a half dollars a
day, or thereabouts, could with the same hours' work pull down twice
that much. Did they? I'll tell you what they did: they laughed at the
superintendent and worked half time; they sat about the store and
whittled, saying that two and a half was all they needed. But they
forgot this quick enough when the union afterwards went in and told them
they ought to get twenty cents more! You'd have thought then that they'd
been on the verge of starvation for years, and the harrowing tales which
went forth about their 'wretched conditions' would have made you
laugh--had you known the facts. The union had photographs taken of the
two cottages without front porches, and sent them broadcast so the world
could see how capital trod upon its hire. Ambition? They don't know the
word deeper than its two first letters! And you've got to be ready for
many a disappointment here, too--let me tell you that!"

She was looking at him earnestly, and in a few moments said: "I agree
with everything you say. I grant it all, every bit. But, Brent,
consider! A mother tells her little boy to wash his face, to read his
primer, and he doesn't. And the next day she tells him, and he doesn't.
And so on, for days and days, she tells and tells. It seems utterly
hopeless, but all the time she is persisting, and gradually bringing him
nearer to a sense of obligation. After ten or twelve years you will find
him stepping briskly on to admirable manhood; but it is because she has
never turned her back on him--she never faltered. See what Dale's sister
has done with patient perseverance! Surely, you would not get in a pout
and hold back the road simply because a few mountaineers are sometimes
obstinate little children!"

He felt the double reproach of this and began to smile, saying:

"I hadn't intended to tell you, but now you force me to it: the line is
twice as far along as when you were over here last!"

"Oh, you good-for-nothing--splendid!" she impulsively cried; but more
wistfully added: "Why wouldn't you have told me? Why do you try to keep
people from seeing when you do good things, and only show the--the not
so good?" He did not answer, and she spoke again with a new and delicate
caress in her voice: "You haven't deceived me utterly--there are times
when I've been tremendously proud of you."

"Jane," he said, and stopped. His eyes were looking deep into her own,
and while she gave him back look for look he seemed incapable of
continuing. But she turned away, somewhat confused, and slowly he
continued: "One time I discovered that in us all there is a secret
temple, with a very small but highly prized altar lighted by a tiny
taper flame, where we keep just our own little treasures--our wonderful
selves." She glanced up in some surprise, but this time he was staring
at the ground. "In some, its door is studiously, carefully locked; in
others, its paths of approach are overgrown with weeds and almost lost;
in others still, it is hard to find because it has been starved, or
hurt, or laughed at--but always when a certain current of thought or
sound sweeps by, that wonderful part of our souls upon this little altar
is set a-quivering. Old soldiers feel its pulsing at the booming of a
cannon; old women feel it at the laughter of a child; others know it is
there while beneath the spell of an orchestra, a breeze in the pines, a
bird's note, the fragrance of certain flowers, the caress of a voice.
You will forgive this unintentional preamble," he looked slowly up at
her, "when I say that your voice just now has been all of these things
to me--and more!"

"Oh, Brent," she cried, with a brave pretense at lightness, "if only you
weren't such a trifler! The dangerous thing about you is that you mean
this now--almost; enough, anyway, to give it a ring of sincerity. Were I
less sophisticated, I might go home believing it, and thinking what a
wonderful man you are starting out to be; but in the morning find my
ideals shattered, and on the ash heap!"

"You are so worldly, then?" he smiled.

But she had arisen and now stood at the entrance of the path, looking
slightly over her shoulder and ignoring his question with another:

"You say things are really hurrying?"

"Dulany is buying the necessary land in record time," he answered.

"But," she hesitated, pouting just a little, "that implies no work of
your own! Still, I suppose I should be thankful for whatever we receive.
And, oh, Brent," she now turned and looked seriously up at him, "if you
would only stop this wretched drinking! Tell me, why do you? What call,
or what cause, makes you? Is it to drug the mind into some sort of mock
rest, or the body into sleep, or the soul--ah, Brent, what does the soul
do when it is stupefied? The pity of it flares up in me like a great
scorching flame!"

He opened his lips, but could not speak. The words, their sincerity,
sympathy, and wonderfully strange appeal, came like an unfelt air; for a
second time setting a-tremble the tiny taper flame in that reliquary of
which he had told her. Another moment she looked appealingly up at him,
then turned toward the house.

"Jane!" His voice, hoarse and vibrating, held her where she stood. She
dared not see the face which her senses said had been driven white by
some tremendous feeling. So she waited, listening.

The smell of cedar buds was in the air about them; and wafted out on
this, as though it might have been just now brought up from the musty
depths of some old cedar chest, they heard the thin voice of Miss Liz
scolding one of the servants. Otherwise, the morning seemed to have no
life except the lazy drone of insects.

Again she started slowly to the house; but this time he did not speak,
and only watched until she disappeared.



CHAPTER XXII

TWO PLANS


When Colonel May returned he was tired. He paused at the library door,
for a moment watching the bent head of the indomitable student, now
oblivious to everything except the page before him, hesitated, and then
passed on in search of Brent. He seemed to appreciate the uselessness of
calling the mountaineer who was in a realm too remote for human
interference. The Colonel was not the first that day to look in, pause,
and then pass on.

He found the young engineer out under the trees, deep in the
contemplation of the sky. Jerkily pulling off his gloves, he said:

"I want a drink!"

"You must have caught his eye," Brent smiled, as the tactful Zack was
seen following from the house with two frosted, green-tipped goblets of
silver hugged close to his stomach. It was obviously an effort to shield
them from the windows of Miss Liz's room and her inquisitorial
lorgnette. Colonel May noticed this shameless evidence of stealth, and
colored.

"I wish I could drink in my own house like a gentleman, sir," he raged,
"without hurting the sensibilities of super-sensitive ladies! This
schoolboy tomfoolery is sickening, and I'm going to put a stop to it
right now, sir!" So when the servant drew near, with a sly smile that
did anything but assuage the Colonel's humor, he raged anew: "Zack, you
rascal, hereafter when you bring me a julep I want you first to ask Miss
Liz if she thinks it looks well enough to be served!"

That black worthy put the juleps quickly down and exploded with
uncontrollable laughter. Such a suggestion, he thought, was about the
most irresistible bit of humor the Colonel had ever achieved; and now,
holding his sides, between guffaws he gasped:

"Marse John, you'se gittin' funnier an' funnier eve'y day you lives!"

But at this moment his eyes wandered to the Colonel's face. The laughter
stopped with a dry croak. He saw that his old master and friend was
serious, and reaching for one of the goblets he anxiously exclaimed:

"Great day in de mawnin', Marse John! You suttenly don' mean dat! Drink
dis heah, quick! Ridin' in de sun's done tetched yoh haid!"

"Touched the devil," the old gentleman thundered. "Take it back this
instant and ask Miss Liz if she thinks it's pretty enough to serve!"

Uncle Zack was indeed troubled. His hand shook with more than its usual
wont, as he looked down at the offending beverage and then pleadingly
up.

"She done tol' me twict dis week dat I'se gwine buhn in hell for dis
heah julep makin'. De fu'st thing you-alls'll know ole Zack'll bust out
in flames--an' _den_ whar'll you git yoh comfo't from?"

But the Colonel's glowering brows said very distinctly that the
alternative was an immediate little hell right there beneath the trees
and, choosing the more remote, Zack turned slowly to the house. The old
gentleman's eyes followed him, and now he turned irritably to Brent:

"I will not drink my juleps in gulps behind trees and shrubs, sir! I
like to have them sit before me, and contemplate their merits. I like to
Fletcherize them with my mind, and with those senses which my mind can
set astir. And so with my cigars, and with my food! Why, sir, much of
the pleasure of drinking and smoking and eating--as a gentleman
understands these pleasures--is in their peaceful contemplation before
the act! Otherwise, we are swine, and degrade our nutriment by coarse
handling! What respect can we have for self, sir, if we choke and
gurgle, and contemptuously treat those things we put into our bodies! I
shall have no more of it, sir!"

Brent waited until this wave of impatience had spent itself upon the
chairs, the grass, and everything within reach of the Colonel's wrathful
eye; then asked:

"What did you do with him?"

"Potter?" he nervously answered. "Wasn't there. Blood on the ground, but
he'd gone. Either wasn't killed, or someone found him. I don't know
which, of course, but probably the latter."

"What shall you do?"

"I don't know; I don't know. Telephone to Jess, doubtless."

For a moment they sat looking soberly into each other's faces.

"May I suggest," Brent said, "that you abandon the idea of telephoning
the sheriff? Jess isn't wanted quite yet awhile. If Potter is only
wounded--maybe just scratched--he's all right. If someone found his
body, there are others besides Dale who might have killed him."

"But, sir," sputtered the Colonel, "I can't harbor a murderer!"

"There's a difference between a murderer and one who righteously avenges
a wrong. That's worth considering. Besides, it's a serious matter for a
gentleman to give over his guest."

This, he knew, was a powerful argument and, feeling content to let it
plead its own cause, quietly added: "We don't want to see him go to
jail--"

"He wouldn't go to jail, sir," the Colonel quickly interrupted. "I would
ask Jess to leave him here until Court convenes. He would be glad to do
that for me."

"I know he would," Brent replied with all sincerity. "But we don't need
a sheriff yet. Let's wait, and see what turns up!"

An expression of infinite relief came into the old gentleman's face, but
his conscience was still aroused and emphatically he declared: "I'll
deliver him to the law, sir, the very minute I know to a certainty that
Potter is dead!" Then his eyes turned toward the house, from where by
this time he thought his julep should be emerging.

That faithful institution, Uncle Zack, had come perilously near
fulfilling his mission. He had walked bravely through the rooms, goblet
in hand, at each turn earnestly and fervently praying to his gods that
Miss Liz might not be found. Coming into the front hall, and passing "de
long room"--that long room which used to ring with the merry laughs of
dancers, but was now guarded as a sort of chapel for shrouded
portraits--he saw its forbidding doors slightly ajar, and peered in.

Uncle Zack always avoided this room. Its subdued light; its oppressive
atmosphere, invariably suggesting the image of "Ole Miss" lying there
amidst banks of flowers which matched in purity her calm face; the
uniform arrangement of high-backed chairs, suggesting in their white
coverings a line of tombstones; the two massive crystal chandeliers,
hanging like weights of an old clock which would never again be
wound;--were all too much for Zack's heart and imagination. Yet the door
was open, and he peered in.

His fading eyes followed the line of chairs, upon one of which stood
Miss Liz. She had drawn the musty covering from an overhanging
portrait--her dead sister--and to this she was murmuring. Her black silk
dress and lace kerchief seemed to make her a part of the gallery; and
her thin hand resting on the frame, with its forefinger unconsciously
pointing upward, was as frail and wax-like as that other hand into which
the old negro had, one twilit evening, long ago, laid a rose--when,
unobserved and shaken by convulsive sobs, he tiptoed in to pray at the
side of "Ole Miss'" bier.

Carefully now he stepped back, drawing the door softly to, and leaving
the room to its undisturbed communion of whispering spirits.

"What are you crying for?" the Colonel asked, as he finally came up with
the julep.

"I isn't cryin', Marse John. Dat bad eye of mine hu'ts me some, dat's
all."

"I'll have you see the doctor. Did you find Miss Liz?"

"Yas, sah, I foun' her."

"And what did she say?"

"She never say nuthin' to _me_," Zack answered in his low, musical
voice. "An' I never axed her nuthin', neither. She wuz standin' on a
cheer in de long room, whisperin' to Ole Miss' pictur, Marse John; an' I
couldn' poke no julep up at her den!"

The Colonel bowed his head. After a prolonged silence he drew a deep
breath, then drained the goblet thirstily to the very end, taking a
piece of ice into his mouth and moodily crunching it. But his eyes were
not raised; his thoughts had not been diverted.

Zack tiptoed away and disappeared behind the house. Brent respectfully
waited for the spell to pass; and when, at last, the old gentleman did
look up, his eyes, like Zack's, were moist.

"The tobacco ought to be good this year," he said.

"Yes," Brent smiled at his courageous nonchalance, "if we don't have the
riders."

"Riders, pooh," he ridiculed. "You mean, if we don't have any more play
of fancy imaginations, and thunderings of overwrought editors, sir!"

For Colonel May was one of those many, many thousands whose love of
State stands just above his love of Nation. Any word, or whisper, which
scandalized the sweet name of Kentucky spurred him instantly to action.
The same unwavering Southern Law whose right hand commands man to strike
in defense of a woman's honor, placed its left upon the Colonel's
shoulder whenever the old Commonwealth happened to be slandered by some
impetuous act of a misguided son. Nor would Brent have been any less
slow with his defense;--but, among themselves, pretenses were
unnecessary. So he laughed at the old gentleman's fervor, saying:

"That's all right for the outsiders, Colonel; but I was in the State
cavalry, and know. We chased 'em for weeks!"

"And how many were caught, sir?"

"Oh, I don't remember. My own troop rounded up three or four."

"Well, sir," the Colonel said, with a finality intended to close the
subject, "that's a mighty small number to have given us all so bad a
name! The injustice of Kentucky being exploited in the press of the
United States merely for the misdeeds of three or four rascals! All
kinds of deviltry may be perpetrated in other sections of the Union,
sir, and the press treats it with indifference; but let just one
gentleman in Kentucky shoot another gentleman, and the papers make it
into a dish for the gods, garnished with their blackest type and
seasoned with the spiciest titbits of their fertile imaginations! It's
disgusting, sir!"

"There may have been a few of those fellows we didn't catch," Brent
suggested, wanting very much to laugh.

"Impossible! I tell you it's impossible, sir! When a troop of cavalry,
made up of such material as yourself, sir, goes after offenders, I am
pretty well satisfied that you bring them every one in!"

"You put it most convincingly," the engineer bowed to him. "By the way,"
he added, rightly judging where the Colonel's thoughts were dwelling, "I
hope you will tell me the day before you decide on telephoning Jess--I
mean, of course, if the worst comes to the worst!"

"Certainly," he looked up. "But why do you want to know?"

"Perhaps you don't want to know why I want to know," Brent laughed.

"But I do, sir!"

"That isn't a sufficient reason, Colonel, for it may not be ethical for
me to tell you. However, I've two plans. One is to give Dale a
twenty-four-hour start, and in that event I'll go along to see him
settled."

"I shall forget what you say," the old gentleman, immeasurably pleased,
frowned sternly to ease his conscience. "But you can be of no service to
him! He knows his country like a book!"

"It isn't to his country I'd advise him to go. No one would think, for
instance, of looking for him in our house at home. He could keep on
studying, too; and after awhile this thing would blow over."

The light in Colonel May's face was eloquent of a greater affection than
he had at any time felt for Brent, but he simply said:

"Then I should lose you both! What is your other plan?"

"The other plan is something I am not at liberty to tell even you,"
Brent soberly answered.

After several minutes, during which the older man seemed to be thinking
deeply, he struck his fist on the arm of his chair, exclaiming:

"I don't see why it's so damned important to tell Jess, anyhow! Why,
sir, the fellow may not be dead, at all! And you mustn't lose sight of
the fact, sir, that Dale is my guest, entitled by a higher law to my
protection!"

"Now that you mention it, I believe you are right," Brent cried, as
though this were sparklingly original. "Let's act on the suggestion!"

Sometime later, after they had gone, Zack came out to gather up the
goblets. For several minutes he stood with one of these in his hand,
staring with a perplexed and troubled frown at a julep which had not
been tasted.

"Dar ain' no fly in it, dat's suah," he mumbled, "but I cyarn' see what
de trubble is! An' it ain' Marse John's, 'caze he drinked his'n whilst I
wuz heah! De onlies' answer is dat Marse Brent done lef it fer de ole
nigger!"

With a stealthy look toward Miss Liz's windows he backed into the
shrubbery and transferred the julep to a place where it might receive
more consideration; then, after doing a few steps of a double-shuffle,
he emerged and walked airily to the house.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE SECOND PLAN


Brent's room was across the hall from Dale's. These two, engineer and
mountaineer, were the only occupants of the third floor, known since
their arrival as Bachelors' Belfry. This floor, however, was far from
resembling a belfry. Its high ceilings and spacious rooms were of the
type which architects drew in the early nineteenth century, when labor
cost but its feed and materials were everywhere at hand. Just as the
bricks in the outside walls were laid "every other one a header," so the
interior spoke of a style which went out of existence three generations
ago. More recently, however, the Colonel had added a furnace and baths,
converting for the latter several entire bed-rooms with which Arden was
over supplied. Thus Bachelors' Belfry might have been considered the
most agreeable, even as the most isolated, portion of the house; and, as
its occupants passed a law forbidding women servants to ascend above the
second floor between five in the afternoon and nine in the morning,
conventions of attire were not by your leave, but as you please.

Tonight Brent had gone up early. At dinner he had been distrait; nor
even his poise could quite disguise it. The Colonel had suggested a
smoke and chat out on the porch where the air was soft and still and
cool, but Brent could not find it in his heart to stay.

During a portion of the morning, during those few passion-riven seconds
while Jane had been held like a carved image by the unfathomable timbre
of his voice, a struggle had taken place in the engineer's soul. And
when she had again started toward the house she little dreamed how
savagely it was raging. So he wanted to be alone tonight; not to face
that fight anew, because for once and all it had been settled, but to
plan for the fulfillment of its issue. The Colonel, therefore, was
smoking alone; just as Miss Liz was reading her Bible alone, and as Dale
was poring alone over a book in the silent library.

Brent, his chair back-tilted, his pumps resting on the window sill, his
coat off, had been surrounded for an hour by darkness. Only out across
the limited space of world framed by his window, and now barely visible
in the starlight, was there anywhere to rest his eyes.

He had watched the afterglow fading, fading; he had heard the last
sleepy twitter of the birds; he had seen one star, two and three, come
out; before his steadfast, brooding stare the trees had slowly lost
their green for the somber shade of night. And now it was indeed night;
that hushed and awe-inspiring span of gloom when worlds most sin; when
men and women do their sobbing; do their yielding; count their cost.

All of this had had a most oppressing effect on him whose thoughts
matched the compass, if not the penetration, of his vision. Another
hour he sat. Then he heard the great front door close with a jar. It was
the Colonel locking up the house. Shortly afterwards he heard Dale's
step, as the mountaineer went to his room. A sigh trembled between the
lonely watcher's lips, but he promptly arose and crossed the hall.

"How'd you get along today?" he asked, closing the door softly after
him. Not infrequently did they chat together at night.

"Fine," Dale cried, still excited by the labors he adored. "I'm readin'
about as fast as I can talk. It seems easy, now that I've got the
knack!"

Brent watched the light of ambition, of achievement, flicker across his
neighbor's face; he saw the purposeful chin, the knotted muscles in the
jaws, the fist, which in emphasis had just come down upon a table,
remain clenched as though it might never be off high tension.

"I'm glad to hear it," he said quietly. "But what have you in mind for
the future?"

"In mind? Everything! I'm getting my learning (I used to say larnin')
like a hungry old sow turned out on corn. Miss Jane says I'm doin'
better'n anyone she ever dreamed of; and when I finish, we're going back
in the mountains to bring our people out to light!"

"Yes, I've gathered something of that," Brent drily replied. "But, what
I mean is, what is your idea about Tusk?"

Dale started: "Good Lord," he slowly exclaimed, "I'd forgot about him!"

"It might be worth while remembering," the other suggested, "I've come
in to talk over plans for saving you."

"Savin' me! Me?" the mountaineer sprang to his feet in a burst of rage.
"Only you an' the Cunnel know I've done it, an' if you'll keep yoh
mouths shut there won't be any reason to save me, as you call it!"

"This isn't your country," Brent held his temper. "Men aren't shot
around here and carted off and buried without some sort of legal
investigation. If Tusk's body is found, and it will be found if he's
dead, someone's got to pay; someone must either stand trial or turn
fugitive."

"Great Gawd," Dale cried, slowly rocking his body from side to side.
"Great Gawd! Great Gawd!" he repeated over and over. There was a
flickering look about the eyes that made Brent catch his breath. It
seemed for just a passing second that they had been converted into
little balls of trembling red quicksilver; that was the only thing to
which he could liken those eyes just then--red quicksilver. But this
passed so quickly that it might have been a reflection from the lamp. At
any rate, Dale was continuing: "Why, Brent, I can't go to jail! Nor I
can't run away! Miss Jane says I'll be chuck full of education by next
winter--how can I go to jail? She says every hope she has is in me!"
Brent winced. "She says she trusts me more'n any feller she ever saw!"
Brent winced again. "How can I go to jail?"

So it was true. The engineer laughed, but it sounded more like the
stirring of ice.

"Don't divulge any more of her confidences. You've said enough--too
much. I assure you. The thing to talk about now is how to save you. Are
you sure you killed him?"

"'Course I did. Do you reckon I miss a man at three rod?"

"Then someone found his body, for it wasn't there when the Colonel went.
Sooner or later the trail will lead here. I've thought, perhaps, you
might slip away and go home with me. You can study there. Later, when
things blow over, you can come back."

"An' Miss Jane'll go?" he asked, hopefully.

"Certainly not," Brent flushed.

"I'll see what she says," Dale dubiously suggested.

"You'll do nothing of the sort! Would you have her know about this
mess?"

"It seems like she's pretty apt to know," he answered.

There was cruel truth in this; she was pretty apt to know beyond a
doubt; and Brent pictured what it would mean to a girl who believed and
had such implicit trust in one to find him a willful murderer. He
thought a moment of the blind sister, the helpless one of patient
waiting, of prayerful days; all dark, all dark, except for the hopeful
coming of that day when her brother should stand irreproachable before
the world and hear the applause of men. Slowly he spoke; it was of the
second plan, formed in a white hot crucible of passion as Jane had
walked away from him that morning.

"Several times Tusk has threatened to kill me if I persisted in building
the road across his patch of land. He stopped me one night on the pike
and laid hold of my bridle rein, and I had to get down and punch his
head. Why shouldn't he have tried to fix me early this morning when I
might have been up in that country?--and why shouldn't I have shot him
in self-defense?"

"I reckon you could," the mountaineer doggedly answered.

"Well, prod up your brains, man, or I'll begin to doubt if you're as
scintillating us everybody says! Don't you see what has to be done if
the sheriff gets wind of the thing and comes here? If I can probably get
off, and you'll probably be hanged--what's the answer?"

"You don't mean--" Dale swung about, resurrected hope lighting his face;
but Brent held up a warning hand.

"You're on, and that's enough; so don't open your mouth even in here. If
you do, I'll back out. You get that, too, don't you? Now listen: if Jess
comes, just tell him you don't know anything about anything; that you've
never left the library. I'll fix the Colonel and Zack."

But Dale was scarcely listening. He had begun to cavort about the room
in a semi-barbarous dance, clapping his hands and making a purring sort
of growl in his throat. A chair fell over; then another.

"Chop that crazy stuff," Brent commanded. "Want to wake the house?"

The big mountaineer looked rather sheepish as he picked up one of the
chairs and sat down in it.

"I reckon I was so tickled to get off from the law," he mildly
explained.

"I thought you might be mourning over the fate of whoever takes your
place," the engineer murmured, with a sarcasm entirely lost on his
listener. "Hell, Dale," he now let his feeling explode. "I've seen lots
of fellows from the mountains, but any one of 'em would lose a hand
before letting another man take his medicine! You've got to let me do
it, you understand!--but I do reserve this opportunity of saying you're
damned unappreciative."

"Do you reckon I'm lettin' you do it for me?" he turned savagely. "Do
you think it's me--jest me? Then you're a-_way_ off!"

"Well, I supposed it had some little to do with you," Brent suggested,
"and--and Miss Jane."

"It hain't!" He was in a fury again, and dropped back into the old
dialect "I hain't thinkin' of Miss Jane, nor nuthin'--'cept jest the
place Ruth said I'd git ter fill, the man I'll make 'mongst the big men
of the world! I'm the only one on airth as kin be as big as that, hain't
I? Yeou hain't amountin' ter nuthin', air ye? Why shouldn't ye take my
place afore the law? Hain't hit Natur's way fer the puny ter go down
afore the strong?"

The engineer's eyes opened at the curious sensation this gave him; at
the utter astonishment of listening. Then he softly began to laugh.

"My friend," he said, "I have raised my hat to one or two colossal
freaks in the past, but henceforth I shall come into your exalted
presence with bare-headed humilitude. However, my boy, don't think that
I'm flirting with the penitentiary for the sake of your dazzling future,
or for any of your pipe dreams. I'm doing it," he arose, and added
softly, "I'm doing it for the fun of the damn thing. Good night, Mr.
Genius!"

Long, long afterwards, Brent continued to sit in the back-tilted chair,
gloomily staring through the window which framed his dim vision of the
world. Later, somewhere on the other side of the house, the moon came
up; and far out across the country a dog howled. Yet, by another hour,
when that disk of lifeless white had floated higher in the sky, the
trees framed by his window dropped their robe of mourning for a more
soothing green and silver.

"I don't reckon it's such a somber old world, after all," he stood up,
stretching;--then went to bed, and slept.

But, across the hall, Dale had not slept. Excited, boyishly happy to
have escaped the consequences of his madness, he had tossed throughout
the night; building up castles of greatness equal to those of his
beloved Clay and Lincoln.

Now a robin piped its three first waking notes, and the mountaineer's
eyes opened wide. The interior of the room was beginning to be touched
with gray, and he sprang up, throwing back the eastern shutters and
gazing on that first faint flush of dawn which stirs within man's breast
a feeling of the Omnipotent. With lips apart, he watched the coming of
delicate layers of salmon, and saw them merge to a soft and satiny rose.
Vermillion now touched the highlights, as though some unseen brush, wet
from a palette below the horizon, had reached up and made a bold stroke
across this varying canvas. More slowly followed blue--and then a bluer
blue.

His thoughts, coloring with the sky, were whimsically curious. A day was
coming! It would come and go, and never in all eternity come
again--would this day! It was coming: to some, bringing ungrudging
pleasure, sweet happiness; to others, unsparing misery, bitter despair!
Before days were, it had been arranged that this one should appear--it
had been nicely calculated that this very dawn should glorify the sky at
this precise moment; and that e'er the sun of this day set, thousands
upon thousands of human beings should raise their smiling lips in
rapture, or their bloodshot eyes in pain! How many now, out across this
big, beautiful, blushingly awakening world, were undreaming of their
approaching joy--or unconscious of their creeping doom? Over and over in
his mind Dale weighed these thoughts. The universe was becoming a
fascinating, tremendous force to him. This day, just now coming over the
hill, so weighted with its black and white bounties--what was it
bringing to him?

"I know!" he cried, snatching up his clothes. "I get freedom, an' he,"
here his clenched fist shook toward Brent's room, "gets jail!"

Feverishly dressing, he stamped down to the library--his paradise;
regardless of whom he might be disturbing at this hour.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE CALL THAT MEANS SURRENDER


Three days later an airedale terrier was driven to Flat Rock by Uncle
Zack. When, with an air of mystery, he presented the leash to Jane,
grinned and politely bowed himself away, she had stared at him in utter
surprise; then down at the dog which seemed to be gazing up with greater
understanding.

"Well, what is the answer?" she kneeled before him, fondly taking him by
the ears. The honest, fearless brown eyes spoke, but she slowly shook
her head: "I'm not civilized enough to understand!"

But her fingers, now turning his collar about, came upon a little note
addressed in Brent's writing. Untying it in some haste she sat upon the
grass and read:

    "I, and my life, are yours, Mistress Jane. Please take me, and let
    me guard you faithfully.

    An unnamed dog."

"An unnamed dog!" she cried in delight, giving him a quick, impulsive
hug. "Oh, you wonderful creature!" Then held him off at arms' length,
his head between her palms in a way that wrinkled the tawny forehead
into an expression of profound wisdom. "How would you like to be
named--Mac?" she whispered.

He was wagging his stumpy tail, anyway; but one can always give a dog
the benefit of a doubt, and she believed that it began to wag more
happily. Thus it was settled between them. All the affection which his
nature held, which his rearing in a large kennel of other dogs had not
permitted him to bestow upon any one master, now sprang to its most
perfect development and centered upon this girl. Wherever she was, he
was; watchful, ready for a lark, or equally content to lie quietly at
her feet.

That afternoon, in trim boots and riding habit, she crossed the porch to
her horse which had just been brought around. Mac, in great pretended
fury, was grasping the leash end of her crop and tugging at it with
savage growls.

"Drop it," she gave his nose a tap. He licked her glove then, and looked
up with his head tilted in roguish inquiry. "We must ride over and thank
the other Mister Mac," she explained; and a few minutes later they were
going at a spirited pace across the meadows to Arden.

With still no news of Tusk Potter, the Colonel had spent a restless day.
Earlier, the doughty son of Shadeland Wildon brought the little boy over
to see him, followed by Aunt Timmie in her precarious buggy; but it was
now afternoon and they had left. Shadows were lengthening, and the cows
were mooing at the pasture gate.

Dale, as usual, had spent the day in study. His absorption had made him
unconscious of intruders who came into the room. Timmie and the little
boy had stopped to say good-bye, and she called his name; even
emboldened by his silence to murmur: "Don' you know you'se gwine pop yoh
brains a-wu'kin' 'em so hard?"

Bip, who regarded Dale with mysterious interest, made farther advances.
He went up close, and looked wonderingly into his face; but at last both
he and the old woman left unseen and unheard.

All unconscious of his surroundings, this student was living in other
days with the dauntless Pompey. By the aid of the huge dictionary, now
seldom opened, he laboriously followed this daring friend of the great
Cicero. Since morning he had witnessed the capture of a thousand cities,
the slaying or subjugation of a million human beings--and more of this
was to come. Had lightning snapped about his head he would not have
known it for the wilder sounds of battlefields, scattered between Rome
and the Euphrates, possessing his brain.

When Jane arrived, Mac was properly introduced to the old gentleman, who
made a great fuss over him and directed her attention to his points of
unusual excellence. But Brent, he told her, was not about.

"Dale would like to see him," she said enthusiastically.

"Oh, yes," his face clouded, "I suppose so!"

"What's the matter?" she quickly asked.

"Matter?" he looked up. "Why, nothing, my dear! Nothing, of course!"

But it did not satisfy, and she asked again:

"Has anything happened?--Dale, or anything?"

He must have found some difficulty in evading this direct question, and
his hesitation, brief though it was, alarmed her.

"No, my dear. I cannot say that anything has happened. I may be growing
a little uncertain of him--that is, I may be afraid--oh, bother! It is
nothing but an old man's fancy!"

Nevertheless, when later, calling the mountaineer's name, she stepped
through the library window, an element of uncertainty, quite a different
sort from that which the Colonel was congratulating himself upon having
so deftly hid, filled her heart with a vague foreboding.

Dale was mumbling aloud as he read, and did not hear her; but a slight
pressure on his shoulder brought him slowly back from scenes of carnage,
and he looked up into her face, smiling down at him.

"Stop awhile, and speak to Mac! Your eyes seem tired!"

"They're not. That was a great man--that Pompey!"

"Great," she agreed, a trifle piqued that he ignored her dog.

"Those fights," he said tensely, "were the biggest things a feller ever
did!"

"He did something bigger than conquering men," she told him.

"What?" he challenged.

"The battles won over himself," she answered slowly. "His upright life,
his unsullied honor toward all those women whom he made captive. In
battles of that kind there are great generals today. In that respect
everyone can be a Pompey. I wish I could feel," she thought again of the
Colonel's troubled face, "that you, without any doubt at all, were going
to be one!"

"I see what you mean," at last he said, turning back to the book; but
instantly pushed it away with a gesture of impatience and gazed moodily
into the high polish of the mahogany table, as though somewhere down in
its ancient graining an answer might be found to his troubled thoughts.

She watched him, with a curious look of interest.

"I don't understand it," he finally murmured. "By that very teachin',
we're branded worse than any kind of beasts. There's somethin' wrong,
Miss Jane; there's somethin' wrong!" A soft and peculiar light, which
she had often seen when his pupils began to dilate and contract,
fitfully crossed and recrossed them.

"I don't think I understand _you_," she replied.

"Then look!" he turned quickly. Again the curious light. She felt
herself being charmed by it, and wondered if a quail might feel so while
crouching before the point of a bird-dog. In a whisper-haunted voice he
began to speak; "It's a summer night. A lazy mist hangs in the valley. I
can see it--I've seen it most a thousand times! It hangs from the
mountain's waist like a skirt on a half dressed woman, and above is all
naked in the starlight. The air is still and clear, up thar," he slipped
unconsciously into the familiar dialect as he grew more intense, "'n'
the mist below is smooth 'n' white. Ye'd think ye could walk acrost on
hit. No sign or sound of the world kin touch this place, 'n' one might
as well be standin' on some crag that overlooks eternity. Back in a cave
a wild-cat wakes, 'n' sniffs the air; 'n' then he yawns, 'n' purrs, 'n'
gits up 'n' walks with soft, padded feet ter look out on this silence.
He sniffs the air, 'n' purrs agin, then lays his ears down flat 'n'
sends a cry a-tearin' 'crost the space. I've seen 'im; I've heerd 'im;
I've laid back outen the wind 'n' watched 'im. He crouches 'n' waits.
Soft, but nervous-like, his claws dig in 'n' out the airth. Then an
answer comes, floatin' like a far-off cry of a child in pain. With ears
still tight ag'inst his head, he freezes closter ter the ground, lashin'
his stumpy tail from side ter side, 'n' purrin' deeper. Then he cries
agin, 'n' waits. Purty soon, from out that mist, the answer comes agin,
'n' like a flash he's gone. Has he done wrong?"

He paused, still looking at her; and she, too strangely fascinated to
turn away her eyes, stared back with parted lips.

"When the fu'st red bars of dawn flash up the sky," he went on, in the
same mysterious voice, "showin' folks down in the valley that a day has
come, a bird pulls his head out from his wing, 'n' blinks. I've seen
'em; I've laid 'n' watched 'em 'most a thousand times. He blinks agin,
'n' finds hisse'f a-lookin' squar in ter a pair of twinklin' eyes that
seems ter've been awake all night, jest a-watchin', with sly longin',
from 'tween two leaves. Maybe he'd seen those eyes afore, but not jest
like this. Maybe only yestidday he passed 'em by--or even drove 'em away
from food;--but somethin' strange is in 'em now, somethin' strange that
happened in the night. So he gives a jump at 'em, jest like a spring he
didn't know was in his legs had been let loose; 'n' she laughs 'n' flies
away, I've seen it happen 'most a thousand times. From tree ter tree,
from bush ter bush, he follers. He stops; she stops. But when he tries
agin, she flies. The next day they're buildin' a nest. Have they done
wrong?"

He paused, but she did not take her eyes from his face. She might not
have known his voice had ceased by the way she looked deep into his
pupils--deep into the realm of his fancies. When he did speak again his
words were scarcely audible:

"Whether I'm in this misty valley, or up in those scarred rocks 'n'
crags--wherever I happen ter be--'n' send my call out ter space, I
reckon I've got ter go when the answer comes floatin' back ter
me:--whenever a dawn brings two eyes that have been watchin' fer no one
else but me, I reckon I've got ter follow in jest that very way! We
weren't made ter put up a fight when that call comes--fer that call
don't mean fight, Miss Jane; it means surrender!"

"Oh, my mountain poet," she murmured, leaning gracefully nearer, "how
can you wear a modern harness with such a soul! But we cannot live
simply, as the animals and birds! Do you not see that a higher
civilization has taught us the greater meaning of these things?"

"No," he answered bluntly. "That call is the greatest meaning. Nothin'
don't stand one, two, three to it! If civilization chokes it, then
civilization is wrong!"

A feeling of conflict stirred in her. Here was this towering young god
whom the Great Chiseller had made so awkward, so uncontrollably selfish,
yet otherwise so fine, and he was deliberately leaving the one path of
all others which she had believed him most sure to follow. Ruth had sent
him to her untarnished, and now, while in her keeping, he was drifting
away! How could she ever answer those blind eyes if they questioned her
with their calm, sightless stare? Her hand left his chair and rested
lightly on his shoulder, and the voice which spoke to him seemed almost
hard:

"You are stumbling into a false reasoning! Civilization does not choke
the cry; it only directs the way men and women shall answer! You are not
forgetting your Sunlight Patch, are you?"

He started to speak, but changed his mind; while, without being noticed,
she bent nearer, intently watching.

"Well?" she asked.

"I don't know," he said with a touch of uncertainty, "I reckon maybe
it's all wrong up at Sunlight Patch, too!"

Tremendously moved, startled, fearful lest he drift entirely from her
reach, she slipped still lower and looked up into his face.

"What does this mean?" she asked. "What has happened to you, boy?"

Mac, feeling that something had gone wrong, came over and pushed his
head beneath her arm; and with this she held him, while her other hand
impulsively caught Dale's sleeve. A feeling of protectorship, a faint
consciousness of motherhood, gave her face an exquisite look of
entreaty. What men's lives might be had never taken a definite place in
her mind, for she had accepted much and passed over more. But she was
not pleading now so much for him, as she was for the trust that had been
imposed in her--the knowledge that her honor was answerable to the giver
of that trust!

"You will not forget your Sunlight Patch, Dale?" she whispered. "You
will promise me this?"

Slowly the answer for which she hoped began to frame itself upon his
lips, and would have been spoken, had not Brent at this moment entered
in search of the mountaineer, and got well within the room before seeing
her.

She arose quietly, entirely free of self-consciousness, and was about to
make a sign for him to wait until the promise should be put in words.
But he was receiving altogether a different impression of the scene.

Yet, whatever his surprise, or the pain it brought, he was too well bred
to be taken unawares, and immediately crossed to the shelves as though
his errand were a book. The room was so large, and so deeply shadowed
near the door, that he might do this; and, indeed, hoped she would
believe herself to have been unobserved.

But the ruse had not deceived her. It had, instead, merely reflected his
own thought; and, as this understanding flashed through her mind, she
started forward, hurt;--but as quickly halted in confusion.

Rather hastily he took out the first book his fingers touched and was
starting back, when again she made as if to follow; but once more
stopped before the humiliation of having considered it even necessary to
explain to him. Yet one of her hands was still held out, a picture of
desperate protest.

Of course he did not see this, for his eyes had not dared to turn in her
direction after their first unforunate glance. Thus he went into the
hall, and an instant later she was staring at the vacant door, now
rapidly becoming blurred.

She gave one backward glance at Dale, but he had forgotten her existence
and was poring over the battles of Pompey. Such indifference did not
hurt her now:--it was the emptiness of that door! Still staring,
silently beating her hands together in impotent rage, her face burning
with mortification, two big tears rolled down her cheeks and fell upon
the rug. Mac whined. He did not understand--he only felt.

"Mac," she sobbed hysterically, "I wish you--could say all--all those
things that go--with damn and hell!" then passionately ran from the
room, and came up plump into the Colonel's ample waistcoat.

"My God!" the old gentleman cried.

"Oh!" she gasped.

"Ah, 'tis you!" he said, his arms still about her. "I thought it was a
wild-cat!"

"I thought it was a bear," she sobbed.

"What? Crying? My dear, how is this?" he asked in alarm.

"I can't tell you," she murmured to his cravat.

"Can't tell me! But I say you shall!" he hotly commanded.

"I'll never do anything--when you say shall," she retorted brokenly.

"God bless my soul," he sputtered. "I want you to understand that you'll
do anything whether I say shall or not, when I find you crying!"

"That sounds funny," she began to laugh, just a little. Then he began to
laugh.

She took his hand after this and led him across the hall into the "long
room," and when they emerged ten minutes later there were no signs of
tears.

"Never fear," he chuckled, "I'll tell him this very night."

"Oh, but you mustn't tell him," she said, aghast. "I only want him to
understand!"

"I see, I see," he pinched her cheek, "You only want him to understand.
Well, he shall understand this very night, then."

"And you'll thank him for sending me Mac?"

"Yes, yes, I'll thank him, never fear. Wait now, till I order my horse;
I'm going to ride home with you."

"It isn't dark yet, and I'm not afraid with Mac," she demurred.

"It is nearly dark, and I'm very much afraid," he bowed gallantly, "that
I'll too soon be forgot for this airedale gentleman if you go alone."



CHAPTER XXV

ALMOST A RESOLUTION


Shortly after breakfast next day the Colonel dispatched Uncle Zack and
his mule with a note to Jane. He might have telephoned this message,
which simply read: "He understands, with an amplitude of grace which ill
befits him. Come over this morning and straighten Lizzie out with her
preserving. I hear that she is skinning every negro on the place, and I
greatly fear for them, or her."

But, no; this must be on a written page and delivered by hand, for the
old Colonel averred that no gentleman should assume to shriek his voice
by mechanical device into the ear of a gentlewoman. In cases of illness,
accident or fire, or perhaps in pressing business needs, the telephone
had its uses; but a _faux pas_ of the first order was to employ it
socially.

So Zack's mule ambled down the pike and home again, bringing a reply
which sparkled with merriment between its lines: "You have the maternal
instinct of that lady who lived in a shoe! I'll be over to soothe Miss
Liz and her poor, flayed darkies."

Arriving some hours later, she and Mac went directly to the shed where
bright copper kettles were hanging in a row above the old fashioned,
stone oven fires. Several negro women were moving quickly and silently
about, frightened and getting into each other's way. But now, as she
drew near, there was a commotion, and she saw Miss Liz actually lay
hands upon a girl of about seventeen and roughly draw her away from one
of the simmering pots. Unobserved, and in utter amazement, Jane stood
and stared at them.

"What were you about to do?" Miss Liz cried excitedly.

"I--I drapped de spoon in," the girl began to whimper.

"And were going to thrust in your hand and get it scalded to the bone?"

"I'se--I'se 'feerd you'd scold," she put her head down in her arm.

"Now, Amanda," Miss Liz looked at her reprovingly, "if you think I've
nothing to do but sit up nights making poultices on account of your
idiocy, you're very much mistaken! What does a spoon in the preserves
amount to compared with your suffering?--and my suffering, when I'll be
dead for sleep with nursing you? What do you all mean," she turned
angrily upon the others, "by standing there and letting her attempt such
a thing?"

"'Deed, I didn' see her, Miss Liz!" several voices were raised in
protest.

"Of course, you didn't see her! You never see anything! I must be your
eyes as well as your brains, you lazy pieces! Here, Amanda, take this
handful of cherries and go out there under the trees and eat them; and
don't swallow the seeds, either, or I'll be sitting up with you yet!"

Jane came on then, and Miss Liz gratefully recited the multitude of
grievances which had beset her since early morning. This seemed such a
vast relief that she yielded to persuasion and left for a little rest. A
few minutes later the shed was animated with a buzz of happy voices,
fingers, more skilled than Miss Liz had given herself the opportunity of
realizing, now traveled with twice their former speed, and into the
simmering kettles was being cooked a geniality which all preserves must
have to be appreciated.

Half an hour later, leaving this crew in splendid working order, she
walked slowly around to the front of the house. Out before her, in the
shaded group of rustic chairs, sat the Colonel and Brent, somewhat apart
from, but facing, Miss Liz, who seemed to be holding them at bay. Had
the men been alone Jane might doubtless have gone indoors and sought the
commander of the kettles, for she did not care to see Brent just at
once. But the human dice had fallen otherwise, and there seemed no
alternative but straight ahead.

As she drew near she noticed that Miss Liz's cheeks were flushed with
some new excitement, and guessed she was being worried by a process of
serious teasing. Her eyes then sought the reason for this and discovered
it in two julep goblets, cuddled guiltily behind a nearby tree. For as
Miss Liz had come across the lawn to join them half an hour earlier,
this refreshment was hurried out of sight--the Colonel's resolution of
independence notwithstanding--and now, before the ice could entirely
melt, Brent, by a polite tirade against the prim old lady's pet hobby,
trusted her increasing wrath to clarify the situation by routing her
housewards. While he and the Colonel knew this would inevitably come,
her anger was not yet at sufficient heat, and she held her ground with
defiance bristling from every stiff fold of her black silk dress.

Jane gave the men a reproachful look, and Brent's face flushed when he
saw her eyes hover about the juleps; but she entered their scheme by
asking:

"Why does everyone seem so serious?"

"My dear," Miss Liz began to fire, "your father had suggested a Fourth
of July celebration--a most fitting tribute to our departed heroes--but
I regret to say that two not very high minded gentlemen--" The
lorgnette, turned first upon the Colonel and then on Brent, completed
her indictment.

"I'm sure we are misunderstood," Brent murmured, but the Colonel
maintained a discreet silence.

"Can it be, Mr. McElroy," she glared at him with straightening lips,
"that I misunderstood you to say George Washington was not a paragon of
truth?"

"You mean a bird?" he innocently asked.

"A bird, sir?" the black dress gave a startled rustle.

"Excuse me; I thought you said ptarmigan."

The conventional old Colonel committed a very deplorable breach of
etiquette--he snickered; but twisted it into a lusty cough, gutturally
explaining:

"Really, my cold!"

"Mr. McElroy," she turned severely to Jane, "has been
blaspheming--blaspheming the traditions of our noble heroes! My dear, it
is positively disgusting!"

"The subject is quite a closed book to him," Jane sweetly replied, and
the Colonel was threatened with another coughing spell.

"I didn't say anything against heroes," the engineer explained, "except
that none of them can measure up to our heroines."

But from the toss of Miss Liz's head this had not brought him a grain of
grace.

"What hero did I malign?"

"You said," she snapped, "that Washington was neither truthful nor
honest!"

"Oh, now, I couldn't have!" he protested. "I merely said, in regard to
the cherry tree episode, his intention was not only to cut, but to run.
You've heard the expression 'cut and run'? Well, we get it from George."

"Your surmises are intolerable!"

"Miss Liz, it isn't fair to condemn until you hear me!" It was the tone
of a much misunderstood penitent, and she hesitated. "I'll leave it to
the Colonel," he was continuing, but the old gentleman briskly
interrupted:

"You'll do nothing of the kind, sir!"

"Then I'll leave it to Jane--she may have some remote idea of
history--if I'm scandalizing your hero by saying he never set us the
extraordinary example you think. He was just a normal boy, a considerate
boy, and had no intention of worrying the family about that tree; but it
so happened that before he had time to sweep up the chips--which shows
he was a tidy boy!--his governor swooped right down on top of him, you
might say, and the game was up. George had cut, you see, Miss Liz, but
he couldn't run--and here's where he showed himself the genius which
ultimately resulted in our independence. He knew in a flash that this
was a tight place; it was an awful tight place; in fact, you might say
it pretty nearly squeezed him all over. There was the prostrate tree,
right before the old gentleman's eyes; and there was the old gentleman,
mad as hops, with his cane trembling in the air. There wasn't another
boy, or even another hatchet, in fifteen miles--and little George's mind
analyzed the full significance of that fact. It didn't take him a second
to see how the situation had to be handled; so, really, Miss Liz, I
think our lesson should be drawn, not from his love of truth, but from
his quick and accurate judgment. In all the English language there was
just one thing for him to say, and he said it. That's genius, Miss
Liz--but not always veracity."

"Some persons may think that way," she compressed her lips, taking care
to give the proper emphasis to persons. "There is no accounting for the
benighted mind. Thanks be to God that every man, woman and child of
intelligence knows otherwise."

Delivering herself of this, she calmly folded her hands and smiled at
Jane with an expression of triumph. Brent took a fleeting glance toward
the juleps.

But something now smote the Colonel's conscience. She looked so thin and
frail! He remembered, too, the suspicious watering of Zack's bad eye,
and what his good eye had seen in the "long room." In a gentle voice he
said:

"My dear, I hear that the sisters are asking where good cherries may be
had. It seems the convent would put up a certain cordial; and, if you
are passing there, would you inquire how many bushels they wish, and say
you will send them over with your compliments?"

"Thank you, John," she looked forgivingly across at him. "If Jane would
like, we may go now. The cherries are at their primest state. I shall
stop a moment," she turned and took Jane's arm, "to see how our
preserving goes, my dear. Can we be home for luncheon? And will you
remain to have it with us?"

Even before they had quite disappeared, Brent rescued the still
palatable juleps, and he and the Colonel were testing them.

"She's a good soul," the old gentleman murmured. "I'm glad for her sake
that Zack remained discreet the other day."

"I'm glad for all our sakes," Brent gravely nodded. "Though I suppose he
wouldn't have done it under any circumstances."

"He's a perspicacious nigger," the Colonel chuckled. In a moment he
spoke more soberly: "I've been in town every day, and have heard no
single word about Potter. Do you suppose he's dead somewhere in the
hills?"

"Oh, no," Brent evasively answered. "He's all right. A shot at him would
scare him away for a month. He has too much on his conscience."

"Well, I shall persist," the old gentleman sighed.

They were leaning back--just as two contented idlers in the shade; but
each with a weight upon his heart to rob it of that needed peace which
makes for perfect days. Yet, Brent could hardly now be called an idler.
He had worked late the night before plotting his field notes, and the
afternoon would be devoted to this same pursuit. Finally he said:

"Suppose I had killed Tusk! Would you stand by me?"

"Yes, sir," the old gentleman opened his eyes, "I would stand by you
with a shot gun until I had the satisfaction of seeing you safely locked
up in jail."

A longer pause.

"Assuming that I'd acted in self defense, would there be much of a stir
about it?"

"Hm," came the noncommital response, but this time with closed eyes, for
the Master of Arden had passed the point of active interest.

It was a morning to invite sleep. No leaf stirred, but the shaded air
was fresh and comforting. Great cumulus clouds lazily, ponderously,
glided across the sky, prototypes of nomadic wandering. Somewhere back
by the stables a mellow farm bell proclaimed across the smiling fields
the hour of noon; then negroes straightened up from the rows of young
tobacco, stretched their tired backs, and in groups wandered toward a
cool spring where their dinner buckets had been left. Yet it was some
little while before the Colonel's midday meal.

Again Brent asked (or perhaps he only thought, for thoughts have a knack
of seeming loud to those at the threshold of Nod):

"I wonder how it would feel to stop drinking and buckle all the way
down?"

No answer.

"If she could only care for me--after I've wiped the bad spots out!"

No answer.

"But I'm such a pup--and what a devilishly sweet miracle she is!"

Still no answer, so he may have been only thinking, after all. At any
rate, the Colonel remained steeped in tranquil apathy.

The messengers to the convent, returning somewhat late, caught sight of
the men beneath the trees and went that way in order to bring them in
for luncheon. But as they approached, Jane stopped. She saw the
immaculately white pleated bosom of the Colonel's shirt bulging out to
support his chin, which rested firmly and comfortably in it. Then her
eyes went to Brent, occupying three chairs for himself and his legs,
while one arm hung inertly to the ground and his head lolled back in
childish abandon. She smiled. But this was not what had stopped her. By
the hand of each of these sleeping men, in glaring, accusing sight,
stood a julep goblet.

Miss Liz, now wondering at her hesitation, was making ready to raise the
terrifying lorgnette, and this would have spelled disaster. Those
penetrating lenses would never have missed the dazzling light reflected
from that traitorous silver. Smiling again, though with a dull heart
ache as her gaze still lingered on the sprawling Brent, she took Miss
Liz's wrist in the nick of time, saying:

"They're asleep. Let's go in first and brush off." She knew the
invariable appeal which "brushing off" had for prim Miss Liz.

Soon the dainty chimes, manipulated in the front hall to the enduring
joy of Uncle Zack, fell upon the sleeping ears in vain, and the old
servant came across the lawn to call them. He also stopped, in dumb
amazement, then hastened forward to gather the telltale evidence beneath
his jacket. This aroused the Colonel and, after him, Brent, who looked
up blinking.

"For de Lawd sake," the old darky frowned on them with all the severity
of his five-feet-one, "don' you-all know Miss Liz is done got back!--an'
heah you is sleepin' wid dese globuts a-settin' out in plain sight! I
never seed sich reckerless doin's since I'se bawned--an' Marse Brent
ain't no moh'n smelt his'n, at dat! Luncheon is sarved, Marse John," he
added, with his usual formality.

"By Jove, Colonel," Brent laughed, "they might have caught us nicely!"

"It's God's truth, sir," the old gentleman chuckled, taking his arm and
starting toward the house.



CHAPTER XXVI

"WHAT EYES HAVE YOU?"


The late azure twilights and early salmon dawns of June merged into July
with no more ado than a changed date line on the Colonel's morning
paper. Days were of little concern at Arden, other than being days--as
the library calendar now gave accusing evidence by pointing at the
previous May. Miss Liz, to be sure, was invariably aware when Sundays
came; being told by that unnamable pressure of peace which to most women
would proclaim the Sabbath even in places of utter solitude. Otherwise,
the weeks might be composed of Mondays or Fridays, since school had been
out.

Jane, this particular morning playing with Bip and Mac somewhat apart
from the Colonel and Brent who were engrossed in a game of chess, had
been critically alive to the Sunday habits of these two families which
had come to mean so much to her; especially in relation to the little
boy. Miss Liz not only supported her, but freely expressed her
indignation at the child's parental indifference, and that good lady's
tone was one of deepest injury whenever the subject was mentioned. For
she had indeed tried to awaken Bip's spiritual mind two days after he
was born, by sending him an embroidered bib with a baby blue motto: "I
thank the Lord for what I eat--Soup and mush and bread and meat!" If he
grew into an ungrateful man, she, at least, had done her duty! Bob paid
small attention to matters of church, and Ann had easily acquired the
negative enthusiasm of her father who frankly admitted he could not keep
from going to sleep, even during the best of sermons. Yet, although he
lived by this benighted declaration, he was known as a Christian
gentleman--of the kind whose hands were never so tightly clasped in
prayer that they could not reach his pocket.

Jane now looked up as, with a delighted laugh, the Colonel leaned back;
while Brent, in pretended irritation, mussed the chess men in disorder
over the board.

"Fifteen moves, sir!" the old gentleman cried. "That's a beat you'll not
forget!"

"It's the worst I ever had," Brent admitted. "You can't do it again!"

"I'll bet you I can, sir," the old gentleman declared, then whispering,
"after a julep!"

"Whew!" Brent gave a long, clear, incredulous whistle, and called over
to Jane: "Did you hear this boaster?"

But the whistle had a more subtle intention than emphasis, and within
doors Uncle Zack, dozing in a kitchen chair, became at once active. This
newly inaugurated signal immeasurably pleased the Colonel, who could not
himself whistle.

"Do either of you know it's Sunday?" she asked.

"By Jove, now, it isn't, is it?" Brent looked at her in concern.

"And I'm going to church," she continued. "Would you like to go,
Colonel?"

The old gentleman cleared his throat and began searching closely over
the table for his glasses, which weren't there.

"I should say he's just about crazy to go," Brent watched him. "Don't
speak for a minute, or he'll die of joy. How ingenious you are in
planning his amusements!"

"More amusement is coming, I should judge, from the dulcetness of your
whistle," she drily observed.

The men exchanged sheepish glances. Brent laughed.

"Admitted," he said. "But it was not you we were trying to deceive. If
you tell us how you knew, I'll tie the Colonel on a horse and let you
lead him to the altar. She must be a witch, sir!"

"She is, indeed. A charming one, who bewitched me the very first moment
I laid eyes on her--and there's been no change in my condition since,
madam," the old gentleman bowed to her with courtly grace.

"Then," Brent tried to corner him, "until you admit yourself de-charmed,
church this morning is your only alternative."

"It would be a very good place for your soul, young man," he sternly
retorted. "When I was a gay spark, ladies of--of almost the same
loveliness," he bowed again, "were kept busy weeks in advance accepting
my invitations to church, sir! The very rocks and rills of our beloved
Commonwealth would strike me dead, sir, if I had permitted so
enchanting an opportunity to escape!" And once more he bowed low before
her.

"Mistress Jane," Brent sprang to his feet and bent double with an
abandon that the Colonel's old bones would have resented, "will you
adorn my buggy as far as the meetin'-house?"

"You overwhelm me," she murmured.

"And, will you tell us, O gracious bewitcher, how you knew what I was
whistling for?"

"Help me up and I will," her hands went out to him. "When you whistled,
Uncle Zack yelled: 'I'se fixin' 'em!'"

"I shall have that nigger shot," the Colonel cried in delight. "Suppose
poor, dear Lizzie had been here!"

"What time shall we start?" she turned to Brent, seeing Zack on his way
from the house, and somehow feeling that she could not stay just then.
Her aversion for this was increasing. She did not know how firmly, how
stubbornly, Brent had begun to shut down on his own indulgences.

"Any time you say," he agreeably answered. "Is it town?"

"No, the convent chapel."

"But--er--you'll forgive my wretched memory if I can't seem to recall
when these things take up?"

"Five o'clock, over there," she smiled.

"Five! I never heard of such an hour for church, did you, Colonel?"

"Most certainly, sir!" His affirmation suggested a long personal
acquaintance with such matters. "They always begin at five!"

Jane gave him a quick, twinkling glance, but only added:

"I thought the vesper service might be cooler, and a pleasanter drive.
We ought to start a little after four, don't you think so? And we'll
take Bip, and Dale."

"I wouldn't stop there," Brent moodily suggested.

"I think that will be enough for one day," she laughed. "They're the
principal ones whom--not who ought to go, you understand, but whom I
want to go."

"But Bip is too young," he protested.

"'Suffer the little children--'" she said prettily.

"He'll go to sleep!"

"Then you may hold him."

"Maybe he'll snore!"

"Then you have my permission to choke him," she laughed.

Yet, he was very much in a pout, and staring gloomily at the ground.

"You'll be awfully crowded," he said at last, "with Dale in the buggy,
too!"

"We'll take the surrey."

"And he'll be bored stiff!"

"Not from hearing complimentary things said to me," she gently rebuked
him.

"Oh, Jane, be a sport and let's go alone! I'm worth saving, ain't I,
Colonel?"

"You can't prove it by me, you rogue," the old gentleman asserted.

"I may think about it," she compromised, smiling over her shoulder as
she turned away.

They drew up to the table and arranged the chess board. Zack stood
waiting for the goblets, having no intention to leave these treacherous
exhibits again at large should a spirit of fatigue overtake the players.
So there was a prolonged pause while the men fortified themselves for
the coming fray, and when the Colonel noisily sucked the very last drop
through the cooling ice--and took a piece of this in his mouth to
crunch--he leaned back with a sigh of satisfaction. Zack, as he walked
slowly away, also sighed, but it held a curious mixture of perplexity
and anticipation: perplexity, because Brent had scarcely drunk a third
of his julep, and anticipation for an obvious reason.

"All the same," the engineer announced when they were alone, "Bip is too
young!"

"Of course, he's too young," the Colonel heartily agreed. "Anybody's too
young, or too old, or too something, when it comes to being third person
on such a pleasant prospect. I would stand no intrusion, sir!"

"I didn't mean just that," Brent flushed.

"Certainly not, you altruistic and good natured liar," the old gentleman
chuckled. "Come, sir; here goes pawn to King four! Now be on your
guard!"

"To King four," Brent replied, leaning over and pushing out his own
King's pawn.

They had not been playing many minutes when the Colonel, pausing to
light a cigar, looked up with a start of surprise. Brent wheeled about
and there stood Tom Hewlet, swaying awkwardly and weeping. It was
uncanny the way he had approached so near without being heard.

"Well, Tom," the Colonel asked sharply, "what do you want?"

"I just want to call it quits, Cunnel. I ain't done nuthin' to be locked
up for!"

"You're very drunk," the old gentleman thundered. "I'm surprised you
would approach my place in such a condition!"

"There wasn't no other way, Cunnel. I'm sorry, I am, 'bout what I aimed
to do--an' I won't no moh, if Mister McElroy'll let up! I'm a hard
workin' man, an' got a big fam'ly to keer for!"

"Do you know what he's talking about?" the old gentleman asked Brent.

"I told you some of it the other day--but I think an approaching
delirium tremens is partially responsible for this!"

"Ah, so you did! Tom, you tried to practice blackmail!" The Colonel's
eyes were glowering.

"But I ain't no moh," Hewlet turned his back and began anew to weep.
"Don't do nuthin' to me!"

Brent motioned the Colonel to let him speak.

"Tom," he said, "Mister Dulany and I have been looking for you, to buy
your farm, so you can move to Missouri where your brother is." He paused
so Tom could grasp this. "You don't have to sell, and we won't force you
against your will." He paused again. "But if you stay here, and want me
to let up on you, you'll have to stop drinking; and report to the
Colonel every day for a month--"

"For six months," the Colonel corrected.

"--for six months," Brent continued, "so he can see if you're sober.
Also, you must plow up your weeds and get the farm in shape. Either of
these plans is open for twenty-four hours. Take tonight to think it
over, and tell us tomorrow."

"Gawd, I'll go to Missoury if I can sell the farm!" he cried.

"That's better. How much is it worth, Colonel?"

"It's good land," the old gentleman answered. "I'll give a hundred and
fifty an acre, because it adjoins me."

"How much is it mortgaged for?" Brent turned to Hewlet, who seemed
surprised at the question.

"Nuthin'," he doggedly answered.

"You might as well tell the truth; we're bound to know it!"

"Nuthin', I said," he looked shiftily down. "'N' I don't take no hund'ed
'n' fifty a acre, neither--from no railroad!"

"The same old hold-up," Brent murmured across the chess board.

But the Colonel, still obsessed by the old aching worry, was just then
engrossed with another thought. Clearing his throat, he said--trying to
do it casually:

"By the way, Tom, where is Tusk Potter?"

"I don't know, Cunnel; I ain't seen 'im for a 'coon's age."

"Oh, nothing at all, nothing at all," the old gentleman hastily added,
as though Tom had asked why he wanted to know.

"Well, how about our proposition?" Brent inquired.

"It's wu'th three hund'ed a acre," he grumbled.

"One-fifty is our price, Tom. Think it over before we change our minds!"

"Aw, hell," he sneered, "you can't bluff me!"

"Get off of my place, you drunken scoundrel!" the Colonel, towering with
rage, sprang up reaching for his cane.

But Tom, panic stricken, had turned and fled.

Sighing, the old gentleman dropped back into his chair.

"Let me see--where are we!" he said, looking closely at the board.
"You'd moved your Queen to her Bishop's second, hadn't you? Ah, yes!
Then my Bishop takes your Bishop's pawn, and checks. Now, sir, watch
out! I'm coming after you in good earnest!"

As it happened no one intruded upon the drive to church. When four
o'clock came around Bip had taken Mac down on the creek with Bob and
Mesmie, to hunt under the stones for crawfish.

The Colonel disappeared shortly after dinner for his nap, and Brent sat
alone under the trees indulging several rather curious speculations. His
eyes were closed, though in no sense was he sleepy. He was thinking of a
force; a new, an entirely new force; a perplexing force that each day
more determinedly gripped and held him. He had at last taken his
character into his hands and was contemplating its remodelling.

There comes a time to the life of every man when he shall sit in hollow
solitude and gaze upon the error of his way. To some this may be at the
bud, with every outlook forward; to others, not till they are well along
the path of yellow leaves. For it is not man who makes this moment.
Circumstance, pure and simple, leads to his sublime communion, and
circumstance is of the earth. A man may sin, and keep on sinning with
never a qualm, till reality sends in the bill. Then it is as if he had
stepped upon a corpse at night, and he is shocked beyond his strength to
move. Whether this be the specter of public shame, of physical decay, or
the ruin of a fellow, and however far along the highway of his life it
may appear, there still must come that hour to each who has unworthily
yielded, when he stands appalled; that hour when he raises eyes and arms
in mute despair up, up--somewhere. This is God's hour; then is where His
mercy conquers. But grim realities are not required to touch all hearts.
It does not need the jail, it does not need the fiery lash of a ruined
woman's pleading, it does not need the death-bed of one beloved; because
the Kingdom of Earth is such that just a pair of eyes, a damask cheek,
the murmuring of a name at twilight, may grow beneath some magic dew
into a power that holds one hand upon the Throne and with the other
meets mankind. Love!--another son of God; sometimes welcomed, sometimes
cherished, sometimes flattered, sometimes crucified!

Brent clenched his teeth. In years his own outlook was across the
sprouting fields of life, but to his hope of winning Jane he could gaze
only back along the path of yellow leaves. He realized how truly this
was of his own doing, and unsparingly laid the blame at its rightful
place. With whatever sincerity he might curse his follies, with whatever
fierce pleasure he would strangle them for her sake, their abandonment
now could not weld that link which would have united the chains of their
destinies. Too late! The utter hopelessness of this made him groan
aloud, as he had the first night they met in the circle of cedars; then,
from a false and poisonous pride; now, from humility and a man's honest
grief.

The sound of wheels brought him back to the time and place. He looked
up, shaking off the spell; but his hands were tightly shut, as if he
might be gripping the last tatters of abandoned hope. With a quick
gesture he made as though to wrap them close about him, and then smiled
at the realism into which his earnestness was leading.

Jane was standing on the porch, waiting; and a darky had brought around
Brent's own horse and buggy. Some time before this, loud calls from the
house and faintly returned answers from the creek had apprized him of
Bip's shameless truancy; but he was fully expecting the mountaineer to
go with them until this very minute when he saw what character of
vehicle stood before the house. He arose and crossed to her, casually
asking:

"Where's Dale?"

Two lights crossed the lenses of her eyes, but no timer could have
caught them.

"Where?" she asked. "Who knows? He's so utterly oblivious to everything,
living in an age so long before the Christian era, that it would be a
paradox to take him into a latter-day church."

While speaking she had come down the steps. He helped her in and settled
himself comfortably beside her.

"Did you notice how he flew from the dinner table straight back to his
books?" she asked, as they turned out of the gate. "When I looked over
his shoulder a while ago he was with Cicero again. He adores Cicero!"

"I'm beginning to like old Cis myself," Brent forced a grin and let the
horse out a step. "Never knew he could be such a good friend till now.
Crawfish and Cicero!--henceforth my amulets!"

But he was not happy, and she knew it. To deceive her he was
play-acting, and she knew this, too.

The sun lay behind them, and the afternoon was rich with every enticing
charm. The chapel, in modest seclusion, stood off in the valley, and was
reached from Arden by a typical country lane--as narrow as it was
noiseless--rising and dipping through miles and miles of rolling fields
and woods. Its sides were thickly woven vines, and younger trees and
shrubs, which gave out a woody fragrance; especially in the cooler,
damper places sloping down to meet and pass beneath some small, clear
stream.

This valley was in its most languid mood. Bluegrass stood ripe in the
pastures, each stem tilting wearily beneath a burden of seed. Wheat was
in the shock, and its sheaves leaned against each other as though
fatigued with having brought so large a yield; while the golden fields
of stubble lent a softer tone to the sturdy corn, or the less mature
hemp and tobacco. It was a season when at morning the harvester's call,
or at noon the wood-dove's melancholy note, or at evening the low of
Jersey herds, were irresistible invitations to poetic drowsiness.

Brent slowly turned and looked at her. Up to this time he had been
speaking only of indifferent things.

"I think it is all I can do to keep from making love to you!"

Her heart gave a bound as she recognised, not the bantering, but a very
serious, Brent had spoken. Yet she managed, even if a trifle late, to
answer frankly:

"You already do so many useless things;--I wouldn't, Brent!"

"I call that a diplomatic master-stroke," he smiled. "But it's
insufficient."

"Then appropriate," she added.

"I accept your judgment," he slowly replied, "because your judgment is
fair. Insufficient is the very word, and appropriate to everything I've
ever done, or have a right to expect from you. I was thinking it out
this afternoon before we started. So you've rebuked me, Lady Wonderful,
better than you know."

She was not quite following this--rather was she hoping he would stop.
The afternoon was too enticing--too charged with a dangerous spell. She
saw warning signals being waved at her from all directions. The deep,
sincere tone of his voice was one; two little ground squirrels watching
them from a mossy ledge of rock--two white butterflies fanning a
lace-weed bloom--two majestic birds, with moveless, outstretched wings,
weaving graceful aerial figures far up in the sky--made only a part of
the afternoon which spoke to her. Everything which rested in the charm
of this day, waved to her sweet warnings!

"Do you know what the country is saying?" she asked quickly.

"What the country is saying?" he repeated after her.

"Yes, this country, all about us, everywhere! It's telling me something,
and I just wondered if you could be getting the message, too."

He pretended to be listening.

"I can hear a brown thrasher warbling to me how much we love you! Is
that what you mean?"

"I wish you would be serious," she said--being, in fact, very far from
the wish. "The day is so lovely, so abundant with a nameless something
which comes to so few days, that it's asking if you won't try not to
spoil it with silly misrelations. Can't you hear it, now?"

"There's no doubt about my hearing it now," he gloomily admitted. "I
suppose we should have brought Dale, after all!"

"Don't spoil it in another way," she laughed. "You're such a--I was
about to say kid, but that's slangy, and I detest it. You're
slangy--awfully, Brent--aren't you!"

In spite of himself his face relaxed into a grin. There was no resisting
Jane's appeals, and if she wanted now to be quiet, or talk about
anything under the sun, at this admirable day's request, he was, for the
time being, willing. He told her this, and it is one of the anomalies
of human infelicity that she felt a tinge of disappointment at his
ready acquiescence.

"I've always loved this lane," she murmured, after not too long a pause.
"Isn't it the soul of peace?"

"Peace? How can you?" he looked down at her. "See the struggle!
Honeysuckle, trumpet-vine, poison-ivy, wild-grape, alder--and everything
else which I can't name--crowding and tangling and choking out each
other's lives! You call it peace?"

They had reached a crest of a hill and, down in front of them half a
mile on, stood the chapel, so snugly placed that only its little cross
could be seen above the tree-tops, summoning the indolent country-side
to prayer. With her eyes resting on it, she answered:

"The approach to your devotions seems to have made you pessimistic."

"My devotions are here, at my side," he said in a low voice. "And my
pessimism is caused by the true glass of my nature being held honestly
before my eyes. It started cutting up this way today after you left us,
and ever since I've not been able to spare myself. I don't know how to
make you understand it--perhaps you don't want to understand it--but the
two sides of this lane seem so peculiarly expressive of my life that I
see no peace in them at all."

"The lane might not be so attractive without a medley of rioting
things," she answered dreamily. "Yet, it could be improved by cutting
out the poison-ivy!"

"If that were cut out of the lane I mean, there would be little left.
It seems to have taken possession of--of my lane!"

"Are there not gardeners," she smiled a wee bit tenderly up at him, "who
know how it could be done?"

"But I have no gardener." The wistfulness in his voice checked her
smile.

They were at the chapel now, and he drove beneath the grove of trees,
helped her down, and then unchecked and tied the horse near a few others
already there. She waited. Slowly they went up to the silent door, but
on its threshold he touched her arm.

"May I find a gardener?" He was looking down with a strong appeal in his
eyes.

"For your sake, do," she hurriedly whispered, and went in.

They were early, and the chapel seemed to be dozing in a cool gloom
which was softly set in motion as she glided, like a graceful shadow, up
the aisle. He followed with more sturdy strides. So very quiet and
vault-like was the place, that each worshipper there before them could
be heard turning to see who came; and when he finally stretched back in
the pew of her selection, the creaking of its heavy walnut joints let
loose the echoes of a hundred years.

She had knelt, but he sat back watching her. The slowly westering sun,
piercing the outside branches and filtering a gleam of rose through one
of the gothic windows, touched her raised face that was in no need of
color. And while she gazed upon the crucifix, he looked tenderly upon
her who was typifying the most lovely purity he had to that time known.

A man entered, carrying a babe, and demurely followed by his wife. They
sat in the pew across; the woman coughed, and again the nave, the
ceiling and the altar were filled with hollow echoes. But other
worshippers now came, and their arrival seemed fully to arouse the
little chapel for its service, dispelling its ghostly sounds for the
rustlings of life.

In the midst of this Brent picked up a book of prayer, and on its first
page wrote: "And not for your sake?"--then passed it to her with the
pencil.

She read it, closed the place on the tip of her gloved finger, and
slowly raised her eyes full again upon the crucifix. The pencil slipped
from her lap and rolled beneath the pew, but when he moved to recover it
she shook her head;--and whatever the answer might have been remained a
secret between herself and the torn Christ.

Someone moved behind the chancel rail, touching with a lighted taper the
wick of each holy candle until the altar sparkled with a score of tiny
flames. She thought of his altar--his secret altar, and its tiny taper
flame.

Now the man across from them laid his sleeping baby in its mother's lap,
quietly and awkwardly arose, and tiptoed out. He appeared again in the
choir loft, removed his coat and waistcoat, spat upon his hands and
grasped the bellows handle. Over this once, twice, thrice he bent, as
though bowing before a symbol of the Trinity, and throughout the church
fluttered a low, trembling sigh of the organ, as it breathed its first
deep breaths of life since the morning service. It was not a mighty
instrument, but the nun who demurely came and sat upon the bench, now
touched the keys, and its harmonies held the little chapel in the grove
enthralled.

The sun was almost down as they turned homeward. It was the same drive,
except that the cool of evening was in the air, and a heavier fragrance
came from the tangles on either side.

"Forgive me if I'm quiet," she said. "I haven't been to church for so
shamefully long, and it so recalls the sweet years spent across there in
the convent, that--that I suppose I'm moody."

"I believe I understand almost how you feel. But do you know what I
thought when the light was shining through that window on your face?"

"Oh, please, Brent," her voice trembled, "I'm not a bit ready for you to
tell me anything you think about me--ever!"

He saw a mist in her eyes, and for awhile kept silent.

"I wonder why it is," he gently asked, "that men stand in such awe of a
girl's tears?"

"It isn't the tears, I believe," she tried to laugh, "but intuitively in
awe of the mysterious things which cause them. Women must be very silly
about it. I know I'm getting to be, for in all my life I've never wanted
to cry so many times as this summer. Maybe it's nerves. But sometimes we
do feel so helpless that just the sheer weight of sorrow, or the
buoyancy of happiness, will sort of press tears from our eyes, in spite
of ourselves."

"Which of those hidden forces has caused these?"

"Neither," she looked brightly up at him. "There aren't any tears, you
see."

After they had gone another mile in silence, he drily observed:

"Church hasn't left a very salubrious effect on us. It's made me feel as
desolate as a haunted house, and the only impression I brought away is
that a man must spit on his hands to pump an organ. Funny sort of a
stunt, wasn't it--having him come up out of the audience that way?"

"It didn't seem strange to me, Brent. You're probably too literal."

"There isn't such a tremendous scope for the poetic, when a rube wiggles
out of his clothes right in the pulpit, you might say!"

"Audience and pulpit," she gaily cried. "What a born churchman you are!
But, Brent," her voice grew wondrously sincere, "there was something
more to it: the simplicity with which that farmer, whose boots have been
in the soil for six days, could merge so actually into those things
which make for ideality! How few of us who cannot play an organ would
deign to offer ourselves as pumpers for its prosy bellows! Think of the
music we are denying ourselves, and others about us, merely because we
lack the kind of spirit to take off our coats and," she looked
whimsically up at him, "spit on our hands before the world!"

She knew that he was listening, but little suspected how much her words
had moved him until he spoke. There was a depth of passion in his voice
which she had never heard except upon that one day when he called her
as she was going toward the house.

"What eyes have you? To what white heights do you dare climb? You seem
literally to push away the clouds and gaze straight through that dome
which marks the farthest limit of my imaginings! You seem to tear it
with your hands, and look through!--you put your lips to the rift and
whisper with the angels!--and you always bring a little something back
which does men good! Oh, Jane, Jane! How honestly I wish--"

But he did not finish the wish, and in another few minutes they were at
Flat Rock, with Bob welcoming them and helping her to alight.



CHAPTER XXVII

A QUICK FUSE


Days of restlessness followed that drive to the chapel. Brent said one
afternoon in desperation that they were so heavy and oppressive he was
actually creaking under them;--and Uncle Zack, after watching him
critically as he walked away, shook his head in doubt whether he could
hear anything or not. But the work went stubbornly on, in spite of the
dull gnawing which made it, and reform--and life, indeed--seem
meaningless. With this grew another worry, shared more deeply by the
Colonel, as time brought no hint of Tusk's fate. Both men were beginning
to believe that he had crawled back in some ravine and died, but neither
would voice so dismal a suggestion.

It was the Fourth of July. In order to dispel some of the gloom, the
Colonel had issued a proclamation calling both families to assemble
there upon the lawn at four of the clock, to celebrate, in a sane or
insane manner, the patriotic day. To Dale, Bip and Aunt Timmie this
brought much excitement. The feelings of Miss Liz were also stirred, but
rather with a solemn thrill of reverence for her departed heroes.

Boy-like, the old gentleman had sat up late the previous night checking
off an assortment of fireworks especially ordered from the city, and not
infrequently examining with pleasurable interest some new pyrotechnic
fountain or bomb. But these were for the grand evening display. The
afternoon was to be given principally to oratory. Bip, however, should
fire a few crackers, and Dale had yielded to Brent's request to
demonstrate the mountain people's skill at rifle shooting. Tales of
their prowess, the engineer had declared, were more wonderful than
believable.

The Colonel had just beaten him at another game of chess, and they were
now leaning back in their chairs weary from the exertion, for it had
been a long and difficult struggle, when gradually the murmur of excited
voices floated in to them. One of these was ponderous and irascible,
while the other possessed the fire of youth. As the disputants neared
the gate both men looked up with understanding smiles. Then presently
the rickety buggy creaked into view, with Aunt Timmie giving angry tugs
at the reins but in no wise stimulating her old mule. On his pony, Bip
rode.

She had awakened that morning in a direful mood on account of being
entrusted the evening before with a package of fire crackers, each of
which, she indignantly told Bob, would put out the little boy's eyes in
no time! All during the drive to Arden she had been shaking her head and
murmuring her intention of burying them in the creek;--a calamity which
Bip was resisting with every argument in his power. They were too hotly
engaged in this to notice the silently amused men, and wended their way
to the stables, the voices becoming fainter but not losing their
strident tones.

As the hour of festivities approached, it was more than curiosity which
dragged Dale from the library. The proclamation said that he would hear
oratory of the good and stirring kind--the kind of which he had read in
the days of Lincoln and Clay. There would be something to learn, and,
but for this, the lure of his books might have held him fast. Now,
tremendously interested, he was sitting on the top porch step, with his
long rifle upright between his knees. This was merely for his own part
in the celebration when he intended to satisfy the doubting Brent.

A great deal of badinage accompanied the festivity. Bob acted as master
of ceremonies, the Colonel and Brent were pledged to orations, while the
three ladies and Mac constituted the vast throng of spellbound
onlookers. Bip, having for the moment forgotten his fire crackers, was
dancing with delighted anticipation. Zack was teeming with
mirth--abetted, no doubt, by a heel-tap or two from the Colonel's
retiring goblet. Seated in a half circle on the grass were clustered the
pickaninnies and their grinning forebears. All was ready, and over the
scene Miss Liz smiled with placid contentment. It was fitting, she had
more than once this day averred, for them to turn their minds
patriotward.

Bob now stepped out and introduced the first great feature: "Bip,
the Bouncing Buster of Boozicks and the Fearless Firer of
Fireworks, with the admirable assistance of that adaptable and adamant
Timorous-are-ye-poor-mortal-worms, will twist the tail of the tawny
lion and break the barbarous bandetta of benighted Britain!" This being
announced in one sentence, Bob promptly collapsed amidst cheers from the
porch and high squeaks from the darker circle--with the one exception of
Aunt Timmie. For Zack had maliciously whispered: "He done call you
a-dam-ant"--and, indeed, she had heard it with her own ears. A picture
of outraged dignity now, she stalked grandly away. It took ten minutes
to get the celebration once more in running order, and Aunt Timmie
brought to a better understanding.

The little boy advanced into the circle, placed a fire cracker in the
grass, and lit it. But, with the first sputtering of its fuse, the old
negress clasped him to her breast and rushed out of harm's way. It was
not an exhibition of which a Fearless Firer might have been proud, nor
did the screams of laughter greeting it serve to palliate his anger. But
it was neither fun nor anger with Aunt Timmie. Her mind was a torment of
fear lest he be maimed for life. Since early morning she had employed
every art, every diplomatic ruse in which her race is so proficient, to
avoid this dangerous pastime. Now suddenly, and without warning, she
stopped in a startled attitude of thought until all eyes were turned on
her, then sat upon the lowest step and broke into uncontrollable spasms
of mirth. Tears ran down her furrowed cheeks, and the oak step, that had
not these four generations yielded to the weight of Mays, creaked
beneath this onslaught of convulsive avoirdupois.

"Lawd," she finally gasped. "Dis heah fracas jest 'mind me of sumfin ole
fool Zack done one time!"

Uncle Zack screwed his face into a network of interrogating wrinkles and
furtively watched her. He was not yet sure whether to be amused or
offended.

"Marse John," she looked up, "does you 'member dat time he wuz deacon of
de new chu'ch, an' busted up de niggers' faith wid Sapry's weddin'
cake?"

It must have brought something to the Colonel's mind, for he began to
chuckle.

"Sapry wuz a yaller gal of de Cunnel's, who'se 'ngaged to mahry a dude
nigger on Mister Lige Dudley's place, turr side of town. Nuthin' 'ud do
but Zack must perform dat cer'mony--him jest bein' 'lected haid deacon
of de new chu'ch what had its meetin's under a big sycamoh tree down by
de crick. Dey called it a Foh Day Baptis' Chu'ch--dat is, fer foh days
you'se a Baptis', an' de rest de week you'se nuthin' 't all. Ole Zack
wuz crazy 'bout it; in fac', he wuz de prime mover, cyarrin' on most of
his op'rations durin' dem las' three days. Well, de Cunnel give us one
of de out-buildin's fer dis heah weddin', an' I'd done made de cake--I'd
done made two cakes, but de second wuz fer Miss Ann's bu'fday; she bein'
'bout six, or sich a matter. All de niggers seen how purty 'twuz wid de
candles on it what Marse John done got in de city; an' de dude nigger
seen it, too. So what'd he do but slip Zack a piece of money, an' tell
him to git some of dem candles fer _his_ cake. Den Zack stole out on a
mule, an' rid to town;--an' now i'se gwine tell you how he busted up dat
chu'ch!"

She began again to laugh, and the Colonel, wiping tears from his eyes,
merrily cried:

"It's the truth, every word of it!"

"Dem wuz de days when de stoh at Buckville never had nuthin' less'n a
hund'ed yeahs old," she continued, "--dat is, 'cept when it come down by
mistake; an' it jest happen dat dis heah wuz one of dem mistakes. Ole
Zack walked in an' axed fer red, yaller, green an' blue candles, an' all
at onct a light come in de stoh-keeper's face. 'Why, bress mah soul,' he
say, 'some of dem come down yisterday wid anurr order,' he say. 'Dey's
marked Roman candles,' he say, 'an' de bill says foh colors,' he say.
But, 'course, dat don' mean nuthin' to him or Zack.

"Den de weddin' night come on. Zack wuz so stuck on hisse'f wid a
swaller-tail coat what didn' fit, an' Bible what he couldn' read, dar
warn't no gittin' nigh 'im. He go in whar de tables wuz, an' fix dese
heah candles on de cake, jest lak he seen 'em on li'l Miss Ann's.
'How-cum dey's bigger?' de dude nigger axed. '_You'se_ bigger, ain'
you?' Zack say, an' he walk 'way. Den ole Zack come out 'gin, bowin'
hisse'f an' scrapin' his foots to de gals lak he's done lost what li'l
sense he ever had. De niggers all prance in de doh, an' stand 'round de
table, 'spressin' deyse'ves so proud of dem candles on sich a purty
cake. Ole Zack stand at de haid an' say: 'Mah bruddern an' sistern, dis
am a 'mentous 'ccasion! I'se gwine to clasp in de th'oes of matermony
dis heah couple, but 'foh I does we'll pernounce grace, takin' our tex'
from dat po'tion of de Scripture whar Liza rid out de doh in a charity
of fyah! Light de candles, bruddern!' So dey all struck matches, jest
lak one man, an' lit dem candles!

"Lawd help us!" Aunt Timmie threw her apron over her face. "If Miss Liza
done rid out de doh in a charity of fyah, she suttenly change her min'
an' rid back in agin! Dem candles begin to sizzle an' spit up sparks,
an' shoot up balls of terror dat bust 'ginst de ceilin' an' come
down--kersplash! all over us! De niggers stood lak a passel of sheep fer
a minit--'twarn't as long as dat--den someun yell 'Witches!' An' dey
charge fer de doh, an' when de doh git choked up dey charge fer de
winder, an' when de winder git choked up--but I ain' got de heart to
recall dat turr'ble night!"

"Did it really happen, Colonel?" Brent cried.

"Every word of it, sir," the old gentleman chuckled. "The rascals burned
down my out building, and I believe the groom did not come back, at
all."

"Dat's de truff," Aunt Timmie declared. "An' poh Sapry run clar in de
crick! Dey foun' her standin' waist deep, yellin' an' fightin' off
lightnin'-bugs lak dey's gwine set her on fyah. An' it all come from
foolin' wid dese heah pop-cracks! I knows!" Then persuasively she
whispered to the little boy: "Come 'long, now, honey--let's me an' you
set down heah nice, an' see de ole folks cut up!" This time she
accomplished it.

When Bob introduced "the Sharpshooter of Sunlight Patch," another great
burst of good natured applause went up; although Brent and the Colonel
could not help exchanging glances. It seemed such an impertinence,
following upon his other performance with this same rifle; but he had
apparently given this no thought, and now stepped out, flushed and
determined. About his shoulders swung a bullet pouch and powder horn. He
loaded the piece, carefully cutting a patch for the ball; then from his
waistcoat pocket drew forth a small tin box of percussion caps, fitted
one of these, and was ready.

Assisted by Bob, who improvised all manner of moving targets, he made
hit after hit with a sureness provoking cries of admiration. Quickly
challenged, he clipped the tip of a feather from the wing of an
over-flying crow; and to show it were no accident he repeated this on
another speeding bird. A dime tossed into the air was whirled through
space, and a plum sent bounding over the ground was shattered. Brent and
the old gentleman exchanged another glance and slowly shook their heads,
for it seemed there could be no hope for Tusk before so deadly an aim.
The marvel was how he had been able to crawl away.

With this last, and most perfect shot, Bob declared he had fairly won
the world's championship, and presented him with a huge bouquet. The
mountaineer flushed with a strange gripping pleasure, looking quickly at
Jane who smiled proudly back at him. But there was another surprise to
come. Uncle Zack stalked forth with a new high-power rifle like the one
Dale had so feverishly admired in the Colonel's possession; and Bob,
presenting it, said:

"A token, in admiration of your skill, from Goethals the younger: Mr.
McElroy!"

If this were a surprise to the porch audience, it almost overcame the
blushing Dale, who grasped it, ran his eyes along its sights, and then
looked in a bewildered, happy fashion again at Jane. She was
smiling--and with a rarely sweet expression--but not at the Sharpshooter
of Sunlight Patch. The direction of her eyes suggested the necessity of
politeness, and he started across the circle toward Brent, when the air
was rent by a sharp explosion.

Everyone was frozen to an instant silence, alert for that cry which so
often follows sounds of violence. True enough, from the direction of the
cabins, came a long, plaintive wail of distress.

The Colonel and his friends sprang up with shocked faces and hurried
back. But before them were the negroes, now gathered in helpless,
awe-struck groups about a small boy lying in the path. It was little
Mesmie, and a glance at her arms, the shattered, still smoking fragments
of a giant cracker, told the pitiful story of inexperience, a quick
fuse, irreparable horror.

As gently as the child's mother would have done, had she been alive to
view this pitiable sight, Brent stooped and lifted her. The Colonel
motioned toward her father's cabin a few yards off, and there the
procession wended its solemn way. Someone went after Bradford, while
Jane hurried to telephone for Doctor Stone, and in less than ten minutes
his runabout was chugging out the pike at its top speed of fifteen good
miles an hour.

It was a curious sight when the noisy little machine dashed between the
old classic gate posts, beneath the low swinging wild-grape vines, and
around the silent tanbark circle to the Colonel's secluded home. It was
the only thing, indeed, which had been able to check the sobs of Bip
for his injured playmate.

To the mutual indignation of the Colonel and Bradford, Doctor Stone sent
them quickly from the room, keeping Jane and Timmie to help him with the
dressings. Later Jane came out and sat with Ann.

As evening approached, Arden grew deathly still beneath the sadness
which had thrust its fangs into the joyous day; the heavy, sickening
sadness which comes more poignantly to those whose gaieties have been
shocked by tragedy. Silently, and with murmured injunctions to keep them
advised, Bob's household took its way homeward, leaving Aunt Timmie to
nurse the little sufferer. Miss Liz had offered to do this, and so had
Jane and Ann, but the old woman indignantly waved them aside.

"What d' you-all know 'bout nussin'?" she had asked, with a fine degree
of scorn.

But the true reason was that Bip loved Mesmie, and this gave Mesmie a
claim upon Aunt Timmie's love.



CHAPTER XXVIII

AUNT TIMMIE HEARS A SECRET


Uncle Zack was sitting, shortly after noon a week later, on the door
step of Bradford's cottage. Mesmie was sleeping by the aid of a mild
narcotic, and Aunt Timmie, having darkened the windows, had now come
quietly out to converse with him. Her seven days of vigilance had been
trying to a degree, and, although while in the sick room she was the
very soul of tenderness, this opportunity for relaxation came as a
grateful relief. Therefore, Zack had been passing through several
uncomfortable minutes, during the course of which he heard a great deal
about "wu'thless niggers what sponges off dey twin wife," and other
caustic observations.

His position was becoming altogether unbearable, yet he knew that if he
attempted flight she would bring him back, and if he openly rebelled she
would spank him. Only on the Colonel's last birthday she had turned him
over her knee in good earnest, because he imbibed too many heel-taps to
wait upon the table. So, resorting to diplomacy, he assumed a wise air
and hinted that he might not be so untrustworthy as she had been misled
to believe--that, indeed, he was the possessor of a startling piece of
news.

This mollified Aunt Timmie. If she could get nothing else out of her
gamble on Zack's earthly existence, she might at least know his secrets.
As a matter of fact, she would be most righteously hurt if every family
secret did not with proper humility walk up and lay its head in her lap.
So she began, using a bait which long experience had proven fruitful
when angling in Zack's vicinity.

"You don' know nuthin'," she tilted her chin with a grand air of scorn.
"You never did know nuthin', an' it hu'ts me mos' persumptuously to say
dat you ain' never gwine know nuthin'!"

"Don' make no diff'ence ef I knows nuthin', or not;--I knows sumfin,
jest de same!" he retorted.

"Don' strain yohse'f dat a-way, li'l man," she sneered. "You ain' got
sense 'nuff to know you ain' got no sense--an' dat's de wu'st fix a body
kin be in!"

"Who says so?" Zack was driven to a question.

"Eve'ybody says so! 'Tain' no secret 'tween heah an' town!"

"You don' 'tatch 'nuff 'portance to me," he glared at her, quivering
with indignation, "Since you lef heah de Cunnel don' do nuthin' 'thout
fu'st axin' me!"

She laughed, guardedly on Mesmie's account, but it was a taunting,
disdainful laugh that cut him to the quick. "Listen to dat!" she
sneered. "An' Marse John done said he wouldn' trust you in jail!"

"Den how-cum he taken me wid 'im to find dat man Marse Dale done shoot?"
the outraged old man, at last taking the bait, triumphantly dashed off
with it.

Aunt Timmie straightened in her chair and her eyes rolled at him in
terror.

"You'se lyin'," she said huskily.

The heat of vindicated vanity was in Zack's blood, and nothing would
have kept him from rushing into details; dwelling upon each, and making
them swell in all directions as he watched her ponderous frame heave
with excitement. Finally she had the whole story, and enough
exaggeration to dress up the entire calendar of crime. For several
minutes she sat looking at her folded hands.

"I'se 'most sorry you tol' me dat," she said in a weak, pathetic voice.
"But," squaring herself around at him with the former, towering
strength, "don' you tell no one else! Heah me? Come on, now, an' hitch
up mah buggy, whilst I call Miss Liz to look arter dis li'l gal. I'se
gwine home fer awhile!"

In spite of the physical vigor which accompanied this, it was a very
much saddened old woman who drove slowly along the pike, squinting her
eyes to keep out its glare. Her lips moved as she talked over to herself
the events made known by Zack, or the excuses she was building up for
Dale. She was passing Hewlet's house now, when a woman's voice, high,
whiney and querulous, floated out to her.

"Let the gal alone, Tom! Yer've done near bruised her arm off now, as
'tis!"

Aunt Timmie reined in.

"An' you kin keep yoh durned mouth shet," a man yelled, evidently in
great excitement. "She ain't no moh yourn than she is mine, I reckon;
an' she's goin' to git that money from her 'ristocratic friend, or I'll
know why! Will you git it?" There was a sound of scuffle, as though
someone were shaking another.

"No, I won't," a girl's voice came breathlessly.

There followed, then, the unmistakable sound of a blow, and more frantic
protestations from the whining Mrs. Hewlet.

Aunt Timmie waited no longer. She climbed laboriously over the rickety
wheel, pushed through the tottering gate, waddled up the sunbaked path
lined with jimpson-weeds which were a-buzz with June-bugs, and hesitated
just long enough to judge the carrying capacity of the decaying porch.
She well knew the risks invited by going in here. If Tom were drunk
enough and infuriated enough to strike his step-daughter, what might an
old negress expect? And she reasonably well surmised the circumstances
underlying Tom's present demand. She had not forgotten a fragment of
Brent's conversation with the Colonel one day while she was gathering up
their empty goblets, nor had Zack carried messages without her
knowledge. It seemed that Aunt Timmie's over-powering presence had a
faculty of drawing the innermost secrets from his small body and storing
them in her own big frame, as though they were in need of a safer
depository. Zack appreciated this, which was excuse enough for him. And,
indeed, if they found their way only to Aunt Timmie's hospitable bosom,
all situations were safe. She now knocked at the door and the noises
abruptly stopped. Then it was jerked open by Tom who stood glaring at
her.

"What d'you want?" he demanded.

"I want dat young step-gal of you-all's," she answered with dignity.
"Dey's sent fer her over home."

"The hell they have," Tom exclaimed, with a leer.

"Yas, sah," she replied, secretly frightened, but humble and courteous
before him. "I'se tol' to fetch her 'foh de trouble lands on you."

Tom paled. So they had changed their minds! He cursed his drunken folly
for having tried to bluff two gentlemen of their stamp, and Mrs. Hewlet
set up a wail of lamentation--as she would have done upon any
provocation whatsoever, real or fancied. Nancy alone stood apparently
unmoved before this blow, but her eyes had closed as though to shut out
a horrible, approaching humiliation.

"What d'you mean?" Tom demanded huskily.

He was leaning against the table for support, licking his lips and
staring. And in meeting this stare the old negress lost her own fright,
for she saw a man thoroughly cowered and conquered.

"What d'you mean?" he again asked.

"I don' mean nuthin'," she declared, "'cept dat I knows when dem big
jail dohs down dar at Frankfo't shets, dey's gwine stay shet a long
time, dat's all. Make haste, chile, an' git in mah buggy 'foh I busts
you one;--an' Mrs. Hewlet, dat screetchin' ain' gwine help none!"

Holding back the door for Nancy to pass, Timmie watched with grim
satisfaction Tom's exit from the kitchen; and after they reached the
buggy, both kept their eyes on him as he tramped through the orchard and
disappeared over the hill. The black frame now began to shake.

"You kin go on back now, ef you wants to," she chuckled.

"Why, I thought something awful was about to happen!"

"So dar wuz sumfin awful 'bout to happen, an' happenin'," the old woman
laughed. "But I done put de squee-gee on dat! I hyeerd de fracas, an'
hyeerd what he uz sayin', an' knowed jest 'bout how-cum 'twuz."

"Oh, Aunt Timmie," the girl impulsively cried, "if everyone had your
good heart!"

"Mah heart ain' nuthin' to brag on, chile. I jest happen to know dat in
dis worl' dey's wicked people dat'll stoop deeper'n sin fer a dime; an'
dey's onery people, so mis'ably onery, dat's afeerd to call dey soul dey
own; an' dar's still anurr kind what ain' had no trainin', so when a
stylish gemman comes 'long dey's mighty apt to go wrong, 'caze dey ain'
had a faih show. Now, I reckon, I most named all de fambly;--I ain'
sayin' what fambly, but I is sayin' dat ole Timmie knows moh'n most
pussons reckons she do. 'Sides dat, she kin find moh 'xcuses in her
heart den de worl' kin. Run 'long, now! I jest stepped in 'caze a li'l
gal warn't gittin' a faih show!"

"Oh, Aunt Timmie," the girl cried, "I ain't bad! But that beast wouldn't
care, if he could make them pay more for his farm!"

A strangely beautiful light swept across the wrinkled face.

"Look up at me, chile, an' say dat fu'st agin!"

Nancy raised her flushed cheeks and gazed into the age-marked eyes of
her black inquisitor. Then slowly she repeated:

"I ain't bad, Aunt Timmie!"

A deep sigh, like the passing of cave winds, came from the old woman's
throat.

"Praise de Lawd," she murmured. "I see now you'se not, honey; but jest
why is too much fer me. Run 'long befoh Aunt Timmie make a fool of
herse'f. Dat man's oudacious wickedness is got to be stopped--but you
leave dat to me! Some day I'se gwine send fer you, an' you'se comin'
widout axin' why. Heah dat? Run 'long, now; an' Gawd bress de li'l
lamb!"

There was a riot of confusion in her mind as she climbed back into the
buggy and scolded the old mule until he awoke--or pretended to awake.
The universe as she had arranged it, as she had fitted it together into
a mosaic picture before her cabin hearth-stone, was wrong. The little
cubes were all askew. The technique was false. This girl, whom she had
put into the pile of relics strewn along Brent's path, was no relic at
all, and did not belong there. Dale, whom she had staged to rival that
other gaunt nobleman of Nature--the product of Kentucky who began life
not more than half a hundred miles from the very soil over which she now
was driving, who had likewise toiled and endured much for an education;
who had emancipated her race; whom, with latter day pride, she declared
she had seen in his boyhood;--had now ruined his chances of being
President by killing a man. She rocked slowly and pitifully to and fro,
as the old mule ambled on, bemoaning the mess of pied cubes that now
stood only for destroyed symmetry--a recalcitrant universe. She may have
derived some comfort from the anticipation of rearranging Nancy to a
nicer part, but this was vastly overshadowed by grief at Dale's untimely
act.

She was not guiding the mule, and it turned of its own accord into the
winding woodland road to Flat Rock. She probably did not realize home
was so near until a gentle voice called her name.

Jane was on the lawn, beneath a low spreading, rambling maple tree whose
summer shade had not for years been pierced by a single shaft of
sunlight. A rustic table and some rustic chairs were there. It was a
spot she chose for the examination of Dale's papers.

Aunt Timmie went on and tied the mule, but tarried not to change her
freshly starched calico dress. This was no day whereon to spare clothes.
Atop her red bandanna a sunbonnet perched neglected. A small, aggressive
tuft of white wool had squeezed below this head-kerchief and was being
held in check by ponderous silver-rimmed spectacles, absently pushed up
on her forehead. Such an excess of head gear seemed excuse enough for
the perspiration trickling down her face as she now looked sorrowfully
at the girl.

"Is dem sums?" she asked.

With the pencil end between her teeth, Jane looked up and nodded.

"Well," Aunt Timmie sighed, "he's done done a sum now dat beats 'em all
holler! I got to set down, honey; mah bones is jest cussin' wid
misery."

Aunt Timmie, as may have been mentioned, never betrayed a secret except
to the one confidant she implicitly trusted. This was Jane. And Jane
would not breathe her trust but to the one person with whom she knew all
things were safe. This was Ann. And Ann would have gone smilingly and
willingly to the rack rather than whisper a word, except to Bob. And
thus it was that, in the last resort, the stream from Uncle Zack's
spring of secrets trickled through many silent places to pour itself
into Bob's casual reservoirs.

Jane sat, pale and sometimes trembling, as Aunt Timmie unfolded the
story of Zack's concoction, colored here and there with promptings of
the old woman's own imagination. She heard each detail, and saw with
shocking vividness the shot fired into the back of a man's head, and saw
him fall across his threshold. Creepy feelings touched her body at this
sickening reminder of a day she had stooped to awaken her father, and
found that he had fallen in an everlasting, rather than a drunken,
sleep. She shivered. The old woman finished, wiped her face and again
mournfully rocked her body to and fro.

"When did it happen?" Jane whispered.

"I reckon sometime yistiddy; but it couldn' a-been so ve'y long ago,
noway!"

Without another word Jane pushed back the sums and passed swiftly
stableward across the lawn. There was no one at the stables, but she
took down her bridle and walked past the long row of box-stalls, finally
entering when she came to a horse she knew. Understanding something of
her need, he took the bit in his mouth before she had even pressed
it--a little act of kindness which, from that time forward, made her his
staunch friend.

"Now if you won't swell up when I try to tighten the girth," she
pleaded, on the verge of tears.

She had forgotten to whistle for Mac.



CHAPTER XXIX

A PARALYSING DISCOVERY


Jane did not go fast to Arden, for the sun was too blistering hot to
torture a horse by frantic riding. But her mind was frantic, and
tortured, with the uncertainty of what might be before her. Was Dale
there? Had he not, indeed, fled into the mountains as any of his people
would have done? Had he been arrested? Question after question surged
through her brain, finding no answers and passing on.

The Colonel was not in his accustomed place on the honeysuckled end of
the porch, nor was Zack about, so she dismounted alone and tied the
lathery beast. Perhaps they were at Bradford's cottage, comforting
little Mesmie. Perhaps they were--but she tried not to think of that!
Never had the world seemed so deserted. Nothing was astir. The edge of a
lace curtain, drawn outward by the passing of someone through one of the
library French windows, hung over the sill, deadly white and deadly
still. The leaves were still, the air was still. Above her head, where
recently she had watched two piping orioles flutter about their weaving,
hung now the silent, pendant nest. No pipe, no bird, no motion. It
seemed as though here were the stage of Perrault's fairytale; only
'twas a Prince within who had pricked his destiny with a leaden bullet,
and a Princess rode to wake him.

Alertly, but with a heavy dread at her heart, she crossed the porch and
tiptoed to the open window. Dale was there, bent over the mahogany
table, reading; as far from the world as he was from his mad act; as far
from them both as he was from her. She went quietly in to him.

"Dale!"

He did not stir.

"Dale!" she again cried in a low voice, shaking him by the shoulder. He
looked slowly up.

"Dale, what does this mean?" she hurriedly began. "Why have you killed
that man?"

He remembered the Colonel's unpleasant interview, and burned with a deep
rage, growling:

"Leave me alone. I've got to read."

"Are you asleep?" she incredulously exclaimed. "Do you realize you've
killed Tusk Potter, and any moment they may be after you?"

As he again looked up there was a storm of irritation in his face.

"They won't be after me if people keep their mouths shut! What do I care
who I killed? Leave me alone! I've got to study!"

Stunned, she stared stupidly down at him, for here was a new trait--or,
at least, one he had not shown her. Many times she had been utterly
shocked, thoroughly enraged by evidences of his abnormal selfishness,
but she was unprepared for this atrocious abandonment. It aroused her
to a quick anger and, snatching the book from the table, she dashed it
to the floor.

"Look at me!" she cried.

He was looking at her, as he had never done. The deep-set eyes were
deeper, and their pupils venomously bright. She saw the fury being
mustered there, but without flinching looked straight back at him.

"Tell me why you killed that man?" she demanded.

His hands were clenched, and for the first time she began to fear her
influence might be waning.

"I killed him 'cause he was in the way," he growled again.

"But are you mad to go about killing people because they're in your way?
Don't you know--"

"I know all I want to know," he almost screamed at her. "I know that
time's flyin', 'n' I got to study! Go out 'n' leave me. He was in the
way, I tell you! It was natural to get rid of him."

He picked up the book and began to open it, but instantly she had again
flung it away, saying with a degree of ferocity that made him stare in
open-mouthed wonderment:

"If you touch that again, _I'll_ kill _you_!"

It had been her only means of stirring him, and for more than a minute
they remained, as two wax figures, glaring into each other's faces.
Beneath this spell he was rigid, but her young breast rose with quick
pulsations. The room was quiet with that oppressive stillness which
comes in storms, when the elements seem to draw breathlessly aside in
expectation of a crashing bolt of lightning. Now he took a deep breath
and relaxed. She had won, and immediately leaned nearer, never taking
her fixed look from his face.

"This is what comes," she said more calmly, "from imitating Nature. You
once said that we differ from it in no way; that our eyes conceive, our
minds quicken, and our hands destroy, just as it does;--that we in
ourselves are the entire law of the cycles gathered into one piece of
temporal clay. And I let you say it uncontradicted, because in a sense
it was poetic, and because I never dreamed such a philosophy would lead
to this. But I feared all the while that with such theories you were
more unalterably becoming a merciless egoist, yet pinned my faith
somehow to an unseen force to spare you. Now it has failed me. Wait,"
she commanded, thinking he was about to speak. "That Nature-god you copy
might have been one of the beautiful influences in your life, had you
not chosen his cruel and wicked side--the side that asks no one's
pardon, that lives by the survival of the fittest. Oh, you have seen
things so distortedly!--you, whom I had hoped to be proud of, are a
shameless sacrifice upon the altar to this god, Nature! Her reward is
the brand of outcast; you are catalogued in her museum as a vicious
failure, even with all you've accomplished! I shall leave you now, and
doubt if I ever teach you again."

He had sat beneath this tirade until she uttered the last sentence, when
with a heartrending groan of anguish he sprang up and caught her by the
wrists.

"For the love of Christ," he began in a husky voice, but she
passionately interrupted him.

"You dare not speak of Christ! You do not know Him! You have no right to
call His name! Let go of me!"

"Oh, hear me, hear me," he implored her, releasing one of her wrists and
taking the other hand in both his own; alternately stroking it and
almost crushing it. His body was twisting and writhing as a tree might
in a terrific wind storm, and his eyes were glistening and dry--Oh, so
dry, she thought They reminded her of pieces of hot glass. "Hear me," he
was saying.

At the final Judgment, some poor soul will stand and face its Creator
with just this sort of cry;--some soul which has grievously sinned will
bend, and writhe, and implore with hot, glassy eyes, to be heard. Jane
felt this in all its varicolored meaning. Until now she had been
speaking as the teacher, as the humanitarian. But with his
torture-stricken eyes pouring their prayer into her own, with the storm
bending his powerful frame before its fury, she felt the old pity, the
old interest, rise up in his defense.

"Hear me, hear me," he was murmuring, until her softening attitude
touched somewhere upon the receiver of his subliminal mind. Then he
responded, and bent eagerly over her.

"I'd rather die a thousand times than have you turn your back," he
whispered. It was a magic whisper, made magnetic by that fascinating
dilation and contraction of his pupils; but the great body still swayed
awkwardly. The storm was still there. "You know what life is to me," he
was saying. "You know how I'm fightin' to get my share of learnin'; an'
how much I've got to do! You--just you, Miss Jane, can take me on! If
you quit, how will I end? Just drift 'round! I know! Do you want my
hand--my left hand? I'll cut it off if that'll show you how I feel! I'd
cut off the other, but it can write!" There was just at that instant a
glorious pride in his voice. Now it was again mystical as he continued:
"Don't blame me too hard! You know how I was raised! You know yourself
what a puny price we put on life! And you know how we do whenever
someone stands in our way! Didn't I have a better right to sweep my road
clear than most of my folks, who don't know half the time what they're
killin' about? You know our people, an' you know that when Granny put
Pap's gun in my hands, an' smeared his blood on me, an' made me swear to
get those fellers, I did right to get 'em--'cause I was brought up to do
those things, an' didn't know anything else! But after you got to
teachin' me, I said a thousand times to myself I'd never kill anybody
again--an' I wouldn't have, if that varmint Potter hadn't yelled your
name in public, an' said what he'd tried to do!"

"I didn't know that," her cheeks were flaming. "I hadn't heard about
that!"

"Well, he did. Ask Bob! He yelled it from a field, an' shot his pistol
in the air, and said he'd do it yet. Don't you reckon I knew this
country warn't big enough for him an' the school?"

Her cheeks burned hotter with this added humiliation that he had
intended, not chivalrously to defend her, but only to keep her for his
own advancement.

He had never let go her hand, nor stopped the anguished moving of his
body.

"I didn't want over much to kill him," he was again saying. "As I laid
there behind a log, watchin' him foolin' around, I almost wanted to
creep away. An' when he turned his back to go in the cabin, my finger'd
hardly pull the trigger--it reminded me so much of that time I laid my
sights on the back of old Bill Whitly's head--"

"What?" she screamed, springing back in a perfect agony of horror.
"What?"

He stared at her, amazed and even frightened by this new, this terribly
new, ring in her voice. She was raising her hands slowly to her throat,
and shrinking away--shrinking back against the wall as though he were
some loathsome thing upon which she had suddenly and unexpectedly come.

"What's the matter?" he cried, forgetting his own feelings in this new
alarm.

"Did--you--kill--Bill--Whitly?"

"Yes," he answered, not understanding. "Why?"

The room was sickeningly quiet, except for her breathing. He could have
almost sworn her eyes were crackling and snapping as they stared at him.

"Why?" she repeated. "Can you ask any one of my name in the mountains,
why?"

"I never thought," he whispered in a terrified voice, "you belonged to
_those_ Whitlys!" And as he looked more closely at her face the truth
slowly crept into his brain. Passionately his hands went out to her, as
he took a trembling step forward: "My Gawd, my Gawd, Miss Jane! Don't
tell me that I done _that_! Don't tell me it war _yoh_ Pappy!"

The telephone was on the wall of this room. Keeping the long table
between them, she crossed quickly and turned the little crank.
Recognizing the town operator's voice she frantically called:

"Miss Gregget, this is Jane Whitly!--well, never mind the name!--this is
Colonel May's house!" She was numb, and fearful of those passionate
hands which might any instant drag her from the instrument. "Tell the
sheriff to come quick!" she screamed. "Dale Dawson has killed Tusk
Potter!"

With this she sprang about, her back to the wall and at bay, to receive
the infuriated mountaineer's charge. But he had not moved. He stood just
where she had left him; looking at her, now again swaying his body in
that tense, sullen motion. And suddenly she began to laugh, leaning
forward in a crouching attitude, her hands clenched close to her knees.

"You didn't think, when you laid my Pappy across our door sill, that
he'd be avenged by a girl, did you!"

He only looked at her, staring in a dull, hopeless sort of way that
would have struck pity into the heart of anyone not so blinded by
passion.

"You didn't think, did ye," she taunted, with direful malice darting
from her eyes, and assuming the mountain dialect so her words would
carry a sharper sting, "that Dale Dawson could be headed off, did ye!
Yo' sorry life of ignorance never went so fur as ter reckon that poh,
ole Bill Whitly, shot down from behind, 'd be so sure in gittin'
vengeance, did ye! Ye thought my Pappy war the last of his line, jest as
you're the last of yourn!" Her laugh now became quite uncontrollable,
but between gasps she still fired taunts at him. "Didn't reckon yo' god
Natur' could raise some-un weaker'n ye ter crush ye out! Didn't reckin
hit war likely the last Dawson 'd be fetched down by the last
Whitly--'n' her a gal!"

As she descended to this, he arose. The next time she looked at him
through laughter and blinding tears, he was standing straight and still,
gazing calmly back at her. There was no motion to his body now, and his
hands were hanging inertly open at his sides. Slowly he crossed to her
and, with a dignity that was commanding, said:

"There'll be one left on my side, and that'll just balance your's. It's
the one who patched up that truce--that truce what ain't been broke by
any one of us, till now! But she's blind, an' maybe don't count for
much!"

Ah, the blind sister! She had forgotten her. The blind sister; that
physically helpless one whose spiritual strength had put into motion
this big, hulking frame of purpose, with its absorbing brain, to square
his shoulders before the world and succeed! A softness, a womanly
tenderness, came knocking at the door of Jane's heart, but she would not
hear. Dale looked down at her resentful face; but he felt no awe of her
now--this was the kind he understood!

"The mountains are so full of Whitlys, that I never thought of placin'
you as Bill's girl--I don't remember even knowin' that he had a girl!
Why'd you take me in school?"

"How did I know who killed him!" she answered, in a hard, dry voice.

Intently they stood, staring deep into each other's eyes;--these two
products of a feud whose bitterness had long outlived the cause which
gave it birth. His face was not two feet away, and the pupils which
clung now eagerly to her own were charged with a force that held her
almost hypnotized. Through them she began to see another being, another
soul, a transfigured man. Their dilations seemed to be drawing aside and
again closing the curtains, letting her peep into the secrets behind his
mobile face. Her cheeks were burning more furiously than ever, drying up
the recent tears to faint, tell-tale stains; and her lips were parted,
showing teeth still set with anger. But her eyes--those eyes which were
seeing new things in him--they, by a dewy radiance she did not know was
there, contradicted much of the storm and passion.



CHAPTER XXX

"I'LL PAY THE DEBT!"


After several minutes the transfigured man before her spoke again:

"I'll pay the debt," he said, in a low tone of finality. "I'll wait here
till the sheriff comes. Up to now there hasn't been a force in all
Gawd's world that could 've come 'tween me an' the things you're
teachin'. I didn't care about Potter. He was in the way. I've got no
sorrows about anythin' since that day I drew sights on yoh Pappy's head,
an' now. Ruth said she an' I owed a debt to the State for what they'd
done for her, an' we couldn't be beholden to it; so I was goin' to pay
all that back by bein' the biggest man of my time, by goin' back in
those mountains, just as Lincoln would a-done, an' bringin' my people
out to light--by emancipatin' all of 'em from the ignorance that's been
makin' 'em slaves! But I reckon the first payment comes to you. You've a
right to it, an' I'll stay here till you get all the revenge you want!"

"Don't," she whispered huskily. "Don't talk to me! I don't know what
I've done!"

"You've done," he answered for her, "just what yoh Pappy's been callin'
on you to do;--just as I did once what my Granny called on me to do. I
reckon we're quits, now!"

"Oh, no, Dale!" she suddenly cried, looking up at the clock. "It isn't
right! Go, while you have a chance! Go! Go!" She even tried to push him
toward the door. "Go somewhere and begin your lessons again, and make
yourself big in spite of things! Go now, before they come after you!"

"I can't," he answered simply. "I wish I could. But that feller there,"
he pointed to a volume of Plutarch, "wrote that Cato said the soul of a
lover lives in the body of another. How can I go?"

A tremor passed over her at his new, this personal attitude. It arose
from no feeling of gratification, rather from a subtle repulsion. Yet so
frantically was she seeking arguments to make him save himself, that she
impulsively answered:

"But did we not also read of Kosciusko, who left his native Poland
solely on account of love? And do you not know what a gallant soldier he
made for freedom and humanity?"

"He loved just one," Dale murmured, waving his hand toward the shelves
of books, "but my soul is in all of these."

A blush overspread her face for having momentarily misunderstood, but
this was no time for embarrassments. He had not noticed it, and his
voice was saying calmly:

"He was lucky enough to die fightin', for that's a heap easier'n the
thickenin' of a rope, or the dry rot down in those stone walls. Still,
every man's got to take his medicine, an' I'm goin' to swaller mine
a-smilin'!"

"Dear Christ," she cried, pressing her hands to her cheeks and stepping
farther back from him, "what have I done? Into what has this man
turned?"

Through the silence that followed, from far out on the pike, a sound of
galloping horses faintly reached their ears. Each stood for a moment
listening, and then suddenly she flew at him.

"Dale, run for it! Out the back way, and I'll help you! Go far,
anywhere, Dale, and make good--but escape! When it's safe for you to
come back I'll send word--but hurry! Hurry! They're almost at the lane!"

"I can't go," he said, smiling at her, "till you're paid up--drop of
blood for drop of blood!"

A cry burst from her lips--a cry exquisite of all her mental agony. He
could not resist it, and his hand went quickly to her shoulder.

"Don't--oh, don't touch me!" she implored him. "Listen, only listen! I'm
half crazed by everything, and this is the last, the very last time I'll
have a chance to speak to you for--who can tell? So listen! I want you
to go, at once--fly now! You can take any of the horses--reach the
mountains and hide! I'll send you things--anything! Don't make me
suffer," she fairly screamed at him, "but go! Oh, what crucifixion I've
brought you to! Great God above, what crucifixion--and after you have
done so wonderfully well! Spare me, Dale, I can't endure it! Your life
must not go out, and suddenly lose its purpose, because of a human
vengeance that is worthless!"

He spoke more hurriedly, for the horsemen were in the lane and coming
fast:

"Nothing is worthless that calls a man to do his duty like a man! An'
I'd be worse'n a coward to turn back from a duty to the very person
who's taught me what duty is!"

"But think--think," she urged, "of the good there is in you to help that
great mankind whose voice you say you've heard! All of that good will
be--choked out," she shuddered, "or rot in those gray walls you dread!"

He looked toward the gate, through which the sheriff now might dash at
any moment. She saw in his face the terrible dread of that alternative
and, to help him win the way she wished, grasped his arm. But slowly his
eyes turned back, moving affectionately across the rows of books lining
the walls, and, as though echoing impressions gathered from their great
storehouse, he whispered:

"What good there is in a man is there to stay. God, Himself, couldn't
take it out. It's only wickedness that twists it in a different shape,
and makes people think it never was! Do you reckon your good'll go when
you die?"

"But its opportunities to extend--they will be stopped!" she cried.
"Yours will be stopped!" The horses were in the circle now, and she
implored even more frantically: "Run for it--run!"

"No! The biggest men in those covers," he pointed again to the shelves,
"wouldn't be there today if they'd run! Jesus would be a by-word, and
the world couldn't raise its head to a single hero." The horses had
stopped, and a man was dismounting. "Good-bye," the big mountaineer said
quietly.

He put out his hand, but she did not see it. She had slipped into a
chair and was burying her sobbing face in her arms. Steps sounded on the
porch, and a bell far back in the house jingled. He looked at her
another long, breathless moment, then turned and walked out through the
French window.

"Good mawnin', sheriff," her tortured brain heard him say.

Old Jess Mason eyed him over high cheek bones and hawk-like nose for the
fraction of a second before taking his hand from beneath his coat. Then
it came slowly out, empty.

"Good mawnin', yohse'f!" The sheriff was fairly bristling with anger.
"Look-ee-heah," he savagely demanded, "what's this funny business about,
anyhow? Do you-all reckon you're goin' to poke fun at me an' the law,
an' git away with it? Or what?"

"I don't reckon there's been such an awful lot of fun poked around heah,
Jess," Dale sullenly answered.

"You don't! Well, there'd better not be, that's all I got to say!" He
wiped his forehead and glared. "Then s'pose you explain somethin'! I'm
ridin' through town a while back, when the telephone gal sticks her
head outen the winder an' squeals: 'Git to the Cunnel's a-flyin',
Jess--they say Dale Dawson's done kilt Tusk Potter!'"

"That's all right," Dale said.

"Keep yoh 'pinions to yohse'f till I ask for 'em! I put my hawse's belly
to the ground an' we've gone 'bout two mile, when young McElroy comes
chargin' up behind a-yellin' for me to stop." 'What's the matter?' I
asks, pullin' 'round an' facin' 'im. 'You've got a blame good hawse,
Jess,' he grins, 'I thought I couldn't ketch you!!' Then he comes up
clost an' says: "That message come wrong!' 'How d'you know?' I asks. 'I
heerd it,' he says, 'an' Dale ain't never kilt Tusk!' 'Then who did?' I
asks agin. 'Me,' he says."

Jane's nails bit into the palms of her hands as she sprang up,
breathlessly listening. The sheriff went on:

"I looks at 'im an' seen he was cold sober, but I knowed the other
message come straight, too. So I says: 'Then you're under 'rrest; go
back an' set on the cou'thouse steps till I come from the Cunnel's,' I
says. 'If you go out thar I won't stay,' he says. 'You will if I asks
you, Brent,' I says, 'No, Jess, I'll be damned if I do,' he says. Wall,
we argyed, an' he was so pig-headed I thought I'd have to shoot 'im
right thar; but arter 'while he says he'll go back an' set, an' then I
come on. Now I want to know what kind of fun you fellers is tryin' to
git outen me!"

Little did the sheriff, Dale or Jane know that Brent rode back to town
like mad, threw himself from his horse and dashed up the stair leading
to the telephone office above the drug-store. He fairly bounded in upon
Miss Gregget, crying:

"Quick! Give me the Colonel's!"

While she was inserting a plug and turning a crank--for Buckville's
central switchboard was many years behind the times--he unceremoniously
lifted the operator's head-set from her coiled hair and fitted it upon
his own head. Several times she spun the little crank, breathlessly
repealing:

"I've just been trying them, but they must have left the receiver off!"

"Wait!" he whispered.

The receiver was still off the hook at Arden, just as Jane had left it
dangling, and now he was listening--listening to interrupted portions of
a scene being enacted in that far away library, and illogically hoping
one of its actors might pass near enough the instrument for him to yell
and attract his or her attention. Only an occasional word could he
understand, but once a girl's voice very distinctly cried: "Dale, run
for it! Out the back way, and I'll help you!--They're almost at the
lane!"

A feeling of pleasure swept through the listener as he realized that she
was warning the mountaineer--that there was yet a chance! "They," must
have meant the sheriff and his darky boy attendant, for it was just
about time they should have covered the distance to Arden. But this
momentary triumph was succeeded by a heavy, sickening dread as he
realized that she must now know the truth; that the horrible
disappointment he would have spared her must have fallen--must now be
crushing her--since, otherwise, she would not be there warning. Yet, as
he leaned forward trying to catch more and not hearing it, he thought
how willingly he would change places with the murderer for just those
expressions of pleading from her lips!

"Excuse me, Mr. McElroy," Miss Gregget was saying, rather coolly because
of his impertinence in mussing her hair, "there are other calls--I'd
better take the board!"

He turned then and went down the stairs. He was stunned, but he was
smiling as he stepped out on the street which would bring him in contact
with men he knew. Crossing diagonally the shaded green where gray haired
"boys" pitched horse shoes at a peg--the "cou'thouse squar," bounded by
the town's four streets--he deliberately sat upon the whittled steps of
that old building, at about the moment Jess was ringing the Colonel's
front door bell.

Dale had stood as still as marble, except to moisten his lips which were
becoming very dry. He had been willing enough to accept Brent's plan of
refuge, before a blood equation developed, but now things were
different. His honour, as a man of the mountains knows and sustains his
honour, would permit him but one course.

"Brent ain't to be relied on, when it comes to this business," he said,
at last.

"Now, look-ee-heah," the sheriff bristled again, "I don't let no man
make Brent out a liar; I don't kyeer who he is!"

"I ain't makin' Brent out a liar, Jess; but you don't know how this
thing is! The night after I killed Tusk, Brent came in my room an' said
he's goin' to take the blame. He said he was doin' it for the fun of the
thing; but I knew better'n that from somethin' I heard one time. I knew
he was doin' it for Miss Jane. I reckon I was so blame thankful I didn't
think of it then--not till I went to his room later. But he was sittin'
in the dark, lookin' out the window, an', as he didn't hear me, I
slipped back."

The sheriff's face was a study, but no one could have described the look
on another face pressed close to the folds of the library window
curtains. Only the angels knew why her eyes grew wide and wonderingly
deep with a new sort of tears that never before had bathed them. The
imps of hell may have surmised why her nails again pressed into her
palms when Dale added:

"I was afraid he might be sorry for havin' made that promise; an', not
wantin' him to change his mind, I never went back. You see, it looked
like there might a-been a leetle chance one time of his takin' the
teacher away--so jail was the best place for 'im. I wouldn't be tellin'
you this, but--but there's other things to be considered."

"Are you drunk?" Jess suddenly asked.

"No, I ain't drunk! Come on; I'll go!"

"Don't be so danged fast, young feller," the sheriff advised. "When did
you kill Tusk?"

"Last week. Come on, Jess."

"Say, are you crazy?"

"No, I'm not crazy, neither!"

"Then I am," Jess spat decisively. "Not a mile from this heah gate I
seen Tusk no moh'n half hour ago! When I hollered at 'im, he ducked an'
run!"

Dale's tongue went again to his lips. He stared at the sheriff with
about as much surprise as the sheriff was staring at him. Finally he
said:

"I must a-missed 'im. Ruth was lookin' at me, an' maybe that throwed me
off. But, anyhow, you want me for killin' Bill Whitly nine year ago!"

The sheriff's jaws dropped.

"Say," he whispered, "what you tryin' to do--commit suicide? or write
yohse'f a invite to the pen?"

"I ain't hankerin' for neither," Dale answered in a dejected voice.

"Wall, you're hankerin' for somethin', that's a fac'! You jest shet up
with them ghost stories! The Cunnel don't want nothin' like that,
scarin' the wimmin-folks! I wa'n't sheriff nine year ago, no-how," he
thoughtfully fingered his chin, "an' I reckon if the statters of
limintation was looked up we'd find they'd done run out on that old
fracas."

Zack, who had come in answer to the bell, was lingering inside the door
with his eyes rolling and every nerve a-tingle. At this last expression
of relenting from the man of law, he stepped out.

"Mawnin', Marse Jess," he bowed. "Ef you'se'll let me rest yoh hat, I'se
gwine fetch sumfin good fer de heat. De Cunnel'd be proud ef you'd 'cept
it, an' powerful outraged wid me ef I let you go home 'thout it!"

Jess left the porch to have a word with his man, and during the minutes
he was away Dale watched him with serious interest. There was something
more on the mountaineer's mind which had not been said; some further
part of his duty lay before him; so, as the sheriff returned, and at the
same moment Zack reappeared with refreshments, he announced:

"An' there was Tyse Brislow I killed on the raft goin' down to
Frankfo't!"

"Good Lawd, Marse Dale," the negro exclaimed in terror, "is you still
tellin' 'bout all dem mens you'se shot up?"

The sheriff poured his libation, swallowed it, and wiped his long
mustache on the back of his hand. Then he said: "U-um! A-ah!" Whereupon
Zack poured another and passed it to him. Old Zack did not understand
the drift of things in the least, but he did know that this
thirty-year-old bourbon of the Colonel's was a tremendously potent
mollifier in all times of stress. Jess held the glass fondly up to the
light, and was more careful now to brush away his mustache. It evidently
dawned on him that the flavor of the first "three fingers" had been
neglected through haste.

"I don't remember Tyse," he said at length, reaching for one of Zack's
store cigars. "When was that?"

"Three years before," Dale answered.

"Three yeahs befoh Tusk?"

"No, three years before Bill."

"Wall, I'll be--heah, Zack, give me another snifter!" Jess nervously
drank it, handed back the glass and looked at Dale. "In my jedgment, the
statters of limintation is clean busted on that case, too. But I'll
jest tell you as a friend, that if you go resurrectin' any moh of them
man slaughters--I don't care if they're older'n the 'sassination of
Garfield--I'll hang you for bein' a plain damn fool." With this he
uttered a loud guffaw, but once more grew sober and laid his hand on
Dale's shoulder: "Don't you go killin' no moh fellers 'round heah! I do
mean that! Leastwise, don't do it while you're stayin' at the Cunnel's.
It ain't right to his folks, an' I won't stand for it!"

"Then Tusk'd better keep away," the mountaineer grumbled.

"Wall, if the Cunnel don't want him 'round, I can mighty easy give him a
tip to vamoose--but you let me 'tend to it, understand? Now," he
chuckled, "I'd better git back an' unlock Brent from them steps!"

So it was that, when he mounted and rode away, his mind was distinctly
on Brent and the caressing quality of the Colonel's thirty-year-old
bourbon, and not at all concerned with the mission which had taken him
to Arden.

Dale stood looking after him, but not thinking. He stood in a sort of
ferment of happy thrills and deepest sorrow. The bars that had
momentarily been put up between him and his pasture of learning, now lay
again at his feet. He could pass through at will, any time he desired.
But what of Jane? Would she be there to welcome, to help him?--to take
his hand again and lead him into the cool places, into the mazy shadows,
through vista after vista of appealing outlook? He turned back to the
library and, with hesitation, stepped through the low window.

The room was empty. His eyes glanced down at the book which she had torn
from his hand and flung away. He saw that it had fallen, sprawled and
awkward, and was leaning drunkenly against the legs of the dictionary
stand. Across from it, by a deep leather chair, lay, also on the floor,
a dainty handkerchief, moist and pressed into a little ball. Each of
these held him with an esoteric charm; but his eyes remained upon the
tear-moistened, scented linen as though at any moment it might begin to
accuse him. He was afraid to touch it, and afraid to touch the book. He
felt that he had obtruded an unwelcome presence upon these two mute
evidences of passion which seemed now to be drawn momentarily apart for
breath before re-engaging in the fray. In this strained expectancy the
measured ticking of the old clock in the corner was startlingly loud.
One might have counted a hundred, and then, as quietly as he came, he
tiptoed out, crossed the porch and passed on through the trees.



CHAPTER XXXI

OUT OF THE DYING DAY


When the sheriff turned away, Jane had for an instant closed her eyes in
a prayer of happy thankfulness; but then a torture, a tearing and
racking mortification because she had proved herself so weak before the
mountain man so strong--and in contrast to Brent! (ah, God, what
sacrifice would he not make for her!)--thrust its claws into her
sensitive nature, and she blindly fled to the long room whose musty
silence promised solitude. At the far end of this she threw herself
straight out upon a sofa, and for more than an hour buried her face in
its linen coverlet. Her brows were drawn into a frown as she wilfully
shut out the image of Brent, for something sterner must first be faced.

Something must be done to re-establish Dale's faith in her, or she must
forever abandon him to other hands and other influences. Today--now--she
must act. And this left her helpless, because she could find no way. His
nature had made a complete revolution in that moment of crisis before
the sheriff came; his words had carried her beyond her understanding of
him! She did not know this new Dale, and how could she re-establish
faith with a stranger?

But at any hazard it must be tried. Were she to fail him, he would be
like a compass with no magnetic pole--spinning, vacillating. Suppose he
should go spinning off from his now safe orbit? And then suppose he
should come rushing back to her for help?--could she ever again enter
those former halls of confidence with this new, strange man, as he had
grown to be?

This was the price, she told herself, of having been weaker than he; of
having behaved more ignobly! The contemplation of it sapped her
self-assurance, and as self-assurance vanished there began to enter a
new feeling which she unwillingly recognized as fear.

She was not afraid of Dale--not the man! No personal element had ever
existed between them. But she was most decidedly afraid of the
far-reaching consequences which might be wrought by her failure to hold
him steadfast. For if he could rise to a place whose height had dazzled
her, why should she not in his eyes have sunk as astonishingly low? By
what incentive would he then come again for guidance? How could she have
the effrontery to offer it?

Between remorseless reasonings and the stings of wounded pride, she
pressed her face still deeper into the old sofa.

It must have been an hour later when she sprang up and looked anxiously
at the darkening windows. She had formed no definite plan, but her
dominant impulse was to act before he should have a night to analyse, to
settle, to censure. Stopping at the first wall mirror she made a few
touches to her hair and searched her face for signs of tears; then
passed out, closing the heavy door with a firmness which might have
meant all fears were shut within.

At the library she hesitated, experiencing a momentary relief when it
was found to be deserted. She went to the porch but it, too, was vacant;
and as far as she could see out through the grounds no one stirred. Yet,
as her search continued, her self-assurance came bounding back, and when
she started across the grass to an old arbor, where he had sometimes
been known to go at this hour, she became once more the courageous,
dauntless mountain girl.

He was there, just as she suspected. Through the gathering shadows he
could be seen leaning heavily against one of the upright posts, his
shoulders stooped, and his face set upon the west which was a fiery red.
Going softly along the tanbark path, and stopping within a pace of him,
she waited to see if he would turn; then asked:

"Were you watching the sunset?"

He answered "Yes," but it might have come from someone else, so little
did he seem to realize her presence.

"Was it beautiful?" she asked again.

"I don't know; I didn't see it."

"It is leaving a wonderful sky," she ventured, trying to come gracefully
to the things she wanted to say.

"Yes," he murmured, after another pause. "A kind of sky that makes me
sad--a sort of sadness very far from tears. I don't know what I mean;--I
don't reckon anyone knows what I mean!"

Her eyes did not leave their watchful gaze upon his shoulders. It might
have been that she expected to see him change again; to see him begin
another transformation back to the old Dale--for surely this was not the
schoolboy speaking now! And she wished he might come back, for then she
could talk to him. Again she was reminded of the precious minutes
passing. It would be easier to open with an attack.

"I shouldn't think you could be anything else but sad after the way
you've behaved," she said slowly, wondering if he would submit.

But he only murmured:

"I did all I could to pay the debt;--I thought I was doing my duty!"

If there were a qualm of conscience in the girl's heart she ruthlessly
murdered it, and evenly replied:

"Yes, I am proud of you for that. It was other things I meant."

He turned now, and slowly questioned her with his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't want you to know about Tusk, and when
you took me by surprise that way, I reckon I acted rough! Who'd
a-thought we were born enemies!--an' after all you've done to help me!
But I tried, Gawd knows I tried, to pay the debt!"

A wave of pity thrilled her, but her voice was proportionately accusing
as she said:

"All you've tried can not atone for what you did."

"I know," he buried his face in his hands. "That was ignorance, an' I'm
payin' for it by havin' you turn away an' snap my future like a fiddle
string! Oh, how could my hand a-struck yoh people--even in black
ignorance!"

Her mental claws, which had bared at the approach of this interview, now
softly began to find their padded coverings. The anxious anticipation
which had armed her against an untested foe, now left but a sympathy
straining to take possession; because her instinct said there was to be
no resisting force, and the crushed attitude of the man before her
plainly told that she was still the unlowered, the unapproachable being
in his eyes. With her pride unhurt, her belligerency was unessential.
For a moment more she continued to let him suffer. She might have
relieved it now--she even wanted to--but the old savage spirit was still
unappeased, and a devil of the feud days made her ask:

"Where are you going, and what are you intending to make of your life?"

She might have expected some outburst as a result of this, for she
shrank slightly back; but he did not move. He seemed too crushed, and
pressed his hands more violently against his face, murmuring from the
depths of inordinate suffering:

"Oh, Gawd! That you an' I should be enemies!--that we were born to be
enemies!"

"Yes, I know," she faltered, looking away; for the sight of his grief
had conquered. "It's hard to believe--wretchedly hard--that you and I
should have been born to hate and destroy each other;--and that you,
with the hand I've so patiently taught to write, killed--him!" He
groaned. "But, Dale," she stepped closer, "I've just been facing facts,
and believe that our strong wills can adjust it all;--that through our
old feud may come a truer understanding, a surer sympathy, than enters
often into this _comedie humaine_. Those are the real things which make
life worth while; not inherited hatreds because our ancestors were at
war! It may be hard to forgive, furiously hard; but certainly it is
wrong to keep such ghastly things alive! The world is such a wide marvel
of the beautiful out-of-doors to wander in!--there is so much to do and
learn and see and be!--so much to read and think about and live for!--so
much of the glories of life--that surely you and I can be given the boon
of forgetfulness and the bounty of friendship! Go back to the house,
pick up the book I threw away, and look at the last line you read!--then
rub your eyes, and pretend you've just awakened from an ugly dream!"

He was slowly drawing his hands down from his face, and looking as
though this itself might be a dream. In bewilderment he asked:

"Is this true?"

"Ah, yes, yes," she hurriedly answered. "It is all true. The nobility
which made old Ben French and Leister Mann be friends, has reached into
the valley and calmed the hatred which by our law should live between
you and me. Go back to your book. Tomorrow when I see you, today will
not have been. No, don't thank me! You might--thank Ruth!" And quickly
she was gone.

But Dale was following. At the end of the arbor he caught her by the
shoulders, as he would have caught a fleeing boy. Springing about, she
saw the new light of happiness in his face, and her irritation at being
thus stopped changed almost into laughter.

"I will thank you anyhow," he said, with a silent chuckle of honest
fellowship. "This is like givin' me a new life after I'd been shot to
death. Just watch those lessons fly now!"

"But you mustn't stop ladies roughly that way!"

He stepped back, stammering and visibly embarrassed as she knew he would
be; and, believing it well for him to continue so to be, she went toward
the horse. But he was again at her side, not to apologize;--just humbly
to help her mount.

He watched as she cantered around the circle and passed between the old
gate posts; then threw back his head and gazed into the sky, solemnly,
earnestly; taking deep, deep breaths, as famished kine will dip their
muzzles in a stream and gluttonously swallow. After this he went slowly
to the library, took up the book, and reverently opened it at the place
where he had begun to dream a dream.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE SHERIFF FORGETS HIS PRISONER


Had Jess remained undiverted when he galloped out of Arden, Brent might
soon have been honorably and apologetically escorted from the Buckville
court house steps; but as he crossed a stream trickling over the
pike--the same spot where Tusk gave battle to Mephisto--his eyes rested
on a bee, a bee which had settled there to drink from the moist earth.
This checked the sheriff, who was ever considerate of his fondness for
wild honey--and this was a wild bee. Moreover, when he had looked again,
he saw other bees in the act of drinking. So he quietly dismounted, gave
his bridle rein to the darky, crouched and crept forward.

There is sometimes found in the realm of man one whom a bee will not
sting. Whether this is in respect for the man, or self-respect, may
still be pronounced an open question. One is inclined to think this way,
or that way, according to the aspect of him who makes the boast. At any
rate, Jess was of this select few, and in another minute he was standing
erect, chuckling, with five little workers buzzing excitedly between his
two palms, held together cup-like.

Now he permitted one to crawl out, and it shot away as a rifle ball
toward a clump of trees some half a mile distant. This was the sheriff's
first clue.

Carefully he climbed the worm fence--for it would not do to crush even
so lightly his four remaining captives--and strode blithely on. But he
was a long time reaching the trees; for a man, holding his two hands out
before him, delicately clasped and protecting bees, who must cross
fences and scramble through ravines, does not travel with the rapidity
of thought.

At the edge of the wood he released a second bee, watching it with the
same intentness as it darted off; and, having walked to about the spot
where it had disappeared, he let out prisoner number three. Of course,
on the same direct line this one went--for wild bees thus captured and
set at liberty abandon all desire for further work, and in a panic rush
headlong to their hive; in this way the wild hives are found. But the
fourth very soon swerved upward into the branches of a hollow black-gum
tree. Chuckling now, Jess indifferently freed the remaining captive; for
the search was ended, the treasure house was his. He pressed his ear
against the bark and listened. A low, incessant buzzing sound was there,
as though these five excited wanderers were recounting their adventure
to the agitated colony.

Having marked the place, the sheriff pressed on through the wood to a
neighboring farm house where he prevailed upon one Hod Fugit, to
accompany him with axe and buckets. The prudent Hod would have brought a
veil had Jess not laughed him out of it--for Jess, secure within
himself, would have the fun go as far as it could be stretched. An hour
later the black-gum tree came ripping, crashing to earth.

The intelligence, or instinct, of the bee has furnished inspiration for
many pens. Centuries prior to Maeterlinck, even before Pliny, Virgil,
Varro and Aristotle, those warmly constructed little insects, hailed by
the ancients as Winged Servants of the Muses, have been immortalized.
But, however much has been extolled their intelligence, or instinct, in
no page is it transcribed that their heads, or brains, or hearts are the
regions wherewith they argue; and, when this honey had been gathered,
Hod's rotundity of countenance was not all cheer. This, because man's
sense of humor is an enigmatical product, afforded Jess many pleasant
chuckles as he trudged, now with a full bucket of the golden prize, back
to his horse; and, in order to portray Hod's antics more vividly to the
several acquaintances he met on his way to town, he not infrequently
dismounted. But, entering the Court House square at sunset, his mirth
sank miserably into his boots; for there upon the steps sat a young man
in smart puttees and riding breeches just finishing his dozenth
cigarette.

Thus it came about that a little bee, athirst and momentarily ceasing
its frenzied toil to drink beside the way, led a sheriff from his duty,
and affected a prisoner's release from voluntary durance at the precise
moment for him to meet, three miles out the pike, a happy girl--herself
hurrying homeward--in whose heart someone's name was ringing with the
beat of her bounding pulses, and in whose cheeks a color flamed as she
recognized him coming.

They reined in gently and stopped. The horses touched noses. For the
merest instant his eyes hungrily devoured her, then for an instant
closed, and after this he smiled politely, asking:

"May I say you're stunning?"

"Flatterer, comforter," she laughed. "But I'm dreadfully in need of it.
I've been--been crying!"

"Yes," he murmured, "I remember; you must have been. Shall I go back
with you as far as Bob's gate?"

"No; it is almost in sight, and you're as late as I. Why do you say you
remember?--that I must have been?"

"Because you just now told me you had been," he smiled again.

"Brent," she leaned over and looked very seriously into his face, "don't
temporize. I'm not in the humor for it! I heard about--something today,
and I want to tell you that you're--that you're splendid!"

"What about?" There was no feigned surprise in his question.

"Oh," she clapped her hands as a delighted child might have done, "he
doesn't know that Tusk is alive!" But added gravely: "Suppose he'd been
dead, Brent!"

He turned away; afraid, in this surprise and strange giddiness which was
enveloping him, to trust himself to speak. There ensued a longer pause,
broken by her wistful voice asking: "Why did you, Brent?"

"Oh, I was just having a little fun with Dale," he answered casually.
"Hurry, it's late! I'll race you to Bob's gate--and leave you!"

Turning his horse to put it in motion, he did not know that she sat
drooping in the saddle, and staring--pale and staring--with a horrified
fear and disappointment in her eyes.

"I'll not race," she faltered. "It is so near, so don't come. Perhaps I
might have guessed--that--you--were--but I just--just hoped--. Good
night. I didn't see the Colonel--please say I send my love."

She was riding away, when he called desperately after her:

"Don't you want Dale to have a little of it?"

That one taunting, trembling, passionate question, hurled at her with
such bitterness of feeling, such hopeless sense of despair, touched a
spring which opened the doors of the heretofore inscrutable, and flooded
her with light. For an instant the pike danced before her eyes as though
it were a road of bejeweled splendor! She wanted to laugh, and she did
laugh; and, if he had guessed the reason, she might have had to use both
whip and spur in a longer race than just to Bob's gate. But he did not
guess, and she did not turn her head nor slacken pace. Unhappily and
sullenly he rode on to Arden.

Several days passed before they met; but in the meanwhile he had spent
not a few nights sitting by that window in his darkened room, building
castles and tearing them down, planning futures and destroying them;
dreaming, dreaming. His attitude had become merely deferential,
requiring a studied reticence upon her own part, and precluding a
reference to their meeting on the road, or any mention of nobility, the
sheriff, Dale or Tusk.



CHAPTER XXXIII

THE MYSTIC GARDENER SHOWS HIS WORK


It was sundown about a week later when Brent came up the steps and threw
himself in a chair by the Colonel's side. Jane and the faithful Mac had
just left--indeed, the sound of her horse's hoofbeats might still be
heard through the pulseless evening as the two men gazed in moody
silence at the approaching night. The sky had taken on that deep blue
velvet softness of Italian beauty, and the low, red west of the dying
day might have been reflected from some funeral pyre in distant, mystic
India. A murmur of drowsy birds came from the darkening trees--a few
hushed, plaintive notes, wistfully calling in tones of twilight.

"Poor little Mesmie is having a bad time of it," Brent spoke with an
effort. "It's been fourteen days, and Stone says he must try to graft
skin. I offered mine, but he couldn't consider it."

"That was very fine of you, Brent," the old gentleman turned to him.
"Why wouldn't he take it?"

"Oh, there wasn't anything fine about it, Colonel," he answered with a
touch of irritation. "He couldn't take it because he saw us with some
juleps this morning. He says he has to have healthy skin for grafting."

The Colonel cleared his throat. He had just been contemplating a signal
to Zack, but now the idea seemed somehow inappropriate.

"Why not Bradford?" he asked. "He's her father!"

"He's got poison-ivy, or hives, or something." And, after another
moment: "Good night, sir, I think I'll go up stairs and work!"

In the library Dale closed his book and stood up. He had overheard this
conversation about skin grafting, and now went softly out through the
dining-room way, thence to the overseer's cottage. Pushing open the
door, he looked in.

In the uncertain glimmer of light cast by the shaded kerosene lamp, sat
the doctor, Bradford and Aunt Timmie, each with eyes on the little
sufferer. They did not look up, and he passed through, standing with his
hands clasped behind his back, gazing down with the others at the
pitiful scene. Nor did they realize he was there until his deep voice
drawled:

"Brent says you want healthy skin."

"I do, very much indeed," Stone quickly arose.

"Well, I reckon you can have what you want of mine."

The doctor took up the lamp and held it close to Dale's face.

"Drink?" he asked.

"Never have yet."

Ignoring the presence of Aunt Timmie, he put a few more intimate
questions, and a look of gratification crossed his face when the
mountaineer had fully answered.

"You'll do," he whispered hopefully. "Don't eat breakfast in the
morning, and be here at seven o'clock."

"What's that for?" Dale asked.

"I'll put you under an anæsthetic, and your stomach must be empty."

"What's anæsthetic?"

Doctor Stone explained it.

"And how long will that last?"

"You ought to feel pretty good by noon, maybe sooner."

"But I've got to study in the mornin'!"

"Study, man! Get that notion out of your head. You won't do any studying
tomorrow!"

"Then you don't get any skin tomorrow," Dale turned resolutely on his
heel. "I've got too much to do, an' too little time to do it, to fool
'round here!"

Stone looked at him in speechless wonder, saying slowly in his surprise:

"I don't understand you!"

Bradford sprang up to entreat, but was pushed roughly aside as the
mountaineer started to the door.

"Wait, Mr. Dawson," he implored. "Maybe you kin save her life!"

"I ain't begrudgin' the skin," Dale wheeled on him with savage emphasis,
"but time I do begrudge! Get someone else!"

"You miss the importance of this," the doctor was also losing patience.
"I'll only keep you--"

"You won't keep me a minute--'cause I won't give you a minute! There's
others who've got skins!" And he passed quickly out.

Stone could do no more than glare after him, and he then said something
which is not usually said in sick rooms.

"Won' a li'l cullud skin do?" the old nurse looked timidly up at him.

He shook his head; smiling, but sadly.

She sighed. The windows were getting black now; night was settling over
the earth; yet this man in whose hands rested the fate of Mesmie walked
softly back and forth across the room, muttering:

"I must have good skin."

"I knows whar you kin git good skin," she whispered excitedly, arising
and grasping him by the sleeve. "Git in dar-ar churn of yoh'n an' go dis
minit to Tom Hewlet's house, den tell Miss Nancy ole Timmie say we'se
countin' on her! She'll come, too! Make haste now, man!"

The noise of his little machine was growing faint, when the door opened
and Brent stood on the threshold.

"Where's Stone, Aunt Timmie?"

"He's done gone," she sharply answered, for by now her heart was beating
with strong resentment against entire mankind. "What you want 'im fer?"

"Nothing, so long as he isn't here," Brent turned away.

But she was following. After all, he did come to the little girl's
relief--even though his intimacy with juleps had spoiled the offer. So
she called after him in a kinder voice:

"I never said he warn't comin' back! What you want 'im fer, Marse Brent?
Is you sick?"

"No," he gave a short laugh. "It's this way: He couldn't use me on
account of my drinking--even little as it now is; and I wanted to ask
how long a fellow must be entirely free from it to make his skin a good
grafting proposition. If he thinks Mesmie can wait that long, I'll stop
to-night and get ready. That's all. Tell him, will you, Aunt Timmie? And
let me know? I'll be up stairs pretty soon."

A soft light crept into her face.

"We don' need it now, chile," she murmured. "We'se gwine git some nice,
soft lady-like skin. De doctor's done gone arter her!"

"You don't mean Miss Jane!" he turned furiously upon her. "She shan't do
it, I tell you!"

"Since when's you had de right to say what she kin do an' what she
cyarn' do, I'd lak to know? But," she began to chuckle, "as you 'pears
so upsot 'bout it, I'll tell you he ain' gwine arter Miss Jane. Now,
better go home, an' not talk so loud!"

Embarrassed, he started toward the house.

"Bress yoh heart," she whispered to herself. "Dar is good in you, arter
all--I don' kyeer ef you an' Marse John do toddy too much at times!"
Then, quite suddenly, she asked aloud: "Who sont you back heah dis
time?" His first visit she might have attributed to Jane, but Jane had
now been gone half an hour. She began to think he had not heard, for he
continued walking away; but, at last, his voice came through the gloom:

"The gardener."

"De gyard'ner!" she tried to reach him with her eyes. "What's de use of
talkin' dat a-way! De gyard'ner don' never come nigh de house!"

There was another silence. She knew he had stopped now; she knew he was
still close in front of the cottage, but her eyes were too poor to make
him out in the gathering darkness.

"That's just the trouble, Aunt Timmie," she heard him say. "We don't
often let the gardener come in to keep things trim and decent!"

She followed this thought with perfect understanding, for allegory was a
part of her racial inheritance. She was touched, also, by the soft
timbre of his voice--a quality which showed him to be deeply moved--and
she leaned farther forward, peering out at him. There was something
weird, and something fascinating, about these impressive words issuing
from an unseen and unexpected source. The night was so still and
ghostlike--the atmosphere about the cottage so charged with tragedy--the
metonymy this invisible speaker employed so subtle!

"Whar's yoh gyard'ner?" she asked breathlessly.

"I don't know," he gave a short laugh.

"Well, he ain' so ve'y fur off, honey! Go an' seek 'im--you needs 'im,
Gawd knows you does!--but mebbe he won' find sich a turr'ble lot of wu'k
to do, arter all! Sometimes people's gyardens is cu'ious dat a-way!"

He left after this, and walked slowly beyond the house to the circle of
cedars. As he was pushing aside the branches, his eyes detected
something white, out near the gate, moving through the deep shadows of
the trees. He stopped, puzzled. A faint radiance from the stars made the
spot where he stood quite discernible and, now seeing him, this white
thing, whatever it was, changed its course and approached. As it came he
saw that it seemed to be stumbling, or staggering, and he thought that
it was moaning. Then suddenly he recognized Jane.

In a bound he was across the intervening space and, as she stumbled
again, caught her in his arms, crying hoarsely:

"For God's sake, what has happened?"

She clung to him, drooping, sobbing, and out of breath; and fiercely he
held her closer, as though by the presence of his strength she might
feel secure.

"Mac," she gasped, convulsively, "Mac--is dead!"

"How?" He asked it calmly; with a fearful, avenging calm; knowing that
in the way Mac died would be revealed a tragedy.

She tried, but could not answer, and simply leaned against him sobbing
great silent sobs which shook her body and tore his soul with anguish.
The love he had felt for her was slight to the passion now demanding
utterance; yet his lips set resolutely to suppress any word of
endearment. He knew that she had come only to a friend, a big brother,
someone to sustain her, and he knew too well how deadly the suggestion
of anything more would be.

"Can't you tell me?" he asked gently.

"That fiendish man jumped out and caught my horse's bridle! Mac sprang
at him, and he dropped the bridle, and I tried to ride him down, but he
had a club and knocked my poor horse flat;--I jumped up, and Mac was
fighting him terribly, but I knew he would kill Mac--and then--and
then--I was so frightened I ran as fast as I could back here!"

"Thank God," he whispered, in a voice which must surely have told her
how he, too, was suffering.

She gathered her strength and stood more firmly, while he let his arms
quietly fall to his sides.

"Would you like Bob and Ann to come over?"

"You could take me home, couldn't you?" she wavered. "They thought I was
going to stay here for dinner, and it's no use frightening them with
such a telephone message."

Turning, they went slowly, silently, toward the house, but near the
porch he hesitated, listening; then turned her about--for coming toward
them across the lawn, limping, panting, with his nose to the ground but
his stumpy tail belligerently up, was Mac.

She gave a low cry and knelt upon the grass, her arms out to receive
him, and he dashed into them with a yelp of joy. The things she
whispered then were exactly those which Brent would have given the
riches of the earth to have heard her say to him; and Mac replied with
all his doggy eloquence, furiously wiggling his body and making futile
attempts to lick her face. Brent stood silently by, and for the first
time in his life--at least the first time in his remembrance--something
mysteriously hot and wet slipped down his cheek.

An hour later they drove into Flat Rock, leading her horse which was
found grazing by the roadside. Back at Arden the Colonel and Dale, each
with a high powered rifle, were mounting horses; and in town the sheriff
was lifting a bloodhound to his buggy.

With a silent hand-clasp Jane passed into the house, but Brent waited
for a word with Bob.

"The fellow must be quite crazy," he told this young planter, "so you
ought to stay here with the girls. I'll meet the others, and tell you
about it later."

Reaching the pike he drove hurriedly and was the first to arrive at
their prearranged meeting-place. This was a hollow, where a little
stream crossed--the place Tusk usually turned off after leaving Tom's
house, and the scene of an earlier struggle. He got out of the buggy and
carefully scanned the ground, flashing the same electric torch which had
played a part here once before; smiling, despite his soberness, when he
came to a patch of violently torn up sod ten feet from the spot where,
evidently, Jane's horse had fallen. Here, he knew, Mac had made his
gallant stand, desisting only after his instinct told him Jane had fled
to safety.

There was little talking when the others came. The sheriff lifted his
bloodhound to the ground, and the mild eyes of this heavy dewlapped
creature looked confidently up at them, waiting to be told what human
atom of the millions over the earth he must bring to justice. This was
all he asked to know; so when Jess held out the handle of Tusk's
discarded club, he sniffed it carefully and was satisfied. A low whine
assured them that the man-hunter had now an imperishable record of the
scent; that he was ready to follow it across the State, around the
world--providing the pursued one used no pepper or other mean artifice,
and traveled by foot on land.

The men tied their horses, for this chase must be followed warily--nor
could horses go where a hunted man might venture. Jess led, holding the
leash strained by the hound's impatience. Silently the others followed
into the black wood, and all was quiet save for the occasional snapping
of a dead branch;--this hound having been too well taught to allow
himself the joy of baying, except in rare situations. He knew the chase,
and he knew the value of keeping his quarry unwarned.

But in half an hour the old Colonel was breathing hard. He had not been
accustomed to walking through wild places at night, and it was this
increasing fatigue, this undertaking of a trial beyond his strength,
which seriously handicapped the party. Had he more wisely remained at
home, the others might have pressed Tusk before he reached a country
offering limitless possibilities for eluding pursuit, or before he was
given such ample time to employ them--for Tusk, deficient as he was,
possessed a certain type of mentality capable of embarrassing any
bloodhound if given half a chance.

Yet even Tusk had been slow in getting started. He had caught Jane's
bridle to ask her when Brent was going to give him that hundred dollars.
Then Mac had dashed at him, and Jane had ridden at him. He had knocked
the horse down, then dropped his club to tear away the dog. Time after
time he had torn him from his legs and slammed him violently to the
ground, but each time Mac was back at him with greater fury; and at
last, when the airedale, not whipped but wise, dashed off on the trail
of his mistress to see that she met no other perils, Tusk sat down
cursing savagely. His legs were smarting from their wounds, and one
gash, deeper than the others, was bleeding freely; so he tore a strip
from his shirt and rudely bound it up. It felt better now and he arose,
knowing that both man and beast would soon be coming like a swift
pursuing vengeance.

This country at night offered no mysteries for Tusk, who traveled it as
confidently as he would have in the day. He even laughed as the thrill
of the chase tingled through his powerful frame; then plunged into the
wood and for an hour held a course due east.

His first halt was at the entrance of a tunnel-like formation in the
rock which opened out to the bank of a rushing stream. Here, on this
side, away from the noise of water, he must listen well. No sound, no
bay; nothing but the hoot of an owl somewhere in the black forest
reached his attentive ears. Yet an enemy would surely follow, and it
must be baffled before he could lie down in peace to sleep.

So passing through the natural tunnel he waded across the stream,
openly, without artifice, and followed up the opposite shore; purposely
leaving a trail so simple that dogs could not miss it, and men would
believe him unsuspicious of pursuit. Half a mile on, where it seemed the
obvious thing for one to do who might be making all speed to the nearest
county line, he recrossed. Several times he did this in the same simple
way, always heading east; but now the stream turned sharply north. He
knew that it would, and he had planned to leave it here, continuing
straight and boldly through the forest in order to emphasize the idea
that he was taking the shortest route to safety; but after another half
mile he stopped--then he laughed. Up to this point a puppy could have
followed him to every crossing and picked his trail up readily on the
other side. So he laughed, and now began the second phase of his
cunning.

He doubled back upon that last half mile, entering the water where he
had come out, then laid down and began to float with its swift current;
touching the bottom with his hands or sometimes swimming the deeper
places. Progress was restful and rapid now, and he felt thoroughly
elated. Continuing past all his former fording places, past the natural
tunnel where he first came in, he went on for another mile and then
began watching for a branch that might be low enough for him to reach.
This was not difficult to find in a forest so thickly wooded, and soon
he had climbed into a tree without once having put his foot to shore.
From branch to branch, from tree to tree, he went, feeling his way
warily like a 'coon, reaching, swinging, risking much but never
slipping, till at last he let himself off on a cliff several hundred
feet back from the swirling water. He could indeed laugh now. At no
place between the point where he began doubling back upon his trail
three miles away, and this very spot on the cliff where he now stood,
had he so much as touched dry land. That the sheriff's hound would be
hopelessly baffled was indisputable. The men, of course, might wait for
daylight, and by examining each low hanging branch, from the stream's
source to the point where it disappeared into the cave, discover the one
by which he had climbed out. But this would require time; moreover they
would have to possess a knowledge of his trick--and Tusk flattered
himself that no one knew his trick. He was immeasurably pleased, and
would have tarried here in an enjoyable contemplation of his triumph,
but there was another link of safety to be added: a stiff, heartbreaking
climb still higher to a spur of rock where he had often before "laid
out." Here, too, was his stock of food, whiskey and tobacco.

When he finally dragged himself up and rolled over on its flat surface,
he did not think of these refreshments. He was exhausted and very
sleepy. The long contact with cold water had numbed and soothed the
wounds in his legs, and, since they had stopped smarting, his sluggish
sensibilities caught no message of their existence--gave him no warning
that the deeper gash had been partially opened by his climbing in the
trees, and that now the red stain upon his ragged trousers was slowly
spreading. He knew only that he was sleepy; so he yawned, then slept.

As an ox which snags his hock upon a point of flint and placidly grazes
while he bleeds to death, so might Tusk have slept into eternity, were
it not for that mysterious spark of something which the most crass of
men possess to mark them human. Thus it was that later in the night he
awoke with a feeling of terrible fear, of the presence of some awful
catastrophe; and sat up, looking about him through the dark, shivering.
He did not comprehend that an alert subconscious mind might be giving
the alarm, touching him upon the shoulder and guiding his hand to the
bleeding wound; but, once he knew there was a bleeding wound, he acted
with promptness and a fair degree of skill.

When the sky was growing light four weary men and a dejected dog passed
down the bank of the disappearing stream, three hundred feet below this
spur, trudging homeward. But Tusk, though weakened and breathing
rapidly, was again asleep.



CHAPTER XXXIV

A GIRL'S NOBILITY


At half past eight o'clock in the morning Aunt Timmie was tidying up the
room, Doctor Stone was removing his white jacket, and, on an adjoining
cot to Mesmie, Nancy lay dozing from the effect of an anæsthetic. Her
face held a frown, as though even in slumber the memory of the ordeal
was following her.

"I'll go now," he whispered, "and be back at twelve. You know what to
do."

The old woman nodded, but did not stop the palm-leaf fan being
impartially waved over her charges. She sat like a brooding hen with two
chicks; very alert, keeping an eye on each.

It was about this time that the hunting party reached the stables at
Arden and grimly separated--the sheriff being driven to his waiting
buggy by one of the Colonel's men, who would bring home the tethered
horses.

Dale looked at the sun, now high above the mountains, and, without a
word, left for the library. His all night tramp seemed to have brought
no fatigue; but the old gentleman and Brent, turning toward Bradford's
cottage, moved slowly.

Timmie saw them coming up the path and, glancing once more at her
charges, went to the door. She did not at once notice that their
trousers were frayed and muddy, and their faces scratched. News of
Jane's adventure had not reached her. But her countenance was severe.
During the night she had done a deal of thinking and her indictment
spread over the entire male species--even now including Brent. In a hazy
sort of way it was borne in on her that if gentlemen were unable to
drink and at the same time keep their skins decent, they were becoming
inexcusably degraded. In the circumstances, they could have no pretty
gardens--ever! Above all, perhaps, was her intuitive knowledge that
Brent had tried to harm this girl who, at the bidding of an old negress,
came offering her flesh to help one in whom she felt no particular
interest--though Dale, too, had immeasurably shocked her with his
selfishness. The sum total of these things went into the long night's
vigil, and left her at high tension. So now, when the men arrived, she
was facing them, frowning as an indignant, inexpugnable black
executioner.

"Good morning, Timmie," said the Colonel, starting to enter, but she
blocked the doorway, announcing:

"You-alls cyarn' come in! Dar's a lady 'sleep in heah!"

"How is Mesmie?" he asked.

"She's in mighty bad shape, dat's how she is!"

The Colonel stood a great deal from Timmie and Zack, for much less than
a tenth of which he would have sent another negro off his place in
double quick.

"Who is the lady?" he asked, not over pleased at her humor.

"Nem'min' who de lady is! But she's a suah-footed, elegant an' lovely
angel, dat's got moh human kindness in her den anyone I sees a-lookin'
at _me_!"

"Come, come," the Colonel frowned, "don't answer me in this childish
way! Who is the lady?"

"Well, take a peep--bofe of you--but mind, don' make no fuss!"

She edged to one side, all the while watching Brent as they came near
for the promised peep. His face flushed quickly, but the Colonel looked
more carefully and, turning, whispered:

"I can't see her! Who is it?"

As she told them how Nancy had come, tears gathered in the old
gentleman's eyes and his chin quivered with strong emotion.

"See that she wants for nothing," he said gently. "When the doctor is
through, bring her right over and have everything comfortable."

"I'se done planned dat out, Marse John," she spoke with her more
accustomed tenderness. "She's gwine have de room 'crost from Miss Liz,
an' fresh _boo_-kays eve'y day. We'se comin' over 'foh long, too; fer de
doctor say he ain' gwine take no moh skin offen her." Then suddenly she
exclaimed: "What, in de land sake, is de matter wid you-all's pants?"

But he had turned, and in deep thought started across the grass to the
big house, leaving her in open-mouthed amazement.

"One doesn't see much handsomer things than that girl has showed us," he
said to Brent, who was keeping somewhat in advance.

"No," he answered over his shoulder.

Awhile longer the old gentleman walked with bowed head, then asked:

"Why your abstraction, sir?"

Brent wheeled and faced him. He was crimson with shame, and blurted out
two short sentences:

"I'm a pup, Colonel! I've no right to walk with you!"

"Eh--wha--what do you mean, sir?"

The old gentleman stood rooted to the spot, one foot in advance as he
had just begun his last stride. He had not even raised his head, but was
looking up from under frowsy brows with eyes that were grave and
startled. Against his will some old whisperings of months ago
insistently recurred to him.

Brent now took a few steps back and fearlessly met those accusing eyes.

"One time I tried to hurt that girl," he said squarely. "I got her to
meet me at night, because she didn't know any better, and I didn't give
a damn. But she showed me what a scoundrel I had intended to be then,
and she's just showed me again. She told me about Dale's blind sister
then, and now she's telling that all over again, too. It gets next to
me, Colonel, and if anybody wants to kick me about your farm till
dinner, he can begin when he's ready!"

"All right--er--Gridley," the old gentleman smiled. "In the ratio of
your repentance I feel proportionately happy. You've relieved my mind of
a cloud that has shut out a lot of sunshine these past months, which
otherwise would have been entirely bright. So I absolve you, sir! Now
let the talk die."

"Talk?" Brent flushed a deeper red. "Are they saying anything about it?"

"Emphatically no!--not the girls, at any rate. There may have been
some--er--slight mention."

"Oh, I hate that," he cried, feeling his soul cringe for the injustice
he had brought upon her.

"So do I, sir," the Colonel quickly declared, not understanding. "But
you must let me assure you that the girls have given it little
attention. They never gossip, sir!--for gossips, sir, are the most
arrant of cowards! No one's character is safe from them, sir! They take
a grain of fact," the old gentleman's face was becoming flushed as he
thundered forth this pet denunciation, "and plant it in soil manured
with the rottenest intentions, sir! And it grows into a bastard of
truth, exhaling odors as vitiated as the breath of a toad! The very
saints could not be revivified from such a poison, much less our poor
selves, sir, who strive a lifetime constructing character for those
damned polluters to blight with their graveyard whisperings! I detest
it, sir! The stench of it is repulsive to honest men and gentle women!
But come," he added more genially, "before we spoil our breakfasts."

Miss Liz was waiting at the table and she poured their coffee with more
than her usual concern. The Colonel could invariably detect in what
humor that dear lady happened to be by the way she rendered him this
service. He told her of Mesmie's condition, and portions of the other
news imparted by Aunt Timmie--breathing no word of the man-hunt, or what
had led to it. For awhile her usually severe face was softened, and then
she arose.

"You must both get on without me this morning," she said, with a faint
smile. "I must go to that girl, for she needs someone besides Timmie,
and Timmie needs rest." At the door she hesitated. "Have I not told you,
brother John, that the middle class is our country's safeguard?--that we
would be in a sorry plight without it?"

Meaning no unkindness toward Nancy, but to vindicate himself in a former
argument--and, of course, having kept from her the unpleasant
termination of the mountaineer's visit, he said:

"Had she not come, we might have had Dale. You know that he offered
himself."

"Yes, and I am very glad; for Dale is of that great treasure house--the
middle class!"

The Colonel cleared his throat. "Well, my dear, I gathered from Timmie
that Brent, not once but twice, offered the same service most
handsomely."

"Cut it!" Brent, flushing, whispered savagely across at him.

"One may always depend upon a gentleman," she drew herself up with
dignity, "to meet any situation!"

"Then it is not a question of class, but of being a gentleman, that
should decide," the Colonel chuckled.

But Miss Liz swept haughtily from the room and her untenable position,
her answer trickling back to them until she reached the porch:

"There has been too much noble generosity shown upon your place during
these twelve hours for you and me, John, to part with mutual
recriminations!"

Straining his ears to catch the last of this, the old gentleman looked
resignedly at Brent. "A wonderful institution is woman," he sighed. "By
the way, where is Dale?"

Uncle Zack, whose wondering eyes had scarcely left their travel stained
clothing, answered that he was in the library. Yet, as breakfast
progressed, he did not come, so the Colonel and Brent, having finished,
now arose to go after him.

"I want to tell you," the engineer said, as they stepped into the hall,
"that I feel a lot better after our talk on the lawn this morning. I did
everything I could to apologize, and she has let me stay her staunchest
friend."

The old gentleman passed an arm about him. It was eloquent of confidence
and extreme affection which words would have belittled.

"She is a noble girl," he murmured; then, gravely shaking his head: "but
what I cannot understand is where she gets those sterling qualities. Her
breeding must be most inferior!"

"Colonel, you've seen a lot more of the world than I, but it seems to me
that pedigree isn't worth half as much as charity and common horse
sense."

"Those qualities," he retorted, now glowering at the engineer, "are
traits which every man possesses in his own estimation, and in which he
regards his neighbors as singularly lacking!"

"I was never more convinced of it, sir," Brent laughed. "Now, I'm going
to bed--what are you going to do?"

"I think," the poor old Colonel sighed wearily, "I'll sleep right here,
leaning against these banisters."



CHAPTER XXXV

THE PRODUCT OF SUNLIGHT PATCH


As the weeks passed, a great relief spread throughout the place when it
became known that Mesmie would recover. The grafts had taken hold, and
it now seemed as though her days might be long and prosperous. Fair
judgment placed this to the credit of the young physician, and Jane had
congratulated herself more than once for having transgressed the
Colonel's wishes in calling him instead of Doctor Meal. For the slow
moving, sympathetic Doctor Meal would have applied linseed oil, patted
the child's head and called her a good little girl. Then, carried by his
pacing mare, he might have started townward for a bag of candy or a
doll; while she, on the speedier wings of deadly tetanus, would in all
probability have gone to her ancestors.

This, at least, was the prevailing opinion of everyone except the
Colonel, who would tolerate no suggestion of it. Doctor Meal had always
cured his ailments, and he knew his skill from long experience. The fact
of the matter was, the Colonel possessed a strong constitution and
happened to be lucky. His old friend and physician, if called
professionally, had a way of beginning his examinations in this wise:
"Well, John, what you reckon ails you?" The Colonel would then give a
diagnosis as suggested to him by a night of discomfort. "Well, well!
You must feel right bad, John! What you reckon I'd better give you?" The
Colonel would then name some nostrum, also decided upon during the long
night. Old Doctor Meal would open his saddle-bags and mix it, along with
a toddy to make it palatable; then he would build a toddy for himself,
and sit down to talk. Of course, the Colonel swore by him!

Nancy had long since been brought over to the big house, because neither
the Colonel nor Aunt Timmie would consent to her going home--both
through purely different motives. It meant but one more addition to the
Colonel's eleemosynary institution (as Ann had acquired the habit of
calling Arden) and gave Doctor Stone an additional reason for making his
daily visits: thirty minutes at Mesmie's bedside, and anywhere from one
to three hours walking beneath the trees with his older patient.

But in other directions matters were not so hopeful. For a fortnight
Jess and his bloodhound had grimly searched the mountains. He felt the
necessity of raising a posse, but the Colonel would have none of that;
no others besides themselves and the trusted sheriff, he swore, must
share the story, lest it be bandied from tongue to tongue and eventually
distorted--too many characters, he said, were sacrificed every Saturday
night by those gods who whittled upon their thrones in front of the
village store to take any chances. So Jess had searched alone and in
vain.

Brent, working at the survey with an ardor that might have been inspired
by the example of Dale, had each evening come home by way of the partly
rebuilt cabin, hoping--praying--to get a glimpse of the outlaw. Nor had
the Colonel remained passive, but his activities progressed on the back
of a horse. There had been one other watcher of whom neither of them
knew.

This particular morning the engineer was in his room, plotting out an
accumulation of field notes. By him, and bending over the large drawing
board with as deep, though not as accurate, an interest, the Colonel
stood. Not infrequently now did the old gentleman come up to watch this
railroad grow upon paper, and talk as the other worked. They had been
speculating on the whereabouts of Tusk, and Brent was supporting Jess'
theory that he had fled into Virginia; but it was a most unpleasant
subject to them both and the Colonel exclaimed:

"I understand Tom has accepted my price!"

"Yes. He sent his wife to Dulany. They're leaving almost at once."

The old gentleman chuckled. "You've won the neighborhood's everlasting
gratitude, sir! And did he promise to brace up in the country of his
adoption?"

"By proxy," Brent mumbled, at the moment carefully drawing a line. "But
promises don't amount to a fiddle-de-dee. Men brace up when they want
to. Have you seen Jane lately?"

"Not for some days. You know I urged her not to ride alone. Why?"

"I was just wondering if she had spoken to you about Dale. Have you
noticed anything strange in him?"

"I've noticed that he is thinner," a shade of worry passed over the
fine old face, "and his eyes--" he hesitated.

"That's it," Brent looked up. "His eyes have a haunted look. He's sick,
Colonel."

"I should have spoken to Stone, Brent, but have been so worried over
that dear girl! She seems changed, too. I don't know what is happening
to us!"

"Better speak to him today, then. He's leaving for a few days'
pilgrimage to distant patients."

The old gentleman went to the door and called down to Uncle Zack,
sending him after the doctor whom he knew, since the little motor
vehicle was in front, must be somewhere on the grounds.

In silence they waited; the Colonel meditative, Brent leaning above his
drawing and making line after line which would weld the mountains with
civilization. Still their man did not come, so without further comment
the Colonel went slowly down stairs and out to the porch, there gazing
sternly at the grouped lawn chairs where the attentive physician was
sitting with Nancy. But, as he approached them, a measure of
recollection must have returned to the man of science, for he looked
hurriedly at his watch and began to stammer:

"Colonel, I am greatly to be excused! I was just--just giving Nancy a
few--a few instructions till I come back for her!"

"For her, or to her?" the old gentleman's eyes twinkled.

"He said 'to her,'" she insisted, blushing furiously.

"I really--that is, I said 'for her,'" the doctor smiled happily, as
she gave him a rather bewildering look and precipitately fled.

They watched her go into the house and then turned to each other, one
with an accusing smile, the other grinning self-consciously.

"You'll find her here when you return," the old gentleman murmured. "I
shall never permit her to go back to those who are neither her blood nor
breeding, and my home shall be her home until she chooses to leave it;
but, sir," he began to smile again now, "my consent will have to be
obtained--I warn you!"

The doctor, still crimson to the roots of his hair, was endeavoring to
say something rational about his practice and his prospects, when the
Colonel sternly interrupted him.

"Stone, all the worldly goods you may possess or ever expect to possess,
if they were greater than these mountains behind us, would not amount to
a damn, sir, unless your mind is clean and your body healthy! If you can
say before your God that they are no worse than those of any man whom
you would have your sister wed, go then and win your bride!"

A silence followed, so prolonged that the Colonel was beginning to feel
the sickening weight of dread about his heart, when the other said
quietly:

"Then I may as well ask you now!"

"God bless my soul, sir," the old gentleman cried, "I consent right
merrily! Nor shall I keep you another minute from her, after we speak a
word of Dale!"

"Miss Jane telephoned me about him this morning."

"And what did you tell her?"

"That he's working too hard."

"Nothing more serious?"

"That's plenty serious enough, Colonel, if he sticks at it. I talked to
him a little while ago, and he wanted to throw me out the window. Nobody
can make him stop that grind!"

"Jane can," the old gentleman grunted.

"She's going to try, anyway, when he takes his lessons to her this
afternoon. But she told me he was so impatient now preparing himself to
go up in the mountains and be a Lincoln to his people, that she really
doubts if she can influence him without help."

"Be a Lincoln to his people, eh?"

"Yes, emancipate them from the chains of ignorance, he calls it."

"By Godfry, sir, that isn't a bad idea! Whose help does she want?"

"Oh, I suppose your's, and Brent's, and mine, and everybody's."

For awhile the old gentleman appeared to be wrapped in thought. At last
he asked:

"When do you leave to see your distant patients?"

"In the morning."

"How far to the east does that duty lead you?"

"Pretty well into the next county."

"If you should locate that place called Sunlight Patch," the Colonel
looked up, "and bring him word from his sister to rest for a month, he'd
do it!"

Stone slapped himself upon the leg and hopefully announced: "That's the
only way to handle him! I want to go there, anyhow, and get a look at
that woman!"

"So do I," the old gentleman murmured. "Some day I want to go up there,
and take her back nine dollars and the mare; and tell her what her
influence has stood for in this valley--better ideals and ways of
living!--who can tell how far it reaches!"

"Yes, who can tell!" the doctor softly answered. "It all seems to stand
as a sort of product of Sunlight Patch, which will stay with us long
after Dale has gone."

"That is it," the Colonel nodded, his serious gaze upon the ground, "the
product of Sunlight Patch, which will remain long after Dale and we have
gone. But come," he looked up, "I am keeping you!"

"Well, if you don't mind, I'll go in for a minute and say good-bye--then
come out and join you again."

"I'll be damned if I wait here till sundown," the old gentleman
chuckled. "Shake hands now, sir, and let me wish you God-speed in this,
and all your journeys; then you may take your own good time about saying
good-bye, sir! I'm going up to Brent, anyway, and tell him!--about Dale,
about Dale," he added hastily, seeing a look of consternation come into
the doctor's face. But, a few minutes later when he had climbed to
Brent's room, so excited was he with news and fresh plans that his very
first words were: "Did you know that that fellow, Stone, is going to
marry our Nancy?" He, like Aunt Timmie, put his secrets in safe places.

Being in the third floor is why he failed to see Jess come onto the
porch, or Uncle Zack admit him to the library.

Dale did not at first hear the sheriff, even when the old darky had
announced him and pushed a chair up to the table. But Jess, possessing
less delicacy in matters of this sort, or being more in earnest, laid a
hand on the mountaineer's shoulder and gave it a rough shake. This
brought him back from Cicero with a glare of fury, though quickly
dismissed at sight of his visitor.

"I reckoned I'd find you 'sleep," were the sheriff's first words, when
Zack had gone.

"Oh, I sleep some in the evenin's. Sleep's mostly for women, anyhow."

"I wouldn't be s'prised if a leetle wa'n't fer men, now an' then," Jess
grinned. "You can't lay out watchin' his cabin till daylight, as you've
been doin', an' set around with these heah books all day. Fu'st thing
you know you'll be drappin' off in a snooze out thar, an' missin' him!"

"Don't let that worry you," Dale clenched his fists. "I got to be with
these books all day, an' I got to watch for him at night--or the books
won't do me any good."

"I don't quite foller yoh reasonin'!"

"I didn't think you would," he gave Jess a superior look. "Got any
news?"

"Nope; an' I've come to say I'm ready to give up! My hound says thar
ain't a smell of 'im 'tween heah an' hell."

"Then your hound lies; for I tell you he's around somewhere, an' not so
very far off, either!"

"Look-ee-heah," the sheriff raised half up in his chair, "I don't 'llow
no man to call my hound a liar!"

"Oh, sit down, Jess! Didn't I just tell you I _know_ he's around
somewhere?"

"Then what kind of a dawg might _you_ be, Mister Dawson?"

But Dale either did not hear, or did not want to take this up. All he
said was:

"Let's keep on trying, Jess!"

"Oh, all right, if yoh're so dod-gasted suah! Go on, then, an' watch
tonight, an' I'll relieve you, same as usual, jest 'foh day!"

There was nothing more to be said, so the mountaineer turned back to the
table, thus curtly dismissing the sheriff whose face flushed as he got
up and went out.



CHAPTER XXXVI

A TIN CYLINDER


The week dragged through to a lifeless close, and the anxiety of those
nearest Dale perceptibly increased. Unquestionably he was getting
thinner, his eyes were deeper and more haunted. In vain did they urge
him to rest but he turned a deaf ear to all entreaty.

The doctor had been expected since noon of the previous day, and every
sound on the pike brought the old gentleman to his feet, peering
hopefully through the trees. Each hour, from twelve on, had made him
more restive. Throughout luncheon and dinner his gaze would repeatedly
wander across the terrace to a strip of lane in view from the
dining-room window; and he sat up late that night, still listening. So
he had slept late this Sunday morning.

But Brent, aroused by an undercurrent of some strange excitement,
awakened with the birds. He went softly down the hall for his tub and
dressed with more than his usual care; all the while wanting to whistle,
but desisting through deference to the sleeping household.

As he stepped out into the fresh early morning one might have remarked a
noticeable change in him since the night he crossed twice to Bradford's
cottage. His eyes were clearer, the flesh upon his cheeks was firm and
bronzed. He was a few pounds lighter, and this gave his face a
clean-cut, chiselled look. His step was buoyant, and one instinctively
knew that beneath the well-fitting clothes played a network of
splendidly laced muscles. He threw back his head and took a deep, joyous
breath of the cool pure air, then went on toward the chairs clustered in
inviting comfort beneath the trees. But the grass and they were still
wet, so he began strolling around the tanbark circle, following paths
and brushing through dew-bathed spider webs stretched like spun glass
across his way.

The picturesque old peach orchard was a wealth of blushing fruit,
dropping from the over-weighted branches into a carpet of red clover. He
went in here, and came out with his teeth buried in a luscious
peach--leaning forward and wanting to laugh as its juice trickled over
his chin. For not only were his hands occupied with other peaches, but
he was pressing tightly beneath one arm a tin cylinder, three feet long
and several inches in diameter. This was the thing Zack first noticed
when that worthy appeared some half hour later.

"Good mawnin', Marse Brent," he bowed. "It sho'ly do look good to see
you down so fresh an' early! What's dat cu'ious lookin' thing you got
dar?"

"It's a lay-over-to-catch-meddlers, Uncle Zack."

"A lay over to do which?" he squinted.

"It has a present in it," Brent laughed. "Give me a match!"

He lit a cigarette, and the old fellow watched with a fond expression
which gradually drew up into a tangle of wrinkles.

"Doesn' you want me to fetch you a li'l julep fer a mawnin'-mawnin'?
It'll make yoh breakfas' set mighty good arter all dem peaches, an' I
ain' fixed you none for--why, it must be moh'n a month!"

"No, you old sinner, I'm through with your mawnin'-mawnin's; and if you
bring any around I'll take you to the grindstone!"

Uncle Zack stroked his jaw and grinned.

"Sho! Dat ain' gwine do me no hahm now, 'caze mah onlies' toof's done
drapped out."

"Then I'll get Miss Liz after you!"

"Lawd, Marse Brent," the old fellow grew serious, "you knows she ain'
turr'ble no moh! She's jest as meller as dem peaches, an' only las' week
give me a dollar 'caze I hadn' cyarried de Cunnel but one julep dat
day!"

"Is the Colonel getting up?"

"Naw, sah, he ain' budged. He say he sleepin' better'n he uster."

"Zack, do you want to ride over to Mister Bob's for me before
breakfast?"

"You knows I do--'foh breakfas', an' arter breakfas'!"

"Then get your mule--I'll have something for you to take."

While Zack was hurrying to the stables, Brent walked excitedly to the
garden to pick a bouquet of flowers; but, although there were thousands
of blossoms from which to choose, their selection seemed a most
difficult problem. More difficult, however, was a note he tried to write
a few minutes later in the library; and Zack was waiting patiently
before the third attempt--which happened to be the successful one--was
sealed.

This he tied with the flowers to the mysterious cylinder and handed them
to the grinning negro.

"Don't muss things up," he admonished. "And you know who to give them
to!"

"I knows you ain' sendin' no flowers to Marse Bob or li'l Bip," the grin
became broader.

Then Brent continued his walk. He felt that he could never be quiet
again. The Colonel, when he came down, was too much occupied with his
own thoughts to notice this restlessness, but, as a woman appeared to
serve breakfast, he asked:

"Where is Zack?"

"I'm to blame," Brent answered. "I sent him over to Bob's with a little
remembrance. This is Jane's birthday, you know!"

"Why, so it is!" But then he looked fixedly across at Brent, and began
to raise up slowly out of his chair. "You didn't send the--the
railroad?"

Brent nodded, whereupon the old gentleman threw down his napkin and the
next instant they were clasped in each other's arms, dancing about the
room, boisterously laughing, kicking, and greatly imperiling the
furniture. As they stopped, Miss Liz was standing in the door, her hands
up in an attitude of abject horror.

"My dear," the old gentleman panted, "Brent has finished the railroad
and just this morning sent it over to Jane! We're celebrating!"

"Oh," she sank into her place with a sigh of relief, "I am so thankful
it is no worse!"

"Worse! Why, God bless my--" but he checked himself in Miss Liz's
presence.

"Did your father say you sent it to Jane?" she asked Brent, now
thoroughly mystified, but sharing the happiness which could not be
denied anyone in that room just then. "My dear boy, I am so glad!--and
Dale will be so glad!"

"Where is Dale?" the men inquired.

Zack being away, and the maid not permitted in Bachelors' Belfry at this
hour, Brent was for running up to call him, but the Colonel objected.

"He may be asleep, and that will do him more good than food which he can
get at his pleasure!"

Immediately after breakfast Brent eluded the old gentleman and went out
beyond the gate to watch for Zack. Up and down the cedar bordered avenue
he walked, checking off the eternities which passed before the mule
ambled into view.

"I wouldn' a-been so long, Marse Brent," Zack began apologizing and
fumbling in his pocket for a note, "but Miss Jane jest nachelly taken a
hour writin' dis!"

Now he was as impatient to be away from Zack as he had been for Zack to
come. A few minutes later, down in the woodland pasture under a
spreading beech, he stretched at full length in the bluegrass and
reverently gazed at the little envelope. His own note had not called
for an answer of great--indeed, of any--importance. (The first one had,
and the second!--but the last was, he thought, a model of convention.)
However, Zack had said she was a long time writing it;--at least, his
eyes could lingeringly dwell over line after line, page after page,
traced by her hand!

What did meet his eyes was:

"This is the happiest birthday I have ever known!"

He wondered if she, too, had found note writing difficult!

As the morning wore on he saw the family carriage, with Uncle Zack in
his beaver hat, move toward the pike, and he surmised that the Colonel,
Nancy and Miss Liz were going in state to pay their respects to Jane.
Then he went slowly home. It was very quiet with them away. Someone back
near the kitchen was turning an ice cream freezer, which produced a
rather unpleasant suggestion of Sunday company, and a long and tiresome
feast. He saw the upstairs maid.

"Where's Mister Dale?"

"He's done gone out, sah."

"How was he feeling?"

"I don' know, sah. I didn' see him!"

All of this was true, but Dale had gone out the previous evening,
instead of today as the maid supposed when she found his bed in
disorder. The mountaineer had regularly perpetrated this ruse each night
before starting on his vigil, so, should he any morning be late getting
home, the servant would merely suppose he had risen early. But, once
snug in his hiding place near Tusk's cabin, he would fitfully yield to
cat-naps--alternately dozing a few minutes and watching half an hour.
That the first of these brief slumbers did not hold him in its soothing
clasp throughout the night, was merely proof of his dominant purpose to
remove every obstacle which would keep the school from opening in
September. Yet he had become wretchedly in need of sleep; his eyes were
bloodshot, and his pulse ran fast.

In another two hours Brent, through the library window, saw the carriage
returning majestically along the pike. He glanced at the clock, then at
the telephone, then softly closed the door and called Jane.

She took a few minutes to thank him again, graciously, conventionally;
nor did she mention the present by name, because it was a good-naturedly
accepted neighborhood fact that Miss Gregget listened. Then she told him
the Colonel had been there, that Miss Liz had been there, that Nancy had
been there; that they had stayed awhile, that they had left; she asked
about Dale without giving him a chance to answer; she told him something
bright Bip had said, something sagacious Mac had done--and all the while
the carriage was coming nearer! He had never before known her to talk so
volubly, so incessantly; but, instead of translating its reason, as a
wise man might have done, he looked furtively at the circle and
repeatedly tried to interrupt her. At last, in desperation, he said:

"They're coming up the porch, and I've only thirty seconds to ask you
something!"

She was very quiet then.

"Will you go to the chapel with me this afternoon? Four o'clock?"

"Y--yes! I think it will be fun!"

"Fun! That's worse than 'audience' and 'pulpit'! Shall we ride or
drive?"

"Let's ride."

"And Jane!"

Pause--"Yes?"

"It's my happiest birthday, too!"

She laughed. "How old are you, Brent?"

"My eyes have been open for a month;--how old does that make?"

"A very small infant!"

Miss Gregget snickered.

"Oh," Jane gasped.

"Damn," Brent growled, as both instruments clicked simultaneously.



CHAPTER XXXVII

TUSK


Early that same morning as Jess approached the place where Dale was
"laying out" near Tusk's cabin, he stopped a moment, listening; then
gave the clear call of a quail. After waiting several minutes he
whistled again, and as still no answer came he proceeded with extreme
caution.

The sun was not yet up, but in the sky were bars of red that reached
high above the mountains, and by this light he saw the watcher, face
down upon the rocks, asleep. Nature, his god, had commanded, and he
obeyed. Jess smiled, then noiselessly sat down to wait.

Noon came. The sheriff ate part of his lunch, lit his pipe, and settled
back for a longer wait. He felt an infinite relief to see this strange
man sleeping, for in his gruff make-up had grown a concern for the
mountaineer approaching affection. Now he swore softly to himself that,
even though Potter should come, he would let him pass rather than wake
Dale.

But also during the morning his interest had been held by another thing.
Idly facing the east, his gaze wandering over the scarred knobs or their
wooded crests, he had gradually become aware of an occasional movement
on a spur far up the side of Snarly. Squinting his eyes he could
distinctly make out something, but whether it were man or beast he could
not be sure. Certainly it moved more as a restless bear whose cub,
doubtless unable to master the climb, whined somewhere below. He turned
this over in his mind.

It was three o'clock when Dale stirred. The sheriff smiled as he watched
Nature gradually remove her bandage from the sleeper, who now, instantly
awake, sprang up in dismay.

"Gawd! What time is it?"

Jess held out his watch.

"I must a-slept eighteen hours," the mountaineer gasped, as though such
a thing were scarcely in the range of possibility.

"An' real glad I am, too, Dale! We ain't lost nothin' by it, an' it's
done you a heap of good. Here's a bite to eat!"

Dale attacked it ravenously, then took a deep breath and stretched.

"I feel like a catamount! Come on, Jess--where'll we hunt?"

"I was jest thinkin'! Whilst you slept, I seen somethin' looked like a
bar up on that-ar spur!"

Dale wheeled and watched the place for several minutes.

"I don't see nothin'," he said, at last.

"'Cause it ain't been over to our side yet, that's why! But it's thar,
all right--or, leastwise, it was thar!"

"Jess," the mountaineer spoke quickly, "last spring I saw him there,
too. Come on! Maybe--but I don't reckon it could be, if you thought it
was a bear!"

"I don't neither; but thar ain't no tellin'! It's 'bout the only place
we _ain't_ been! I'll tie the dawg heah, so's if it is a b'ar he won't
git cut up none!"

After a hard two-hour climb they reached a ledge seeming to run on a
level with the spur, followed it a few hundred feet and, cautiously
parting the branches, looked out. There was still too much foliage to
permit them to see, and they crept nearer; this time coming to the base
of the spur itself. But Jess, who was slightly in advance, drew back and
silently cocked his rifle--an act which any mountaineer would rightfully
interpret as a command for absolute silence. Together, now, they edged
forward.

Barefooted, crawling aimlessly about on his hands and knees, wagging his
head from side to side and mumbling, was Tusk--in truth, enough like a
bear to excuse the sheriff's former uncertainty. He seemed to have no
intimation of the watchers who had, in their surprise, advanced far
enough to be in full view. Indeed, twice he crawled within ten feet of
them, all the while wagging his head in a way that, were he able to see
at all, must surely have disclosed them.

"Is he drunk?" Dale whispered, but Jess solemnly shook his head.

"Nope, he ain't drunk--leastways, that ain't the main trouble! He's
plumb crazy with a fever, an' damn nigh starved to death! Look at his
face an' cracked lips! I don't know as we'd orter take 'im down to
town, Dale;--maybe it's ketchin'!"

"Not take him! Not take him!" Dale cried in an angry voice. "Well, _I_
ain't afraid of nothin' ketchin'! He won't get away from me again, I
tell you!"

"Who said I was afeerd of ketchin' somethin'?" the sheriff answered,
with a black frown. "I was thinkin' of other folks! Didn't you never try
thinkin' a leetle bit of other folks, jest to see how it 'ud feel,
Dale?"

A deep growl from Tusk made them turn again. He was quite still now, and
listening; while his eyes, seeing but not seeing, stared at them, and
his brows puckered as though trying to call back some hazy memory.

"Good Lawd," Jess whispered, "look at his foot an' leg! It must be
blood-pisen, or gang-green, or somethin' like that, Dale!--that, an' a
burnin' fever, an' not any too much sense at best, poh devil! Why, he
don't know whar he's at! Tusk," the tender-hearted officer stepped out
and called to him, "we've come up to help you some!"

A spasm of terror crossed the unfortunate man's face; but then he gave a
curious sort of laugh and began to crawl awkwardly toward the point of
the spur.

"Set down thar, Tusk," the sheriff called again, this time making ready
to follow. "Set down, now, till I git out to you!"

Tusk laughed. A child crawling over a nursery floor might so have
laughed if playfully chased by its nurse. But this misshapen hulk of
humanity did not possess even the wisdom of a child. He only laughed and
crawled faster, looking back with an expression of mischievous cunning
and extreme delight.

Jess saw the imminent danger of Tusk's direction. With one movement he
uncocked his rifle and laid it on the ground, then sprang out upon the
spur. He did not ask Dale to follow, for somehow it was borne in on him
that the mountaineer, having come expressly to wreak vengeance, was
making a concession now in remaining neutral.

"Wait thar!" he yelled. "Wait, you fool, afore you pitch over the side!"

The sheriff was running, as well as one could run on such an uncertain,
dizzy place, for Tusk had given another cry of hysterical delight and
was crawling with all his speed, looking over his shoulder at this new
play-fellow who seemed to enter so readily into a game.

"For Gawd's sake," the sheriff screamed. "Stop, Tusk!--Stop!--Oh, my
Lawd!"

He was alone upon the spur, his face averted. Dale came slowly out and
joined him; listening, also, in the solitude of this wild place to the
deep rumble of water far below them, where it rushed into the earth
carrying all things to some mysterious subterranean sea. There had been
no cry from Tusk as he fell, for doubtless he had thought the plunge but
a continuation of the game.

Without speaking, Jess turned and picked up two old shoes which lay in
grotesque attitudes on the rock. These he placed side by side, and with
them a few scattered remnants of corn bread, an empty whiskey bottle and
an old hat. It was a pathetic attempt to do something--to leave the
disordered man's house in order; and he smiled quietly when Dale brought
a cob pipe, a knife and a twist of "long green" tobacco, which he had
found.

Silently, then, they made the descent and trudged homeward; Jess solemn,
Dale excitedly happy. But the mountaineer was not going to Arden just
yet;--first he must tell Jane that henceforth she could come without
fear and help him with his lessons.

"Wall," the sheriff said, after another hour of walking, "if you're
goin' to Flat Rock I'd better leave you heah, an' make my way to Arden.
Our hunt's ended, right enough; an' Gawd have mercy on his poh, ign'rant
soul!"

They shook hands, and once more the mountaineer hurried on.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

A LANE AT TWILIGHT


The elaborate midday dinner at Arden had been dabbled at, or bolted with
a rush which did scant justice to the cuisine of that hospitable
establishment; for a restiveness obsessed the household which would not
be denied. The Colonel was wishing for the return of Doctor Stone--and
this happened to be the wish of Nancy. Brent cared little what took
place if four o'clock would hurry around. Yet each shared in a vague
apprehension for the mountaineer who, Zack told them, had not returned.

"He may have walked over to Bob's," the Colonel suggested, and the
simple hearted servant, seeing his old master's distress of mind,
unhesitatingly declared:

"Dat's jest whar he done gwine, Marse John, sho's youse bawned!"

This had brought relief, if not conviction.

Nevertheless, the old gentleman preferred to abandon his Sunday
afternoon nap in favor of watching for Stone. Always, always now since
yesterday morning, he found himself listening for hoofbeats--listening
for the returning man of science who would bring a message of caution
from the fountain head of Sunlight Patch; and, in this humor of
expectancy, wandered out to the grouped chairs to be alone.

At half after three o'clock Brent came softly from the house, mounted
his horse and started at a very slow walk around the tanbark circle.
During this stealthy advance he watched with affectionate care to see
that nothing disturbed the old gentleman, whose chin some time before
had sunk peacefully to his breast. Still on the lookout for Stone, still
vigilant and faithful to the interest of his mountain friend and guest,
the Sunday afternoon nap of many years' indulgence had crept into his
brain to claim its own.

For the first two or three miles after he and Jane turned out of Flat
Rock their spirited animals were allowed to toss their heads and go for
the pure joy of going. Mac dashed on in front, using every ounce of his
sinew to keep that position. They were following the same lane, the same
tangled aisle of rioting vines which he had one day likened to his
life--a life in which his gardener had since been conscientiously
employed.

She knew how conscientiously. Had Uncle Zack not daily poured it into
Aunt Timmie's ears, still would she have known by a more convincing
sense. She knew just when the gardener had entered the woods and
pastures of his imaginings, cutting out the poison-ivy and pruning good
things for greater promise. She had watched this with secret exultation;
it hovered near her pillow in the nights, and touched her lips with song
at waking time.

They reached the chapel and entered without a word. But on the
threshold--where upon that other Sunday he had asked if this miracle
might be performed for her sake and she had answered: "for your
own!"--his eyes looked seriously, deeply, down at her. She knew they
were speaking for him, and while the service was in progress she
wondered over and over if hers had answered.

Neither of these worshippers, who forgot to worship, was in a mood for
talking as they came out and rode slowly home along the lane. Its
evening peace seemed to be a continuance of the chapel's calm. The sun
was low--balancing, as a red ball, on the hazy, distant hilltops. In
three and a half minutes it would be down, leaving them in an afterglow
of exquisite softness and touching the partially clouded western sky
with a wealth of glory.

Plaintively across the fields could be heard the call of sheep, mellowed
by the tinkle of their leader's bell. She could see them--little moving
mushrooms on the pasture slope--and to her ears came the sound of
someone letting down the stable bars. It suggested someone watching for
her coming; someone letting down the bars and calling her into a place
where she might be for all time safe.

"The days are getting short," he murmured, watching the last red segment
slip from sight. "It won't be so very long before these old oaks are as
red as that sky."

"I don't like to think of winter," she, too, spoke dreamily. "And see!
It's sunset! Don't you think we should be getting home?"

"I suppose we should," he gloomily answered, though his heart was
beating madly. "And in a few days I must think of hurrying home, too--of
leaving this, all this," his hand waved toward the crimson west. "It
will be as if I were emerging from a wonderful dream--from a crystal
palace which will fall in little pieces; and I'll search and search for
the rest of my life and never find it again! I shall miss my crystal
palace!"

For a moment neither dared to speak. It was very still in the fragrant
lane and their horses, which all this while had been walking slower, now
stopped as though in obedience to some whispered voice. Leaning gently
toward her, trembling before a depth of feeling which had never until
this time been so stirred, he said hoarsely:

"I won't lose it! I can't lose it, Jane!"

Distantly--yet almost out of the air about them, as if it were the
spirit of Kentucky speaking with ineffable gentleness through the
gathering twilight--a quintette of negroes, somewhere across the valley,
sang in mellow, minor harmonies:

  "Weep no moh, mah lady;
  Oh, weep no moh, today!"

He could see that her eyes were swimming in an adorable moisture, and
her face, touched by the dying day, seemed to be whispering out to him
through a glorified mist.

"I can't live without it--now!" he was pleading desperately.

"Neither can I," she whispered.

Half an hour later, Mac was still sitting in the road, his head tilted
inquiringly up at them: while the horses, still shoulder to shoulder,
stood patiently champing their bits.



CHAPTER XXXIX

TRIUMPH


When Dale had parted with Jess the westering sun was still half an hour
from setting. As he strode powerfully on, his heart bounded with the
thought of reopened opportunity--much as it did after Jane left him one
other sunset evening when he had been looking into this same sort of
sky.

The little stream he followed soon crossed a narrow, tangled lane, and
this he knew would lead out toward Flat Rock; but, as he turned into it,
far down its shadowy aisle he saw Mac, tail up, smelling under a ledge
of rock for chipmunks.

There was no reason why the mountaineer should have sought a
hiding-place, except for the wildness in his being which pointed
cautionward; or, perhaps, feeling that Jane, not unattended, would be
soon in sight, he may have preferred a more auspicious moment to deliver
his gladsome tidings. At any rate, without giving much thought to whys
or wherefores, he gained the bank overlooking the road and nestled
securely in its foliage. Slowly, then, Mac came on, neither seeing nor
suspecting; and slowly after him two riders came into view, at the very
instant that the red sun dropped from sight.

When they were almost below him, when he suddenly realized the
indisputable truth that in Brent was an enemy to his ambitions more
formidable than poor Tusk had been, a blinding rage swept through his
brain which turned all things fiery as the west. Stealthily his hand
felt over the ground for a stone large enough to crush this importunate
engineer--this thief, who would steal his teacher and leave him stranded
in a barren school! One was there, and his fingers, feverishly yet with
caution, began to scratch away the loam which held it down. But then he
hesitated. Had he not told her that the greatest call of all calls,
whether it came from mountain peak or lowland, did not mean fight--it
meant surrender? Had he not told her this himself? And so his fingers
drew away from the rock. As he peered again through the bushes Brent was
saying something about losing a crystal palace--Brent, who had so
recently offered to take his place in jail! And then the horses stopped,
shoulder to shoulder.

Was it a new glory which illumined the mountaineer's soul at this
picture which followed there in the twilight? Was it something that had
been reflected from the face and closed eyes of Jane, as Brent drew her
into his arms? Had this glimpse of happiness, as he had never dreamed of
happiness--this ineffable sweetness of first confessions--this heat of a
kiss as pure as God's white crucible which would forever blend them into
one being for His service;--had these drawn the scales from the
mountaineer's eyes, as Saul's had been blinded at the roadside, and let
him see all that had been one-sided, mean and narrow in his life?

It was dusk, and the horses, still shoulder to shoulder, had passed
slowly on, when Dale left his place above the road. For a long time he
watched where the shadows had closed behind them--now to be always
behind them.

Thoughtfully, with steps of meditation, he crossed the fields and came
within sight of the twinkling lights at Arden; then for a long while
leaned his elbows on a fence and pondered over many things. When he
started on there was a great understanding in his soul.

At a pasture near the house he stopped again, and sent a low, trembling
call into the night. Listening, he heard the irregular galloping of aged
Lucy, whinnying hopefully as she came, and finally rubbing her muzzle
against him in unaffected delight. He must have surprised her then, for
gently his arms went around her neck and more gently he said:

"Lucy, d'ye reckon ye kin tote me back ter Sunlight Patch?--me, 'n' a
book 'r two? I got school larnin' enough ter help 'em for a good long
time ter come; but thar's a new larnin', Lucy, I jest now larned--the
greatest larnin' of hit all! D'ye reckon ye kin tote me back ter
Sunlight Patch?--me, 'n' a book 'r two?"



+------------------------------------------------------------------+
|Transcriber's note:                                               |
|                                                                  |
|Inconsistencies in dialect and hyphenation are as in the original.|
+------------------------------------------------------------------+





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sunlight Patch" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home