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Title: Una Of The Hill Country - 1911
Author: Murfree, Mary Noailles
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 "Una Of The Hill Country - 1911" ***

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UNA OF THE HILL COUNTRY

By Charles Egbert Craddock

1911


The old sawmill on Headlong Creek at the water-gap of Chilhowee Mountain
was silent and still one day, its habit of industry suggested only in
the ample expanse of sawdust spread thickly over a level open space in
the woods hard by, to serve as footing for the “bran dance” that had
been so long heralded and that was destined to end so strangely.

A barbecue had added its attractions, unrivalled in the estimation
of the rustic epicure, but even while the shoats, with the delectable
flavor imparted by underground roasting and browned to a turn, were
under discussion by the elder men and the sun-bonneted matrons on a
shady slope near the mill, where tablecloths had been spread beside a
crystal spring, the dance went ceaselessly on, as if the flying figures
were insensible of fatigue, impervious to hunger, immune from heat.

Indeed the youths and maidens of the contiguous coves and ridges had
rarely so eligible an opportunity, for it is one of the accepted tenets
of the rural religionist that dancing in itself is a deadly sin, and
all the pulpits of the countryside had joined in fulminations against
it Nothing less than a political necessity had compassed this joyous
occasion. It was said to have been devised by the “machine” to draw
together the largest possible crowd, that certain candidates might
present their views on burning questions of more than local importance,
in order to secure vigorous and concerted action at the polls in the
luke-warm rural districts when these measures should go before the
people, in the person of their advocates, at the approaching primary
elections. However, even the wisdom of a political boss is not
infallible, and despite the succulent graces of the barbecue numbers
of the ascetic and jeans-clad elder worthies, though fed to repletion,
collogued unhappily together among the ox-teams and canvas-hooded wagons
on the slope, commenting sourly on the frivolity of the dance. These
might be relied on to cast no ballots in the interest of its promoters,
with whose views they were to be favored between the close of the feast
and the final dance before sunset.

The trees waved full-foliaged branches above the circle of sawdust and
dappled the sunny expanse with flickering shade, and as they swayed
apart in the wind they gave evanescent glimpses of tiers on tiers of the
faint blue mountains of the Great Smoky Range in the distance, seeming
ethereal, luminous, seen from between the dark, steep, wooded slopes of
the narrow watergap hard by, through which Headlong Creek plunged and
roared. The principal musician, perched with his fellows on a hastily
erected stand, was burly, red-faced, and of a jovial aspect. He had a
brace of fiddlers, one on each side, but with his own violin under
his double-chin he alone “called the figures” of the old-fashioned
contradances. Now and again, with a wide, melodious, sonorous voice, he
burst into a snatch of song:

     “Shanghai chicken he grew so tall,
          In a few days--few days,
     Cannot hear him crow at all-----”

Sometimes he would intersperse jocund personal remarks in his
Terpsichorean commands: “Gents, forward to the centre--back--swing: the
lady ye love the best.” Then in alternation, “Ladies, forward to the
centre--back----” and as the mountain damsels teetered in expectation
of the usual supplement of this mandate he called out in apparent
expostulation, “_Don’t_ swing him, Miss--he don’t wuth a turn.”

Suddenly the tune changed and with great gusto he chanted forth:

     “When fust I did a-courtin’ go,
     Says she ‘Now, _don’t_ be foolish, Joe,’”

the _tempo rubato_ giving fresh impetus to the kaleidoscopic whirl of
the dancers. The young men were of indomitable endurance and manifested
a crude agility as they sprang about clumsily in time to the scraping
of the fiddles, while their partners shuffled bouncingly or sidled
mincingly according to their individual persuasion of the most apt
expression of elegance. Considered from a critical point of view the
dance was singularly devoid of grace--only one couple illustrating the
exception to the rule. The youth it was who was obviously beautiful, of
a type as old as the fabled Endymion.

His long brown hair hung in heavy curls to the collar of his butternut
jeans coat; his eyes were blue and large and finely set; his face was
fair and bespoke none of the midday toil at the plow-handles that
had tanned the complexion of his compeers, for Brent Kayle had little
affinity for labor of any sort. He danced with a light firm step, every
muscle supplely responsive to the strongly marked pulse of the music,
and he had a lithe, erect carriage which imparted a certain picturesque
effect to his presence, despite his much creased boots, drawn over his
trousers to the knee, and his big black hat which he wore on the back of
his head. The face of his partner had a more subtle appeal, and so light
and willowy was her figure as she danced that it suggested a degree of
slenderness that bordered on attenuation. Her unbonneted hair of a rich
blonde hue had a golden lustre in the sun; her complexion was of an
exquisite whiteness and with a delicate flush; the chiseling of her
features was peculiarly fine, in clear, sharp lines--she was called
“hatchet-faced” by her undiscriminating friends. She wore a coarse,
flimsy, pink muslin dress which showed a repetitious pattern of vague
green leaves, and as she flitted, lissome and swaying, through the
throng, with the wind a-flutter in her full draperies, she might have
suggested to a spectator the semblance of a pink flower--of the humbler
varieties, perhaps, but still a wild rose is a rose.

Even the longest dance must have an end; even the stanchest mountain
fiddler will reach at last his limit of endurance and must needs be
refreshed and fed. There was a sudden significant flourish of frisky
bowing, now up and again down, enlisting every resonant capacity of
horsehair and catgut; the violins quavered to a final long-drawn scrape
and silence descended. Dullness ensued; the flavor of the day seemed to
pall; the dancers scattered and were presently following the crowd that
began to slowly gather about the vacated stand of the musicians, from
which elevation the speakers of the occasion were about to address their
fellow-citizens. One of the disaffected old farmers, gruff and averse,
could not refrain from administering a rebuke to Brent Kayle as crossing
the expanse of saw-dust on his way to join the audience he encountered
the youth in company with Valeria Clee, his recent partner.

“Ai-yi, Brent,” the old man said, “the last time I seen you uns I
remember well ez ye war a-settin’ on the mourner’s bench.” For there
had been a great religious revival the previous year and many had been
pricked in conscience. “Ye ain’t so tuk up now in contemplatin’ the
goodness o’ God an’ yer sins agin same,” he pursued caustically.

Brent retorted with obvious acrimony. “I don’t see no ‘casion ter doubt
the goodness o’ God--I never war so ongrateful nohow as that comes to.”
 He resented being thus publicly reproached, as if he were individually
responsible for the iniquity of the bran dance--the scape-goat for the
sins of all this merry company. Many of the whilom dancers had pressed
forward, crowding up behind the old mountaineer and facing the flushed
Brent and the flowerlike Valeria, the faint green leaves of her muslin
dress fluttering about her as her skirts swayed in the wind.

“Ye ain’t so powerful afeard of the devil _now_ ez ye uster was on the
mourner’s bench,” the old man argued.

“I never war so mighty afeard of the devil,” the goaded Brent broke
forth angrily, for the crowd was laughing in great relish of his
predicament--they, who had shared all the enormity of “shaking a foot”
 on this festive day. Brent flinched from the obvious injustice of their
ridicule. He felt an eager impulse for reprisal. “I know ez sech dancin’
ez I hev done ain’t no sin,” he blustered. “I ain’t afeared o’ the devil
fur sech ez that. I wouldn’t be skeered a mite ef he war ter--ter--ter
speak right out now agin it, an’ I’ll be bound ez all o’ you uns would.
I--I--look yander--_look!_”

He had thrown himself into a posture of amazed intentness and was
pointing upward at the overhanging boughs of a tree above their heads.
A squirrel was poised thereon, gazing down motionless. Then, suddenly--a
frightful thing happened. The creature seemed to speak. A strange
falsetto voice, such as might befit so eerie a chance, sounded on
the air--loud, distinct, heard far up the slope, and electrifying the
assemblage near at hand that was gathering about the stand and awaiting
the political candidates.

“Quit yer foolin’--quit yer fooling” the strange voice iterated. “I’ll
larn ye ter be afeared o’ the devil. Long legs now is special grace.”

So wild a cry broke from the startled group below the tree that the
squirrel, with a sudden, alert, about-face movement, turned and swiftly
ran along the bough and up the bole. It paused once and looked back
to cry out again in distinct iteration, “Quit yer foolin’! Quit yer
foolin’!”

But none had stayed to listen. A general frantic rout ensued. The
possibility of ventriloquism was unknown to their limited experience.
All had heard the voice and those who had distinguished the words and
their seeming source needed no argument. In either case the result was
the same. Within ten minutes the grounds of the famous barbecue and bran
dance were deserted. The cumbrous wagons, all too slow, were wending
with such speed as their drivers could coerce the ox-teams to make along
the woodland road homeward, while happier wights on horseback galloped
past, leaving clouds of dust in the rear and a grewsome premonition of
being hindmost in a flight that to the simple minds of the mountaineers
had a pursuer of direful reality.

The state of a candidate is rarely enviable until the event is cast and
the postulant is merged into the elect, but on the day signalized by
the barbecue, the bran dance, and the rout the unfortunate aspirants
for public favor felt that they had experienced the extremest spite
of fate; for although they realized in their superior education and
sophistication that the panic-stricken rural crowd had been tricked by
some clever ventriloquist, the political orators were left with only the
winds and waters and wilderness on which to waste their eloquence, and
the wisdom of their exclusive method of saving the country.

*****

Brent Kayle’s talent for eluding the common doom of man to eat his bread
in the sweat of his face was peculiarly marked. He was the eldest of
seven sons, ranging in age from eleven to twenty years, including one
pair of twins. The parents had been greatly pitied for the exorbitant
exactions of rearing this large family during its immaturity, but now,
the labor of farm, barnyard and woodpile, distributed among so many
stalwart fellows of the same home and interest was light and the result
ample. Perhaps none of them realized how little of this abundance was
compassed by Brent’s exertions--how many days he spent dawdling on the
river bank idly experimenting with the echoes--how often, even when he
affected to work, he left the plow in the furrow while he followed till
sunset the flight of successive birds through the adjacent pastures,
imitating as he went the fresh mid-air cry, whistling in so vibrant
a bird-voice, so signally clear and dulcet, yet so keen despite its
sweetness, that his brothers at the plow-handles sought in vain to
distinguish between the calls of the earth-ling and the winged voyager
of the empyreal air. None of them had ever heard of ventriloquism, so
limited had been their education and experience, so sequestered was
their home amidst the wilderness of the mountains. Only very gradually
to Brent himself came the consciousness of his unique gift, as from
imitation he progressed to causing a silent bird to seem to sing. The
strangeness of the experience frightened him at first, but with each
experiment he had grown more confident, more skilled, until at length he
found that he could throw a singularly articulate voice into the jaws
of the old plow-horse, while his brothers, accustomed to his queer vocal
tricks, were convulsed with laughter at the bizarre quadrupedal views
of life thus elicited. This development of proficiency, however,
was recent, and until the incident at the bran dance it had not been
exercised beyond the limits of their secluded home. It had revealed new
possibilities to the young ventriloquist and he looked at once agitated,
excited, and triumphant when late that afternoon he appeared suddenly at
the rail fence about the door-yard of Valeria Clee’s home on one of the
spurs of Chilhowee Mountain. It was no such home as his--lacking all the
evidence of rude comfort and coarse plenty that reigned there--and in
its tumbledown disrepair it had an aspect of dispirited helplessness.
Here Valeria, an orphan from her infancy, dwelt with her father’s
parents, who always of small means had become yearly a more precarious
support. The ancient grandmother was sunken in many infirmities, and the
household tasks had all fallen to the lot of Valeria. Latterly a stroke
of paralysis had given old man Clee an awful annotation on the chapter
of age and poverty upon which he was entering, and his little farm was
fast growing up in brambles.

“But ‘t ain’t no differ, gran Mad,” Valeria often sought to reassure
him. “I’ll work some way out.”

And when he would irritably flout the possibility that she could do
aught to materially avert disaster she was wont to protest: “You jes’
watch _me. I’ll_ find out some way. I be ez knowin’ ez any old _owel_.”

Despite her slender physique and her recurrent heavy tasks the drear
doom of poverty with its multiform menace had cast no shadow on her
ethereal face, and her pensive dark gray eyes were full of serene
light as she met the visitor at the bars. A glimmer of mirth began to
scintillate beneath her long brown lashes, and she spoke first. “The
folks in the mountings air mighty nigh skeered out’n thar boots by yer
foolishness, Brent”--she sought to conserve a mien of reproof. “They
‘low ez it war a manifestation of the Evil One.”

Brent laughed delightedly. “Warn’t it prime?” he said. “But I never
expected ter work sech a scatteration of the crowd Thar skeer plumb
terrified _me_. I jes’ set out with the nimblest, an’ run from the devil
myself.”

“Won’t them candidates fur office be mighty mad if they find out what it
war sure enough?” she queried anxiously. “They gin the crowd a barbecue
an’ bran dance, an’ arter all, the folks got quit of hevin’ ter hear
them speak an’ jaw about thar old politics an’ sech.”

“Them candidates air hoppin’ mad fur true,” he admitted. “I been down
yander at Gilfillan’s store in the Cove an’ I hearn the loafers thar
talkin’ powerful ‘bout the strange happening. An’ them candidates war
thar gittin’ ready ter start out fur town in thar buggy. An’ that thar
gay one--though now he seems ez sober ez that sour one--he said ‘t
warn’t no devil. ‘Twar jes’ a ventriloquisk from somewhar--that’s
jes’ what that town man called it. But _I_ never said nuthin’. I kep’
powerful quiet.”

Brent Kayle was as vain a man as ever stood in shoe leather--even in the
midst of his absorption in his disclosure he could not refrain from a
pause to reflect on the signal success of his prank and laugh and plume
himself.

“But old Gilfillan he loves ter believe ez the devil air hotfoot arter
other folks with a pitchfork, an’ he axed how then did sech a man happen
ter be in the mountings ‘thout none knowin’ of it. An’ that candidate,
the gay one, he say he reckon the feller kem from that circus what is
goin’ fer show in Shaftesville termorrer--mebbe he hearn ‘bout the
bran dance an’ wanted ter hev some fun out’n the country folks. That
candidate say he hed hearn dozens o’ ventriloquisks in shows in the big
towns--though this war about the bes’ one he could remember. He said he
hed no doubt this feller is paid good money in the show, fur jes’ sech
fool tricks with his voice--_good money!_”

Valeria had listened in motionless amazement But he had now paused,
almost choking with his rush of emotion, his excitement, his sense of
triumph, and straight ensued a certain reluctance, a dull negation, a
prophetic recoil from responsibility that clogged his resolve. His eyes
roved uncertainly about the familiar domestic scene, darkening now,
duskily purple beneath the luminous pearly and roseate tints of the
twilight sky. The old woman was a-drowse on the porch of the rickety
little log-cabin beneath the gourd vines, the paralytic grandfather came
hirpling unsteadily through the doorway on his supporting crutch, his
pipe shaking in his shaking hand, while he muttered and mumbled to
himself--who knows what?--whether of terror of the future, or regret
for the past, or doubt and despair of to-day. The place was obviously
so meagre, so poverty-bitten, so eloquent of the hard struggle for mere
existence. If it had been necessary for Brent Kayle to put his hand to
the plow in its behalf the words would never have been spoken--but “good
money” for this idle trade, these facile pranks!

“Vallie,” he said impulsively, “I’m going ter try it--ef ye’ll go with
me. Ef ye war along I’d feel heartened ter stand up an’ face the crowd
in a strange place. I always loved ye better than any of the other
gals--shucks!--whenst _ye_ war about I never knowed ez they war alive.”

Perhaps it was the after-glow of the sunset in the sky, but a crimson
flush sprang into her delicate cheek; her eyes were evasive, quickly
glancing here and there with an affectation of indifference, and she had
no mind to talk of love, she declared.

But she should think of her gran’dad and gran’mam, he persisted. How
had she the heart to deprive them of his willing aid? He declared he had
intended to ask her to marry him anyhow, for she had always seemed
to like him--she could not deny this--but now was the auspicious
time--to-morrow--while the circus was in Shaftesville, and “good money”
 was to be had to provide for the wants of her old grandparents.

Though Valeria had flouted the talk of love she seemed his partisan
when she confided the matter to the two old people and their consent
was accorded rather for her sake than their own. They felt a revivifying
impetus in the thought that after their death Valeria would have a good
husband to care for her, for to them the chief grief of their loosening
hold on life was her inheritance of their helplessness and poverty.

The courthouse in Shaftesville seemed a very imposing edifice to people
unaccustomed to the giddy heights of a second story.

When the two staring young rustics left the desk of the county court
clerk and repaired to the dwelling of the minister of the Methodist
Church near by, with the marriage license just procured safely stowed
away in Brent’s capacious hat, their anxieties were roused for a moment
lest some delay ensue, as they discovered that the minister was on the
point of sitting down to his dinner. He courteously deferred the meal,
however, and as the bride apologetically remarked after the ceremony
that they might have awaited his convenience were it not for the circus,
he imagined that the youthful couple had designed to utilize a round of
the menagerie as a wedding tour. The same thought was in the minds of
the metropolitan managers of the organization when presently the two
young wildings from the mountain fastness were ushered into their
presence, having secured an audience by dint of extreme persistence,
aided by a mien of mysterious importance.

They found two men standing just within the great empty tent, for the
crowd had not as yet begun to gather. The most authoritative, who was
tall and portly, had the manner of swiftly disposing of the incident by
asking in a peremptory voice what he could do for them. The other, lean
and languid, looked up from a newspaper, in which he had been scanning
a flaming circus advertisement, as he stood smoking a cigar. He said
nothing, but concentrated an intent speculative gaze on the face of
Valeria, who had pulled off her faint green sunbonnet and in a flush of
eager hopefulness fanned with the slats.

“Ventriloquist!” the portly man repeated with a note of surprise,
as Brent made known his gifts and his desire for an engagement. “Oh,
well--ventriloquism is a chestnut.”

Then with a qualm of pity, perhaps, for the blank despair that settled
down on the two young faces he explained: “Nothing goes in the circus
business but novelty. The public is tired out with ventriloquism. No
mystery about it now--kind of thing, too, that a clever amateur can
compass.”

Brent, hurled from the giddy heights of imminent achievement to the
depths of nullity, could not at once relinquish the glowing prospects
that had allured him. He offered to give a sample of his powers. He
would like to bark a few, he said; you couldn’t tell him from a sure
enough dog; he could imitate the different breeds--hound-dog, bull-pup,
terrier--but the manager was definitely shaking his head.

Suddenly his partner spoke. “The girl might take a turn!”

“In the show?” the portly man said in surprise.

“The Company’s Una weighs two hundred pounds and has a face as broad as
a barn-door. She shows she is afraid of the lion when she stands beside
him in the street parade, and--curse him--he is so clever that he
knows it, no matter how he is doped. It incites him to growl at her
all through the pageant, and that simply queers the sweet peace of the
idea.”

“And you think this untrained girl could take her place!”

“Why not? She couldn’t do worse--and she _could_ look the part. See,” he
continued, in as business-like way as if Valeria were merely a bale of
goods or deaf, “ethereal figure, poetic type of beauty, fine expression
of candor and serene courage. She has a look of open-eyed innocence--I
don’t mean _ignorance_.” He made a subtle distinction in the untutored
aspect of the two countenances before him.

“Would you be afraid of the lion, child?” the stout man asked Valeria.
“He is chained--and drugged, too--in the pageant.”

It was difficult for the astonished Valeria to find her voice. “A lion?”
 she murmured. “I never seen a lion.”

“No? Honest?” they both cried in amazement that such a thing could be.
The portly man’s rollicking laughter rang out through the thin walls of
canvas to such effect that some savage caged beast within reach of the
elastic buoyant sound was roused to anger and supplemented it with a
rancorous snarl.

Valeria listened apprehensively, with dilated eyes. She thought of the
lion, the ferocious creature that she had never seen. She thought of the
massive strong woman who knew and feared him. Then she remembered the
desolate old grandparents and their hopeless, helpless poverty. “I’ll
resk the lion,” she said with a tremulous bated voice.

“That’s a brave girl,” cried the manager.

“I hev read ‘bout Daniel’s lions an’ him in the den,” she explained. “An’
Daniel hed consid’ble trust an’ warn’t afeard--an’ mebbe I won’t be
afeard nuther.”

“Daniel’s Lions? Daniel’s Lions?” the portly manager repeated
attentively. “I don’t know the show--perhaps in some combination now.”
 For if he had ever heard of that signal leonine incident recorded in
Scripture he had forgotten it. “Yes, yes,” as Valeria eagerly appealed
to him in behalf of Brent, “we must try to give Hubby some little stunt
to do in the performance--but _you_ are the ticket--a sure winner.”

Of course the public knew, if it chose to reflect, that though
apparently free the lion was muzzled with a strong steel ring, and every
ponderous paw was chained down securely to the exhibition car; it may
even have suspected that the savage proclivities of the great beast were
dulled by drags. But there is always the imminent chance of some failure
of precaution, and the multitude must needs thrill to the spectacle of
intrepidity and danger. Naught could exceed the enthusiasm that greeted
this slim, graceful Una a few days later in the streets of a distant
city, as clad in long draperies of fleecy white she reclined against
a splendid leonine specimen, her shining golden hair hanging on her
shoulders, or mingling with his tawny mane as now and again she let her
soft cheek rest on his head, her luminous dark gray eyes smiling down
at the cheering crowds. This speedily became the favorite feature of the
pageant, and the billboards flamed with her portrait, leaning against
the lion, hundreds of miles in advance of her triumphal progress.

All this unexpected success presently awoke Brent’s emulation--so far he
had not even “barked a few.” A liberal advance on his wife’s salary had
quieted him for a time, but when the wonders of this new life began
to grow stale--the steam-cars, the great cities, the vast country the
Company traversed--he became importunate for the opportunity of display.
He “barked a few” so cleverly at a concert after the performance
one evening that the manager gave him a chance to throw the very
considerable volume of sound he could command into the jaws of one of
the lions. “Let Emperor speak to the people,” he said. Forthwith he
wrote a bit of rodomontade which he bade Brent memorize and had the
satisfaction soon to hear from the lion-trainer, to whom was intrusted
all that pertained to the exhibition of these kings of beasts, that the
rehearsal was altogether satisfactory.

An immense audience was assembled in the great tent. The soaring dome
of white canvas reflected the electric light with a moony lustre. The
display of the three rings was in full swing. That magic atmosphere
of the circus, the sense of simple festivity, the crises of thrilling
expectancy, the revelation of successive wonders, the diffusive delight
of a multitude not difficult to entertain--all were in evidence.
Suddenly a ponderous cage was rolled in; the band was playing liltingly;
the largest of the lions within the bars, a tawny monster, roused up and
with head depressed and switching tail paced back and forth within
the restricted limits of the cage, while the others looked out with
motionless curiosity at the tiers of people. Presently with a long
supple stride the gigantic, blond Norwegian trainer came lightly across
the arena--a Hercules, with broad bare chest and arms, arrayed in
spangled blue satin and white tights that forbade all suspicion of
protective armor. At a single bound he sprang into the cage, while
Brent, garbed in carnation and white, stood unheralded and unremarked
close by outside among the armed attendants. There seemed no need of
precaution, however, so lightly the trainer frolicked with the savage
creatures. He performed wonderful acrobatic feats with them in which one
hardly knew which most to admire, the agility and intrepidity of the
man or the supple strength and curious intelligence of the beasts. He
wrestled with them; he leaped and rolled among them; he put his head
into their terrible full-fanged jaws--but before springing forth he
fired his pistols loaded with blank cartridges full in their faces;
for the instant the coercion of his eye was pretermitted every one
treacherously bounded toward him, seeking to seize him before he could
reach the door. Then Emperor, as was his wont, flung himself in baffled
fury against the bars and stood erect and shook them in his wrath.

All at once, to the astonishment of the people, he spoke, voicing a
plaintive panegyric on liberty and protesting his willingness to barter
all the luxury of his captivity for one free hour on the desert sands.

Surprise, absolute, unqualified, reigned for one moment. But a
circus-going crowd is uncannily quick. The audience perceived a certain
involuntary element of the entertainment. A storm of cat-calls ensued,
hisses, roars of laughter. For the place was the city of Glaston, the
Company being once more in East Tennessee, and the lion spoke the old
familiar mountain dialect so easily recognizable in this locality. Even
a _lapsus linguae_, “you uns.” was unmistakable amidst the high-flown
periods. Although the ventriloquism was appreciated, the incongruity
of this countrified jargon, held in great contempt by the townfolks,
discounted Emperor’s majesty and he was in ludicrous eclipse.

Behind the screening canvas the portly manager raged; “How dare you make
that fine lion talk like a ‘hill-Billy’ such as yourself--as if he were
fresh caught in the Great Smoky Mountains!” he stormed at the indignant
ventriloquist. The other partners in the management interfered in
Brent’s behalf; they feared that the proud mountaineer, resenting the
contemptuous designation “hill-Billy” might withdraw from the Company,
taking his wife with him, and the loss of Valeria from the pageant would
be well nigh irreparable, for her ethereal and fragile beauty as Una
with her lion had a perennial charm for the public. The management
therefore assumed the responsibility for the linguistic disaster, having
confided the rehearsal to a foreigner, for the Norwegian lion-trainer
naively explained that to him it seemed that all Americans talked alike.

A course in elocution was recommended to Brent by the managers, and he
fell in with this plan delightedly, but after two or three elementary
bouts with the vowel sounds, long and short, consonants, sonant and
surd, he concluded that mere articulation could be made as laborious as
sawing wood, and he discovered that it was incompatible with his
dignity to be a pupil in an art in which he had professed proficiency.
Thereafter his accomplishment rusted--to the relief of the
management--although he required that Valeria should be described in the
advertisements as the wife of “the _celebrated ventriloquist_, Mr. Brent
Kayle,” thus seeking by faked notoriety to secure the sweets of fame,
without the labor of achievement.

Valeria had welcomed the pacific settlement of the difficulty, because
her “good money” earned in the show so brightened and beautified the
evening of life for the venerable grandparents at home. For their sake
she had conquered her dread of the lion in the pageant. Indeed she had
found other lions in her path that she feared more--the glitter and
gauds of her tinsel world, the enervating love of ease, the influence of
sordid surroundings and ignoble ideals. But not one could withstand the
simple goodness of the unsophisticated girl. They retreated before the
power of her fireside traditions of right thinking and true living which
she had learned in her humble mountain home.

It had come to be a dwelling of comfortable aspect, cared for in the
absence of the young couple by a thrifty hired housekeeper, a widowed
cousin, and here they spent the off-seasons when the circus company went
into winter quarters. Repairs had been instituted, several rooms were
added, and a wide veranda replaced the rickety little porch and gave
upon a noble prospect of mountain and valley and river. Here on sunshiny
noons in the good Saint Martin’s summer the old gran’dad loved to sit,
blithe and hearty, chirping away the soft unseasonable December days.
Sometimes in the plenitude of content he would give Valeria a meaning
glance and mutter “Oh, leetle _Owel!_ Oh, leetle _Owel!_” and then break
into laughter that must needs pause to let him wipe his eyes.

“Yes, Vallie ‘pears ter hev right good sense an’ makes out toler’ble
well, considerin’,” her husband would affably remark, “though of course
it war _me_ ez interduced her ter the managers, an’ she gits her main
chance in the show through my bein’ a celebrated ventriloquisk.”





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