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Title: The Boy from Hollow Hut - A Story of the Kentucky Mountains
Author: Mullins, Isla May, 1859-1936
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 "The Boy from Hollow Hut - A Story of the Kentucky Mountains" ***

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THE BOY FROM HOLLOW HUT



[Illustration: "I kin kill rabbits if I can't do nothin' else"]



The Boy From Hollow Hut

A STORY OF THE KENTUCKY MOUNTAINS

By ISLA MAY MULLINS

Illustrated

New York Chicago Toronto

Fleming H. Revell Company

London and Edinburgh



Copyright, 1911, by

FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY

New York: 158 Fifth Avenue

Chicago: 17 North Wabash Ave.

London: 21 Paternoster Square

Edinburgh: 75 Princes Street



To MRS. J. B. MARVIN

Whose unceasing devotion to the cause of education in the
mountains of Kentucky inspired this little story



CONTENTS

     I. A STRANGER AND A PROMISE                                    11
    II. A PACKAGE BY MAIL                                           24
   III. IN THE WILDERNESS                                           36
    IV. A HALT ON THE ROAD                                          44
     V. A DOUBLE RESCUE                                             57
    VI. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING                                       72
   VII. A TRIP TO THE CITY                                          78
  VIII. OPPORTUNITY                                                 91
    IX. A STARTLING APPEARANCE                                      98
     X. STEVE DEVELOPS A MIND OF HIS OWN                           111
    XI. EXPERIENCE                                                 129
   XII. LOVE'S AWAKENING                                           149
  XIII. OLD TIES RENEWED                                           160
   XIV. "ALL RIGHT, SON"                                           180
    XV. FLICKERING HOPE                                            190
   XVI. IN THE CRUCIBLE                                            198
  XVII. FRUITION                                                   204



ILLUSTRATIONS

  "I kin kill rabbits if I can't do nothin' else"       _Frontispiece_
  The Old Greely Mill                                               70
  "Hit's Champ fer his pappy"                                      142
  "Tilda pacing back and forth at her spinning-wheel"              174



THE BOY FROM HOLLOW HUT

I

A STRANGER AND A PROMISE


The rabbit bounded away and was lost in the underbrush. Steve stood
looking disgustedly after him, a limp figure, one shoulder dropping
until the old knit suspender fell at his side, and a sullen,
discouraged look settling in his brown eyes.

"I ain' no hunter noways. Peers lack I don't even know 'nough to ketch
a rabbit," he said with scorn. "Whar's that lazy Tige anyways?" he
added, his scorn merging into wrath.

Then jerking the old suspender in place he straightened up on his
sturdy, bare feet, and darted through the underbrush in the direction
where the rabbit had disappeared.

"I'll ketch you yit, yes I will, you same old cottontail," he muttered
through clenched teeth.

There it was again! Just a moment the round, gray back darted above
the bushes, and then plunging into deeper undergrowth, bounded on and
on. But the slim, knotty brown legs plunged on and on too, till at
last a swift, cruel stone felled the unlucky little woodlander, for
Steve was a most skillful marksman.

"Huh! thought you'd git away from me, did ye?" said the boy, picking
up the still body. "I reckons I kin do some things yit," he said, "ef
I don't know much."

The boy was in a strange, new mood. He did not understand himself.
Though a good hunter for a lad of twelve he had been heretofore a
generous friend or conqueror of the fur and feathered folk, wont to
deal gently with a fallen foe. Now he jerked up the limp body of the
rabbit savagely and struck its head spitefully against a near-by tree
trunk.

"I kin kill rabbits ef I can't do nothin' else."

Just then a big black and tan dog came into view with the dignity
befitting age. Boy and dog had been born the same month, but while one
was scarcely well entered upon life, the other's race was almost run.
The boy was usually most considerate of the infirmities of his
lifelong friend, but to-day he scolded the dog till with drooping tail
and grieved, uncomprehending eyes he slunk away out of sight.

A strange experience had come to the mountain boy the day before which
had changed his whole world. It was as though the wooded mountains
which hemmed in his little cabin home had parted for a moment and
given him a glimpse of a fascinating world beyond. He and Tige had
wandered farther from home that day than ever before, though wanderers
they had always been, the woods holding a deep interest for Steve. He
loved to hide in the densest solitudes, lie still with his dog and
dream, fantastic, unreal dreams. Now a definite, tangible vision had
come to him out of the solitude of a hazy November day in the
mountains of Kentucky. He had lain for two hours or more in the
stillness when suddenly Tige lifted his head and gave a sharp bark,
then came the sound of voices, strange voices Steve at once knew them
to be, and as he caught the tones more clearly, recognized that one at
least was of a kind which he had never heard before. Keeping Tige
quiet with a firm hand, he lifted his head and listened with ear and
soul, then into view stepped a man of medium height with a clean, fine
face, clothes of a sort unknown to the boy, and an easy, alert stride
totally foreign to the mountaineer's slouching gait. A mountain man
accompanied him, but he too was a stranger to the boy.

The man of the new, strange species smiled at the boy's gaping mouth
and wonder-wide eyes.

"Well, son," he said pleasantly, "are you a sportsman too?"

The quick, clear, cultured voice, the unfamiliar accent was so utterly
foreign to anything the boy had ever heard that he could not take in
the import of the words, and amazed silence was his only reply.

"Wal," drawled the mountain guide, "who'd er thought er seein' a chap
lack that heah? Whar'd you come from anyways?"

This was familiar vernacular, and Steve, rising slowly from the
ground, and allowing Tige to make friendly acquaintance with the
strangers, said:

"I lives at Hollow Hut and I comes over here whenever I pleases.
Whar'd you uns come from?"

The man gave a hearty but musical laugh at the ready dignity of the
reply, but the boy's mouth dropped once more in consternation, as
words came again in crisp, foreign accent.

"I came from the city, my lad, to get some of your fine quail and
deer. You are willing I should have a few, are you not? My friend here
is showing me the way."

The mountain folk had proved a most entertaining study for this
sportsman, and his interest was ready for each new specimen
encountered. Turning to the guide he said:

"Suppose we lunch here," and taking out his watch continued, "yes, it
is high time; twelve thirty to the minute."

The boy stepped forward involuntarily for a look at the queer, pretty
thing in the man's hand.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Why, that's a watch, son. Didn't you ever see one?" said the man
kindly.

The guide smiled derisively: "Wal, I reckons not," while the boy, too
interested for reply, asked again:

"What's a watch?" and the man with his genial laugh said:

"Son, we will be greatly pleased if you will take lunch with us. My
name is Polk, Samuel Polk," he said, touching his cap with the
unfailing courtesy of a true gentleman. "And after we eat I will show
you the watch and tell you all about it."

But the mountaineer does not readily eat with "furriners," so Steve
stood near by and looked on while the two men ate very strange things.
Little cans were opened and tiny fish taken out that looked
exceedingly queer. Mr. Polk, trying to persuade the boy to eat,
explained that these were sardines, some square, white things were
crackers, a thick stuff was cheese and that some big, round, yellow
things were oranges. But Steve only stared in silence till the meal
was over though Tige, with no instinctive handicap, accepted delicious
scraps with astonishment and relish.

So amazed, however, had the boy been with it all that he nearly
forgot about the watch. But when he remembered and the man let him
take it in his rusty, brown fingers, that was the most wonderful
moment of all. The tick, tick inside was a marvel, almost a thing
uncanny to the boy, and when it was explained how the hands went round
and round, telling the time of day, it surely seemed a thing beyond
mortal ken.

The guide drawled out with a superior air: "Wal, sonny, you come from
the backwoods shore ef you never heerd tell of a watch before."

The boy looked squarely at him in sullen resentment a moment, but with
such opportunity at hand he wouldn't waste time with the likes of him.
He asked, "What moves them things round?" and the man kindly opened
the watch at the back and displayed all the cunning wheels which
respond to the loosening spring, explained how it was wound each day
to keep it from running down, and in answer to the boy's eager
questions as to how such things were made told him something of watch
manufacture.

At last the wonderful hour was over and the two strange men prepared
to leave.

"Good-bye, son," said the man; "one of these days you will leave the
mountains and go out into the big world to live a life of usefulness
and honour, I hope."

The words, so simple and commonplace to the man, were to the boy like
a telescope lifted to the unknown heavens, but through which he could
not yet look. He watched the men go down the mountainside, the strange
words which he did not comprehend, but was never to forget, ringing in
his ears. A bit of heavy timber hid them at last, and the boy stood
dejected a moment, his heart swelling with an agony of strange
longing, while the dog looked up at him almost pleading to understand.
Then suddenly, with a cry of hope, Steve sprang after them, the dog
following. Breathless he came upon them, and the man turned in
surprise at the tragic voice and face. When the boy could speak he
panted out:

"I've got the bes' fox skin anywheres hereabout. I'll swap it with you
uns fer that watch thing."

The man suppressed a smile and kindly replied:

"Why, lad, I couldn't do without it for the rest of this hunting trip,
but I tell you what I will do. When I get back to the city I'll send
you one."

"Then ef yer'll come home with me I'll give ye the fox skin now," the
boy responded promptly.

"Oh, never mind about the fox skin now; I must get back to camp before
dark and we are many miles away," said the man.

"But I can't take the watch 'thout you git the skin," said the boy
sturdily.

"Well, now, I'll tell you," said the man, realizing that he had struck
the stubborn, independent pride of a mountaineer. "You give me your
name, tell me where you live and I'll send you the watch; then next
time I'm over here I'll get the skin." The address was a difficult
matter to determine, but the mountaineer helped them out.

This satisfied the boy and he saw the two strangers depart with better
spirit, since he could look forward to the coming of the watch. He did
not understand how it would ever reach him, but trusted the stranger
implicitly. When the last sound of departing feet among the underbrush
had died away, Steve turned and went home with long, rapid strides,
the dog recognizing the relief and following with wagging tail.

He found supper on the table, the savoury bacon and hoe-cake greeting
him from the door. The head of the family, lean, lank and brown, was
already transporting huge mouthfuls from the tin platter to his mouth;
the fat, slovenly daughter sat for a moment to rest and cool her face
before beginning to eat, while the mother still occupied a chimney
corner, pipe in mouth, for she "hadn't wanted nothin' to eat lately,
her stomick seemed off the hooks somehow." These, with the boy,
composed the family, a row of graves out under the trees at the back
of the hut filling the long gap between Mirandy, a young woman of
twenty-one, and Steve. The boy sat down, but before he ate that
remarkable tale of his morning experience had to be told. When he was
done the father said:

"Huh, better let city folks alone; don't have nothin' to do with none
of 'em."

The boy, feeling the rebuke, then turned to his supper, but when his
father had gone out to smoke, and Mirandy was in the lane looking for
her sweetheart, Steve stole up to his mother's side and stood digging
his toe in the sand hearth.

"Mammy," he said at last, "what makes that man diffrunt from we uns?"

The old woman smoked a moment in silence and then said:

"Wal, there's a heap over the mountains what makes him diffrunt,--things
we ain' never seen ner heern tell on." She smoked again a puff or two,
then added, "I recken schoolin's the most."

"What's schoolin'?" said the boy.

"Larnin' things," she replied.

The subject of schools had never been discussed in the boy's hearing.
His father didn't believe in them, there wasn't a book, not even a
Bible, in all the scattered little remote mountain community, and if
the boy had ever heard either books or schools mentioned before the
words had made no impression on him.

"Do they larn to make watch things thar?" he asked.

His mother said she supposed so, "she knew they larned out o' things
they called books," and then she explained as best she could to him
what schools and books were. When his father came in again Steve said
boldly:

"Pappy, I'm er goin' over the mountains an' larn how to make them
watch things."

The mountaineer stood as if paralyzed a moment, then his dull eyes
blazed.

"No, you won't nuther! Not a step will ye go! Ye shan't nuver hev
nothin' to do with no city folks, so help me God!"

The boy dropped back cowed and trembling; he had never seen his father
so stirred. He didn't dare ask a question, but when the mountaineer
had seated himself in the chimney corner opposite his wife, he
continued:

"City folks with all their larnin', fine clothes an' fine ways ain't
to be depended on. I wouldn't trus' one of 'em with a jay bird lessen
I wanted to git shed of it. Don't you let me hear no mo' o' your goin'
over the mountains arter city folks."

The prejudice of some mountaineers against the city is deep-seated.
They have little use for the "settlements," meaning the smaller towns,
but the city is their abomination. Jim Langly's prejudice was even
stronger than that of the average mountain man of this type, for it
had been a matter of contention between himself and his wife in the
early days of their married life. She had always longed to see what
was beyond the mountains and besieged him to go till the subject could
no more be mentioned between them.

Steve soon climbed to his bed in a corner of the room with a very
heavy heart. If city folks weren't to be depended on then he would
never get that watch, and all the beautiful visions of learning to do
things in a wonderful new world grew dim and uncertain. So heavy was
his heart as he fell asleep that when he waked at daylight, it was
with a terrible sense of loss and grief. The morning meal over he
wandered off with Tige, dull and dejected, till the unlucky rabbit had
crossed his path and stirred strange, resentful enmity towards his
little familiar contestants of the woods. Sending the dog angrily off
he skinned the rabbit with savage jerks and then carried it at once
back to his home, saying:

"Fry it, 'Randy, fry it dog-goned hard."

His mother caught the sullen, angry tone, and when Mirandy went out
in the kitchen to begin the dinner, she called him from where he sat
on the door-step.

"Come here, sonny."

It was a rare term of endearment, and Steve got up quickly and went to
her side.

"Don't think too much o' whut ye pappy said about city folks. He's
allus hated 'em fer some reason, I don't know whut, 'less hit was
'cause I saw one when I was a gal afore we married, nuver min' how ner
where, and arter that I allus wanted to see whut was over the
mountings. Ef ever ye git a chanct I want ye ter go thar an' larn ter
do things. I'd er done hit ef I'd er been a man. But don't say nothin'
to ye pappy."

This caution was unnecessary; and what a change the simple words made
for Steve! His spirit bounded up into the world of visions again, and
when dinner was on the table he refused to take a mouthful of the
savoury rabbit, so ashamed was he of the manner of its killing.

After this his mind was constantly on the watch which was to come. How
it was to reach him he did not think out, for the simple reason that
he knew nothing of the distance which stretched between him and the
city, nor of methods of communication. No letter or piece of mail of
any sort had ever come to his home, or that of any one else of which
he knew but things of various sorts were gotten from the crossroads
store ten miles away, skillets and pans, axes and hoes, which were
made somewhere, and he supposed some time when some one of the
community went to the store they'd find his watch there. But week
after week went by till spring came on, and nobody went to the store.
The mountain folk indeed had little need of stores. They spun and wove
the cloth for their clothes, raised their corn, pigs, and tobacco,
made their own "sweetin'," long and short, meaning sugar and molasses,
and distilled their own whiskey. So the boy's heart grew heavy again
with the long delay and he began to think bitterly that his father and
not his mother was right, when one day a stranger whom he had never
seen before drove up to the door.



II

A PACKAGE BY MAIL


"Howdye! Does airy feller named Stephen Langly live here?" said the
stranger, reining in his tired, raw-boned steed without difficulty.

Mirandy went to the cabin door, stared a minute in surprise and then
shook her head slowly. But Steve pushed past her saying:

"Yes, thar is, too. I'm Stephen Langly."

"You! Sakes erlive, I clean forgot that was yo' name!" and his sister
laughed lazily, while the stranger joined in.

"Wal, you're a powerful little chap to be a-gittin' mail. But this
here thing has yo' name on it, they tole me at the store, an' so I
brung it along as I was a-comin' this-a-way. Hit's been thar mo' than
three months they tole me."

Steve took the package, his hands trembling with eagerness and would
have darted away to the woods with his treasure where he might look
upon it first alone, but Mirandy stormed when he turned to go, and the
man said:

"'Pears to me you mought show what ye got, when I brung it all this
long ways to ye."

That did seem the fair thing to do, so when they had asked the man to
"light and hitch," Steve sat down on the door-step and removed the
wrappings from the square box; there was tissue paper first, a miracle
of daintiness which the boy had never beheld before, and at last the
watch came to view. Steve lifted it in trembling fingers, and while
Mirandy and the man expressed their admiration his first quivering
words were:

"That other one was yaller."

"Wal, now," said Mirandy, "that one was gold; you couldn't expect that
man to send you no gold."

Mirandy, having a precious gilded trinket, was better posted on the
colour and value of metals than Steve, though she made a slight error
in her next statement.

"This hern is silver; that's the next thing to gold," and the bright
nickel of the Waterbury twinkled in the spring sunshine as though
trying to measure up to its admirers' estimate.

"A silver watch," said the stranger after he had heard the story of
that autumn day with its promise of a watch which was just now
fulfilled--"wal, you air a lucky boy, shore."

Mrs. Langly called feebly from within, and Steve went and laid it on
the bed beside her. Her "stomick had never seemed to get on the
hooks," as she expressed it, all winter; her spinning-wheel and loom
had been long silent, and for a few days she had not left her bed.

Her eyes gleamed with strange, new fire as they fell upon the shining
thing which belonged to another world from theirs, and when Steve had
laboriously wound it, which he had not forgotten how to do, setting
the wonderful machinery running, she whispered to him:

"Remember you air goin' whar you kin larn to make things lack that."

Steve's shining eyes answered hers, though the boy failed to catch the
light of prophecy and final benediction which they held. Hugging his
treasure, with no hint of oncoming change he went out to feed the
stranger's horse while Mirandy prepared the dinner.

It was not until the visitor had gone and Steve was in the solitude of
the woods with Tige that he found fullest joy in his new possession.
It seemed to him he could never in all his life take his eyes from it
again. He watched the hands go round and round, the little flying
second hand, the more leisurely minute marker and the creeping hand
which told the hours as they passed. Then again and again the back
was opened and the busy little wheels held his breathless interest. He
took no notice of Tige, but the old dog knew that his mate was happy
and lay content beside him. Although for the first time in possession
of a noter of the hours, he lost all account of time and did not move
from the mossy bed where he had thrown himself until it was too late
to see either hands or wheels. Then he called Tige to come and hurried
back to his home to sit by the cabin firelight till Mirandy made him
go to bed. The family all slept in the same room, three beds occupying
corners; this main room and the lean-to kitchen constituting the whole
house.

Steve's watch never left his hand the long night through, and for the
first time in his uneventful life he slept fitfully, waking every
little while to make sure it was there.

Jim Langly was away for a few days "to a logrolling" several miles
away and did not return until dusk of the evening after Steve's watch
came. The boy sat again by the firelight, watch in hand, when Jim
walked in at the door. His eyes fell at once upon the strange, shining
thing and his face was convulsed with sudden wrath:

"Didn't I tell ye to have nothin' to do with city folks? Ye shan't
keep that thing. I'll smash it, so he'p me God!" But before he could
lift a hand a scream came from the bed, and Mrs. Langly sat up wild
and dishevelled.

"Let him hev it, Jim Langly, let him hev it," and then she dropped
back gray and still. Jim Langly had seen that gray stillness before,
and he stood looking upon it now in dumb terror. His wife had been
ailing a long time, it was true, yet no one had thought of death. But
the grim visitor was there in all his quiet majesty. The weary spirit,
which had for so many years longed for flight into new haunts of men,
had winged its way at last to a far, mysterious country of which she
had heard little, but towards which for months past she had been
reaching out with a strange prescience of which no one guessed.

It was a dreary night at the cabin. No one tried to sleep. Jim Langly
said no more to Steve about the watch, and the boy wore it in his
bosom attached to a stout string about his neck, keeping it out of
sight, and sobbing in the stillness of the woods as he wandered with
Tige, "Mammy wanted me to have it." And though his joy in it for the
time was gone, there was peculiar comfort in this thought of her
approval. The old dog looked up in the boy's face from time to time
pitifully, or stuck his nose in the lad's hand, knowing well, in a way
dogs have, what had happened.

Next day the wife and mother was laid to rest beside the row of little
graves, and life completely changed for Steve. He went to bed as usual
in his corner of the room, but he could not forget the still form
which had lain in another corner the night before, and while Mirandy
and his father slept heavily, he slipped from the bed, took a blanket
and with Tige at his heels went into the woods again. Here in the
stillness which he loved, worn out with loss of sleep and his first
encounter with grief, nestling close to old Tige slumber came and held
him until late the next day. His father and Mirandy paid little
attention to what he did, so night after night he took his blanket and
dog and slept in the woods, the two only going to the cabin for
meals.

During all these strange, restless days the words of Steve's mother
came to him over and over: "Remember you air goin' whar you kin larn
to make things lack that watch." And he thought, "How am I a-goin'
lessen I jes' go?" He knew his father would never give him permission,
it was not worth while to ask it, so gradually his plans took shape in
the solitude of the woods with no one to counsel. Had the boy known
what distance lay between him and his goal he would have grown
faint-hearted, but he had no conception of what his undertaking meant.
So he laid his plans with good courage, which plans, of course,
included the taking of his dog. For three or four days Steve took an
extra share of corn pone and bacon, Mirandy not noticing in her
shiftless manner of providing, and feeling the loss of her mother, she
was even more listless than usual. These extra rations for himself and
Tige Steve carried to the woods and laid away. Then his beloved fox
skin, the greatest treasure which he possessed beside the watch, he
must take that with him, because it was "the man's"; he had promised
it in return for the watch, and now that he was going he must take it
along to give to the man. The boy had no thought of any difficulty in
such a search. The food, the skin, the watch, and the scanty clothes
he wore constituted all his equipment for the journey. When he started
out with the skin Mirandy lazily asked what he was going to do with
it, and he replied: "Use it fer a piller in the woods."

"Ye better quit sleepin' out thar," she said; "somethin' 'll eat ye up
some night."

"I ain't a-feerd," he said, and she thought no more about it.

Three days passed with a good accumulation of food, and as Steve and
Tige lay down to sleep at night the boy said:

"Tige, we've gotter be a-goin' 'bout day arter ter-morrer," and the
dog wagged sleepy assent. But next morning when Steve wakened a
peculiar stillness smote him. Tige was usually alert at his least
move. With intuitive alarm Steve put out his hand,--and touched a
rigid body! Drawing back he sprang to his feet, a cry of anguished
appeal on his lips:

"O Tige, Tige, ye ain't dead too?"

But death makes no reply. His lifelong playmate lay straightened out
in that last unalterable, mysterious sleep.

The boy was too stunned for tears. He knelt beside his dog in silent
misery. After a long while he rose from the ground and going to a
moss-covered rock near by where laurel and forget-me-nots blossomed
and rhododendron bells hung in clusters, with a stout stick and his
sturdy hands he dug beneath the rock an opening large enough to hold
his dead dog. Then he went back to where his old playmate lay, and
lifting the stiffened body in his arms he stumbled blindly to the rock
and laid it away.

Towards evening he slowly made his lonely way home.

Mirandy, missing the dog at last, inquired: "Whar's Tige?" and Steve's
stiff lips articulated the one word, "Dead."

She replied indifferently, "Wal, he want no 'count any mo'. I reckons
hit's a good thing."

Steve had no answer and with swelling heart made his way to the woods
to sleep alone. It was long before he could sleep, and as he lay in
the unbearable loneliness, he decided that next morning he would start
on that journey to the unknown. Perhaps to that new world sorrow would
not follow! He would not need so much food now; he had enough saved
already. The death of the dog urged him on to his purpose as nothing
else could have done.

He went down to the cabin next morning for the last time. It was a
warm spring morning. Passing Mirandy sitting on the door-step, her
breakfast dishes not yet washed, he paused a minute, longing to say
something, for although the bond between them was of blood and not of
the heart, yet she was part of the life from which he was tearing
himself away, and he longed to sob out a good-bye. But he must not, so
choking down words and tears he stumbled off, never once looking back.
His father sat in the chimney corner smoking his morning pipe, but
father and son had always lacked interests in common, and the coming
of the watch had put an insurmountable barrier between them. So
Steve's only thought in passing him had been to escape suspicion. It
was to his mother that the boy had always shyly told his day-dreams in
the woods,--dreams which reached out into a wonder world lying beyond
the mountains. And she had smoked her pipe in silent sympathy,
occasionally asking: "Did ye see big houses, rows and rows of 'em on
land, and some a-ridin' the water? I've hearn tell of 'em in my day,"
so furnishing inspiration for more dreams in the future.

"O Mammy, O Tige," sobbed the boy when safe at last in the woods, and
he threw himself down in an agony of weeping beside the rock where the
old dog lay buried. When calm at last, he took up his bundle of bread
and bacon wrapped about with his fox skin, and started slowly away. He
took no thought as to direction, he was simply "goin'," as his mother
had told him. A dismal rain soon set in, but on and on he persistently
tramped all the long day, water dripping from his ragged trousers and
old hat as he went farther and farther away from all he had ever
known. He met no one, saw no habitation anywhere, only the startled
denizens of the wood scurrying here and there out of his path. Over
mountains and across ravines he went on and on. He was puzzled and
discouraged when night dropped down, and his aching feet and tired
legs said he must have travelled many miles. "Shorely I'll git thar
to-morrer," he said, as he lay down upon his fox skin, but another
weary day of tramping over unknown ways without sight of any human
being brought terror to his sturdy heart and when he lay down alone at
night he felt that he was the only human being in the universe. Oh, if
he only had Tige!

All the people he had known and those he expected to see beyond the
mountains seemed to have sunk into some great unseen abyss. He could
never find his way back to the old cabin, he knew, and he began to
feel that he could never reach forward to the wonderful city of which
he had dreamed. In the agony of loneliness and the chill of night
which settled upon him he cried again, "O Tige, O Mammy!" Did the
tender mother-arms reach down and draw her boy near to the heart of
God? At any rate he grew quiet. He remembered vaguely that he had
heard how God is everywhere, and with a new strange sense of
companionship with the great Creator, which comes to souls in
extremity, he fell asleep and did not waken until the sun, bursting
forth with new brilliance after the day of rain, had lit up the
mountain tops and set the birds to singing.

He enjoyed the breakfast of very hard corn pone and bacon, and took
out his beloved watch. The busy, little shining thing, which he never
forgot to wind, did not mean much to him as a marker of time, for he
knew little about the hours as enumerated by the watch, but it was on
this morning of new courage a fresh pledge of wonderful things
awaiting him. He started on again with steady strides, and tramped
bravely till mid afternoon without adventure.

Suddenly, without premonition, his heart thrilled at faint sounds
which seemed marvellously like those of a human voice. He stood still
a moment in an agony of uncertainty, straining eye and ear for
confirmation.

Yes, he was right! He caught the crackle of dry twigs and underbrush,
while the faint human tones grew clear and distinct. Under the
discipline of loneliness and distress the face of the untutored boy
beamed with eager welcome which held no reserve and caught no
suspicious glimmer of lurking treachery as near-by bushes parted and
steps were close upon him.



III

IN THE WILDERNESS


Two men were before him, men very similar in appearance to those Steve
had known, though with something in their faces which made him draw
back even in the moment of joy at meeting others of his kind.

"Sakes erlive, Bub, whar'd ye come from?" called the taller, harder
looking of the two.

"I come from Hollow Hut," answered the boy with his simple dignity.

"And whar you goin' to?" called the other man, while both laughed
unpleasantly.

"Ter the city," said the boy.

"Wal, now, that's a pretty nice fox skin ye got rolled up thar," said
the tall one as they came closer. "S'pose you jes' hand that over to
us."

"I can't," said the boy, holding it tighter in real alarm. "I swapped
it with a man fer a watch, an' I'm a-takin' it ter him."

"Is that so!" exclaimed the tall man. "So you've got a watch, hev ye?
Who'd a-thought it,"--and they both haw-hawed loudly. "Now, ye can
jes' han' that over too, fer we mean bizness, don't we, Bill?"

And with that they pounced upon the terrified boy, jerked the fox skin
from his clinging fingers and soon brought forth from its hiding-place
in his bosom the beautiful, beautiful watch! Steve fought like a small
tiger, but he was no match for them and stunned and bruised he soon
lay upon the ground while the two men walked off, never once looking
back at their helpless victim.

For a few minutes Steve could not think, so severe had been their
cruel blows; then indignation, such as he had never known in his life,
swept over him in a sudden flood. He sprang to his feet, ignoring pain
and keenly watching which way they went, stealthily followed after.
For two hours he kept within hearing of them, though being careful
always that they did not get a glimpse of him. He did not know what he
was going to do, but when they finally halted for the night he halted
too. The men had also taken the last of his corn pone and bacon; there
was nothing for him to eat, but he did not even think of it, so
intently was he listening. Soon they began to sing and laugh very
loudly and he knew then they had plenty of whiskey with them. Hope
rose in his heart. After a bit they would fall into heavy sleep. He
knew well the ways of drink.

Soon all was still, and after waiting a while till the sleep was deep
he crept upon them. Fortunately the moon was up in its full glory and
Steve could see plainly what he was about. He crept up close to the
two snoring men and across the feet of the tall one lay his fox skin.

"I must git that anyways," said the boy to himself, "for it belongs to
the man in the city."

Slowly, cautiously he lifted it from the big heavy feet, and there was
not a stir. Then he stood, his heart almost bursting with longing for
his watch. It was in the big man's pocket he was sure, and he stooped
close a minute, reaching out a hand,--but he didn't dare. If he waked
them, skin and watch would both be gone, and he must by all means get
the skin to give to the man in the city. He went sorrowfully away with
only the skin. He didn't dare stop near them, so he tramped half the
night in spite of frequent twinges in his left ankle which had had a
little twist as the men threw him down, and at last the boy dropped
upon the ground, utterly exhausted, to sleep until noon next day.

When he wakened, stiff and sore from the blows of the men, and tried
to get upon his feet he found that left ankle so swollen and painful
he could not put the foot to the ground. He realized for the first
time also with great consternation that he had nothing to eat.
Bruised, sore, empty, helpless he sat alone in the woods. But even
then he did not know the desolation of the night before. He felt once
more that comforting sense of companionship with the great Creator,
and he faced the situation sturdily.

He crept about on his knees hunting berries which he knew were good to
eat. It was a laborious way to get breakfast, or more properly dinner,
but he succeeded in finding enough to still somewhat the gnawing in
his empty stomach, and suddenly as he lifted his head a road lay
before him. With hope that was almost a tranquil certainty he crept to
the roadside and sat down. An hour or more passed with only the call
and song of birds to break the stillness,--when, list! There was
surely a rumble of wheels! And then the cry came distinctly, "Git up
thar!"

Tears of joy rained down the boy's face as a covered wagon drawn by
four mules came into view, though he sturdily brushed them aside as
the wagon drove up and halted.

"Hello, thar," called a lusty youthful voice, and the driver, a young
fellow of perhaps nineteen who was mounted on one of the mules, turned
round and saw at a glance the swollen, helpless foot.

"Done up, air ye, Bub? Whar do ye belong anyways?"

Steve knew at once that these people were friends, and told them his
little story.

"I want to git to the city, so's to give the skin to the man thar an'
then I'm goin' to larn to make watches an' things," he concluded.

"Wal, you air a long piece from the city, but we uns kin help ye git
to the railroad and that'll take ye to the city."

Several heads of varying sizes were sticking out of the wagon by this
time, and when Steve had been helped in among the occupants he found
it was a family moving from one little hamlet to another. The husband
and father had recently died and they were going back to their
mother's home to live among her "kin."

The kindly mother at once bound up Steve's injured foot with white of
egg and salt, which she said would "fetch it round all right," and
hearing the empty rumbles of his poor little stomach she said she
didn't believe "thar was a thing inside of it," and proceeded to give
him a good square meal.

Was there ever anything happier than to be driving along the road with
a comfortable foot, a full stomach and in the midst of friends! Steve
had never known greater joy than that moment held. They were a
"happy-go-lucky" family he had fallen in with,--and for the first time
in his life he was in the midst of the merry banter of children. The
mountain folk of remote regions lack a sense of humour, and Steve had
grown up entirely alone, the cabins of Hollow Hut being scattered, so
he sat through the afternoon in a maze of delight. There were snickers
and giggles, punching in the ribs and tickling of toes from these
children who lived on the border of civilization, for Steve had really
gone blindly towards his goal.

As they drove gaily along Steve heard a sudden rumbling which
suggested thunder, the children cried, "The train, the train," and
stopping the mules quickly the big brother who was driving jumped
down, while three of the children sprang out with a bound and all
grasped the bridles at their heads. It was done so quickly there
wasn't time to ask a question and then a monster came tearing,
puffing, hissing past them. Steve's eyes almost started from their
sockets and when it was past he sank back limp and quivering.

"Why, chile, didn't ye nuver see no railroad trains afore?" said the
good mother.

Steve managed to say, "No," and then the children told him all the
astonishing things about railroads. To his mingled joy and terror
another came along from the opposite direction when they had driven on
about a mile further, and this time it came more slowly, making a
full stop near them.

"Whut air they a-doin' that for?" asked Steve, and when it was
explained that they had stopped for fuel or water, there being no
station near, a quivering light broke over his face, and remembering
his watch as his mind tried to grasp new sources of motion, he said:

"They're jes' a-stoppin' to wind hit up, then."

Very soon after this they came to a cabin by the roadside and all the
family within poured out to see the strangers.

"Won't you light and hitch?" drawled the man of the house, but the boy
driver refused, saying they wanted "to git to their kin afore night."
He suggested to Steve, however, that if he wanted to go to the city he
had better stop there, for they were going further from any station
than he would be there. The folks of the cabin were hearty in their
invitation to the boy when they had heard his story, even the fact of
his probable helplessness for a while not marring the beauty of their
royal hospitality. So Steve was carefully lifted out and helped in
among new friends.

The little cabin was full to overflowing with boys and girls, one girl
of fifteen fondling her baby as she would a big doll, in ignorant,
unlawful, and one perhaps should say innocent motherhood. She, a waif
herself, had come along needing shelter and they had taken her in.

When Steve had had his supper pallets were spread everywhere about the
cabin floor upon which the family went to rest fully clothed, after
the fashion of mountaineers, and to the boy the night was a great
contrast from the previous one in the loneliness of the woods. He
thought of his own home as he had never done since he left it,
wondering if his father and Mirandy would like to see him, but he
never dreamed of how they had searched the woods for miles around when
he was missed the second day after leaving. His failure to return the
first day and night they thought little of, for he frequently did not
come back after morning, but the second day's absence had brought real
alarm, and when they found his blanket Mirandy said she knew something
had killed and eat him up; she had forgotten about the fox skin which
in that case should also have been there. But Jim Langly set his teeth
grimly and said the boy had gone off "along o' that watch," and he did
not cease to make inquiry as he had opportunity, trying to trace his
son, while he angrily threatened to kill that city man if ever he
"showed up agin in them parts."



IV

A HALT ON THE ROAD


Steve spent a week in the crowded but hospitable cabin of his latest
friends resting the swollen foot. It was not seriously sprained and
would have given him no trouble but for the long tramp upon it the
night before and his general fatigue.

He had an interesting time with this family on the roadside. They were
of the most shiftless type of mountain folk. Life was a long holiday
to them, every meal a picnic. There were too many to gather about the
table in the little log lean-to, so the elders only sat down at meal
times. The children came up shuffling, pushing and squirming good
naturedly to get their portions and ran away again full-handed to sit
on the door-step or flat upon the ground outside while they ate.
Sometimes one ambitious consumer would succeed in disposing of his
viands more rapidly than the others and then woe to some small
delinquent! His food would be snatched away and a lively fisticuff
probably follow during which the inevitable "yaller dog" was usually
the gainer. The disturbance at times reached a height which brought
the mother lazily to the door with a mild:

"Now ef ye alls don't quit fussin', I'll set the boogers arter ye
ter-night," which was a dire and telling threat, for, to the mountain
children, "boogers" meant ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, thieves, or any
other terrible, mysterious creature of the night.

Steve went up to the table with the rest for his portion of food, and
took his chances with the other children if a squabble began.
Association with the children was most enjoyable to Steve. They told
marvellous tales about giants and mountain feuds and the mother's
threat of "boogers" was sure to stir up all their recollections about
ghosts. Wherever there was a "killin'" as the result of a mountain
feud ghosts were sure to congregate and marvellous were the tales
which clustered about each bloody spot. Steve being a new listener
must hear all these old tragic stories.

When meals were over, the family disposed themselves to their liking.
The head of the house invariably lit his pipe and sat in the chimney
corner to smoke, a custom quite familiar to Steve. The mother washed
the skillet and few utensils used about the meal, smoking her pipe the
while. The young girl sat down outside in the sun to play with her
baby, the big boys perhaps went off hunting and the children wandered
aimlessly in and out.

The fields of corn and tobacco had been planted and now there was
little to do but watch it grow, so they thought. The hogs practically
took care of themselves. What more could any one demand, a blank look
would unconsciously have inquired, if asked why they did not work.

When the day was over and the troop of children began to grow sleepy,
one after another dropped down upon the cabin floor, perhaps upon a
pallet, perhaps not, and fell asleep. The older ones followed in the
same way, as inclination suggested, and room was cheerfully made for
Steve among the rest. For a night or two the full chorus of audible
breathing wakened him frequently, but he soon became accustomed to
it.

In the morning the voice of some child was apt to be heard first:

"Mammy, I'm hongry."

And the reply would come, "Now you shet up, 'tain't time ter be
gittin' up yit," or perhaps the satisfied parent would yawn and say:

"Wal, I reckons I might as well git up and stop ye mouth," and so the
household would gradually emerge from slumber.

This was the normal daily life, but comedy and tragedy came to them
as to the rest of the world, and Steve had a taste of both during his
stay of a week.

Unlike Hollow Hut it was a somewhat thickly settled community and one
moonlight night some young folks from neighbouring cabins came in.
Steve's friends made the visitors welcome and hailed with delight the
banjo which one of them had brought. The young folks were out for a
frolic and laugh and joke were ready.

Pretty soon the banjo began to tune up and set everybody's feet to
patting.

"Clear out things," called one of the boys, and in no time the few
articles the room held were out of the way. Then the air vibrated with
"Hook and Line," "Sourwood Mountain," and other lively tunes, while
everybody danced except Steve, who crept to the farthest corner and in
wonder looked and listened. He had never seen dancing or heard music
before.

The girl with the baby came and dropped it down upon his lap while she
joined in the fun, and it almost seemed that the cabin itself would
break from its moorings in the abandon of rollicking, swaying motion.

When everybody was tired out the banjo player, a young fellow with
deep-set black eyes and the unmistakable look of an artist in embryo,
swung into a monologue accompanied by the banjo, part talk, part
song, describing a fox hunt which was most fascinating and altogether
remarkable.

He called the hounds with "Here Tige," "Here Jack," "Here Spot," "Here
Bob-tail," interspersed with the tooting of a horn, long musical
whistles and the banjo striking soft staccato chords. He mustered the
men, he raced the horses with excited calls of "Git up thar," and gave
clever imitation of fleeing hoofs, "to-bucket, to-bucket, to-bucket,"
in a rapid, low, chanting song. Then the leading hound opened with a
plaintive bay "how!-oo-oo-oo, how!-oo-oo-oo," and one by one the
others joined in with varying notes till it swelled to a weird chorus
of baying hounds which the banjo and the musician's voice made most
realistic. Next the fox was spied and there were cries of "Hello! Ho!
Here he is!" "There he runs," with the banjo thumping like mad! Then
the medley shaded down into a wild, monotonous drumming from the
strings and the voice, which represented most thrillingly the chase at
full height. At last the fox was caught with dogs barking, men
calling, and banjo shrilling a triumphant strain in stirring climax.

Steve followed it all in breathless excitement, and the rest of the
audience received it with boisterous enthusiasm.

After this somebody started the lovely old ballad, "Barbary Allen," in
which all joined; then, "I have a True Love in the Army," and "The
Swapping Song" followed, while "Whistle up your Dogs, Boys, and
Shoulder your Guns," made lively the leave-taking and echoed back from
far down the road.

Then there was a night of tragedy during Steve's visit. The sleepers
of the cabin were suddenly aroused by blood-curdling whoops and yells,
gunshots, racing horses and running men. Everybody was instantly alert
and the family turned out of the cabin en masse. It was thrilling. All
knew well what it meant. The head of the house and older boys joined
the fleeing crowd like dogs in a chase.

"That's Bud Levit's folks and the Cuneys done broke out agin 'bout
that ole fuss, I bet," drawled the wife and mother, when the tumult
had died down to faint echoes.

"I reckon thar'll be a big killin' this time," said one of the
children with zest.

"Thar shore was a passle er folks and a pile er shootin'," said
another enthusiastically.

"Now, you-alls git back to bed an' shet up," said the mother, and her
brood gradually quieted down.

Next day when the man of the house and older boys returned about dark,
full of whiskey and full of talk, a most exciting tale was unfolded
to the eager listeners.

"Hit was the biggest killin' whut's been in these parts fur many er
day," said the man with pride. "I'll tell ye when they did git
together they fit lack beastes. When ev'ythin' was over thar was five
on 'em a-layin' in their blood. Three of the Levits an' two of the
Cuneys."

"Wal, I hope they'll keep quiet fer a spell now," commented the
woman.

Then all the ghastly details were gone over with the children
listening eagerly, drinking it in as they would a story of an exciting
hunt. When the children discussed it afterwards one little fellow said
to another: "I tell yer what, I'm er goin' ter be a fighter jes' lack
them Levits. I'll shoot 'em down ef anybody comes foolin' round me."

Steve listened soberly. The experience was not a new one to him, but
he remembered that his "Mammy" had always said she didn't like
killings and that mountain folks ought to "larn better some way." The
words came back to the boy with peculiar meaning since the voice which
uttered them was still. He said nothing, but it all made him more
anxious to move on towards that other world of which he and "Mammy"
had dreamed.

The following morning his foot seeming fully restored and clearing
weather having come after several days of rain, Steve said "he thought
he'd move on."

"Whar ye goin'?" said the man of the house who had paid little
attention to him before.

"I'm er goin' to the railroad fust, an' then from thar to the city to
give the fox skin to the man, an' to larn things."

"Larn things," said the man scornfully, not being in the best of
humour after the previous day's dissipation. "Huh! I s'pose ye'll be
goin' to some er them city schools. Ye better go on back whar you come
from. Schoolin' ain't no good ter anybody. Hit's them schools whut
larns folks to go 'round pesterin' other folks, breakin' up 'stills.'
Folks has got jest as good er right ter make whiskey es anything
else," which showed in what he was especially interested.

Steve made no answer for the man was too forbidding in his irritability,
but the boy kept to his determination to press on at once towards the
railroad. After breakfast was over he went back to see the woman of
the house, and in lazy kindness she said she wished she had a little
bread and meat to give him but "there wan't none left," which Steve
was quite prepared to hear, for there were many mouths to feed and
never any left.

"I hope ye'll git thar all right. I reckons ye'll git somethin' to eat
on the road, and ef ye're ever to come this-a-way agin come an' see
us," she drawled as she smoked.

"Ye been mighty good ter me," said Steve, "an' I ain't nuver goin' ter
forgit it."

He passed the children about the door-step, his fox skin under his
arm, and they stood and watched him leave with a sort of sorrowful
solemnity. Goodbyes are a thing unknown to mountain folk.

Then he walked off without much thought as to direction, having a
definite impression, however, as to the way he should go, which was
part instinct and partly remembrance of what the boy on the moving
wagon had told him. The people he had left were too inert to think of
giving him any instructions. But down the road he passed the big boys
of the house sitting idly by the roadside. They had heard with
satisfaction their father's opinion as to Steve's going in search of
"larnin'." As Steve came in sight one of them nudged the other and
said, "Less throw him off the scent."

"Which-a-way ye goin', Bub?" he asked when Steve came up.

Then for the first time Steve stopped and thought.

"Why, that-a-way," he replied pointing.

The big boys laughed boisterously. "Ye'll nuver git to no railroad
goin' that-a-way. Thar's the way ye want ter go," said one, pointing
off at a slightly different angle, which made the greatest difference
in the boy's ultimate destination.

Steve looked doubtfully, but when he reflected a moment he remembered
that he really did not know positively in what direction to go.

"Is that so?" he inquired looking earnestly at the boys.

"Hit shore is," returned both of them.

"How fur is it?" asked Steve.

"Oh, 'tain't fur," said one of the boys; "ye ought ter git thar before
night easy. You go straight as a crow flies that-a-way," pointing as
he had before, "and ye'll come to the railroad tracks. Ye can't miss
hit fer ye're bound to cross 'em, an' ef ye go straight, lack I tell
ye, ye'll be right at the station."

The boy on the moving wagon had described the railroad tracks to him,
so Steve started off feeling reassured, and it never occurred to him
that any one could be mean enough to misdirect him. It was a pity the
echoes from the boisterous laughter of the boys when he was out of
hearing could not have reached the little traveller's ears, but they
did not, and Steve pressed on with good spirits feeling that he was
almost in sight of his goal with less than a day's journey before
him.

He turned at once from the road and went on and on, knowing as well as
the crow how to keep straight with the compass, although like the
crow he had never heard of one. The straight path took him quickly
into the wilderness, but that did not dismay him as wilderness travel
had become most familiar to him. At noon he began to feel so empty, he
longed for just a little piece of corn bread. And then remembering
that the mother thought he'd get something to eat on the road he began
looking cheerfully for the smoke of a cabin somewhere. He had been
vaguely disappointed at striking no road anywhere, but he had not
asked the boys any particulars as to the route. Everything so far in
his journeying had been unexpected, and the possibilities of routes
were so totally unknown to him that he had started on again, as when
he left home, unquestioning.

The empty stomach continued to cry loudly for food as the afternoon
wore on, and no cabin smoke gave token of life anywhere. He did not
suffer from thirst for mountain streams and springs were abundant. He
pressed bravely forward, cheering himself with the thought that the
boys had said he would come to the tracks before dark. But twilight
began creeping in among the forest trees and still no tracks were in
sight. Anxiously he listened for the terrible yet thrilling rush of a
train which he remembered so well. He ought to be in hearing distance
of them by now. But nothing broke the forest stillness save the
twitter and song of birds, the scurrying of rabbits or frisking of
squirrels with occasionally the sound of some larger animal in the
underbrush.

Finally night fell with the poor boy straining his anxious eyes for
the shining tracks of which he had heard. He forced his aching limbs
along till suddenly, with a quivering sob, his strength seemed all to
go and he sank upon the ground in a pitiful heap. He was too exhausted
to think and in a few moments was sound asleep.

He lay upon the summit of a rugged mountain, which dropped precipitately
down just beyond the sleeping boy, to ripple off again in lesser
lofty heights, with beautiful fertile valleys and tossing streams
between. A little, lonely, helpless human soul he lay upon Nature's
majestic bosom, with the Infinite hand beneath his head.

In the morning when he waked billows of mist in silver splendour were
rolling slowly from the valleys below, like Nature's incense rising in
her sacred morning hour.

Although born in the mountains the mystic grandeur of the scene filled
Steve with awe. Rising, he gazed, a part of the worshipful silence,
and then as the sun burst suddenly into golden glory above the waves
of mist, his mind as suddenly seemed to shoot up from the mists of
fatigue and sleep. It was the peculiarly clear brain which sometimes
comes with long abstinence from food. Instantly he knew that he had
been fooled!

Turning to look back over the way he had come he said to himself:
"Them boys told me wrong, an' they did hit a purpose. They're lack
their pappy, they don't want to larn nothin' an' they don't want
nobody else ter nuther."



V

A DOUBLE RESCUE


The boy stood quietly on the mountain top and took his bearings. He
knew the way he had come, and remembering his previous impressions,
and what his friend on the moving wagon had said, he turned at last
and started down at an acute angle from the direction he had come. He
gathered again as he went whatever he knew to be good to eat in the
way of berries and herbs, but he soon began to feel so weary that he
could hardly drag himself along. Had he gotten out of the wilderness
only to plunge into it again and be lost? For as the day went on and
he met no one, saw no cabin or the long-looked-for railroad tracks,
discouragement and anxiety beset him. Noon passed again. Sometimes he
thought he must stop and rest, but he was afraid if he did he could
never get up again. His fatigue and hunger were far greater than in
his previous experience in the wilderness, for he had never eaten
heartily at the roadside cabin, knowing that food was not abundant
there. So he was not in the best of trim for a long fast and great
physical strain.

The remnants of his courage were wearing away when at last he seemed
to be emerging into a more open country. He was still in the woods,
but there was a subtle difference. He felt somehow that man was in
proximity somewhere, though he had as yet seen no sign. His pulses
quickened a little, and then suddenly a child's scream rang out.

Steve bounded forward at first with joy, and then as scream after
scream followed, with the unmistakable agony of fear in the cry,
forgetting his deadly weariness he ran swiftly in the direction of the
sound, dropping the fox skin as he ran. In a breathless moment he came
in sight of a good sized tree, and hanging from a high limb by the
skirt of her dress was a little girl, head downward.

Steve saw in an instant that she could not help herself, and that she
might fall to her death any moment. He did not pause or hesitate. Up
the tree he went, his bare feet clinging to the sides, up and up in a
twinkling, then he carefully crept out upon the limb and drew the
little girl safely up beside him.

"Oh," she said when she had recovered her equilibrium and gotten her
breath, "I thank you so much," and even then Steve was conscious that
he had never seen anything so pretty in all his life as the blue eyes
which looked up into his, and the soft yellow curls which framed her
little face. But he hurried to get her down safely. With infinite care
he helped her until she could go on down the tree alone, and then, he
did not know what happened, but things suddenly seemed to whirl round
and he fell to the ground in an unconscious heap.

The next he knew some one was wiping his face with a damp cloth and
chafing his hands. He was too tired to open his eyes and see who it
was. Then a woman's voice was saying in a worried but gentle tone:

"What were you doing in the tree, Nancy? You know I don't like for you
to climb trees."

"Why, mother," replied a frightened little voice, "I found a poor
little birdie out of its nest, and I pinned it up tight in my apron
pocket and carried it up the tree and put it into the nest. The father
and mother bird were so worried about it. I didn't know I was going to
fall, and make this boy fall too, and hurt himself so bad," and the
small voice broke pitifully.

"You never should have tried to do such a thing," said her mother
firmly, and then as the little voice went into sobs, Steve opened his
eyes in a brave effort to try to assure them he was all right.

"Oh, I'm so glad you are better," exclaimed the woman who knelt beside
him.

She looked so kind and nice that Steve struggled to get up and further
reassure her, but there seemed weights holding him down and a sharp
pain thrust through and through his left arm.

"I am afraid you have broken your arm," said the woman anxiously.
"Nancy, you run right over to the store and get your father," she said
to the little girl. And Steve watched a white pinafore and flying
yellow curls through a half-conscious dream mist, with a satisfied
sense that he was at last in the new world of his visions.

And he was, for he had stumbled blindly through a bit of wood at the
back of Mr. Follet's, the station-master's home, and just in time to
rescue his little girl.

Mrs. Follet had heard the child's screams, for the tree was in the
edge of the wood only a little way from the house, and she reached the
place just after Steve had fallen to the ground, having seen the
child's perilous position and Steve's rescue. She had dampened her
handkerchief in a near-by spring and worked over the boy until
consciousness returned.

The little white pinafore was soon running back with Mr. Follet
walking rapidly.

"What under the cano_pee_ does all this mean?" he asked excitedly as
he came up, although Nancy had told him about the accident. "Are you
hurt much, boy?" he went on.

Steve heard what was said in a vague way, but he couldn't reply and
Mrs. Follet explained that she didn't think the boy was fully
conscious yet, and they would have to try to get him to the house.

So Mr. Follet, who was a small but very wiry man, soon had him up in
his arms, while Mrs. Follet supported his head and together they
carried him to the house and laid him down on a couch. Then Mrs.
Follet quickly fixed him a hot drink and gave it slowly to him. With
each swallow the sturdy boy felt stronger, and by the time he had
taken a cup full, was able to talk freely.

"Where under the cano_pee_ did you come from anyway? You don't live
hereabouts, do you?" asked Mr. Follet, who was of the restless,
nervous temperament which must know things at once.

"Now, Pa," said Mrs. Follet, "you must get the doctor to set his arm
before you ask him anything," and Mr. Follet started off.

Steve looked curiously at the arm hanging limply by his side. He had
never seen a broken arm before though he had heard that arms and legs
could break and be mended like hoe or ax handles.

By questioning, Mrs. Follet found that he had had nothing to eat
since the day before, so she prepared him a dainty meal which filled
the mountain boy with wonder. There was a poached egg, a bit of toast
and a cup of hot milk, none of which had he ever tasted or seen
prepared before. But it all was very, very good, and as he ate Nancy
slipped shyly into the room. She had stayed outside in frightened
misery, feeling that all the trouble was her fault. Her mother said
kindly:

"That's right, child, come on in; our boy is better now." The little
girl sat down timidly on the edge of a chair, and Steve took in the
complete vision.

Soft yellow locks strayed out from a ribbon and tumbled about before a
pair of deep blue eyes. Round cheeks were pink and soft, sweet lips
were red and shyly smiling, a white apron with ruffles almost covered
a blue gingham dress. The boy held his breath at the beauty of the
apparition. He had never dreamed of anything so sweet and pretty in
all the world.

It was not long before Mr. Follet returned with the doctor and the
broken arm was successfully set, Steve bearing the pain "like a
trump," as Mr. Follet put it. Then Mrs. Follet said he must go to bed
at once, and he went up a tiny flight of stairs to a bed in a little
attic chamber which she had made ready. Knowing the ways of mountain
folk, Mrs. Follet did not insist that he undress, as the task would
be difficult for him with the broken arm. He slept soundly in spite of
pain in the arm upon a remarkable bed "off the floor" and awoke
feeling well, and eager to see again his new friends.

When he got down the stairs, Mrs. Follet was busy getting the
breakfast, and Mr. Follet was ready with questions.

"Where under the cano_pee_ (which was a favourite expression with Mr.
Follet) did you drap from yesterday, just in time to save our Nancy?
You don't live hereabouts, do you?"

"No," said Steve, "I come from Hollow Hut."

"And where's that?" returned Mr. Follet.

Steve couldn't tell very clearly, but gave an account of his long
journey and told about the watch and the fox skin which he was going
to take to the man in the city.

Mr. and Mrs. Follet were much interested in his story, so much so that
they forgot the waiting breakfast. Then they turned to it, but Steve
had remembered that he dropped his fox skin as he ran to Nancy's
rescue and he wanted to go at once for it, but Mrs. Follet would not
let him go till he had eaten breakfast. The neatly laid table with its
snowy cloth was a new wonder to Steve, and when the little girl,
looking fresh and sweet as a rose, sat down opposite him, he was so
awed and thrilled he could scarcely eat. Angels could hardly have
given him a more heavenly vision than did this little girl.

Breakfast over, Steve started at once for the fox skin, and Mrs.
Follet sent Nancy with him to help find it. The little girl lost some
of her shyness as they looked for the skin, and Steve listened to her
chatter, feeling in a strange way that it was all a dream which he had
had before, as we do sometimes in experiences which move us strongly.

They found the skin with little trouble, and when they had carried it
back to the house, Mr. Follet took it up and carefully examined it.

"So you're trying to get this here skin to the man in the city who
sent the watch to you?"

"Yes," said Steve.

"And you ain't got hair or hide o' the watch now?" continued Mr.
Follet.

"No, I hain't," said the boy sorrowfully.

"Well, I'll be sniggered," said Mr. Follet. "And how under the
cano_pee_ do you expect to find him in the city when you git thar?"

The boy's uncomprehending stare showed that he had no conception of a
city, and Mr. Follet looked at his wife, laughed and went over to the
station, which was station and store combined.

For a few days Steve continued to live in a dream. The house was a
marvel to him. Mrs. Follet cooked on a stove and constantly fixed
strange, nice things to eat; a clock ticked on the mantel, which
comforted him somewhat for the loss of his watch,--there were queer
but to him surprisingly beautiful and comfortable pieces of furniture,
and one room had a nice piece of good stout cloth with red and green
flowers on it spread over the floor on which people walked!

Then marvel of marvels, every now and then that engine and great train
of cars came puffing and hissing by the house in full view, and the
boy's spirits mounted on wings as he thought of the wonders of the
world.

Even with one arm disabled, he took hold at once to help with the work
about the place. He fed the chickens, horse and cow. With only one
hand he could not learn to milk, though he was eager to do so. He went
over to the store on errands and made himself useful in many ways.

One day when at the store he said to Mr. Follet that as soon as his
arm was well he would have to be going on to the city to take the fox
skin.

"And how under the cano_pee_ do you expect to be ridin' round on the
railroad without money?" said Mr. Follet. He knew well the boy had
none. "You ain't a Rockefeller or a Jay Gould, air you?"

These allusions of course meant nothing to the boy, and the question
of money was a new one to him. None of his late friends in their
simplicity had thought of it, and the man had to make clear the need
of it in the business world which Steve had come into. With his people
things had always been "swapped"; corn, tobacco and whiskey, for the
few things they needed from a store, and he had seen very few pieces
of money in his life.

"Now, how under the cano_pee_ are you going to come up with the
money?" asked Mr. Follet briskly, and with practical pertinence.

Steve certainly did not know and then Mr. Follet proposed that he stay
with them through the summer, work for him and he would give him his
board and clothes and pay him fifty cents a week.

Steve agreed readily and at once felt a new sense of responsibility
and manliness.

When his arm was quite well Mrs. Follet gave him some long white
garments which she called "nightshirts," and told him to undress at
night and wear them for sleeping! It was a very needless performance,
he felt in his secret heart, but he had already learned to love the
gentle woman and he would have done even more foolish things to please
her. In fact, the thing which she gave him for brushing his hair
seemed at first to bring him to the limit of acquiescence, but the bit
of broken looking-glass stuck in one of the timbers of his room soon
told him that a little smoothing down of his tousled head made an
immense difference in his looks, and somehow made him seem a little
more worthy to be in Nancy's presence.

The little girl had lessons at night from her mother in wonderful
books, and Steve listened with rapt attention each time, beginning
very soon to catch their meaning. It was not long till he had confided
to Nancy how his "mammy" had wanted him to "larn things" too, and that
was another reason why he was trying to get to the city.

"You're going to school then," said the little girl. "My mama teaches
me, and some day she is going to send me to a big, big college."

Mrs. Follet had been a school-teacher from the north in one of the
small Kentucky towns, an orphan girl, who very young had been obliged
to make her own way in the world. She had met Mr. Follet, and in one
of those strange attractions between complete opposites in temperament
and training, had married him. She was a quiet, refined and very
kind-hearted woman. She would gladly have taught the boy, but finding
that he did not know even his letters, she felt that with Nancy in the
second reader, she could not take another pupil who was a beginner.

But when the lessons were going on in the evening Steve soon began to
spell over the words to himself as Nancy spelled them, and then it
came about that often at odd times the brown shock of hair and the
little yellow curls bent together over bits of paper, as the little
girl pointed out and explained the make-up of the letters to the big
boy.

"Don't you see, Steve, this little chicken coop with a piece across it
is big A, and this one with the piece standing up and two curly things
at the side is big B." The peculiarities of similar letters were
discussed, how the bottom curly thing in big R turned the other way,
while P didn't have any bottom curly thing at all, and F didn't have
any bottom cross piece, while E did.

"See here," said Steve, growing alert, "here's a powerful nice gate;
whut's that?"

"Oh, that's big H," said Nancy, "and wriggly, twisty S is just the
prettiest letter of all, I think. Oh, Steve, that is the letter which
begins your name," said she, in generous, childish joy.

"Is that so?" exclaimed Steve, with eager pleasure because she was
pleased. "And which is the one whut begins yourn?"

"Oh, mine is just two straight standing up pieces with a slanting
piece between. It's one kind of a gate but not just like H," and she
hunted out an N to show him.

"_I_ think that's the prettiest letter of all," said Steve, with
unconscious gallantry. "Whar's the other letters in yo' name?" he
inquired, and Nancy hunted them all out. Then she found the other
letters in his name, and Steve had an undefined disappointment that
his name did not have a single letter in it which belonged to her
name. It seemed to shut him out more completely from the things which
belonged to her.

So the lessons went on from the little girl to the big boy, and Mrs.
Follet was amazed one day to find that Steve could read quite well. He
studied every book and paper within reach as he found time, though he
never neglected his duties.

Corn was constantly brought Mr. Follet in exchange for goods at the
store, and one of Steve's duties was to take the old horse with two
big bags of corn over to the Greely mill to be ground into meal. Nancy
was mounted upon the old horse in front of the bags to show Steve the
way on his first trip, and afterwards she always begged to go. To
Steve it was the greatest joy to take the little girl with him, though
he wouldn't have dared ask it. He taught her to put her small foot in
his hand while he sturdily lifted her to the old white mare's back,
and on the return she stepped down into his palm with equal ease.

The way to the mill lay along the road for a time, and then a short
cut was made across what was known as the Greely Ridge. It was a steep
cliff of rugged woodland, and both Nancy and Steve enjoyed the trip
through the woods, Steve walking close beside the horse and the two
chatting all the way. He told the little girl such interesting things
about birds and squirrels, rabbits and foxes.

"Don't you wish we were birds," said Nancy one day, "so we could fly
way off and see lots of things?"

"Yes," said Steve, "I shore do; then I could find Mr. Polk and give
him his fox skin." The thought of getting to Mr. Polk was always in
his mind, and though the little girl knew all about it she wanted to
hear again how Steve got the skin and about that wonderful day in the
woods when he met Mr. Polk, and the beautiful watch that the robbers
took.

"When you find Mr. Polk and learn to make watches and things, like
your mother wanted you to, you will make one just like yours for me,
won't you, Steve?"

"Yes, I shore will," said Steve earnestly, never doubting that he
would keep his promise.

There was nothing Steve would not attempt for her pleasure. He went to
the tops of trees after some vacant bird nest or hanging flower, he
chased rabbits and hunted squirrels that she might get a glimpse of
them.

[Illustration: The Old Greely Mill]

"Some day, Steve," said Nancy innocently, "let's build us a house and
live here always; we do have such good times when we come to this
wood."

Steve replied again, "Yes, I shore will," and neither dreamed what the
wood was hiding for them to be revealed, far out in the veiled
future.

When they reached the mill, Mr. and Mrs. Greely were always so glad to
see them. They had no children of their own and they liked the
straightforward, dependable boy, while the little girl with her sweet,
shy ways, was always a delight. Mrs. Greely would often stop her
spinning to get a little treat for them, which they would eat while
the corn was being ground, and going to mill came to make four people
happy each trip.



VI

AN UNEXPECTED MEETING


Mr. Follet was a man of unique business methods. He had no idea of
orderliness, though he insisted he knew where everything was, and
strenuously declined his wife's offers to go over to the store, or
stores rather, and help him "straighten up." The stock had overflowed
the floor of the original building and instead of putting in shelves
to dispose of the stock conveniently, he built another and still
another shanty to hold the overflow. But in spite of queer methods he
was making money steadily. He kept each building securely locked, for
he said he wouldn't have idle folks sitting around in his store. He
went over to the station according to the railroad time schedule,
though it was only a flag station and was seldom flagged, and whenever
he saw a customer at the store door or on the way, he bustled over to
unlock the door, stumble around in the dark, for there were no
windows, and hunt out what they wanted.

Bacon, molasses, dress-goods, coffins and farm implements were on
close terms of intimacy and whatever was wanted Mr. Follet could
produce with amazing promptness.

Such methods, however, consumed a great deal of time on the path
between his home and the store, and Steve filled an urgent need of the
combined establishment.

One morning at breakfast in early autumn Mr. Follet was in a great
flutter of excitement. A travelling auditor of the railroad was to be
there for the day looking over his accounts and this not frequent
event was a sore trial to both the station-master and the auditor.
Each time Mr. Follet said to him nervously: "Now, you know I can't
keep things like the road tells me to, and if things don't just come
out even I'll make up whatever's lacking."

When the auditor, a big, broad-shouldered, kindly-faced gentleman
arrived on this particular morning, and was seated for work, Mr.
Follet made his usual statement.

"All right, Mr. Follet, all right," said the genial auditor, "we know
you are straight as a string. Are you sure you've got all the ticket
stubs?" he continued as Mr. Follet brought out some bits of pasteboard
from a big bushel basket.

"Oh, yes, I'm sure," said Mr. Follet. "I don't let nobody in here but
myself and so nothing is out of place." Then thinking a minute, he
said, "Well now I do believe I stuck a few stubs in this tin pail."
He looked, and sure enough there were a few more.

"And the bills of lading," said the auditor, "are these all?"

Mr. Follet pondered a moment and then brightening, exclaimed: "Why no,
I stuck a few of them in one of these here coffins one day for safe
keeping," and he stepped over to a grim pine coffin keeping company
with a pile of gay bandanas, and brought forth another bunch of bills.
But his foot caught in a coil of barbed wire as he started over to the
auditor with them and it was at that moment that Steve came to the
station door to get something and Mr. Follet called out, "Here, Steve,
hand these over to the gentleman." The boy started to obey, but when
he turned and faced the auditor he stood rooted to the floor, his face
white and eyes staring.

"What ails you?" said Mr. Follet sharply, noticing him. The auditor
looked quickly up also, and the boy found his voice.

"Samuel Polk," he said slowly.

The auditor smiled, and replied pleasantly, "That's my name, son, and
where did you ever know me?"

"Ye sent me the watch," said the boy.

"Is that so!" exclaimed Mr. Polk. "So you are the boy I met in the
woods! Well, this is marvellous, sure, that we should meet here. How
did you ever get so far away from Hollow Hut?" he went on smiling.

The boy told him briefly, while Mr. Follet listened with lively
interest. When the pitiful tale of the loss of the watch was told,
Steve added sturdily:

"But I got yer fox skin in spite of 'em, an' I've been a-workin' to
git to the city to give it ter ye."

"Working to take the skin to me when you have no watch," said the
auditor, gently.

"Course," said the boy; "hit was yourn jes' the same," and the auditor
reached out and drew the boy to him tenderly, thinking of all the
hardship he had borne in the effort to be square and honest.

"You are the boy for me," he said with a glimmer in his eyes that made
Steve feel queer, and he broke away, saying, "I'll go and brung ye the
skin."

He was back as quickly as his sturdy legs could bring him, and laid
the fox skin on Mr. Polk's knee. It was gravely accepted and admired,
and then Steve returned to his work with all the earnestness he could
summon after the excitement of this unexpected meeting.

When Mr. Follet and Mr. Polk came over to dinner the acquaintance of
the two who had met that November day in the mountains was continued
and Mr. Polk was greatly pleased to find that the boy was already
"larnin'," and astonished at the progress which had been made during
the summer. On the way back to the store he said to Mr. Follet:

"I've taken a great fancy to that boy; he ought to have a good
education. I am all alone in the world and no good to anybody. If it's
all square with you, I'll take that boy to the city with me this
afternoon when I leave at four-thirty and put him in school
somewhere."

Mr. Follet was amazed and he hated to give up the boy who had become
so useful, but after a moment's thought, he said:

"I don't see as I have anything to say about it. He just stopped here
on his way to you, and you've come to him. You'll have to take him if
you want him, though I don't see how under the canopee we'll get along
without him now."

"That is just like you, Follet, straight always," said the other
warmly, and after a little the station-master went back to take the
news to Steve. It startled them all and Mrs. Follet expressed her
great regret in seeing the boy go, but she put his few little
belongings in good order and prepared him to start off "clean and
whole," as she expressed it. Nancy looked on wide-eyed, and Steve got
ready like one in a dream. He wrapped his small bundle of clothes in
the fox skin, which Mr. Polk had asked him to take care of, and went
over to the station.

At four-thirty the train rushed up. Mr. Polk led Steve into a
beautiful plush-seated car and placed the boy where he could have a
last look at his friends, for Mr. and Mrs. Follet and Nancy stood on
the platform.

It was Nancy who held his eyes till the last moment, little Nancy with
two big tears dropping down her cheeks. Steve's throat ached
unaccountably.



VII

A TRIP TO THE CITY


"Here we are," said Mr. Polk, as the train thundered into the
station at Louisville. The ride of four hours had been a continued
kaleidoscopic delight. Steve could not understand how it was that
trees and houses went racing by the car windows and Mr. Polk had
rare enjoyment in the boy's unsophisticated inquiry and comment.

Bringing this boy into the city was like giving sudden sight to a
child who had lived its life in blindness. With keenest pleasure,
Mr. Polk took him into a brilliantly lighted restaurant for supper
and then afterwards up town by trolley into a large furnishing
establishment, for it was Saturday night and the stores were open.
There he fitted the little fellow out from top to toe according to
his liking, the outfit including a shining German silver watch! The
two attracted attention everywhere, the boy's face a study in its
swiftly changing expression and the man full of eager interest which
he could not curb.

When Steve was all dressed and stood before a mirror, Mr. Polk
exclaimed:

"Now, that is something like!" And the boy turning from the
transformed vision of himself, lifted a quivering face to his
benefactor.

There was a delicately sensitive side to the nature of this boy of the
woods. To him this experience was not simply getting new, fine
clothes, but his old familiar self seemed to go with the old clothes,
and like the chrysalis emerging into the butterfly, he could not pass
into the new life, which the new type of clothes represented, without
having his joy touched with the pain of travail.

With the tenderness of a woman Mr. Polk put his arm about the little
fellow in quick contrition, knowing that it had been too much for this
habitant of the quiet woods, and said in a most matter-of-fact way:
"Now, son, for home and bed," and in a few minutes more the boy was
snugly tucked in bed in Mr. Polk's comfortable bachelor quarters, and
the next morning when he woke he was a new boy inwardly as well as
outwardly.

He was ready for new "thrills" and they came. After a very astonishing
breakfast he went with Mr. Polk to church. The beautiful building and
wonderfully dressed people held his wide-eyed interest, but when the
deep-toned organ poured forth its solemn melody, big tears dropped
down the boy's face and Mr. Polk drew him within a protecting arm. It
was like touching the quivering chords of a little bared soul with
new, strange harmonies, and the sensitive heart of the man understood
intuitively the boy's mingled joy and pain.

In the afternoon Mr. Polk took his charge to the home of a friend to
see about schools, as his friend had a boy about the same age, and
also to get help as to the general problem of caring for his protégé.

Arrived at the house, the friend, Mr. Colton, his wife and Maud, the
young daughter about fifteen years of age, were at home and gave the
visitors a lively welcome. They were at once greatly interested in the
mountain boy, but so civilized was his outfit, and intelligent his
face that they could not realize his difference from themselves except
when he talked. This they were delighted to get him to do, and he
answered all questions unabashed, though he liked better to look and
listen.

The Coltons were well-to-do people with ever-ready, easy hospitality
and insisted that Mr. Polk and Steve remain to tea.

"The maids are both out as it happens, so we must get tea ourselves,"
said Mrs. Colton, adding with mock graciousness, "and everybody may
help!"

They all trooped out in responsive pleasantry through the hall, and
Mr. Colton inquired:

"Where is Raymond?"

"Oh, he is out," replied Mrs. Colton. "There is no telling when he
will be in."

That they were very indulgent parents and Raymond was an exceedingly
lively boy, Mr. Polk already knew.

The hostess and her daughter exchanged glances of sudden consternation
when they reached the dining-room, then burst into merriest laughter.

At last Mrs. Colton said between subsiding ripples, "Father, please go
down in the basement and look in the furnace and you'll find the baker
with the cold roast left from dinner! Mr. Polk, you go along too,
please, and you'll see some loose bricks between the joists right
under this dining-room window, and right behind them is the bread-box
which you can bring up!"

"The cake is up-stairs in the hat-box of my trunk under lock and key,"
gaily put in Maud, "and you can come with me, Steve, and bring down
the preserves from under the bed!"

By this time the whole family were in gales of laughter, and Steve was
greatly puzzled at this new phase of civilization. Mrs. Colton finally
explained that for a few Sundays past Raymond had been carrying off
everything there was to eat in the house, and having "spreads" in the
barn with his chums. This time they determined to outwit him.

Mr. Polk joined heartily in all the merriment, going after and
bringing in provisions, but in his heart he thought, "This is the
product of too much opportunity--give me my mountain boy every time.
If he doesn't outstrip this pampered son, I miss my guess."

A little later Raymond came in and dominated the conversation at once,
after the manner of too many bright, confident children of modern city
life. After tea he took Steve in charge on a lively tour of
exploration, and Mr. Polk talked over his plans for his boy.

"The thing you ought to do," said Mr. Colton who was very clear-headed
concerning everything except his own son, "is to put the boy in a
mountain college. He would be at a disadvantage among boys of his age
in town, and then you've no way to take care of him, travelling as you
do. My wife has a friend near here who is greatly interested in a
mountain college; just go over and see her."

This seemed good advice and Mr. Colton took Mr. Polk and Steve over at
once.

The lady came in and greeted them with gracious cordiality, but when
she learned their errand and knew that one of the little mountain
boys, to whose welfare she had given so much thought, time and money,
was before her, her eyes grew tender and filled with tears.

"He must go to our mountain college at once; the school has just
opened," she said. So they heard all about the school and its
opportunities. When she had finished Steve spoke up:

"Is all that jes' fer mountain boys lack me?" This seemed beyond
belief, but they assured him it was.

Raymond had greatly enjoyed demonstrating the mysteries of the
telephone, electric lights and various contrivances of his own to so
totally unenlightened and yet so appreciative an intelligence as
Steve's, while the quaint mountain speech interested and amused him
exceedingly. So when Mr. Polk and the boy took leave of the Coltons
for the night Raymond secured a promise that Steve might attend school
with him next day. Mr. Polk would be busy making arrangements for the
few days' holiday which would be necessary to take Steve back to the
mountains and place him in school.

Promptly next morning Raymond arrived at Mr. Polk's rooms for Steve
and the boys started off together like two comrades. It was Steve's
first day in a schoolroom, and eye and ear were on the alert, taking
in everything.

He was well dressed and with his intelligent face the other boys
noted nothing unusual until the noon hour when Raymond introduced his
new specimen with keen relish. He had no unkind intentions in the sly
winks he gave chosen comrades, but these aroused the curiosity of his
fellows, and when Steve began to talk the boys awoke to lively
possibilities. One after another began to ask questions.

"What did you do for fun down at Hollow Hut?" asked one.

"We uns didn't do nothin' fer fun, 'cep'in' hunt cotton tails, foxes
an' coons," answered the boy.

"Didn't you play football?" asked some one else.

"I nuver hearn tell of it," said Steve.

"Du tell," returned another boy, venturing to fall a little into the
stranger's vernacular.

"Didn't you ever play tennis, shinny or baseball?" persisted some one
else, and Steve replied politely "that nobody ever hearn o' them
things in Hollow Hut."

The boys then began to venture more boldly into imitations of Steve's
speech while some got behind him and doubled up in silent laughter.
Raymond looked on, feeling himself the hero of the day in having
furnished such a comedy.

Suddenly Steve turned, perhaps with some intuition of what was going
on, and with swift comprehension knew that he was being made fun of.
His face on the instant was electrified with wrath. He drew himself
up, and clenched his hands. Then in a twinkling his coat and cap were
upon the ground. Taking the first boy at hand Steve dealt him a blow
from the shoulder with a lean, sinewy arm that sent him spinning
across the yard, and before any one could realize what was happening
three or four others followed, and the rest, frightened at his fury,
took to their heels with speed.

Steve stood alone at last quivering from head to foot; then calming
slowly, he took his coat on his arm, put on his cap and walked away,
not knowing whither he was going. But as he grew more quiet he took
his bearings, and his keen sense of direction and good recollection of
things they had passed in going, led him without trouble back to Mr.
Polk's rooms.

Raymond was not a cad, and when he had time to think was thoroughly
ashamed of himself. He went to the teacher and made confession; then
as both were afraid the boy might get lost or come to some harm, he
went at once on a search. He did not dream that Steve could so
directly find his way back, and Raymond wandered about for hours in a
fruitless search, doing without his dinner. At last, frightened and
contrite, he went to Mr. Polk's office. Here the confession was harder
to make, but it came out in all its humiliating details. Having eased
his conscience he wound up with a burst of enthusiasm: "I tell you,
Mr. Polk, Steve's got the stuff in him. There isn't a fellow in school
but thinks he is fine. We didn't mean a thing by our fun, but he
served us just right, and every fellow wants to take his paw."

Mr. Polk said little but sending Raymond home and promising to
telephone later, he went directly to his rooms, knowing Steve's keenly
intuitive mind better than Raymond. Though anxious until it was proven
true, Mr. Polk found Steve as he had expected, seated in his rooms
when he got there. But he saw a most dejected little figure. The new
clothes were laid aside, the old mountain things were on, and the
boy's face was drawn and white, though he fronted Mr. Polk sturdily.

"I don't belong in no town. I ain't got no town ways. I'll jes' go
back to Hollow Hut and stay thar."

Mr. Polk put his arm about the boy and gently drew him to a seat. For
some moments there was silence.

"Steve," he said at last, "did the trip over the mountains from Hollow
Hut to Mr. Follet's sometimes seem hard for you?"

"Hit shore did," said the boy slowly.

"But you didn't give up the struggle, did you?"

"No," said Steve, still slowly.

"Well, the journey of life is like that journey over the mountains: it
is often hard; there are things to overcome and things to endure. You
have started now up the long, hard hill of learning, and I hope you
are not going to turn back at the laughter of a few boys. You thrashed
them out, I understand," he went on, and his voice held a strong hint
of satisfaction; "pass right on now, putting the incident behind you
just as you did each rocky summit you mounted on that difficult
journey. You must climb to the top, son, understand; nothing short of
that will satisfy me!" And he looked earnestly, almost vehemently into
the boy's eyes.

The penetrating gaze was returned, but with a puzzled, groping inquiry
for his benefactor's full intent.

"Yer mean I mus' larn as much as you know?" he asked at last.

"More,--infinitely more," said Mr. Polk with energy. "I have half-way
climbed the mountain of knowledge and success in life,--I have even
stopped less than half-way," he corrected a little bitterly, "but,"
rousing himself, "I want to begin life over again in you, and nothing
but the very top of the mountain of success will ever satisfy me!" He
turned again to the boy with a deep, searching gaze.

"You are a boy of your word," he went on after a moment, "that is what
pleased me most about you, and now at the very outset of this business
of learning and succeeding in life, I want your promise that you will
not halt before obstacles, but go to the top!"

There was impelling enthusiasm as well as energy in the resonant
tones, and Steve's spirit kindled with answering enthusiasm and a
glimmering vision of heights which he had not hitherto glimpsed.

"I'll git ter the top, Mr. Polk,--ef I don't die on the way," he said
with solemn earnestness.

It was a most unexpected, peculiarly intense moment for both, and in
the silence which followed, the imagination of boy and man scaled
lofty peaks, but the mountain of material success which filled Mr.
Polk's vision was not the beautiful, mystic height upon which the boy
gazed, and neither dreamed of the conflict which this fact was to
bring about in future years.

"God hath set eternity in the heart of man," and the child of the
woods felt the stirring of an eternal purpose, undefined though it
was. The glamour of the world had long since intervened for the man.

The telephone rang noisily, having no respect for visions, and Mr.
Polk rose to answer it while Steve began at once to put on again the
new clothes in unconscious ratification of his solemn life-promise to
Mr. Polk.

It was Mrs. Colton at the phone and she learned with great relief that
Steve had been found. She insisted that Mr. Polk and the boy must come
over to supper, after which there would be a little impromptu party of
Raymond's friends for Steve.

The boy looked very sober when this announcement was made to him, but
Mr. Polk smiled and said heartily, as he had already done to Mrs.
Colton:

"Of course we will go!" And they went.

There was just a bit of awkwardness when the boys came into the
Coltons' that evening and met Steve once more, but Mr. Polk, with an
adroit question, started him to telling them about trapping rabbits,
chasing foxes and treeing coons while the boys became so interested,
including Steve himself, that all unpleasantness was forgotten. Upon
leaving, each boy took Steve's hand with real respect and liking, and
Raymond expressed the general sentiment when he exclaimed, "You're a
brick!"

Next day Mr. Polk and Steve started for the mountain school. As they
sat together on the train Steve said: "I'll be larnin' to do things
jes' like mammy said fer me ter do. I wonder ef she will know."

"I think so," said Mr. Polk simply, but with a gentle sympathy in his
voice, which, whenever expressed by look or tone, seemed to bring the
boy close to the heart of the man. Resting a moment in this embrace,
Steve asked a question which had come to him several times. His father
and all the mature men he had known had been married,--for bachelors
are rare in the mountains,--why had Mr. Polk no wife?

"Is ye woman dead, Mr. Polk?" was the question he asked.

"No," answered Mr. Polk, with a smile that flitted quickly, "she did
not marry me at all, and so has left me lonely all my life. I would
have been a far better man had she done so. As it is," and the
bitterness crept into his voice again, "I stopped half-way up the hill
of success as I told you, and threw my prospects away. That is why you
are to live my life over for me and bring success whether or no."



VIII

OPPORTUNITY


Mr. Polk and Steve made their railroad trip by night, and the sleeper
with its rows of shelf-like beds was a fresh experience for the boy,
but he climbed to the upper berth and slept the sleep of healthy
youth. They reached L---- about seven o'clock in the morning, and the
sight of mountain and valley spread out before them in purple beauty
gave a strange thrill of joy to Steve. The mountaineer's love of the
mountains rushed upon him after all his new, pleasant experiences with
a first consciously defined emotion.

"Well," said Mr. Polk, "now the problem is how we can cover that forty
miles which lies between us and our school." But just at that moment
he spied an old man helping a woman into a wagon, and at once he
stepped up, found they were fortunately going to the same point, and
would gladly take in two passengers with the ready accommodation of
mountain people.

They travelled leisurely on and on, Steve seeing things of a familiar
type and Mr. Polk much that was fresh and interesting. They stopped
over night at a little settlement and journeyed on again next day,
reaching their destination early in the evening. When the group of
school buildings came into view, the old mountaineer pointed out the
main building with its tower, and told them which was the "gals'
sleepin' place," and which "the boys' sleepin' place," as he termed
the two dormitories. He drove directly to the president's home, a
little unpainted frame house. They were cordially received,
entertained at supper and taken afterwards to the boys' dormitory,
where Steve was given a room with several other boys. Then they walked
over to "The Hall," as it was called, and were introduced to the
teachers, who were gathering there for the study hour. They had met
several when a young woman's trim, slender figure, with a decided air
of the city about it, appeared in the doorway, and the light from
within lit up a pair of clear, steady brown eyes, a pleasant mouth
with firmness lurking in the corners, and fluffy brown hair put back
in a roll from a very attractive face.

She stood a moment there in the doorway with a casual glance for the
strangers, then suddenly caught her breath and went white, but
instantly recovered herself as the president, oblivious of any tragic
moment for her, turned and said:

"This is Miss Grace Trowbridge; she came down here all the way from
New York City to teach mountain boys and girls,--and she knows how to
do it, too."

Miss Trowbridge bowed and passed quickly within the hall.

Mr. Polk acknowledged the introduction with a look on his face that
Steve had never seen before, and the boy felt somehow that his good
friend had become a stranger as they walked back to the boys'
dormitory for the night. Next morning, too, something had come between
them, and when Mr. Polk said he would leave that day instead of
staying several days, as he had intended, Steve could make no reply.

Before Mr. Polk left, however, in giving final instructions to his
charge, the old kindly manner returned, and as he said, "I hope you
will like it here, son," the boy replied with his old freedom:

"I knows I'm a-goin' to like it, and that thar Miss Grace Trowbridge
is the nicest one of 'em all. She used ter live in New York City, the
president said, whar you used ter live. Didn't you nuver know her
thar?" he asked innocently, not yet comprehending in the least city
conditions.

Mr. Polk set his lips grimly and answered sternly: "Yes," as he
mounted a mule to ride back the forty miles to the nearest railroad
station.

What was the matter again? The boy did not know, and he felt as
though a sudden chill had come upon him. But a moment later Mr. Polk
looked down at him kindly, reached over, pressed his hand, and said:
"Be a good boy," as he rode away on the ambling mule.

So Steve began his school life. He went into the second reader class,
his opportunities at the Follets' having put him beyond the beginners.
In his class were children of all ages and mature men and women, who
were just getting their first opportunity to learn. Steve was bright
and quick, had a good mind, and made rapid progress.

With the superior social advantages which he had found along the way
from Hollow Hut to the school, the boy became a great ally of the
teachers in the battle for nightgowns, combs, and brushes for the hair
and teeth, also for white shirts, collars and neckties on Sunday,
which most of the boys thought "plum foolishness anyways."

"Here, fellows," Steve would say when he found them turning in at
night with soiled feet, coats and trousers, "this ain't the way ter
git ter be president." He organized a company of "regulators" in the
boys' dormitory, and when any fellows turned in with soiled feet,
coats and trousers, Steve's shrill whistle summoned the army and a
lively pillow fight ensued which was hard on the pillows but always
brought victory for nightgowns. And when a boy refused to brush his
hair in the morning the regulators invariably caught him, and the
penalty was a thorough brushing down of his rebellious locks by at
least twenty-five sturdy young arms. Under such methods the cause of
nightgowns and brushes was made to thrive.

There was another cause which was more difficult, but which enlisted
all Steve's best endeavour. Mountain children are apt to know the
taste of liquor from babyhood, but Steve had never liked it and
neither had his mother. Occasionally parents, especially fathers, when
they visited the school would bring the children bottles of
"moonshine" to hide and drink from as they pleased, and the teachers
found Steve a great helper, though his corps of "regulators" could not
always be relied upon.

In the midst of his interesting, new surroundings Steve's mind often
went back to the rock where Tige lay and to the grave of his "mammy."
How pleased she would be, he thought again and again,--maybe she
was--that he was where he could "larn things."

He soon began to write letters to Mr. Polk, and a steady improvement
was noted all winter in these letters. There was always a great deal
in them about Miss Grace, for she seemed to make him her special
charge and the two were great friends. She loved to walk in the woods
and talk with Steve, hearing him tell many interesting things which he
had learned from intimate association with birds and animals.
Sometimes she would take his hand at the top of a hill and together
they would race down, laughing and breathless to the bottom. After
such a run, one day, they halted by the bank of a stream beneath one
of the grand old beeches for which Kentucky is famous.

"Oh, Steve," she exclaimed enthusiastically, "what a beautiful old
beech this is. How symmetrical its giant trunk, how perfect its
development of each branch and twig, while it pushes up into the sky
higher than all its fellows, gets more sunshine than all the rest, has
the prettiest growth of ferns and violets at its base,--and I just
know the birds and squirrels love it best!"

Miss Grace had a bubbling, contagious enthusiasm, and Steve followed
her expressive gestures as she pointed out each detail of perfection
with answering admiration.

"Steve!" She turned suddenly and bent her eyes upon him with still
more radiant emphasis. "I want you to be just such a grand specimen of
a man! Big and strong and well developed,--pushing up into the sky
further than all the rest about you, getting more sunshine than any
one else--making little plants to grow and blossom all about you and
drawing to you the sweetest and best in life!"

He smiled back into her shining eyes, somewhat bewildered, but with an
earnest:

"I shore will try, Miss Grace, but I don't know just what you mean."

"I mean I want you to study hard, to develop every power of mind and
body you have, and then,--give your life for the uplift of the
children of the mountains."

She did not press him for a promise, nor linger upon the subject, but
the first dim outline of that mystic height of the boy's vision had
been traced.

Upon another walk which they took together Steve asked Miss Grace how
she happened to come from her home way up in New York down to Kentucky
to teach mountain boys and girls, and she was silent a moment, a look
which he could not fathom coming over her bright face. At last she
said, "I was very foolish; I threw away happiness. Then I heard of
this work and came here that I might redeem my life by making it
useful."

There was something about this boy of the mountains that made the
telling of the simple truth the natural thing; but startled at even so
vague a revealing of her bruised heart, she turned the talk quickly to
other things.



IX

A STARTLING APPEARANCE


In the spring following came a great day for the mountain school when
some friends and benefactors were coming. Great preparations were
made. The school about three hundred strong fronted the main hall, and
there was great waving of small and large handkerchiefs in a genuine
salute as the visiting party drove up.

When the company had scattered a little after the greeting, Steve
suddenly felt an arm about him and turning, found Mr. Polk smiling
down upon him. The boy was overjoyed and could only cling to his hand,
speechless for a moment. Mr. Polk had met the visiting party on the
train, among whom was the lady who had told him of the school, and she
would take no refusal,--he must go with them.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was a beautiful day for Steve and in his boyish talk about his life
and school he often spoke of Miss Grace, but each time came that grim
setting of Mr. Polk's lips and the boy soon instinctively dropped her
name. The day was destined to be full of events, some in honour of the
visitors and some that were totally unexpected.

The speech of welcome from the school was made by Stephen Langly. Miss
Grace had told him to say in his own words whatever was in his heart
to say. So the boy stepped out from the gathered school, mounted a
little platform and stood before the assembled crowd unabashed, for
the mountaineer knows no embarrassment, while in simple good English
he thanked the generous friends and teachers for what they were doing
for mountain boys and girls. As he stood there well dressed, erect,
manly, he bore little resemblance to the forlorn boy who had crept
away from his cabin home at Hollow Hut a year before.

As the crowd dispersed a little after the speech-making, in which
several took part, Mr. Polk and Steve walked away together and passed
a group of teachers and students of which the visiting lady of Mr.
Polk's acquaintance was the centre.

"Come here, Mr. Polk, please, and bring Steve to see me," she called.

Miss Grace Trowbridge was one of the group and Mr. Polk halted
reluctantly, but finally joined them.

Before a word could be exchanged a tall, lank, grim mountaineer
slouched forward and laid a horny hand upon Steve's shoulder. The
startled boy looked up to see his father standing beside him!

The Kentucky mountain product, unlike any other so-called shiftless
man in the world, may idle his days away with pipe and drink, but let
a wrong, real or fancied, be done him or his and in his thirst for
vengeance he is transformed. His energy, his perseverance, his
intelligence, his fury become colossal. So, Jim Langly, convinced
after months of waiting and brooding that his boy had been enticed
away by the giver of the watch, had set out with a grim purpose of
finding boy and man which had been undaunted by any obstacle. With
slow but persistent effort he had traced the child over mountain and
valley, often losing all clue, but never relaxing till at last he had
reached Mr. Follet and learned that the boy was in school. From thence
he easily made his way to the school of Mr. Polk's selection, and,
arriving by strange providence upon a gala day, had found the two
objects of his search at the same moment.

"I've found ye at last," he said grimly, "an' when I set eyes on the
man whut give ye that watch and tolled my boy away from his home, I'll
shoot him down lack a dog!"

Mr. Polk quietly walked out and said, "I am your man, Mr. Langly."

"You," the enraged mountaineer yelled, and jerking a pistol from his
trousers pocket, he lifted and would have cocked it, but quick as a
deer Grace Trowbridge had stepped in front of Mr. Polk, protecting him
with her body, while Steve threw himself on his father and screamed
shrilly, dropping into the speech of the mountains:

"No, oh, pappy, pappy, don't shoot him! He nuver got me ter leave
home; I went myself, and I'll go back with yer and stay all my life!"

Frantically the boy clung to his father, pleading pitifully, while
Grace Trowbridge with all her strength pushed Mr. Polk back among a
quickly gathering crowd. Others joined her, and in the excitement of
the moment, both she and Mr. Polk were hurried into safety within one
of the school buildings and the door locked upon them.

The town constable was on the ground, for his services were quite
likely to be needed in any public gathering, and before Jim Langly
realized what was happening, being wholly unfamiliar with the ways of
law and order, his pistol had been wrenched from his hand (something
unheard of in mountain ethics), and he was hurried from the scene like
an infuriated lion made captive.

Breathless and spent, Grace Trowbridge found herself looking into the
face of her old lover when the door was locked upon them. She stood an
instant like a frightened bird driven to cover, her eyes gazing into
his, anxiety, relief, tragic intensity born of but one emotion in her
white quivering face,--and then the warm blood surged up with
returning realization of the years of estrangement between them, and
she wheeled for instant flight.

But the door was locked, and baffled she faced him again, crying, "Oh,
Sam, let me out!"

For answer he caught her in his arms and said, "Let you out, and away
from me? Never! I shall hold you fast instead. I love you, love
you, love you," he cried vehemently, "and what is more, you love
me!" He crushed her to him and the tense, spent figure relaxed in
his arms while love in full tide swept over them, after six weary
years of longing and restraint. Their separation had followed a
misunderstanding which now did not even seem to need explanation.

"Sam," she cried at last, moving energetically away from him, "I can
never give up these blessed mountain children. You'll have to adopt
every one of them if you take me!"

"All right," he said happily, "just as many of them as you please."

Instantly both remembered Steve.

"Oh, Sam, where is Steve? Do you suppose his father has carried him
off, and that we will never see him again?" she exclaimed in distress,
and a few moments later, when release came to them, their first
anxious inquiry was for the boy.

No one had seen or thought of him in the excitement, and when the
story of Jim Langly's arrest had been told them, they searched the
grounds and buildings in great anxiety before they finally found Steve
in his room.

When Mr. Polk opened the door the boy stood before him dressed in a
little ragged shirt and old pair of trousers he had worn for hunting
and with bared feet. The hopeless expression of the lost was in his
face.

"I can't keep my promise to you, Mr. Polk," he said brokenly. "I can't
ever climb that mountain fer yer, but it is better fer me ter die on
the way than fer you to be killed." Correct speech had no part in such
despair.

Mr. Polk drew the boy to him while Miss Grace stood without, her lips
tremulous and eyes full of tears. After a silent moment Mr. Polk led
the boy outside and put him in her arms.

"Do you think we are going to give you up?" Mr. Polk said, striding up
and down the hall. "Not by a long shot," he went on with energy, and a
conviction for which he could not at the moment see any tangible
foundation. "This is all going to be fixed up,--just leave everything
to Miss Grace and me."

The boy shook his head. "Ye don't know pappy," he said sadly.

"I may not," returned Mr. Polk cheerfully, "but I know Grace
Trowbridge, and I am going to trust her to keep you here. Do just as
she says, son, and everything will come right."

He left them to talk with the president of the school. They discussed
what should be done with Jim Langly. Mr. Polk greatly regretted the
man's arrest, but was compelled to admit it could not have been
avoided. He begged, however, that prosecution of the case be delayed
until every effort could be made to make Langly see that only good was
intended for his son.

"Of course I must relinquish all claim to the boy," he said sadly,
"but we must by some means win the father's consent that Steve remain
here,--that is the important thing."

So it was decided that Mr. Polk should leave, as his presence could
only infuriate the man, and the president gladly promised to do
everything in his power to win the father.

For a week Jim Langly remained in the lock-up of the town. He had
wrenched his back severely in the struggle with his captors; then,
like a caged lion indeed, he had beaten the walls of his prison all
night without food or drink, and being a man of indolent habits, he
collapsed utterly next morning. The gaunt, haggard face with deep
hollows beneath the eyes, the giant figure lying helpless upon a rude
couch of the lock-up touched deeply the heart of Grace Trowbridge when
she went in to see him. In his blind fury he had not noticed her
especially the day before; and when, without saying a word, she
stepped lightly across the room and reaching through the iron bars
closed a rude shutter to screen the glare of the morning sun from his
eyes, then gently adjusted a pillow beneath his head and fed him a cup
of hot broth, he accepted it all like a wild, sick animal which in its
helplessness has lost all animosity to man.

During the day she tended him unobtrusively, but with infinite
kindness, and next morning she found him better, but still willing to
accept her care. He even watched her with a far-away interest as one
would something unknown and yet strangely pleasing. By the third
morning she talked to him a bit as she smoothed his pillow, and smiled
as he ate her toast with relish.

At last he said with an effort, "Whar's Steve?"

"He is here," she said gladly, "just waiting outside the door for you
to ask for him. He has been there every day," she added softly.

Then she stepped to the door and motioned for Steve. The boy came in,
still dressed in mountain fashion, for no amount of persuasion could
induce him to again put on the better clothes. This evidently met the
father's approval, for a look of bitter expectancy which had come into
his face faded at once as he saw the old trousers and bare feet.

"Set down," he commanded feebly, but not unkindly, though he had
nothing more to say.

The two stayed with him through the day, and gradually Grace, with
consummate tact, made conversation which included the three, though
Langly took little part. Then she read a stirring story which
compelled his attention and interest even though he had never heard
anything read aloud before. It was the first time in the mountaineer's
long life that he had ever been unable to rise from his bed and go his
way and the helplessness had softened his spirit like the touch of a
fairy's wand. As he listened to the sweet, cultured voice of the woman
while she read and saw Steve with quickened intelligence following
every word, he realized for the first time that the world held strange
things in which he had no part, but for which his boy was ready.

At last Miss Grace turned to Steve and said in the most natural
manner, "My throat is getting tired; won't you read a little for us?"

The boy looked at his father in quick alarm, but the gaunt face
betrayed nothing, and the reading went on in Steve's boyish voice.

Several days passed during which Miss Grace and Steve had been
constantly with the prisoner, then his injured back was sufficiently
restored to permit of his being raised in bed to a sitting posture,
and Miss Grace felt it was time she tried to win his consent to
Steve's remaining at school. With woman's intuition she divined the
best method of approach. Steve was not there and she told with simple
pathos of the boy's love for his mother. Jim Langly had loved his wife
with all the mountain man's lack of expression, but the natural
portrayal of the boy's affection did not displease him. The old self
in fact seemed to pass out with that day of terrible fury and the
softer spirit which had taken its place seemed to linger. She went on
to tell how the boy's mother had longed for him to have a chance to
learn, and that only a few minutes before her death she had made him
promise to go where he could learn.

"It was this," she ended, "which made Steve leave home and not the man
who sent the watch."

Jim Langly lay silent a long while after hearing this, and then he
said:

"I was agin that in her alive, I reckon I won't be agin her dead."

After a little he inquired with resentment in his voice, "How come
that man whut give him the watch ter be with him here?"

"The boy happened to find the man," she said, "and the man was good to
him when he needed a friend. But we will get Steve to tell us all
about it," she ended brightly, as Steve came just then to the door.
And with a glad heart the boy told all his story from the day he left
Hollow Hut till his father's appearance a few days before.

The president of the school then visited Langly, told of the boy's
progress and begged earnestly that he be allowed to stay. Nothing was
said as to how the boy's expenses were to be met, and since Jim Langly
knew as little as a child about the cost of such things, he asked no
questions. When strong enough at last Langly walked out a free man,
the president having withdrawn all charges against him, and after
looking about the buildings with strange interest he started back to
Hollow Hut, with no good-bye for his boy after the manner of the
mountains, but with an understanding that when school closed Steve
should return to his old home for the summer.

It was some two months later when Mr. Polk carried out this promise
which had been made the father, by taking the boy back to the woods
where they had first met. He expected to camp there for a few days'
fishing, and to arrange for Steve's safe return to the school in the
fall, as happy plans of his own for the autumn would probably prevent
his coming in person.

When Steve left Mr. Polk he swung off down the well-remembered
mountainside with strange joy in his heart. He had felt a new kinship
for his father growing upon him since he could remain at school in the
freedom of parental consent, and shy thought had come of reading aloud
sometimes in the old Hollow Hut cabin from the pile of books under his
arms while his father smoked and listened, as he had in the beautiful
days when Miss Grace had tended him.

But a few hours later he came slowly back up the same path with a
stricken look on his face.

"Pappy's dead, too," he said brokenly, when Mr. Polk stepped forward
in surprise and alarm to meet him.

The boy sat down upon a log, dropping his books in a heap beside him,
and his bent shoulders shook with sobs.

Mr. Polk comforted him with silent tenderness for a time, then
gradually drew out the story of Jim Langly's short illness of a week
from a virulent fever and his burial two days before.

Together they went again next day to the cabin. Mirandy had married a
few weeks previous and she and her husband were beginning family life
anew in the old place. She had been stirred somewhat by the events of
the year, and looked with interest upon Mr. Polk and Steve, the latter
showing plainly to her the touch of new surroundings, and when Mr.
Polk told her he wanted to take the boy for his own and educate him,
she said with a touch of bitterness:

"Tek him erlong; he won't nuver know nothin' here."

So the two who had seemed bound from the first by close ties went away
together, Steve to spend the summer at the school, where a few were
always accommodated during the vacation, and Mr. Polk to wind up his
business affairs in the South preparatory to a return to New York. He
had formerly been associated with an uncle having large railroad
interests in the East, who had often urged his return. He now proposed
to do so, taking advantage of opportunities still open to him. These
had been thrown away upon the breaking of his engagement with Grace
Trowbridge, six years before, to take a position with a southern
railroad and wander restlessly among new scenes.



X

STEVE DEVELOPS A MIND OF HIS OWN


In the autumn Mr. Polk's happy plans materialized. There was a wedding
in a handsome New York City home, and Steve Langly arrived the day
before for the festivities. At the ceremony he and Anita Trowbridge,
the little sister of Miss Grace, were the attendants. They came in
first, Steve dressed as a page in a velvet suit which went well with
his clear, dark complexion, and little Nita, as she was called,
tripped beside him in delicate pink as a fairy flower girl. They stood
on either side of a beautiful fox-skin rug with a history, upon which
the bride and groom, slowly following, took their places to repeat the
sacred vows which bound them for life.

Steve and Nita, as the only children, spent the evening together,
roaming about the house, Steve finding new interests everywhere. He
looked around at the rich furnishings and beautiful floral decorations
with appreciative eyes, seeming not at all out of place in such
surroundings. A feeling of awkwardness and timidity might have
possessed so poor a boy reared anywhere else, but mountain-born as he
was, he accepted man's magnificence with the same tranquil spirit that
he did the shimmering silver of a mountain sunrise or the gorgeous
colour-triumph of its sunset. But he did not understand Nita. She
tried her most grown-up ways upon him, chatting after the manner of a
little society belle, and while she was so pretty that he loved to
look at her as he would have looked at a beautiful flower, he did not
know what to say to her. Having talked of many things, and being an
ardent little lover of pretty clothes, taken in with appreciative eyes
the handsome costumes of the guests, she sighed at last and said:

"Oh, I just love to go down Broadway, don't you, and see all the
handsome gowns on people as they pass, and look in at the store
windows!"

"I don't know; I nuver was there," he answered with a touch of his
mountain speech, and then she laughed a silvery, childish laugh and
said:

"You funny mountain boy," in a natural, frank way that made Steve
smile back and feel more at ease.

After this they got on well as a couple of children, while Nita often
exclaimed, "You funny mountain boy."

Mr. and Mrs. Polk called him their boy with a new sense of parentage
after their marriage, and wanted to make him legally their son, but
when it was proposed that he be known in the future as Stephen Polk,
he looked far off into space a moment, and then as though his spirit
had winged its way back into the wilderness of its birth, he dropped
into the old manner of speech and said:

"I thank yer, but I was born Langly, an' I think I ought ter die
Langly."

They said no more, and soon decided to send him back to the mountain
school for his preparatory work at least, largely because Mrs. Polk
was strongly convinced this was best for the boy; so, during the next
six years, he spent the school terms in the mountains and his
vacations in the north with his foster-parents. The last two summers
he took work in a city university with special courses in geology and
mining engineering, for Mr. Polk, knowing the rich treasures stored in
the Kentucky mountains, had brilliant plans for Steve's future,
dreaming of a time when the boy should be able to link these treasures
with northern capital.

Mrs. Polk's dreams were of another sort altogether. She never lost
interest in the cause of education in these same Kentucky mountains,
and many were the talks she and Steve had about the progress being
made there and the needs constantly developing. Engrossed in business,
as Mr. Polk came more and more to be, he took no note of his wife's
indirect influence, while she did not realize that she was
interfering with plans of his.

As Steve grew to young manhood Mr. Polk asked him as often as studies
would permit in summer to go down to the office. He liked to give the
boy a taste of the financial whirl, and it was intensely interesting
and exciting to Steve. He felt something of the same tremor of wonder
and delight over the inner whirl of gigantic machinery moving railroad
systems which stirred him when he felt the first rush of a passing
railroad train, and there was a certain eager desire to be a part of
it all.

It was upon his sixth vacation visit that Mr. Polk turned to him one
day at the office as the boy's eyes glistened with interest and said:

"I shall want you at my elbow in a few years now. I shall be too old
after a while to do all the things waiting to be done, and you
remember your promise to climb that mountain of success for me whose
heights I never shall be able to reach."

But the youth of nineteen suddenly looked afar as the boy of thirteen
had done when it was proposed that he change the old name of Langly,
and a vision of rugged mountains and deep valleys which again spread
out before him were tracked by eager bared feet of poorly clad
children hurrying towards the few schools which here and there dotted
the wilderness. He was silent, for a definite conflict had begun in
his soul.

Mr. Polk noticed the silence, and with a restless energy which was
growing upon him, said to his wife that evening when they were alone:

"Look here, Grace, I am uncertain about Steve. That boy's unfathomable.
Here I have been counting upon his going into business, and I know
business appeals to him for I can see it in his eye, and yet when I
spoke to him definitely to-day he just looked off into space," he
ended in disgust.

Mrs. Polk laughed. "Well, you know, I have never been an enthusiast
over money-making, and I don't believe Steve ever will be,--though he
may."

"Why, look here," her husband said impatiently, "if he gets a good
knowledge of geology and mining engineering, as I mean he shall, he
can locate and open up some good mines in those Kentucky mountains
which will make us all rich."

"Oh," laughed Mrs. Polk again, "that doesn't stir me a bit. But when I
think of every little yearning child of the mountains well shod, with
a clean kerchief in its pocket, and trudging away to school frosty
mornings, then I begin to thrill."

"Of course," said Mr. Polk with impatient energy; "but money will help
bring that to pass."

"Yes, but it isn't money alone that is necessary. They need an
apostle of education, one of their very own who shall go among them
opening their eyes to the world of knowledge and opportunity."

"And you would like our Steve to be that apostle, as you call him, I
suppose." Looking at her intently a moment, he softened and added,
"Well, you are a dear, unworldly woman." Then in sudden justification
of himself, he went on: "I am willing he should be an apostle too, but
one with money, so he can bring things to pass."

And he said no more to his wife, neither did he trouble Steve in the
least with definite propositions for the future, but in the late
summer of that year he remarked in a matter-of-fact way:

"Well, Steve, it must be college now for the next two years at
least."

Whereupon Steve looked very sober and finally said: "Mr. Polk, you
have been so good to me I cannot even talk about it. I do want to go
to college more than I can express, but great, strapping fellow that I
am, I ought not to accept your generosity any longer."

"Now, son," said Mr. Polk, with the tenderness he had given the little
boy years before, "I want to do for you as I would for my own."

Steve said huskily, "I appreciate it deeply, but you know I couldn't
give up my name, and it is just as hard for me to give up my
independence. If I go to college at your expense it must be with the
distinct understanding that I am to repay every penny spent for me.
Forgive me," he added with a smile, "I suppose it is my mountain blood
that makes me want to be free."

Mr. Polk, looking at the strong young face, knew that he must yield,
and so the money was advanced for Steve's college expenses with the
understanding that it was a loan.

The two college years were busy and profitable ones for Steve. He was
fond of study and the regular courses of the school led him into new
lines of interest while he still pursued his specialties of geology
and mining engineering. The companionship of young men and women of
inherited culture and opportunity of the best type was broadening and
a fine means of general culture for him. Among the young women with
whom he was thrown there developed no special interest for him, though
he often wondered why. He, however, came to smile as he questioned his
own heart or was questioned by chums, while he said, "We of mountain
blood are slow, you know," and he failed to note how certain memories
of soft yellow curls above a little white pinafore were so sacred that
he never mentioned them.

He matured greatly in the two years, and at twenty-one was
broad-shouldered from college athletics, six feet two in height, and
his abundant dark hair with a suggestion of curl at the ends crowned a
fine, clean-cut, somewhat slender face which in repose was serious,
but possessed of a hidden smile which had formed the habit of flashing
out suddenly, transforming his face with a peculiar radiance.

For the Christmas holidays of his last year at college he went home to
the Polks as usual and one evening sat at the opera beside Nita
Trowbridge in a little family party which included her. During all his
comings and goings of the school years he had seen Nita with almost
the familiarity of a brother. She was the child of middle age, petted
and spoiled and much of a society butterfly as she developed into
young ladyhood, though a very lovable one. Mr. and Mrs. Polk were
greatly attached to her, and though it had not been hinted at, Steve
knew that Mr. Polk would like nothing better than that they should
marry when he was established in business. How Mrs. Polk would feel
about it he was not so sure. Perhaps she doubted their congeniality of
tastes.

As Nita sat beside him on this evening she watched Steve's rapt
enjoyment of Wagner's beautiful, weird melodies. Between acts she
said:

"How intensely you enjoy music!"

"Yes," he returned, throwing off the spell with an effort, "I do." And
then with a reminiscent flash the smile broke over his face. "I
remember well where I heard the first music of my life. It was when I
was twelve years old, and from a mountain fellow who had had no
training. But he simply made the banjo talk, as the darkeys would say,
and reproduced with skillful touch and thrilling voice a fox hunt
which fairly set me crazy.

"Then the next," he went on, "was at a church, just a little later,
and never will I forget how the deep-toned organ stirred my soul to
the very depths." There was a quiet solemnity upon him as he said this
which Nita did not break for a moment. Then she said:

"How barren the mountains must be! You will never want to go there
again, will you?"

"Barren!" he exclaimed in return. "I wish I were an artist in word
painting and I would make mountain peak after mountain peak glow with
rhododendron and laurel, fill the valleys with silver sunrise-mist to
glorify their verdure for you, and then call out all the fur and
feathered folk and troops of mountain children from their forest
homes. You would not think it a barren country," he concluded with
smiling eloquence.

"Perhaps not," she said slowly, "but to think of no good music, no
pleasures, no,--anything that makes up our delightful living here,"
she ended.

"That is true," he responded gravely, adding almost to himself, "but
it must be carried to them through work and sacrifice by somebody."

Then becoming conscious the next instant of the brilliant scene about
him his smile flashed over his face again and he turned to her with:

"By the way, did you see an account in the papers of the wreckage of a
car load of millinery in the Kentucky mountains a few days ago?"

"No, I did not," she smiled back.

"Well, there was a railroad wreck somewhere up there and a whole car
load of millinery was sent out upon the four winds of heaven. Big hats
and little, such as women know all about and men can't even talk of,
with all sorts of gorgeous flower trimmings, feathers and ribbons were
scattered through the woods, and they say barefooted mountain women
flocked from every direction and decked themselves in the latest
styles of head-gear."

Both laughed over the picture and Steve added:

"I suppose it would only need a procession of fashionable gowns
parading the mountains to transform our women, while the sight of
swallow-tails and silk hats might do as much for the men, for like
the rest of the world we take up the superficial with ease,
but"--sobering again--"to give our people a glimpse into the knowledge
contained in books, to waken us to life's highest harmonies and open
our eyes to nature's beautiful hidden colours, is going to take a long
time, and as I said, somebody must work and sacrifice for it."

He searched the beautiful face beside him for sympathetic understanding,
but she only looked at him with wide eyes as the frivolous little
girl had done years before, not comprehending, while she wanted to say
again, this time a little wistfully, "You funny mountain boy."

No conception of life translated into labour and sacrifice for others,
such as he had begun to battle with, had ever come within her range of
thought, and the starting of the music again was welcome to them
both.

At the end of two years Steve was graduated, having been thoroughly
prepared upon entering college, and when he returned to his
foster-parents at the close of school they were greatly pleased with
their boy. On the second night after his arrival Mr. Polk sat with him
after dinner and smoked in great satisfaction. But it was of short
duration. Steve had had a letter from his alma mater, the Kentucky
mountain school, asking him to return as a teacher there the next
year, putting forth strongly the need and opportunity for good. He
had waited to talk the matter over with Mr. and Mrs. Polk before
deciding, though it was pretty well settled in his own mind. He handed
the letter to Mr. Polk.

"Of course you will not go," said Mr. Polk, with decision, as soon as
he had finished it. "There is an opening for you in the office and I
am anxious for you to take hold at once."

Steve looked afar again, as he had twice before when his fate was
about to be settled for him, and Mr. Polk stirred impatiently. But the
younger man turned at once, this time with that sudden smile upon his
face, and said ingratiatingly:

"Mr. Polk, I am afraid I haven't any head for business,--I love books
far better. I feel a premonition that I shall be stupid in business."

"Nonsense," said Mr. Polk, with quick irritation. "I don't believe it.
You have never been stupid about anything."

"I do not know," Steve replied, serious again. "I have not been tried,
I admit, and I must confess that business had a certain fascination
for me as I have watched things stir in your office."

"Of course, of course," broke in Mr. Polk. "I have seen it in your
face."

"But----" said Steve as promptly, and with a compelling earnestness in
his voice that made the older man hold himself in restraint. "Mr.
Polk, I must tell you something before we go any further in this
matter. My barren boyhood has never faded from my mind. I cannot put
it from me. I live it again in the thought of every little child
hidden away in the mountains in ignorance and squalor.

"There may be little ones of my own blood in the Hollow Hut home," he
added, and his voice dropped into a deep intensity which held them
both motionless for a moment; then, for relief, breaking it again with
that smile, he said: "I suppose it is the survival of our feudal
mountain blood in me which makes me ready to go back to fight, bleed
and die for my own."

"It is simply a Quixotic idea you have gotten into your head that you
should go back to the mountains and spend your life trying to help
your people," Mr. Polk replied emphatically.

"I don't deny you may be right," said Steve patiently, "but I got the
idea fixed when I was a boy there at school having privileges which
were denied so many, and you know one is very impressionable in early
youth, and I confess that though for many pleasant reasons I have
wanted to shake it off, I have been unable to do so."

This roused Mr. Polk to instant combat. He rose and strode the
floor.

Mrs. Polk stood in the doorway an instant just then, but wisely and
noiselessly slipped away.

"That's all right to want to help your own, but the practical way to
do it is with money," he said vehemently.

"I am not entirely sure," returned Steve slowly. "I confess I may be
mistaken--but I have thought and thought over this ever since you
first proposed two years ago that I should go into business with you,
and though, as I have said, I am still uncertain, I believe I ought to
go there and work for my people. It will be ten years at least before
I can do much in a monetary way, but I can begin teaching at once.
Besides," he hurried on before Mr. Polk could speak, "people there
need indoctrination,--inoculating so to speak, with the idea of
education as much as they need money, and no one can do this so well
as one of their own. Thanks to you, the best friend any boy ever had,"
he went on, his voice breaking a little, "I have had advantages which
have fallen to the lot of few mountain boys, and I feel that my
responsibility is tremendous."

"Yes," said Mr. Polk, "but I do not agree with you as to the best way
of meeting it. However," he ended hotly, "I see you are like most
young men of to-day whatever their obligations, you do not wish
advice."

Steve was deeply hurt. "Mr. Polk," he said, "I would rather give my
right arm than have anything come between us. If it were a matter of
personal ambition, I would yield at once to your good judgment,
but--please understand,--let me make this clear,--I am not sure that
going myself to work among my people is the best way, but I simply
feel it should be tried first. If I should remain here a while, I know
I would never go there, and if I find that I am wrong in going, at the
end of two years I will gladly return to you for business."

"If you go, Steve Langly, contrary to my advice and better judgment,
you go for good," said Mr. Polk sternly, pausing in his striding and
emphasizing with a stamp of his foot.

Mr. Polk with his gentleness had always had a hot-headed, unreasonable
side to his nature. It was seldom in evidence, but it had shown itself
years before in his break with his sweetheart and it was showing
itself again with the boy whom he loved most devotedly.

Steve bowed his head in silent, dignified acceptance. Following a
forceful law of human nature this unreasonable resistance (as he saw
it) was fixing him very firmly in his own resolution. But the thought
of all the older man had been to him rushed upon him again with
softening effect, and he said sadly at last:

"I do not know how to make you understand, Mr. Polk,--but this need to
go back to my own and try to help them is something inborn."

"I am afraid it is," said Mr. Polk curtly. "It is the mountain
shiftlessness in you."

Steve rose with flashing eyes and heaving breast, but remembering
again, he controlled himself, and sat down. His voice was cool and
crisp, however, as he said a moment later:

"I have no intention of forgetting my debt to you, Mr. Polk, and you
have a right to know what are my prospects for paying it." He named
his salary, which was very meagre, and then added, "But my wants will
be few,--and I have found that my pen promises to be a pretty good
earning implement." This he added with reluctance, for he had not
meant to tell it. "I shall pay you as soon as possible," he ended.

"Just as you please," said Mr. Polk again curtly, and strode this time
out of the room for the night.

Steve soon followed, going to his room with a sense of desolation that
was akin to the desolation of his boyhood in the wilderness. He felt
that he must leave New York at once, for he could not stay longer with
self-respect under the roof which had been home to him for so many
years. What "little mother," as he had come to call Mrs. Polk, would
say he did not know, but his heart warmed when he thought of her, and
comforted at last by the feeling that she at least would not
misunderstand him, he fell asleep towards morning. And in his fitful
dreaming her sweet face was strangely crowned with soft yellow curls
and she wore a little white pinafore!

The next day Steve had a long talk with Mrs. Polk. She had heard of
the trouble from Mr. Polk, and had done all in her power to bring
about a change in his state of mind. Failing utterly and knowing his
tenacity when an idea was once fixed, she could not encourage Steve
with the hope of any immediate change. Neither could she urge the
young man to abandon his purpose, for she felt that he alone must
decide his future, and though in her heart she approved his course, so
deeply was she grieved over the alienation between him and Mr. Polk
that she held it in restraint. She knew that she had helped to shape
his determination, and woman-like was fearful now she had made a
mistake.

When Steve said that he must go, she did not try to keep him, but her
eyes were brimming with tears when he tenderly kissed her good-bye, as
he had always been in the habit of doing, and she pressed a roll of
money in his hand, whispering, "It is my own."

"No, no, little mother," he said with determined good cheer, "I do
not need it. I was very economical the last few weeks at school, for I
had forebodings of trouble; then,--I earned some money writing little
stories for boys, the past year."

Scarcely noticing the last remark she hesitated a moment, wanting to
insist that he take it, and yet reluctant. Then she held him by the
shoulders with her slender hands, and said earnestly:

"If you ever need, you will let me know, will you not?"

"I certainly will, dearest little mother in the world," he said, his
own eyes glistening with tears.

There was a formal leave-taking with Mr. Polk at the office, and then
he went his way back to the mountains of his birth.



XI

EXPERIENCE


As the train carrying Steve southward reached a point where rugged
peaks began pushing majestically up into the distant firmament he felt
again the old thrill of the mountaineer's love of the mountains, while
his trained eye noted with keen pleasure new details of line and
colour. Then, when the railroad trip was over and he neared the end of
the forty-mile wagon ride, bringing the little tower surmounting "The
Hall" of his alma mater in sight once more, his face lit up with
tender joy, for the old place had meant more to him than schools do to
the average boy. Sweeping his eye back over a landscape where purple
heights were tipped with sunset gold in the distance, giant beeches
held aloft their summer leafage in the valleys and mountain
flower-favourites bloomed in glorious June profusion everywhere, he
inwardly exclaimed, with sudden reverence:

"That is God's part, the fashioning of this beautiful setting," and
then turning again to the group of school buildings, "and this is
man's,--the bringing of humanity into harmony with the perfection of
His handiwork."

He had been unable to throw off entirely the depression which had
followed the rupture with Mr. Polk, and deeply stirred emotionally as
he had been in parting with Mrs. Polk, it required this spiritual
interpretation of school life to restore his equilibrium.

But the battle involved in the step he had taken was by no means
fought in that one flash of high conception. Being a wholesome,
normal fellow with an ordinary amount of selfish desire for comfort
(though he had seemed to follow a Quixotic idea into the wilderness),
he found himself at once missing the luxuries of life to which he
had become accustomed. All through the summer he travelled about on
horseback,--sometimes on foot,--stopping often at little squalid
cabins, and often also at meagre homes where housewives wrung his
heart with their pathetic effort to be thrifty and cleanly on almost
nothing, and everywhere he tried to inoculate the people with the idea
of education. On the whole his experience proved more of a hardship
than he had believed possible with his early mountain bringing up.
He discovered that he had a decided liking for individual towels, and
was quite capable of annoyance when obliged to bathe his face in a
family tin wash-pan,--or temporarily idle skillet where wash-pans
were unknown,--while his predilection for a bath tub with hot and cold
water on tap had become more fixed than he had suspected.

"Have I already grown too fastidious to be helpful to my own people?"
he asked himself in disgust. Then he squared his shoulders and set his
lips in fresh determination. But, a moment later, with that sudden
smile upon his face, he also resolved to compromise a bit with
hardship. He stopped at the first wayside store and invested in towels
which he learned to wash and dry at convenient times. This gave him
pleasant independence, and since his bedroom had always been fixed in
the open,--for from the first he could not bring himself to sleep in
crowded rooms where whole families took their rest,--he could make his
morning toilet without offense to his hosts, while a soapy plunge in
some mountain stream became a luxury he would not readily forego. And
always, whatever the hardship, there was the compensation of
barefooted boys and girls held spellbound, and often fathers and
mothers as well, while he unfolded the wonders of a world which lay
beyond the mountain's rim, and always he had the advantage of being
able to assure them that he, too, was mountain bred.

So, with contending against many things distasteful on one side, and
exhilaration while little hands clung to his as his had clung to Mr.
Polk's that long ago day in the heights about Hollow Hut, the summer
passed and he began his work as teacher.

He had long known that he would enjoy teaching, and took up his
duties with keen interest. Fortunately for him he had little conceit
or pedantry, which would have been a fatal handicap for him as teacher
among his own people, simple-hearted though they were. He organized
his work with straightforward earnestness and quiet ability and things
usually moved smoothly in his class room. But many old difficulties in
the life of the school with which he had seen the teachers battling
when he was a pupil promptly presented themselves afresh to test the
tact, skill and wisdom of the young teacher. Some boys still came to
school with well-developed taste for tobacco and liquor which parents
still indulged, and passing mountaineers often good-naturedly
fostered. Having helped to battle with these things as a boy he knew
somewhat how to handle them. But another matter of which he took
little note in his student days, but which had nevertheless always
been a difficult problem, was love-making in the school. He was sorely
puzzled how to wisely handle this.

"Little mother," he wrote Mrs. Polk, "my chief difficulty is laughable
in a sense, but from another point of view it is really a stupendous
problem! One old mountaineer said to me last summer, 'Them schools is
the courtin'est places in the world.' I begin to think he was right,
and it is not always the superficial flirting and love-making which is
a part of your coeducational schools,--a thing simply trivial and
naughty,--but often tragic passion instead, quite in harmony with the
title of Dryden's play, 'All for Love, or the World Well Lost'!

"Really, these children of the woods hear the call to mate as
naturally as the birds in the trees, and knowing nothing of Fifth
Avenue brown stone fronts or cozy cottages at Newport, they want to
leave school, gather twigs and build their nests at once. And
sometimes one feels as guilty in breaking up such prospective nests as
when molesting a pair of birds!

"Am I getting to be something of a sentimentalist? Well, I assure you
I am not going to let it grow upon me. I bear sternly in mind that,
like the first pair of human beings in the Garden of Eden, they have
really eaten of the tree of knowledge and know some things which they
ought not to know,--having some secrets from the rest of mankind which
are not at all good for them,--while the things they need to know for
higher, better living are so numerous, that I ruthlessly break the
tenderest hearts, and insist on study and discipline; for nothing but
education, mental, moral and spiritual, will ever bring the greatest
people in the world, the people of the Kentucky mountains, into their
just inheritance! You see how completely identified I am again when I
indulge in Kentucky brag,--which is not so different after all from
the brag of other sections, and I promise not to let this grow upon me
either, for work and not brag is before me, as you know. I want you to
see, however, that I continue to feel the mountaineer is worth working
for.

"But to return to the love-making. Tragedy and comedy are in evidence
enough to lure me into the field of romance, but the practical
hindrances to daily school work are too absorbing for great indulgence
of my pen. Ardent swains pay open court to their sweethearts,
promenading halls and grounds together and even pressing suit in the
class room! While frequently the crowning difficulty in the whole
matter is the pleased approval of parents! Early marriage, you know,
is most common in the mountains, girls of twelve and thirteen often
taking up the duties of wives and the great desire of parents for
their daughters is usually to get them early married off.

"But,--I suspect this is all familiar to you," he reminded himself,
"and still I must tell it to you,--and let you laugh over a recent
experience I have had with a pair of lovers.

"You may be sure that I have lectured most earnestly and scientifically
upon the evils of tobacco and liquor for the young, and also have set
forth as tactfully and convincingly as I know how the fact that a
school is not the place for lover-like attentions, beseeching them to
give themselves wholly to the business of acquiring knowledge while
they are here, with all the eloquence of which I am capable. But, in
spite of this, as I was leaving my recitation room at the close of
school a few days ago I noticed a girl, Alice Tomby, lingering with Joe
Mott, one of her admirers, and stepping outside I found another admirer
of hers standing beneath a near-by tree, with clenched fist and
blazing eyes.

"I knew that a typical mountain tragedy was quite possible and
stopping casually a moment to look at my watch, I turned and went back
to find the girl and her beau in a most lover-like attitude.

"I threw my shoulders out to their broadest, and walked with all the
dignity I could summon to my desk where I stood before them a moment
in silence. Their sheepish faces were a study for the cartoonist, and
I wanted to laugh more than I can tell you, but I finally said
gravely:

"'Miss Tomby and Mr. Mott' (the use of the last name with Mr. or Miss,
which is unusual in the mountains, is always most impressive), 'you
are guilty of breaking a rule of the school. You must remain and write
twenty times each the sentence I shall put upon the board.'

"Then an old song came suddenly into my mind and I wrote without
quiver of lash or hint of smile the silly lines:

                  "'Frog went courting, he did ride,
                    Sword and pistol by his side.'

"'That!' said the fellow, looking startled, while the girl hung her
head.

"'Yes, that,' I replied in perfect seriousness. And the two wrote the
lines under my most calm, most dignified eye till they were thoroughly
disgusted with themselves and one another. When at last they went out,
the girl tossed her head and ignored both her crestfallen and her
jealous lover. With books under her arm she went alone straightway to
the boarding hall.

"The story of the discomfited lovers is spreading in the school, and
the quotation of 'Frog went courting, he did ride,' hilariously given
is quenching the ardour of many an amorous swain. Possibly a little
wholesome humour may after all be more helpful than stern enforcement
of rules, and you know if there is one thing more than another we
mountain folks lack, it is a sense of humour! So, even on general
principles, it will do no harm to cultivate it.

"However, with all this cruel separation of tender hearts perhaps I am
in a fair way to become a cynical old bachelor instead of a
sentimentalist."

He was determined to write cheerfully, for he knew that she constantly
grieved over the alienation between Mr. Polk and himself, so his
letters usually held bright accounts of his work, though sometimes he
let her have a glimpse of the struggle which went on in his heart.

He wrote once after a contest with himself over natural desire for
more congenial surroundings:

"Little mother, when things seem too sordid and commonplace and barren
for endurance, as I confess they have a way of doing at times, I do
crave a look into your dear face. But as I am too far away to see you
clearly, I remember how you came down here and worked with dauntless
courage and good cheer, and I take heart again. Then several things
recently have contributed to make me ashamed of faint-heartedness, and
I really think I am going to develop some stronger fibre.

"The pathos of the mountain desire for 'larnin" has come to me
overwhelmingly lately. A woman came on foot forty miles over the
mountains last week bringing her daughter and seven others of
neighbours and friends to the school only to find there was no room
for them. But so great was the mother's distress and so appealing her
sacrifice and hardship in making the trip that one of our lady
teachers took the daughter into her own room rather than see the
mother disappointed. A few days later two boys came in having driven a
pair of lean goats over thirty miles hitched to a rude cart, which
held all the earthly possessions they could muster, the old father and
mother walking behind,--all hoping to buy entrance to the school for
the boys. They, too, were disappointed, for we are full to overflowing
this year. Then to cap the argument for stout-heartedness on my part,
I went for a stroll yesterday afternoon and came across a boy who is
making one of the bravest fights for an education that I ever saw. I
found him putting his shoulder to great boulders on the mountainside,
rolling them down and then setting himself to break them in pieces for
use in paving our little town,--for you must know that under the
influence of the school it is beginning to strive for general
improvement. The boy, whose father is a worthless fellow, works at
rock-breaking till he earns enough to go to school a while; then, when
the money is gone, he returns to work again with a pathetic patience
which has stirred me deeply.

"So, mother mine, when I long for a sight of your face,--and an
old-time hand-clasp from Mr. Polk, as I assure you I too often do, or
when I crave the feast of books and the quiet student atmosphere of a
city library, I am simply going to think on these things in the
future."

The second summer in the mountains came on and was a repetition of the
first. The school was getting more pupils than could be accommodated,
it was true, but Steve felt that contact with the thought of education
would help to further the general cause. Then, journeying about
through the wilderness was also a means of gathering fresh material
for his nature and hunting stories for boys.

There was a distinct drawing towards the Follets in his subconscious
mind, the real objective of which he would scarcely admit to himself.
He put from him suggestive pictures of curls and pinafores which
memory and flitting dreams still flashed before him at times. He meant
to go there some day for he wanted to express his gratitude for all
the kindness of the past, but the time had not yet come. He must not
for the present be diverted in the least from the purpose which was
occupying him. He must repay Mr. Polk,--that was the thought which
dominated him, and to that end he was frugally gathering all the money
he could. As he had carried the fox skin through the wilderness when a
boy, so now he carried the thought of that debt in his mind, and no
robber in the form of pleasant indulgence should prevent him from
meeting his obligation.

The second session passed, and he had learned how to handle his
difficulties with better success, while his method of teaching was
more definitely marked out and he found more leisure for the use of
his pen. Fresh, bright stories with the breath of the mountains in
them began to find ready sale, and occasionally as his pen dipped a
bit into romance it brought more than ordinary returns. Upon the tide
of this success came a strong temptation: Why not go to a distinctly
literary atmosphere and make a business of literature? He felt an
inward assurance of making good and a longing for the work which was
almost overpowering. Money for the debt must continue to accumulate
very slowly when so much time must be given to the daily business of
teaching, for which he was very poorly paid, and he could not know
freedom until that debt was paid. In literary work, too, he could
combine the cause of mountain need with his daily task with equal
effectiveness in both directions, for could he not portray with great
pathos the mental, spiritual and material poverty of his people? And
he stifled for the moment something within him which cried, "Others
might do that, but never one of our own!" Beside all this it was
probable, as Mr. Polk had said, that money was more sorely needed for
schools than personal service and he believed by giving himself to
literary work he could earn it. He had never been perfectly sure that
giving his life to teaching and personal work among his people was the
best method of helping them, so he need not feel chagrined by any
inconsistency.

So great was the temptation which came to him at this crisis that he
determined when the session closed to go for a visit to Mirandy's
family and from there to the Follets, with the thought that he would
not like to leave the mountains without seeing them, and it would
doubtless be best to go east for his literary career. In this
satisfactory justification of the latter visit he allowed himself the
freedom of pleasant reminiscence about the spot where life first began
to really unfold for him.

"Little Nancy," he said to himself, "why she must be nineteen now,
clothed in long frocks and maidenly dignity, I suspect,--but I
certainly hope she still wears the little white pinafores." And his
eyes grew misty with a tenderness which he would have classified as
brotherly, had it occurred to him to question himself. Then he smiled
suddenly and said, "Yes, I must go and see about those pinafores
before I leave the mountains."

He made the visit to Hollow Hut first, and in the ease of a saddle
seat he reached the old familiar wood by a much more direct trail than
he had followed when a boy. He halted his pony at last by the great
boulder where Tige lay buried. The tragedy of his grief on that
long-ago morning when he had touched the stiffened body of his old
friend came back to him with such vividness that, in spite of "Time's
long caressing hand," he could not "smile beholding it." He hitched
his horse close by with a sense of the old dog's nearness and
protection, for he meant to camp on that spot during his stay as he
used to do when a boy. Then he went on foot down the mountainside to
his old home in the hollow, little dreaming, as he passed along its
rocky fastness, that a "still" was hidden there.

It was just dusk of an early June day, and cool shadows dropped their
soft curtains about the old log house as he walked towards the door
unannounced. He stopped a moment at the grave of his father and
mother, and then followed noiselessly the little worn path to the
cabin. As he drew near, he saw the fitful light of blazing pine-knots
on the hearth and caught the sound of boisterous laughter. Reaching
the door he stood a moment in the shadow of the outer darkness, before
stepping into the light. Then,--what he saw transfixed him! White to
the lips he watched a moment.

A group of men, Mirandy's husband among them, surrounded a little
fellow about six years old, who, having been made reeling drunk, was
trying to walk a crack in the floor. The little victim swayed and
tottered and struggled under the hilarious urging of his spectators.

[Illustration: "Hit's Champ fer his pappy"]

Steve's first mad impulse was to snatch up the wronged child, and, if
necessary, face the half-drunken men in battle. But this would be
worse than useless his second sober thought told him, for there stood
Mirandy looking carelessly on from the kitchen door behind. The child
was doubtless hers, and the father was taking part in the revolting
deed! What could he do? He knew they would brook no interference.

With hard-won self-control he stepped upon the threshold, courteously
lifted his hat and bade them "Good-evening."

Instantly the men turned and pistols clicked, for they thought him a
revenue officer; but Mirandy, looking into his still boyish face which
had caught the light, while his unfamiliar figure was in shadow,
exclaimed:

"Don't shoot! Hit's Steve, my little buddie Steve!" And she stepped
across the room to him in a way which showed she was capable of being
stirred into action sometimes.

The men looked uncertain, but Mirandy's husband, peering into Steve's
face a moment, said:

"Yes, that's right, hit's Steve Langly, though I'd nuver knowed ye in
the world," and the other men dropped back.

The child in the centre of the room looked about with dull eyes, then
dropped to the floor in a pitiful little drunken heap.

With his heart wrung to the point of agony, Steve stepped forward and
stooping down lifted it tenderly to his breast. In the old home that
little boy represented himself, as he used to be. When he could speak
he said in a voice which trembled upon the silence:

"This is my little nephew, is it not?"

And Mirandy cried out sharply to her husband, without answering the
question:

"Ye shan't nuver do that no more," and the men slunk out one by one,
ashamed, rebuked, sobered, though they could not have told why.

Steve turned as they left and sat down, still holding the child to his
breast. Then gently releasing his hold with one hand he tenderly
pushed back the damp hair from the little swollen face, while Mirandy
stood by, the tears dropping down her cheeks,--a thing most unusual
for a mountain woman. And she said again passionately, "Champ shan't
nuver make him drunk agin."

"What is his name?" asked Steve at last.

"Hit's Champ fer his pappy. The bigges' one--he's outdoors
some'eres,--he's named Steve," she said in mollifying tone. "He was
borned the nex' winter atter you was here, an' you'd been sech a
likely lookin' boy I thought I'd name him fer ye."

"That was good ev you, Randy," said Steve dropping tenderly into the
old form of speech. "I'll be glad ter see my namesake. Air the two all
ye hev?"

"No, thar's the baby on the bed; she's a little gal," Mirandy replied
dully. "Then there's two on 'em that died, when they was babies. We
women allus gits chillun enough," she said, in a whining voice
peculiar to the older women of the mountains which she had already
acquired.

Steve remained a month and it was the most trying time of his life.
When he learned of the "still," which he did very promptly, despair
for Mirandy, her husband and the children filled his heart. Champ
Brady was always under the influence of his "moonshine," and Steve
knew it was perfectly useless to try to dissuade him from making or
using it. Mirandy had his own distaste for it, but she had been
accustomed to the thought of its free use all her life, and how could
he make her listless mind comprehend its danger for her children? Not
trusting her emotion and passionate protest the day he came, he talked
with her earnestly many times and made her promise to do all she could
to keep the children from it.

He took the two little boys, Steve and Champ, with their dog, every
day up to the old haunt by Tige's rock, where he camped every night.
He had brought picture books with him, illustrated alphabets and
one-syllable stories with the thought of possible need for them. And
the brown eyes of the two little fellows, so like his own in the old
days, as he well knew, in their blankness and wonder, gave eager
response to new things. He called the spot "our school," and the two
little pupils soon learned their letters, while in a month's time
little Steve was reading simple stories telling that "The dog is on
the mat," and "The cat is on the rug" with great exhilaration, and
spelling out laboriously more complex things.

But Champ Brady was restless under the visit. He told Mirandy
frequently that he had no use for a fellow who hadn't enough stuff in
him to drink good liquor when it was put before him; and Steve,
knowing well his state of mind without hearing any expression of it,
went sadly away from the cabin at Hollow Hut for the third time.

After a last earnest talk with Mirandy, he took the little boys to the
old spot where they had kept school and he had camped for the month
and put into the hands of Steve the second a German silver watch which
he had also brought with the thought of a boy in the old home again as
a possibility.

"This little shining ticker will tell you each day that you are going
to make big, strong men who know things one of these days. You will
listen to it always, will you not?" he said, and each in turn, as he
was held up in the tender arms, promised earnestly with queer aching
in their little throats. Then Steve set them down and rode away,
looking back again and again with a waving hand at the two sober
little figures as long as they were in sight.

"Oh, God of the wilderness," he cried, when at last he saw them no
more, "Thou didst come and comfort me when I wandered here alone; oh,
now give me assurance that Thou wilt watch over these two of my own
blood and bring them into the light."

The prayer went up in despair akin to that of his boyhood's desolation
and again, after a time, a sense of comfort and peace flooded his
soul, while, in its full tide, a fresh resolve was fixed upon him:

"I will give my life to the work. Not money alone, please God, if I
should make it, but my daily breath and life and vigour shall go for
the uplift of my people of the mountains!"

And he smiled to think that literature should ever have appealed to
him, for a sense of linking himself to the Almighty God to whom he had
prayed had come to him in the holy stillness of the wilderness, making
anything else seem trivial beyond compare.

He did not go to the Follets as he had intended, but made his way
slowly back to the school, stopping at cabins here and there as in
previous summers, chatting with the people, getting into their life
and giving them visions as no alien could have done.

On this trip he passed a great coal mine and here he spent a couple of
weeks watching the work with great interest. He carefully examined the
various strata of the excavation and studied the practical working of
the mine with keen intent, his college course having given him ample
preparation for its intelligent comprehension.

Suddenly a bright thought struck him.

"Look here," he said to himself, "why not locate a mine here in the
mountains, as Mr. Polk used to talk of my doing, buy the land for a
few hundred dollars, as I am sure I can in some localities, and then
make it over to Mr. Polk? He will know how to handle it, and if it is
valuable will certainly make it pay. With another year's work I can
have the money, and by that means I can cancel that debt with one fell
stroke, perhaps," he went on jubilantly,--and if it proved to do so
many times over, he would only be the more rejoiced, he thought.



XII

LOVE'S AWAKENING


Full of this happy inspiration Steve went back to his work, determined
to gather during the year a sum sufficient to make his purchase, so as
to be ready for the next vacation when he would be free to go
prospecting. Under the stimulus of this good hope he worked with great
absorption, only allowing himself the recreation of a weekly letter to
Mrs. Polk, which he never failed to send, continuing to put into it
all the interesting and amusing things which came into his work,--and
they did come in spite of the seriousness of his life.

Oftentimes in brooding thought he went back to the little Steve who
was duplicating his own early life in the old home. He had considered
mountain educational work hitherto in the large; he began now to think
of it from the nucleus of the home. How he would like to see the old
spot of his boyhood redeemed by an ideal home life! And the thought
touched many latent springs of his manly nature, calling forth dim,
sweet visions of domestic love and beauty.

But he hushed nature's appeal peremptorily, he thrust back the
visions with the firm decision that he had no leisure for dreams, and
continued his many-sided work through another winter with accustomed
constancy. It was in the early spring of that year when an unexpected
telegram came to him from Mrs. Polk. It read:

"Meet Nita and myself at L---- to-morrow, 7 A. M. train".

How the brief message thrilled him! He had plodded so long alone. He
sprang up from his place at the breakfast table where the message had
been handed him, his eyes shining and his step buoyant. Securing leave
of absence from school duties for a couple of days, he went at once to
hire a team which would take him forty miles over the mountains to the
railroad station.

Forty miles! With a good team and a buoyant spirit they seemed little
more than so many city blocks. To look into the face and talk once
more with the "little mother" would renew his enthusiasm for his work.
She must have known that he was growing dull and spiritless with the
lingering winter days,--she had such a wonderful way of divining
things. His eyes grew misty with tender recollection of her.

And Nita,--beautiful Nita Trowbridge,--when she should step out in the
early morning light, it would be like flashing his glorious mountain
sunrise upon some artist's masterpiece! And he was hungry for the
beauty and grace and charm of the city which she embodied. Yes, it was
true, there was no denying it! And fast and faster sped the retreating
miles under his joyful expectations till the journey was ended, a
night's refreshing sleep had passed and he stood at last at the little
station, restlessly pacing up and down the platform, with eye and ear
strained to detect the first hint of the incoming train.

Next he was rushing into the rear sleeper!

"Little mother!"

"Steve!" were the greetings as he took Mrs. Polk in his arms while the
eyes of both brimmed with tears. Then turning quickly to Nita, he
greeted her with less demonstration but with equal warmth.

Catching up their hand-bags he hurried them out, for through trains
show scant respect for mountain stations, and leading the way to his
waiting vehicle he helped Mrs. Polk in with easy confidence, then
turned to Nita. What was it about her that made him instantly
conscious that the spring wagonette was very plain, the newness long
gone and that the horses, with abundant manes and tails, lacked
trimness and style? He started to apologize for his turnout, then
quickly set his lips. If he must begin apologizing here, where would
it end?

"This is just a mild forerunner of the heights before you," he said
laughingly, as he carefully helped her mount the high step before
which she had stood uncertainly.

But the trip proved equally delightful for them all. The mountain air
was bracing, the morning panorama spread out before them, gloriously
beautiful as it always was, brought constant delighted exclamation
from both Mrs. Polk and Nita while Steve found fresh enjoyment in
their pleasure.

The little cabins which came into view on the way, standing bare and
barren by the roadside, or looking out from forest recesses where
there was hardly a road to follow, or clinging to some lofty "bench"
upon the mountainside, all were fronted by poorly clad children gazing
in solemn, open-mouthed interest while the strangers passed.

"Dear little things," said Mrs. Polk, "they stand in mute appeal to us
to open a path for them out into our world,--to take them into the
fold of our larger brotherhood."

Steve looked back into her bright, earnest face with kindling eyes,
while Nita turned from one to the other with the old childish wonder
again in her face. These mountain folk were a new species to her,
interesting and amusing perhaps, but from whom she instinctively
shrank. Not that she was in the least disdainful, she was of too
sweet a nature for that, but she had no conception of a divine bond of
human kinship which could ever include her and them.

They spent the night at a mountain village, breaking the long drive
for the ladies, and the next day reached the school where Steve
daily gave his best, and which was so dear to Mrs. Polk. During
the two days following, as during the trip, Steve made them as
comfortable as possible, still making no apologies for anything,
and indeed no apology was necessary, for Mrs. Polk had known what to
expect, and the royal hospitality which glorified it, while Nita
accepted the one with simple good taste and the other with real, if
not genial, appreciation. The visit was full of interest for Mrs.
Polk as she noted the growth of the work, and Nita went about
through school buildings and grounds, her beauty and tasteful
attire making her a most observed visitor. Nor did she fail to show
interest in the work, thoroughly courteous and kindly, and yet
which somehow seemed detached.

As Steve followed her with admiring eyes and sincere regard, he could
not help seeing most clearly that she could never fit into the
mountain landscape. He thought whimsically of Mr. Polk's dreams for
her and himself and knew that though he could have remained in her
world and found happiness, she could never have come into his. His
early intuition had not been at fault; she would never touch the
height, breadth and depth of universal womanhood with its vision and
its sympathy.

Just before leaving, the two visitors spent a recitation period in
Steve's class room, and so eager was he to reveal the best in his
pupils that he did not dream he was also putting forth the teacher's
best.

When the pupils had filed out and the three stood alone, Mrs. Polk
made a gay little bow, and said with glistening eyes:

"Bravo, Sir Knight of the Mountains, you have certainly won your
spurs,--though they be of civilian make!"

He smiled in return, brought back to a consciousness of himself, but
turning from it instantly again, he inquired:

"And what do you think of my brother knights?"

"They are equally fine," said Mrs. Polk warmly.

"They are indeed," joined in Nita, "but how you have penetrated the
hopeless exteriors of these people, as we saw them on our way here,
found the germs of promise and developed them, will always remain an
unfathomable mystery for me," she declared. "I confess I understand
your skill less than I do that of the sculptor who makes the marble
express beauty, thought and feeling,--and his work would be infinitely
more to my taste. I think nothing more distasteful than contact with
people can be,--and when it must be daily----" She shrugged her
shoulders in conclusion expressively.

Steve smiled back at her for he knew she did not think of him as one
of these people with whom she could not bear the thought of daily
contact.

"Now confess, don't you get dreadfully tired of it all?" she
persisted, looking with real appeal into his face as though she would
draw him away from it if she could.

"Unspeakably, sometimes," he smiled back again, then looking beyond
her over the mountains he added simply, "but I belong here."

And uncomprehending as she would ever be, she turned at last lightly
away and walking to the outer door stepped out upon the campus,
leaving her sister and Steve for a little talk alone, which she was
sure they would like.

When she was gone, Mrs. Polk laid a hand upon Steve's arm and said
softly: "Some day, Steve, everything will come right," looking
expressively into his eyes, and he knew she meant between himself and
Mr. Polk, a subject that had not been mentioned since she came. "I
catch beautiful prophecies sometimes of all this human desert
blossoming as a rose," she went on with her old gay enthusiasm, "and I
am fully persuaded now, as I never have quite been since you left us,
that you have chosen your work wisely. I had to come at last and see
for myself.

"But are you going to live your life alone, Steve, dear," she asked
after a moment wistfully, "with no sweet home ties?"

"I do not know, little mother," he said gravely. His mind went
instantly to the old cabin home and little Steve, but he couldn't tell
even her of the family life there now,--nor yet of the mystic vision
which had intruded upon his brooding thought.

His sudden smile flashed over the seriousness of his face as he
replied at last, "I have been too busy and too poor to think about it
so far."

She did not smile in return, but catching both his hands in hers she
looked up at him with motherly insistence, and asked:

"Have you never loved any dear girl? Is there no sweet face that
sometimes steals into the little home which nestles always in every
true man's innermost heart?"

Her strong mother-love had surely lent her a mystic's insight and
compelling power!

Instantly into the dim outline of the vision of his brooding thought
which he had hitherto constantly thrust aside, came with a
distinctness that startled him, a childish face framed in yellow curls
above a little white pinafore!

He caught his breath with the vividness of it, then pulled himself
together and looking down into the dear eyes of the woman who had been
more than second mother to him, and who thereby had won the right to
question him, he said with a curiously puzzled look:

"Why, I do not know,--perhaps so,"--then, as she still looked intently
at him, "you have startled me. I have become such a stupid grind, I
guess I need waking up. I will commune with myself, as I have never
done before, and let you know what I discover," he ended more
lightly.

She knew that a revelation had come to him in that moment and was
content without further questioning. With a last gentle, loving
pressure for his hands she released them and they walked out together
to join Nita.

Their team was soon ready and after another long, pleasant drive Steve
was watching the departing train from the little station platform. He
felt keen regret as it bore his friends out of sight, but he turned to
his team for the homeward drive with a strange exhilaration in his
heart. He had hardly been able to wait for that communion with
himself, and when the opportunity came there was no uncertainty in
its tenor.

"Of course I love Nancy Follet! I have loved her ever since I first
set eyes upon her sweet little face,--and it has come before me always
in any stress of mind or heart as though to tell me she was always to
have part in my life. And yet I have been so dull I did not
understand. She preëmpted my heart from the first and that is why I
did not love beautiful Nita Trowbridge,--why I have never been able to
look at any girl with a spark of interest since." How he loved to
linger over the revelation which had come to him! It was like having
emerged from a desert into a land flowing with milk and honey. Little
Nancy! She had been so gentle, so confiding, so eager to help him with
things,--she would be his dear helper in the work of his life,--and
the work would thereby be glorified beyond measure! Under the spell of
his tender musing the forty miles again sped by unheeded and he was
back once more at the schoolroom door.

It was well that his tasks for the year were well-nigh over, for he at
once became consumed with the desire to see Nancy in the maturity of
her girlhood. He promptly decided that he would go as soon as school
closed and win her promise before he went on that prospecting tour. In
the meantime his mind continued to hover over the hours they had
spent together as boy and girl. He went to mill once more walking
beside a little fairy figure on old Dobbin's back,--he caught the
fragrance of shy flowers which nestled in cool woodland depths, and
memory let softly down the bars into a holy of holies as the little
girl said again in her sweet innocence, "Steve, let's build us a house
in this wood and live here always." He mounted the rugged steeps of
Greely's Ridge, her strong protector, while she reached down once more
a timid little hand to hold his tightly,--and suddenly he was startled
with remembrance of the character of that ridge. It must have held
minerals! Coal, yes, coal,--he was sure of it! There was the piece of
land he had been wanting to find!

And so with buoyant, twofold hope he started as soon as school was out
towards the Follet home, having deposited in the bank a sum which he
felt would be sufficient to purchase the Greely Ridge, should he find
it as valuable as he suspected and no one had preceded him in its
discovery.



XIII

OLD TIES RENEWED


It was mid-afternoon of a late June day when Steve stopped at Mr.
Follet's store. He wondered if his old friend would be there. Yes, the
door was open, and for a moment Steve stood on the platform in front,
his tall figure erect, his head bared as he looked reverently towards
the little home which had opened the world of books to him. Then Mr.
Follet's high voice rang out from the dark depths where dry-goods and
groceries rioted in hopeless confusion as of old.

"Hello, stranger, what's the time o' day?"

Steve stepping forward put out an eager hand, and cried:

"Mr. Follet, don't you know me?"

But the man only stared, coming forward into the light of the
doorway.

"Never saw you before," he declared at last; "or if I did, can't tell
where under the cano_pee_ 'twas."

Steve laughed with keen enjoyment at hearing the familiar old
expression, and said eagerly:

"Don't you remember Steve, little Steve Langly who worked for you one
summer?"

"Steve!" exclaimed Mr. Follet; "of course I do; nobody at my house
has forgotten him, not by a jugful,--but this ain't Steve!"

"This _is_ Steve though, Mr. Follet,--the same Steve, with just as
grateful a heart for you and Mrs. Follet as I had the day I left you
about a dozen years ago."

"Well, this does beat me," said Mr. Follet. "We'll lock right up and
go over to the house. My wife and Nancy will be powerful glad to see
you if they can ever think who under the cano_pee_ you are." And he
stepped briskly about locking up, and then the two walked over to the
house.

Mrs. Follet was seated on the piazza with some light sewing when they
came up, and to Mr. Follet's excited introduction of Mr. Langly she
made polite but unrecognizing acknowledgment, and her husband was too
impatient to delay his revelation.

"Why, ma, you don't tell me you don't know Steve," he exclaimed.

"Steve," returned Mrs. Follet bewildered.

"Why, yes! little, old, scrawny, mountain Steve," exclaimed Mr.
Follet, "who did everything that was done here one summer!"

Then Mrs. Follet slowly grasped the astonishing thought that little
ignorant Steve and the fine-looking young man before her were one and
the same, and gave him gentle, motherly greeting.

"Where's Nancy?" went on Mr. Follet, impatiently.

"She's gone with Gyp for a gallop," returned Mrs. Follet, "but she
ought to be back any minute now." And by the time they had exchanged
brief accounts of the years that had passed since they last met, Nancy
was seen swaying gracefully down the road upon her pony's rounded
back. She waved gaily as she passed the porch not noticing the
stranger who was somewhat screened by hanging vines, and then she
turned into the lane which led to the stable.

Steve's eyes glistened at the vision of the girl which time had so
charmingly matured, and starting up he exclaimed:

"Let me meet her at the stable where I used to help her on and off old
Dobbin's back," and with a bound he was off the porch and striding
towards the lane.

Nancy had slowed her pace along the shady driveway, and Steve, going
noiselessly through the grass, was at her side when she was ready to
dismount.

Smilingly he held out his hand for her to step upon, his glowing eyes
lifted to hers. Startled she drew back, her eyes held and fascinated,
however, by his intent gaze.

For a long instant they gazed, and then she breathed:

"Oh, Steve!"

Had the meeting occurred otherwise, she probably would never have
taken the tall, broad-shouldered, handsome young fellow for the Steve
of her childish memory, but she only saw and recognized those brown
eyes lifted to hers as they used to be in the old days when he took
her from Dobbin's back, with the same tender light in them.

"Yes, Nancy, it's Steve!" he exclaimed joyfully. "And you knew me
after all these years!"

A smile that held something sweet and sensitive flashed assent, and
then in reaction from the stir of undefined feeling, which she was not
ready to acknowledge, her eyes danced with sudden humour. Keeping her
saddle she glanced behind her to the pony's back, and said:

"Where are our bags of meal?"

Steve laughed in responsive gaiety, and in spite of himself let his
eyes rest upon her in kindling admiration.

"Oh, I see good grist which the mill of time has ground for you," he
said, and put out his palm again for her to step upon.

But she, flushing with girlish surprise at his ready gallantry, which
showed how completely the little mountain boy had been lost in the
cultured man, drew back once more and with equal quick wit said,
laughing:

"You will certainly find it has, and in good, substantial material if
you try to take my weight in your hand."

"The same mill has ground out for me an adequate amount of muscle," he
declared, adding with a hint of pleading in his voice, "You must let
me renew old times," and without further protest she lightly touched
his hand with her foot as she sprang from the pony's back.

"Weight doesn't count with so light a touch as that," laughed Steve,
and started to lead the pony into the stable, when a coloured boy
stepped up to care for it.

"You see we keep a groom these days," said Nancy.

"Yes; what style the mountains are taking on," returned Steve, as
Nancy gathered up the long skirt of her riding habit, and the two
walked together through the grass to the porch.

"To what an astonishing height you have grown," said she with naive
charm, looking up at him.

"You have done equally well," he returned, measuring with his eye her
slender length; then he added with his sudden smile which held the
whimsical quality of old friendship, "Please tell me,--where are the
curls?"

"Oh, they are tucked snugly away out of sight," said she demurely,
with a pretty gesture which straying tendrils had made habitual, and
the warm colour rising again to her face.

"There should be a law against carrying curls concealed," said he.

By this time they were at the porch, and as they resumed the family
exchange of items of interest from each side, Steve and Nancy sitting
on the steps as in the old days, he saw the fair dream-structure of
the past few weeks in the beginning of complete realization.

In the evening as Mr. and Mrs. Follet, Steve and Nancy sat again on
the porch enjoying the night air after a warm day, they talked
interestedly of old times and the changes which had taken place.
Steve found that Crosscut, the little flag station over which Mr.
Follet presided, had expanded into a small straggling town with a
meeting-house, school of uncertain sessions and a thriving saloon.

As they chatted pleasantly a young man turned into the gate and came
up the path with a debonair swing that proclaimed him much at home.

"Howdy everybody," he said jauntily, and Nancy rose with pleasant
greeting for him. Then turning to Steve she introduced Mr. Colton to
Mr. Langly.

Steve met the newcomer with quiet courtesy, while Mr. Colton responded
with cordiality of the "hail-fellow-well-met" type, and immediately
seated himself beside Nancy with an air of proprietorship.

Very soon Mr. Follet in the course of conversation turned and
addressed Steve by his first name.

"Steve!" exclaimed the visitor. "Didn't Miss Nancy introduce you to me
as Mr. Langly? Are you Steve Langly who visited Louisville with a Mr.
Polk some ten or twelve years ago?"

"I am," said Steve with much surprise.

"Is that so?" returned Mr. Colton with enthusiasm. "Well, I am Raymond
Colton!"

"Indeed," exclaimed Steve heartily. "Well, this is pleasant."

"I should say so," returned Raymond. "I tell you, old fellow, we never
forgot that lickin' you gave us at our school--served us right and did
us good." He launched into a hilarious account of that experience
which everybody enjoyed, and there was a little pleasant, general
conversation. Then Raymond suddenly exclaimed:

"Miss Nancy, where's your banjo?" and went at once for it.

"I tell you, Steve, she can play on the old banjo and sing as no one
else ever did," he said as he returned and laid it in her lap.

Nancy turned to Steve with a quick flush which showed even in the
moonlight and protested: "I really don't know a thing about it, only
what father taught me when I was a little girl."

And Mr. Follet said excitedly, "You see, Steve, she was so lonesome
after you left I had to get the old thing down to cheer her up. I
hadn't played any on it since I was a young fellow courtin' her
mother. I don't believe I'd ever got her without that banjo," he added
and laughed with great good humour. "Nancy don't think much of it," he
went on. "She thinks it's nothin' beside the piano, but Raymond, here,
is like me, he thinks it beats the piano all hollow."

"Sing 'Robin Adair,'" put in Raymond, and Nancy began striking soft
minor chords for a little prelude. Then a rich, contralto voice, low
and clear, told the tender old story of Robin Adair and his love,
which the banjo echoed with little improvised hints of the air.
Raymond and Mr. Follet called for one song after another of the old
favourites, Raymond often joining in with a fine tenor, which
harmonized perfectly with Nancy's contralto. At last she sang of her
own accord "The Rosary."

There was an exquisite pathos in the beautiful, heart-breaking notes
that stirred Steve deeply. What depth of feeling, as well as maidenly
reserve and charm, his little Nancy had developed! The curls and
pinafores were gone, it was true, but as he watched her sweet,
expressive face in the moonlight and felt the fullness of her sympathy
and understanding in the singing, he said to himself, "I am willing to
lose them for this!"

"Miss Nancy, please don't ever sing that any more; it gives me the
shivers," said Raymond and was seconded by Mr. Follet.

"It's bedtime for old folks, anyhow," the latter went on, and added,
"I guess Steve's tired enough to go, too," and though Steve was not
ready to admit this, Raymond gave him gay good-night and he followed
his host to the little attic room where he had slept as a boy, and
which Mrs. Follet had made ready for him, because he had insisted that
it was just the place for him. The house was small and he knew
somebody must vacate comfortable quarters if he slept elsewhere.

But once in the old bed Steve did not find fair memories crowding
about as he had anticipated. Even the echoing sweet songs lost their
melody. Indeed he could think of nothing but the fact that Nancy and
Raymond Colton sat together on the front porch, left there by her
parents as though he had special rights. A midnight thunder-storm
caught up his perturbed thought with noisy energy.

"But why not!" he exclaimed sadly for the hundredth time to his
rebellious heart. "You certainly have no claim."

But that lately aroused, throbbing fountain of love's pulsations
replied with vehemence: "I have! I have loved her every moment since I
first looked upon her as a little girl, and I love her in her sweet
maturity with all my soul. She is mine!"

So the wordy war went on between his good sense and his yearning
heart, banishing every dear, cherished memory and postponing sleep
till the wee morning hours.

Next day after the breakfast dishes were done, Mrs. Follet proposed
that Nancy take Steve for a ride with Gyp and the family horse over to
the Greely woods, their old favourite haunt, and this exactly suited
Steve, for, in spite of the night's disturbance, nothing could please
him more than an opportunity for companionship with Nancy alone, and
he was still impatient to see if his memory of that rugged ridge of
woodland was correct.

He went out at once to saddle the horses. It was a crisp, cool, clear
morning after the storm, and Nancy soon appeared in a trim riding
habit and cap with deep visor to shade the eyes. The severe lines and
dark blue of her costume made charming contrast to her softly rounded
face, with its delicate colouring and the stray yellow tendrils of
hair which were always slipping out from the fluffy braids which
bound her head. She surely was fair to look upon, and when Steve had
assisted her to mount in the old way,--holding out his hand and she
stepping upon it in laughing ease,--she sat her pony with the graceful
poise of the true Kentucky girl, making a picture which less partial
observers than Steve could not have failed to find full of charm. They
cantered off briskly down the road.

When they reached the wood Steve grew keenly reminiscent, as had
become his habit the last few weeks. Forgetting Raymond completely,
the past came back to him vividly; he seemed to feel again Nancy's
confiding trust in him,--and he yearned to know how clearly she
remembered. He looked often upon her as she rode beside him, the two
horses touching noses in the narrow path, but the delicate face
revealed nothing.

"Do you remember," he said at last, "what a veritable slave you made
of me in this old wood?"

She laughed brightly and replied, "Why no, I haven't any such
recollection."

"Well, you knew even then just how to do it," he returned with a bit
of insinuation. "You would look up at the tallest, hardest tree to
climb and see some high-hanging blossom which you coveted, and I
immediately scaled the tree's height to lay the blossom at your
feet."

She laughed again and her cheeks this time flushed a rosy hue,
unaccountably disconcerting to her.

"But that, after all, was as it should have been," he went on after a
moment, smiling. "We men need your bidding to send us to the heights,
always."

"I do not agree with you," she said, recovering her poise instantly;
and summoning a girlish perversity, she led him straightway from
sentiment to the substantial. "Each one must mount up in his own
strength, like these splendid old trees, without prop or help, only
the light from above to draw it upward," and a very demure look
crossed her ever-changing face as she finished the little speech.

"You are right," said Steve smiling and remembering Mrs. Polk's lesson
from the giant beech so long ago. "And yet, after all, many things
help the tree in its growth besides the light from above,--the sun.
There are the winds and the rain, and"--he paused a moment,--"its
mates. Don't you know a tree rarely stands alone unless man has cut
down its companions. They like comradeship. I believe they are
dependent upon it in ways we do not know."

"How stupid of me to forget I was talking with a professor," said
Nancy archly.

"And worse still for me to forget that I was trying to enlighten the
lady who initiated me into the world of books," replied he promptly,
yielding to her mood.

"Oh, how lovely that graceful, clinging vine is," she exclaimed,
ignoring his retort and pointing up to a vine covered tree, while
Steve thrust back into the secret place of his heart all the cherished
memories which the old wood held for him, realizing decidedly that
Nancy was no longer a shy, timid little girl ready to place her hand
in his, but a young woman who would need to be wooed before she was
won,--even though there were no Raymond.

"What had he expected anyway?" he reiterated sternly. "That she would
be waiting his coming, all ready for the plucking?" He straightened
himself in the saddle. He had long since learned how to work and wait
for things he wanted; he could do it again.

He led the conversation away from the personal. They talked of nature,
each finding under the spur of companionship many new interests in the
old wood; and being a devoted nature lover, Steve was pleased to find
that Nancy had added to her tender interest in the feathered folk much
information as to peculiar characteristics of varying species. It was
an easy transition from nature to nature's interpreters, the poets,
and the two found mutual interest in recalling some choice things of
literature. She had spent four years at a fine old Kentucky college,
graduating in June with high honours. There was still a sweet
seriousness about her as in the little Nancy of old, in spite of her
girlish gaiety, and while the years of study had brought her an
unmistakable breadth and culture, there was also a quaint freshness of
speech and manner that made her especially attractive. Steve found
keen satisfaction in the conversation, for the girl understood his
view-point and yet had fresh conceptions of her own which she knew how
to express.

He said to himself as he studied her (which having put aside the
personal he could now do), "She has the New England alertness of mind
inherited from her mother without the New England reticence, and from
her Kentucky father, eccentric as he is, she gets the vivacity and
charm which is the Kentucky girl's birthright."

And yet in the midst of his enjoyment an insistent despair of heart
returned as he recalled a certain good fellowship in her attitude
towards Raymond, which was missing with him. Obtuse as lovers usually
are, it never occurred to him that this was one of the best of
symptoms in his favour!

They had gone in leisurely fashion through the wood, but the tall
trees began to drop away at last, and they went down the slope till
the old mill stood before them in soft, quaker-gray upon the bank of a
turbulent, rushing mountain creek. The big, wooden wheel had fallen
from its place and the old mill itself was fast dropping into complete
decay, but the trees in fresh summer green still hung affectionately
over it. Just beyond the mill nestled the gray log cabin with its
porch across the front; and, yes, there was Tildy pacing back and
forth at her spinning-wheel just as she used to do when Steve and
Nancy were children. She was of the thrifty type of mountain women,
always cleanly, always busy, making the most of the meagre means at
hand. To the young people it was as though some magic lantern had
flashed before them a scene from the past, and the two turned
involuntarily to one another with a rush of something tender upon
their faces.

Without speaking they rode to the door, and before Steve could
dismount Nancy had sprung from the saddle, caught up her skirt, and
was warmly shaking hands with the old woman, whom now she did not
often see. Steve quickly followed, and with the air of an old friend
also, put out his hand cordially to Tildy.

She took it doubtfully, saying:

"Howdye, stranger?"

[Illustration: "Tilda pacing back and forth at her spinning-wheel"]

"Why, don't you know me, Mother Greely?" Steve asked.

"I shore don't," she replied, pushing her spectacles up on her nose
and peering earnestly through them. "No," she said finally, "I nuver
seed ye afore; leastways I ain't no recollection of hit ef I ever
did."

The old man, who with the old mill had fallen into decrepitude, then
came slowly hobbling out, an inquiring look on his kind old face.
Tildy turned to him, raising her voice shrilly, for he heard with
difficulty and asked: "Nat, have ye ever seed this young man afore?"

"No," the old man returned after searching scrutiny.

Then Steve said: "Don't you remember an old gray horse that used to
come to the mill with a little girl in white pinafore on his back, two
bags of corn behind her, and a tousled, brown-haired boy of about
twelve walking beside her?"

"And the little girl was always on the verge of starvation, and only
molasses cakes could rescue her," put in Nancy laughing.

"Nancy and Steve," exclaimed the old woman, and then with the
intuition of her sex for romance, she further exclaimed: "An' ye hev
done got married!"

"No," Steve hastened to say; but the old man, more accustomed to his
wife's shrill voice, caught her affirmation, and failed to hear
Steve's denial.

"Well, now," said he, rubbing his hands together, greatly pleased,
"Tildy and me allus said ye'd marry some day; ye was jes' suited to
one another."

Nancy hated herself for flushing so unreasonably again, and Steve, not
daring to look towards her, was hurrying to the rescue, when the old
woman with a swift, keen glance at both, broke in with:

"No, pap, no they hain't," piped shrilly into the old man's ear.

His face dropped with evident disappointment, and there was an
embarrassed moment for all of them.

"Mother Greely," said Nancy gaily, determinedly recovering herself,
"have you got any of those molasses cakes you used to give us when we
came over?"

"Wal now, I think I hev," said the old woman, rising as quickly as her
stiffened limbs would let her.

Steve looked down at Nancy as Tildy went in, smiled, and said:

"Shall we sit on the door-step, as we used to?"

Nancy's eyes did not meet his, and she turned her head to hide that
provokingly rising colour as she sat down in a matter-of-fact way.

When they rode away from the mill, having made the aged couple happy
with the renewal of old times, Steve again with eager yearning
strained his inner vision for a glimpse into her heart, but she
betrayed not the slightest consciousness of the embarrassing episode.

As the horses went leisurely back along through the wood, Steve and
Nancy talked gently of the two old people with their wondrous mountain
combination of barest poverty, dense ignorance, keen intelligence,
simple kindliness and gentle dignity,--qualities which the young folks
were now prepared to recognize.

"It is curious how like two people grow from constant association,"
said Steve at last, musingly. "The resemblance between the old miller
and his wife is striking, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," returned Nancy; "the shape of face and type of feature
is the same in both, and as for expression, each might be a mirror for
the other."

"It would be interesting to know which had most influenced the other,"
said Steve; "whether she has conformed to his type or he to hers."

"Old Nat and Tildy certainly furnish a good opportunity for study of
that problem," said Nancy, "for there has been little except the
influence of each upon the other to leave its impress."

"The subject is an interesting field for the aspiring investigator,"
Steve went on. "I wonder that some fine-spun, scientific theory has
not already been advanced,--but it only remains another formidable
matrimonial hazard," he ended with his sudden smile.

"It does indeed," laughed Nancy. "Wouldn't it be dreadful to think of
growing daily more and more like some people?"

"And on the other hand," promptly returned Steve, "how delightful to
think of growing more and more like certain other people," turning to
her with a light in his eye.

"But then there is the uncertainty,--which is most likely to influence
the other," said Nancy, switching dexterously away from hinted
personal application, and then with a dash of daring gaiety, adding,
"When you marry a girl with a crooked nose, will yours begin to crook
likewise, or will hers take on your symmetrical lines?"

"But I am not going to take one with a crooked nose," said Steve,
smiling significantly in spite of himself.

"Perhaps not, but the question remains,--which is most likely to
conform, a husband or a wife," said Nancy, shying back to the abstract
again, with pretty positiveness. And then she called gaily, as she
touched Gyp with her whip and started both horses off on a brisk
canter, leaving the wood for the road, "Please let me know if you
solve the problem, so I may be relieved in mind or forewarned."

As she dashed on slightly ahead of him, spirit and beauty in every
line of pony and rider, Steve said to himself with a quizzical smile:

"How cleverly she manages to keep me at arm's length. Oh, little
Nancy, where did you learn such tactics?" and he did not know that
"such tactics" were sure forerunners of surrender.

As for Nancy, she stood a little later by her bedroom window. The
trim, smart riding-habit was laid aside and a little light muslin of
almost childlike simplicity had taken its place. She stood looking out
at nothing through brimming tears, with flushed cheeks and quivering
lips.

"I do blush so horridly when I am with him, and I'm afraid I say
things I shouldn't. Oh, what makes me, when I do like him so much!"



XIV

"ALL RIGHT, SON"


After dinner Steve walked over to the store with Mr. Follet, talked
with him a little, and then strolling up the street afterwards, he was
joined with great cordiality by Raymond Colton.

The talk was breezy as was inevitable with Raymond. He had graduated
at a great northern university in June, had any amount of _sang froid_
and had as yet caught no glimpse of life save as a field for
pleasure.

"What do you think of Miss Nancy?" he inquired enthusiastically.
"Isn't she the prettiest thing going? I have seen them north, south,
east, and west, but I honestly believe I never saw a sweeter flower
growing than Nancy Follet!" he went on without waiting for Steve to
answer his question, so a smile was all the response which seemed
necessary.

"I came here," went on Raymond, "to look after a land proposition for
father. They say there's lots of valuable coal and iron ore about
here. I've dipped a good deal into that sort of thing at college and
father sent me up to make some tests for him, and if I found anything
rich to take up a 'claim' instanter. I've been here three weeks and I
haven't done a thing yet. Miss Nancy has fascinated me so, I haven't
had eyes for sordid things. But there's plenty of time; no danger of
anybody's rushing in ahead in this sleepy little burg."

"I'm not so sure of that," returned Steve quietly. "You never know
when somebody may slip in ahead of you. Business competition is a very
lively thing I've been told, though I confess I don't know much about
it," he ended easily.

"Well, I've been getting a good bit of experience in business here and
there, and I can tell that there's nobody hanging about here that has
much business go." He had no intention of being personal and Steve
bowed, smiling remotely.

After some more desultory talk they separated and Steve went back to
join Nancy on the porch where he thought he would find her.

Raymond looked after him with a half smile.

"Poor old Steve," he said to himself, "he's caught already, and the
worst of it is, I am afraid he's got the best chance. She's a dear
little chum with me, loves to sing to my tenor and laugh at my
foolishness, but I noticed last night the blushes were for him." And
his handsome face set into unusual, firm lines as he went on: "But I
am going to win her! I'll do it in spite of him. To-night I'll walk
off with her whether or no, and he'll think his case is lost, for he
doesn't know girls, I can see that." And with restored confidence he
went over to the store to visit Mr. Follet. He and Mr. Follet were on
fine terms, and he spent an hour or so at the store every day. They
seemed in fact to have some project in common requiring much
consultation.

Evening brought Raymond again to the Follet porch, and after a little
music and general talk, turning to Mrs. Follet he said:

"Mother Follet, won't you let us children, Miss Nancy and me, go for a
little walk together? It is so hard for us to sit still." He said it
with mock childishness that was irresistible, and without waiting for
Mrs. Follet's consent, he laughingly grasped Nancy's hand and made off
with her, whether or no.

Steve could not see the laughing but real protest in Nancy's face, and
his lips set firmly as he watched her white frock swaying gently up
the long, straggling street.

Mrs. Follet then went in and Mr. Follet, turning to Steve, began in
pleased excitement:

"Raymond's mightily in love with her, ain't he?" and went on without
waiting for a reply, "I can't tell about her,--you never can tell
nothin' about girls, anyway, you know, and she's just wrapped up in
her piano music. She spends hours thumpin' on what she calls
classical music, but I wouldn't give it for one tune on the banjo.
She's been begging me to let her go to New York and study, but Lord,
she knows as much now as any woman under the cano_pee_'s got use for,
I think, and I've told her she can't do it. Raymond says, though, she
ought to go, and that he'd like nothin' better than to give her the
chance. His folks have got money, I reckon, and he can do it all
right. If anything'll help to get her that will."

Steve laughed in reply with as good grace as he could, and soon
followed Mrs. Follet to bed as one of the "old folks" before the
"children" returned.

It was evident enough that he did not count with anybody except the
Greelys as a possible suitor for Nancy, and his sturdy heart chafed in
almost bitter protest. Again sweet memories played truant in the small
attic chamber. "And little Nancy has musical aspirations," he thought.
"With the life I have chosen I could never gratify her. It is
absolutely hopeless for me,--I have nothing to offer her. I am old and
staid, anyway," he said finally to his rebellious heart. "I have known
the responsibilities of life too long, and Nancy is made only for
joy."

The next morning, putting aside his depression sternly, Steve went on
horseback alone, taking the same road he and Nancy had taken the
morning before. He lingered again in the Greely woods, this time on a
prospecting tour testing here and testing there carefully.

When he at last rode up to the little one-roomed log cabin the old
folks again made him welcome. After chatting a goodly length of time
with them, and getting his voice well pitched for the old man's
hearing, Steve asked if Mr. Greely would not like to sell off some of
his land.

The old man looked surprised at the question, for no coal fields had
then been opened up in that part of Kentucky, so that he was not aware
of the value of coal bearing land.

"Wal, course I would, but nobody would want ter buy hit. Thar's only
this patch the cabin and mill sets on what's any a'count, an' that I
want ter keep long's me an' the ole woman lives."

"I am sure you are mistaken about that, Mr. Greely. I think all that
woodland ridge is good land, and I would like to own it. Will you and
Mrs. Greely think it over, give me a price on it by to-morrow and let
me have the first chance at it?"

Astonished beyond measure the old man looked helplessly at his wife.

"Why, Steve, give me what ye think hit is wuth, if you really want
hit."

"Mr. Greely, I must tell you frankly that I cannot give what I think
it is worth, but I can pay you more a thousand times than you can ever
get out of it, for you are too old to attempt anything with it, and
there are no children. I think it can be made to yield returns in ways
of which you do not dream or I wouldn't buy it, but I do not _know_
and I am making a venture in buying it."

The old man thought a minute, then said: "Wal, I know as much now
about hit as I will ter-morror and you can have hit fer a hundred
dollars, ef ye kin pay that much."

"No, Mr. Greely, I can't take it for that," said Steve smiling; "it
will be worth much more to me if it is worth anything. I am willing to
venture more on it," and he named a much larger sum than the one
asked.

The old man could not speak for amazement. He had never heard of any
one in "them parts" having so much money at one time and the trade was
practically closed at once.

He left the old folks feeling like millionaires and felt immense
satisfaction himself that the deal had progressed so well. If the old
couple should live in luxury, as they might conceive the word, for the
rest of their lives, they could never spend that sum in the
mountains.

Steve knew the lay of the land for miles around and he felt sure
there was nothing so valuable as the Greely Ridge with the railroad
lying not far from its base.

Asking the Follets if he might leave his traps there for a few days he
went at once in the afternoon to the county seat to take the necessary
steps for the transfer of the land, and found the title perfectly
clear.

With elation over the assured deal and happy expectation of more than
cancelling his debt, he telegraphed Mr. Polk what he had done. A reply
came promptly back saying, "I will be on at once and bring expert."

It was with mingled feelings that Steve thought of the meeting as he
busied himself with the details completing the transaction, going over
with a notary public for the old folks to sign the papers, getting
everything ready for Mr. Polk's signature as purchaser since he was
coming and one transfer would be sufficient. He did not stop at the
Follets, but returned at once to meet his old friend.

When Mr. Polk stepped from the train and looked again upon the boy he
had loved as his own, he put an arm about him, as he used to in the
old days, and said:

"How are you, son?"

"Well, thank you," answered Steve, and both voices trembled a
little.

That was all, but it restored the old frank relations. They talked
with great interest about the purchase and went as soon as possible
with the expert to get his opinion upon it. When careful tests of the
property had been made, the expert was enthusiastic.

"I believe it will prove to be a rich coal deposit, and if well
managed ought to bring you a small fortune."

That night when they returned to the little "hotel," so named, Mr.
Polk and Steve talked long and interestedly over plans for developing
the mine. Mr. Polk had pretty well-defined ideas for the immediate
organization of a company and the beginning of operations.

Finally he turned to Steve and said:

"Son, I have grown since you left,--I hope, some wiser, and that
little woman made me see before I left home that I had no right to
dictate to you what you should do with your life. I know you have
worked hard these three years, or you never could have saved money
enough to buy this piece of land, even at so small a price, and I
don't doubt you have done good at the same time. But I still feel that
you might do just as good work perhaps by earning money for the cause
you are so greatly interested in, so I am going to make a proposition
to you. Suppose you take the oversight of this mining business,
handling the money and seeing that everything goes straight. We could
well afford to pay you a good salary for this service and give you
some shares in the company too. Then you can live right here and exert
your influence upon your people, as you call them, at the same time."

Steve listened intently, and the thought of money, and Nancy and music
lessons, while he remained in the mountains, made his brain whirl.

Finally he put out his hand. "You hev allus been kind an' generous ter
me," he said uncertainly, with emotion which carried him back for an
instant to the old-time speech. Then lifting his head he smiled and
added, "Let me think of this till to-morrow."

Mr. Polk agreed, and they separated for the night.

It was again a time of sore temptation for Steve. All night he tossed
and thought. In spite of recurring depression he had not given up hope
of winning Nancy. Her desire for musical advantages had been the most
discouraging thing of all, however, and if he accepted this offer, he
could hope to give her what she wanted, while since Raymond was not
accepted he felt free to win her if he could. He pictured the future
with increasing exhilaration, as the night approached its zenith, the
time of keenest mental activity; and then, as the ebb came with the
waning hours, suddenly a little figure reeled and staggered as it
tried to walk a crack in a cabin floor, and springing from bed Steve
strode to the window, and looked out upon the silent, starry sky.

"Oh, God," he said, "keep me from temptation;" and after a time he
went back to bed firm in the old resolution that whatever the
sacrifice involved, he would give himself, and not money alone, to the
work. And then he slept.

Next morning he smiled his sudden smile as Mr. Polk looked keenly into
his face, and said:

"I guess I am incorrigible, Mr. Polk,--I can't see it except in the
old way."

"All right, son," said Mr. Polk quietly, and when they separated it
was with a warm hand-clasp as Mr. Polk exacted a promise that Steve
would visit them his first opportunity. "'The little mother' longs to
see her boy," he said affectionately; then added, "Some day we hope to
be in shape to help you with your work."

When he was gone Steve left for the Follets again. A great peace had
come upon him with the renewal of his resolution, and his heart leaped
at the prospect of seeing Nancy again.

"How long it seems since I left her," he laughed to himself, and the
thought sprang to his mind from out the ever active realm of human
hope: "Perhaps I shall win her yet by some miracle!"



XV

FLICKERING HOPE


It was with keen satisfaction that Steve caught a glimpse of Nancy's
white dress out under the trees upon his return to the Follets. He
hurried over to the bench where she sat.

"Is there anything more satisfying than these Kentucky mountains?" he
said, with enthusiasm, as he seated himself beside her. "There is
something that constantly assures me I belong to them."

"I have wondered that you were not captured by the city with all its
allurements," said Nancy.

"No," returned Steve, "though perhaps I might have been at first had
not my little foster-mother been loyal to Kentucky mountain need. But
my experience the past three years as teacher has made it impossible
for me to ever get away from the outstretched hand of Kentucky
mountain children," and his voice dropped into deep earnestness.

"I can understand how you feel," said Nancy after a little silence. "I
could not help being interested in the school when it was opened here.
Little children came trudging in from the most barren cabin homes,
wide-eyed, and eager to 'larn,' and grown-up men and women tramped
barefoot miles and miles every day to try to get some of the 'larnin'
they'd heard about. Then they would plod away with the utmost patience
trying to read and write. It was intensely pathetic. Nothing has ever
touched and interested me so much as some supply work I have done for
our school," she added, a light upon her face, which thrilled Steve's
heart anew. What a help she could be to him in his chosen work!

"I am so glad you have felt the appeal of mountain need," said he,
struggling to keep the thrill out of his voice. And then he told her
of his hopes and plans, of the dream he had of a new school within
reach of Hollow Hut, a region to which new possibilities were about to
come, he had learned at the county seat, through a projected railroad
line. Of how he hoped to have help in the work from Mr. and Mrs. Polk
and perhaps other capitalists of the north, and she was most
interested, most appreciative, showing all the sweet seriousness of
little Nancy of old.

But this long talk of some two hours which revealed again congenial
tastes and ideals of life for the two only served to make Steve's
heart more intensely rebellious when, after supper, Raymond walked in
once more with his debonair proprietorship of Nancy. As it happened
she had just stepped out under the trees to get a bit of fancy work
left there in the afternoon, and Raymond joining her, barricaded the
way to the house, insisting that the "old folks" were glad to get rid
of them, till she laughingly sat with him there. It had been purely
accidental, her going out just then, and she remained with inward
protest, but Steve could only see in it complete surrender to the
ardent suitor.

Mrs. Follet had not yet come out and Mr. Follet turned to Steve,
laughing in a pleased way.

"I don't mind telling you, for I know you are interested," he said
confidentially, "that Raymond told me this morning he was simply crazy
about her, he couldn't wait any longer, and was going to pop the
question to-night. I s'pose there ain't much question about it though,
for I reckon she's as much in love as he, though,--as I said, you
never can tell."

And he little suspected that what he said seemed to Steve the
death-knell to his hopes.

Mr. Follet continued loquaciously: "Raymond's the greatest fellow I
ever saw. Everybody likes him. Why, he's in with the moonshiners about
here hand and glove, and they're powerful offish. Never saw anything
under the cano_pee_ like him. He has big plans too, about some of the
land round here which he says is full of coal. He's looked a little
at the Greely Ridge; he thinks that's the finest piece, but he hasn't
been over it carefully yet--been too much in love, you know," and he
laughed contentedly.

Steve made conventional reply, and admitting he was quite tired, went
to the little attic for another restless, unhappy night.

If the good fairies had only visited his couch and whispered their
story of what was going on under the trees, how sweet would have been
his sleep! But they did not.

Next morning Steve announced at the breakfast table that he must be
leaving the following morning; a few days off from work for pleasure
was all he could take with good grace.

Mr. and Mrs. Follet expressed their regret, while Nancy's eyes were
upon her plate. Mr. Follet was complaining of some sciatic pain, but
tried to throw it off with his usual nervous energy.

"Nancy," he said, "you haven't taken Steve over to Borden's Cave,
which has been discovered since he was here. Why don't you go this
morning?"

"Why, I should be glad to," responded Nancy, and Steve, feeling that
her agreement was upon the basis of the old family relationship
between them, made no excuse, though he did not doubt, with the
fatality of anxious lovers, that the engagement had taken place. The
two started off with Gyp and the family horse for a three mile canter,
and Steve's spirit rose with the exhilaration of it in spite of
himself.

The cave proved to be a most interesting rock formation and when they
had examined it, Steve pointing out some curious scientific facts,
they sat down in the quiet woods upon a fallen tree trunk, while the
horses grazed.

Nancy looked up at him when they were seated, and said naively:

"How much you have learned in these last busy years!"

"Have I?" said Steve, his eyes brightening. "I am especially glad you
think I have used my time well, because I can never forget that it was
you who taught me my letters,--even how to spell my name," and he
turned kindling eyes upon her.

"Did I?" she said, laughing and flushing.

"Yes," he returned, and a bit of tenderness crept into his voice. "I
will never forget how you did it, how picturesquely you characterized
the various letters for me, how you thought curly S the very prettiest
letter in the alphabet, and how disappointed I was when I found my
poor name did not hold a single letter which belonged to yours," and
there was such deep pathos in the last words, as he looked far into
the distance, that she stirred uneasily and could make no answer.

After a moment he went on: "I suppose I read in it, even then, a
prophecy of our future, how yours must be separate from mine. There
could be nothing in common."

And still she was dumb; not a word came to her lips. But he seemed to
need no reply; a sad meditativeness was stealing upon him which made
him oblivious for the moment of his surroundings.

But suddenly setting his lips firmly, he turned and said with forced
lightness:

"What a bear bachelorhood makes of a man! I have spent so much time
alone the last few years that I am already acquiring the bad habit of
thinking my thoughts aloud sometimes. Forgive me, won't you?" And he
turned to her with more in the tone than the simple words could
convey.

"I have nothing to forgive," said she, but with an effort,--which he
misinterpreted.

Then gathering her wits she repeated, "I have nothing to forgive, but
everything for which to thank you. My starting you in the life
intellectual cannot compare with your finding me hanging by a mere
thread from a tall tree top and restoring me to the life physical,
without which my brilliant intellectual attainments would have been as
nothing," she ended gaily, breaking the tension which both had felt.

The talk continued to drift near the sacred realm of the heart,
however, until the sanctity of engagement was finally touched upon.

"An engagement is to me a very sacred thing," said Nancy with sweet
seriousness, in response to something from Steve. "I have never
understood how it could be lightly entered into with only the basis of
a brief, gay acquaintance."

Was not that just what she had done? "Oh, consistency, thy name is
certainly not woman," thought Steve bitterly. He said:

"Oh, yes, that is good theory, but it is generally overwhelmed by
practice when a gay cavalier comes along and takes the maiden heart by
storm."

"Perhaps so, with some," returned Nancy quietly, "but so far as I am
concerned I do not believe I could be deceived into thinking that a
brief, gay acquaintance was sufficient assurance for the binding of
two in the tenderest tie of life, when their tastes and ideals might
prove to be totally at variance."

Steve's heart leaped within him. Was she trying to tell him
something,--to undeceive him with regard to Raymond and herself?
Impetuous words rose and trembled on his lips, while the thought raced
through his brain that it would not be dishonourable to ask if there
were the least hope for him. He would not utter another word if she
said the sacred tie was already entered into with Raymond.

But Nancy, in the yielding and yet withdrawing which is characteristic
of woman and man never fully understands, plunged into a new topic.
Frightened at the plainness of her revelation and almost seeming to
divine his purpose, with her brightest talk she led him far afield.

Steve, however, baffled though he was, found memory of that shy look
coming back to him insistently, till he suddenly, firmly determined as
they rode home once more that Nancy Follet should have the opportunity
of accepting or refusing him before he left the place!



XVI

IN THE CRUCIBLE


When Steve and Nancy reached home they found Mr. Follet in bed
suffering intensely with sciatic pains. He fretted constantly,
declaring he would get up whether or no by afternoon. He was obliged
to make a trip into the country for a load of hay, able or not, that
evening, he said. Steve offered to go for him, but Mr. Follet
impatiently declared that nobody could do it but himself, as there was
some other business to be attended to at the same time.

The pain continued so severe, however, that getting up was an
impossibility, and about seven o'clock after fretting and fuming for
hours, occupying Mrs. Follet and Nancy continually, he said to his
wife:

"Go tell Steve to come here."

Mrs. Follet obeyed and brought Steve in from the porch where he sat
supposedly reading, Nancy being busy then with the supper dishes.

"Now you go out, ma, and don't come back till I tell you," said Mr.
Follet querulously, and his wife went wonderingly.

"Steve," said Mr. Follet as soon as the young man entered, "I know I
can trust you, and I am going to get you to do some important business
for me."

"I will certainly do anything for you, Mr. Follet, with great
pleasure, and I appreciate more than I can tell you the fact that you
feel you can trust me," said Steve warmly.

"Well," said Mr. Follet, a little uneasily, "this is mighty partic'ler
business I've got. The fact is," he went on with nervous energy, "a
part of the world is getting so good it ain't content with just being
good itself but is bound and determined that the rest of the world
shall do just as it says, and there's a good bit of difference of
opinion about what goodness strictly is."

Steve listened a little surprised at the homily. Then Mr. Follet went
on:

"I ain't ever cared anything about liquor myself, though I could have
had all I wanted all my life long, but I am willing other people
should make it, and have it, or sell it, all they want to."

Steve looked more surprised and his lips settled just a little into
firmer lines, but Mr. Follet failed to notice it.

"Now, old Kaintuck, which has always been the freest state in the
Union, has got a passle o' folks turned loose in it just like the
folks I was telling you about. They're so good themselves they ain't
satisfied till they make everybody else do just as they say. They're
making laws in the towns that no liquor can be sold, and I tell you
men of old Kaintuck ain't goin' to stand that and I don't blame 'em,"
he concluded vehemently.

Steve started to reply, his lips growing firmer, and his eyes taking
fire, but Mr. Follet gave him no chance.

"Now, I promised some fellows that I would meet 'em to-night,--and
bring home a load of hay," he ended with an excited laugh.

"A load of hay with whiskey enclosed?" asked Steve, instantly
suspecting.

"Yes," said Mr. Follet, delighted with Steve's quickness, "that's the
idee. Then I unload it in my barn and ship it as I please to these dry
towns. I'm in for the law as a general thing," he added quickly, "but
I believe in folks having their rights."

"Well, Mr. Follet," said Steve, going to the foot of the bed and
leaning hard upon it, "we must understand each other at once. I do not
agree with you as to our rights. I do not think we have the right to
destroy ourselves or others with any weapon whatsoever, the pistol,
the knife, poison or whiskey. I am with the law in every particular,"
he said firmly.

"With the law," exclaimed Mr. Follet excitedly, "when it says a man
can't do with his own corn on his own place what he wants to do with
it? A man's got as good a right, in my mind, to put up a still and
make whiskey out of his corn as his wife has to gather apples and make
pies!" he concluded, fairly quivering with excitement.

Steve held himself quietly, and said gently:

"Mr. Follet, you are too ill for me to discuss these things with you
now. I see we look at them from totally different points of view."

"There ain't but one point of view," shrilly returned Mr. Follet, "and
that's the point of view of man's rights. Why, it won't be long till a
man can't milk his own cow without the government standing round to
watch her switch her tail and tell him how to do it,--all ready to
grab the money if he sells a little to a neighbour!"

"Well, Mr. Follet," said Steve, looking steadily but kindly in the
enraged eyes of his opponent, "there is one thing that we do agree
upon, and that is, every man has a right to his own opinion," and the
kindness in Steve's eyes merged into his sudden smile, which stemmed a
little the rising tide of Mr. Follet's wrath.

After a somewhat subdued pause he turned to Steve appealingly:

"But you will go and get this load for me,--you will have no
responsibility about it. I have never had anything to do with
moonshiners before," he went on, "but Raymond got in with 'em and
thinks it would be a huge joke to send a lot of their whiskey to his
friends in these 'dry towns,' and that prohibition business has riled
me so that I promised I would help pass the stuff along. Raymond's
going to hang around the saloon and the station to see that the coast
is clear o' government men, while the thing is goin' on."

"No," said Steve instantly and firmly when Mr. Follet was through, "I
cannot do it, Mr. Follet, greatly as it grieves me to refuse you a
favour. I feel that whiskey, the knife and the pistol have been
Kentucky's greatest curses, especially among the people of the
mountains. I would lay down my life, if necessary, for mountain folks,
but I long instead to spend it for them in replacing the pistol and
the knife with the book and the pen, and in cultivating among them a
thirst for knowledge instead of drink," said Steve with quiet passion
which held Mr. Follet's unwilling attention. Then he added:

"Understand me, Mr. Follet, I do not attempt to decide for you what is
right or wrong, I only know that I cannot do this thing you ask and
keep my self-respect. I must live within the laws of my country even
if I should feel sometimes that they are unjust, and I can never take
even a remote part in the distribution of whiskey in the land I love,"
he concluded earnestly.

At this Mr. Follet fairly shouted in a sudden access of rage. He was
all the more angry for the moment because in the light of Steve's
clear statement he not only felt that Steve was right, but that he
himself was wrong.

"Then leave my house this instant with your contemptible idees about
Kentucky's rights, and don't dare to stop and speak to my wife or my
daughter."

"It is your house, Mr. Follet; I will do just as you say," Steve
replied.

Mr. Follet reiterated shrilly:

"Go on out of my house then, and don't you ever come near it again."

Steve bowed and left, not even stopping to get his travelling bag; in
fact he forgot he had one, and only caught up his hat from the porch
as he passed out.



XVII

FRUITION


Mrs. Follet and Nancy knew that something very exciting was going on
between Mr. Follet and Steve and both were exceedingly anxious. When
silence took the place of heated discussion they could bear it no
longer and went to Mr. Follet's door.

Mrs. Follet had never seen her husband so wrought up before, though he
had always been of an exciteable temperament. She did not dare ask a
question, but busied herself doing little things for his comfort while
Nancy brought in his supper, which he had not wanted earlier and still
querulously refused to touch.

A terrible silence settled upon them all. Nancy sat on the porch in
distressed wonder over what had happened between her father and Steve,
while Mrs. Follet, equally anxious, sat silently by the bed of the
restless man. She proposed to get a neighbour to go for the doctor,
but Mr. Follet wouldn't hear of it. Hours passed by and then Mr.
Follet suddenly started up in bed.

"My God," he cried wildly, "they'll kill him!"

"Who?" cried his wife, starting up also, while Nancy's white face at
once appeared in the door.

"Why, Steve," screamed Mr. Follet. "He's gone, and I don't doubt he
went straight to old man Greely's for the night. If he did, he's cut
across the woods and run into some moonshiners. They'll take him for a
government man and shoot him soon's they lay eyes on him!"

He paused for breath, and Mrs. Follet and Nancy were too appalled to
speak.

"Do something," screamed Mr. Follet; "I can't have the boy's blood on
my hands!"

Then Mrs. Follet with her gentle strength made him quiet down enough
to tell them particulars, and she learned that Mr. Follet was to have
gone after a load of hay, and coming back would stop at the edge of
the wood leading to old man Greely's, walk into the woods a piece to
meet the men, and then, if the coast was clear, they'd hide the liquor
in the hay load. At the end she said:

"You must go, Nancy----"

"Yes," cried Mr. Follet, "you must go, child, and save Steve. Jim
Sutton will know you. They won't touch you, and they'll believe
you. I was a fool ever to have anything to do with that moonshine
business!"

But Nancy was already out of the room flying for the stable. There was
no thought of riding habit or saddle. Throwing a bridle over Gyp's
head, she sprang upon his back and like the wind the two rushed forth
into the midnight stillness. Would she be in time to save him? It had
been so long since he left the house. Oh, would she be too late? She
urged Gyp wildly on and on, along the road directly towards the Greely
woods, where she would find the moonshiners, and perhaps,--oh,
perhaps! God only knew what else she might find.

Every throbbing pulse beat became a prayer that she might be in time
to save him.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Steve, upon leaving Mr. Follet, had not gone out into the
street, but crossing the lawn into the driveway he went past the
stable to the wood back of the house from whence he had come so many
years ago. His mind and heart were in a tumult. He scarcely thought
where he was going till he suddenly became conscious that he was in
the old wood where he had rescued Nancy so long ago. Little Nancy! And
he had loved her ever since consciously or unconsciously. But she was
completely lost to him now,--that was final. The fair dream-structure
which had risen anew that afternoon had fallen again in a tragic
moment's space. The mountain blood in Mr. Follet would never forget
or forgive. He must leave the place forever. He was adrift again in
the world. There would never be tender home ties for him,--he could
never love another, no one could be a part of his very self like
little Nancy. He dropped down upon a little seat which he had fixed
there for her in the old days, and was lost in depressed thought,
taking no note of how long he remained.

The stillness of the wood quieted him finally, as it had always done,
and he remembered his old friends the Greelys. They would be glad to
have him come in for breakfast in the morning, and for the night he
would sleep in the Greely woods. He would feel very near to Nancy
there, for that spot was hallowed by her memory as no other for him.
He rose and made his way over into the road which led to the wood.

It was a brilliant moonlight night, and he walked on under the
majestic beauty of the firmament with quieted spirit.

Suddenly, as he had almost reached the wood, he heard rapid hoof-beats
behind him and paused to listen, for it was a little-travelled road.
Nearer and nearer they came, and then he could distinguish a white
dress fluttering in the wind from the flying animal's back and knew
the rider must be a woman. The speed of the horse began to slacken as
she was almost upon him, and he saw that it was Gyp and Nancy!

She also had recognized him, and the next instant she sprang from the
pony and stood beside him.

"Oh, Steve," she panted, "they will kill you!" and stretched her
shaking hands out to him. Her agitation was pitiable. Unconsciously he
drew her instantly within his arms, while he said with equal
unconsciousness:

"Why, Nancy, darling, what do you mean?"

For answer she dropped her head upon his breast and sobbed convulsively.

He held her close, stroking her face and soothing her with tenderest
words of love till she was able to speak again.

"The moonshiners that father was to meet, Steve,--they are in the
Greely wood, and they will think you are a revenue man and kill you
sure," she said brokenly. "You were going there, weren't you?"

"Yes," he said gravely.

"Father thought you would and sent me for you. Oh, it was dreadful,
the terror of it," she said shuddering and sobbing anew.

Again he soothed her with caresses and whispered, "But, sweetheart,
you know I am not going there now,--not when I can hold you like
this." And she nestled in his arms at last in quiet happiness.

Finally she lifted her head and smiled up at him. He turned her face
up to the moon's full light and looked longingly into it.

"Nancy, do you love me?" he said.

"Oh, Steve, I've always loved you, I think," she softly replied.

"And it never was Raymond?" he went on insistently, his voice taking
on a resonant ring.

"Not in the least," she returned. Then smiling demurely at him she
said, "Oh, Steve, you weren't nearly so stupid in learning your
letters!"

And he punished her with kisses.

"Do you remember," he said at last tenderly, looking over at the
Greely wood, "that you asked me when a little girl to build a house
for you and me over there where we might live always?"

"Yes," she said with a touch of sweet reluctance, "I confess I have
always remembered that childish speech,--with an intuitive knowledge
that I shouldn't have made it, I suppose."

"While I have always treasured it consciously or unconsciously," he
returned, with eager joy creeping into the tenderness of his voice.
"You were a blessed little prophetess, for it is here under the shadow
of the old wood that love has at last built for us the fairest,
holiest structure earth ever knew."

Then they remembered the hour of the night and the anxiety of her
father and mother, and started back down the road, Nancy saying she
would like to walk a little and Steve leading Gyp, who had been
unconcernedly grazing by the roadside.

After a time the lover went on again joyously:

"We have equal right to one another now, have we not, sweetheart, for
if I saved you from possible death at the moment of our meeting, you
have probably saved me from a tragic end to-night. It is the way of
our mountain life," he added, his voice taking on a note of sadness;
"our joy must always be mingled with tragedy until we learn the
beautiful ways of peace."

Then he stopped again and turned her face up to the moonlight once
more.

"Will you be content, dearest, to help me in the work I have
chosen,--it will probably mean sacrifice,--the giving up of your
ambitions."

She smiled back with a low, "More than content, if I may be always
with you."

                  *       *       *       *       *

The next day Steve met Raymond on the street, and the latter was more
serious than Steve had ever seen him.

"Well, old fellow," he said with an attempt at a smile, "you've licked
me again. I know all about the sale of Greely Ridge and your narrow
escape last night. Those two things, I admit, show me I am a good
deal of a fool, and something of a cad as I used to be. I want you to
know that the business with the moonshiners is all off. The other
victory you've won over me I can't talk about. I acknowledge you
deserve her though, more than I do, and I wish you luck."

Before Steve could reply he went on: "You got some hard knocks when
you were a boy, Steve, and they did you good. That is when we need
them most. These are the first real blows I have ever had. I've always
been in for a good time and had it, but I don't believe it pays.
Father is going to be no end put out with me about the loss of that
coal land. I'm going home and make a clean breast of it,--then I am
going to clear out. I've decided this morning to write Mr. Polk and
see if he has any chance for me there. I know he will give it to me,
if he has, for father's sake."

"That is just the thing," said Steve heartily. "I feel sure he can
take you in, and the game of business is so interesting there, I know
you will like it, and I believe you will make good." He extended his
hand with the last words and Raymond took it with a warm clasp.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Polk's mine was promptly opened up and proved to be a valuable
property. In the formation of his company some shares had been placed
in the name of Stephen Langly. At the end of two years they began to
yield good returns and Steve felt that this, with the income from his
work, would make comfort assured for Nancy. Then came a wedding in the
Follet home, and just before the company arrived for the ceremony Mr.
and Mrs. Polk, her eyes shining as of old, slipped into the little
parlour and placed on the carpet, for the bride and groom to stand
upon, a beautiful fox-skin rug with a history.

Mr. Follet coming in a moment later nudged his wife excitedly and
said:

"Can you tell where under the cano_pee_ you ever saw that before?"
while she nodded smiling assent.

It caught the eye of Steve as he entered with Nancy on his arm, and he
took his place upon it with firm, glad step.

Mr. and Mrs. Polk were obliged to hurry away as soon as the
congratulations were over, in order to get back to New York in time
for the wedding of Raymond and Nita Trowbridge,--Raymond having well
fulfilled Steve's prophecy of making good.

In the fall four years later when the mountains glowed with unusually
brilliant colour, as though nature had caught the glory tints of
fresh, bright hope for her people, Steve and Nancy opened a new
school. Its well-equipped, modern buildings crowned the old wooded
mountain of Steve's boyhood, and Steve the second, a sturdy boy, came
daily with little Champ to school. The "still" had passed away with
the passing of Champ, the elder, in a mountain fight, and a new day
had dawned for Hollow Hut.

THE END

Printed in the United States of America



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