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Title: Goose Creek Folks - A Story of the Kentucky Mountains
Author: Bush, Isabel Graham
Language: English
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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.

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                          [Picture: Book cover]

                     [Picture: Mountain schoolhouse]



                            GOOSE CREEK FOLKS


                   _A Story of the Kentucky Mountains_

                                * * * * *

                                    By
                            ISABEL GRAHAM BUSH
                                   AND
                           FLORENCE LILIAN BUSH

                                * * * * *

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                                * * * * *

                      NEW YORK    CHICAGO    TORONTO
                        Fleming H. Revell Company
                           LONDON AND EDINBURGH

                                * * * * *

                           Copyright, 1912, by
                        FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY

                                * * * * *

                        New York: 158 Fifth Avenue
                       Chicago: 125 N. Wabash Ave.
                       Toronto: 25 Richmond St., W.
                      London: 21 Paternoster Square
                      Edinburgh: 100 Princes Street

                                * * * * *



To


                            _ALICE K. DOUGLAS_
                            _OF BEREA COLLEGE_

_whose helpfulness of spirit and enthusiasm for learning have inspired
many a mountain boy and girl to a life of broad usefulness, this book is
lovingly dedicated by_

                                                             _THE AUTHORS_



CONTENTS

        I.  DAN GOOCH MAKES A DISCOVERY                        9
       II.  MARTIN SURPRISES GOOSE CREEK                      21
      III.  TALITHA SOLVES A PUZZLING PROBLEM                 31
       IV.  THE STORM                                         42
        V.  AN UNEXPECTED RIVAL                               52
       VI.  HUNTING A VARMINT                                 62
      VII.  THE JAM SOCIAL                                    74
     VIII.  THE MASTER KEY                                    83
       IX.  THE BAPTIZING                                     98
        X.  SI QUINN REVEALS A SECRET                        119
       XI.  CHRISTMAS DOINGS                                 131
      XII.  GOOSE CREEK PLOTS AGAINST THE SCHOOLMASTER       137
     XIII.  THE “STILL” CAVE                                 150
      XIV.  LOST ON THE MOUNTAINS                            160
       XV.  THE WALKING PARTY                                173
      XVI.  THE MOUNTAIN CONGRESS                            186
     XVII.  KID SHACKLEY GETS A GLIMPSE OF THE WORLD         200
    XVIII.  COMMENCEMENT TIME AT BENTVILLE                   210



I
DAN GOOCH MAKES A DISCOVERY


“DO you reckon it’ll seem the same?”  Talitha, quite breathless with the
long climb, stood looking down at her brother, who was following more
slowly up the scraggy slope of Red Mountain.

“Why not?” he answered.  “But say, are you going to keep up this gait for
long?  If you do you’ll be plumb tuckered before we get home.”

The girl laughed, and then sighed.  “I’m so anxious to get there, Mart;
seems like I can’t wait.  To think we’ve been away ’most a year!  Do you
s’pose Rufe and little Dock’ll know us?”

“Like as not they won’t.  I’m sort o’ in hopes they’ll think we’ve
changed some,” returned Martin.  He dropped upon a convenient ledge and
pulled his sister down beside him.

“I’m afraid they won’t see much difference in me, but you’ve changed a
whole lot,” Talitha declared proudly with a sidewise glance of the brown
eyes.  “Mother’ll notice it the first thing.”

“I guess you haven’t looked in the glass lately,” scoffed Martin,
reddening at the implied praise.  “You aren’t the same girl who left for
school last fall with a pigtail hanging down her back and her dress ’most
to her knees.”

“I s’pose I looked just as Lalla Ponder did when she started in this
spring, and she’s changed a sight.”  Talitha put up her hands to smooth
the soft roll of wavy hair which had taken the place of the tight,
girlish braid.  A year had never made so much difference before.

“I’m going back in the fall,” suddenly announced Martin.  “Aren’t you,
Tally?”

“So far as I know, I am, but it all depends on mammy.  It’ll be harder
for me to leave than you, I reckon.”  Talitha rose to her feet and
adjusted her bundle knapsack-fashion across her shoulders.  “We’ll make
it before dark, I should say,” thinking of the rough mountain way yet to
be traversed.  They had left the train early that morning, and walked
steadily since sunrise.  Now it lacked a half-hour of noon.

Another steady climb and a descent, and the two found themselves on
familiar ground.  At their feet Goose Creek crept sluggishly.  A footpath
followed on the low, sloping bank like a persistent shadow until both
were lost to sight in the curves of the foothills.  Here in the cool
shade of a tangled growth, close to the stream, brother and sister paused
to eat their lunch, which Martin produced from his bundle.  They would be
at home in time for supper.

“I wonder if Si Quinn is going to teach the Goose Creek school this
term?”  Martin helped himself to a sandwich.

“I reckon so, but I wish he could go to Bentville long enough to get it
out of his head that the earth is square.  To think of his teaching us
such foolishness!”

Martin shook his head.  “It wouldn’t be of any use; he’s the greatest
person to argufy.  He’s got it all figured out that if the earth is round
we’d all be rolled off into nothing.  It would be ‘onpossible’ to stay on
it.”

Talitha dipped her hands in the creek and wiped them on her handkerchief.
“I wish—” she began, then stopped suddenly.  Martin looked up and his
eyes followed hers.

Around the farther curve of the creek path appeared a horse’s head; then
the animal and its rider came slowly into view.  “It’s somebody from
Stone Jug, I reckon,” said Martin, “only it rides like Dan Gooch.”

“It is Dan Gooch,” decided Talitha under her breath.  “Wait and see if he
knows us, Mart.”

The old sorrel plodded dejectedly along the path.  The man on his back
was as loose-jointed and angular as his steed.  An ancient broad-brimmed
hat slouched over his face to keep out the bright sunlight.  If the two
seated at the creek’s edge imagined he was about to pass them unnoticed,
they were immediately undeceived, for the man raised his head and eyed
them as though he had come for that express purpose.

“Howdy!” said Martin with the tone of one stranger saluting another.

“Howdy!” responded the man, still staring.  His horse had already stopped
and was nosing the herbage.  “Hit ain’t Mart Coyle and Tally?” exclaimed
Dan Gooch after a speculative silence.

“It is.”  Talitha sprang up with a laugh.  “But you didn’t know us right
off, though.”

“I ’lowed ’twas you and agin I ’lowed ’twas furriners.  I never seen
young-uns change so in sech a few months.  You’d better let me go ahead
and tell your mammy thar’s comp’ny comin’ fer supper.”  The man slipped
from his horse with a chuckle.  “If you’ve walked from the Gap, hit’s
been a purty stiff climb.  Crawl up on the beastie, Tally, I’ll keep Mart
comp’ny.”

After much demurring the girl mounted the sorrel and soon both were lost
to sight around the bend.

The sun, a huge, fiery ball, was poised on the bare summit of a peak in
the west, when Talitha reached the edge of a cove on the mountain-side.
Curling indolently upward, the smoke from a cabin chimney was lost among
the trees crowding the slope beyond.  In spite of her haste, she halted
the not unwilling sorrel and sat for a few moments gazing at the place
she called home.  The picture in her memory supplied all invisible
details.

The cabin was small, one-roomed, with a loft above, the rough, unbarked
logs brown as a beech nut.  The mud and stick chimney at one end looked
ready to collapse at the first brisk wind.  There was no glass in the two
shuttered openings which served as windows.  The interior of the cabin
was scarcely more attractive.  Wide cracks showed in the puncheon floor,
the walls were smoke-stained.  In a corner near the fireplace,—there was
no stove,—were several rude shelves filled with coarse, nicked dishes.
The loom, warping bars, spinning wheel, a deal table, with three or four
chairs and a couple of benches, nearly filled the room.  A row of last
year’s pepper pods and a bunch of herbs still hung from the dingy
ceiling.

Outside, two children romped among the geese and chickens.  Presently a
woman, spare and stooping, appeared, and toiled springward for a bucket
of water.  Tears filled Talitha’s eyes as she went on.  Her mother was
not old, yet she was as careworn and bent as women twice her age in the
village.  To the girl, Bentville stood for the world which lay beyond her
mountains, and the longing to transform her home life into something like
the comfort and harmony of those she had just left was almost
overwhelming.

Talitha rode up to the door amid the joyful shrieks of the children and
the squawks of the fowls as they flew precipitately in every direction.
Dismounting, she released herself as soon as possible from small
embracing arms and hurried to her mother who had set down the bucket and
was eyeing her daughter perplexedly.

“Hit ’pears ter me you’ve growed a heap sence you war gone,” was all the
comment Mrs. Coyle made upon Talitha’s changed appearance.  “Whar’s
Mart?” with sudden misgiving as the girl picked up the bucket of water
and stepped briskly along at her side.

“He’s coming.  Dan Gooch gave me a lift on his sorrel and he footed it
with Mart.”

Talitha went on into the cabin, but her mother lingered outside.  She had
caught sight of a young, stalwart figure beside their neighbour.  She
smoothed her old homespun gown with worn, calloused hands, and wished she
had the “tuckin’ comb” Talitha had sent her for Christmas in her hair.

“Hello, mammy!” Martin put his arms around his mother and kissed her
awkwardly.

After Dan Gooch had accepted the hospitable invitation to stay for
supper, the three repaired indoors.  Talitha had rallied the younger
members of the family to her assistance, and was already dishing up the
evening meal.  A fresh cloth had been laid, and a handful of mountain
laurel, in a tin can on the window-sill, transferred to the centre of the
table.  At this juncture Sam Coyle appeared from the “fodder patch.”
After a hasty greeting he retreated to the basin of water outside with a
bewildered, company feeling he had not experienced since a college
settlement worker had visited them the year before.

At the table he listened with silent pride to the answers which Dan
Gooch’s volley of questions elicited.  He learned that a mountain farm
could bring its owner a good living if rightly cultivated, that Talitha
had made with her own hands the dress and apron of “store goods” she was
wearing.  Perhaps his wife had been in the right after all when she
insisted on the two older children going to school, although it was
against his judgment.

“And you-uns hev been a-larnin’ carpenterin’?” continued their neighbour,
addressing Martin.

“Yes, I’ve been working at it all the year, out of school hours,” was the
reply.

“Then thar’s a job waitin’ fer you at Squar’ Dodd’s.  His house ain’t big
’nough ter suit him, and he’s bound ter hev a po’ch and a lean-to on thet
place of his’n.”

“Thank you ever so much.  I’ll see Mr. Dodd about it to-night.”  Martin’s
eyes kindled at the thought of putting his knowledge to such immediate
use.

“I reckon thet school’d be a fine place fer my Abner and Gincy,” mused
Dan.

“Oh, it would,” urged Talitha delightedly.  “And Gincy could room with me
if I go back next year,” with an appealing glance at her father.

Sam Coyle frowned.  “I reckon a year’s schoolin’s ’nough fer any gal.
Hit’s a sight more’n I ever had,” he said surlily.

His neighbour gave a derisive laugh.  “Can’t neither of us read or write
no more’n if we war blind as bats.  I hain’t any mind ter stand in the
way of my chil’ren gettin’ larnin’, ’specially if hit ain’t costin’ me
nothin’.”

The thrust went home, as the speaker intended, for it was well known that
Martin and Talitha had paid for their year at school by their own
exertions.  Also that Sam Coyle had taken little of the added
burdens—during their absence—upon his own shoulders.

“Gincy would like it ever so much,” pursued Talitha, anxious to preserve
peace.  “She’d especially like the singing.”

“She would, I reckon,” agreed her father proudly.  “Gincy has a purty ear
for a tune, and I’m aimin’ ter give her a chanct if I didn’t hev one
myself,” he said, rising to take his departure.

Martin watched him disappear down the slope in silent astonishment.  He
had supposed Dan Gooch would be the last one to see the “needcessity of
larnin’,” and here he was the champion of their cause against their own
father.

Talitha was briskly clearing away the supper dishes when a couple mounted
on one horse rode up to the door.  “Howdy!” greeted Sam Coyle, lounging
forward with a show of cordiality.

“Shad ’lowed he seen a gal and boy tromp-in’ ’cross the mounting this
mornin’, and I sez hit wan’t nobody but Mart and Tally,” said the old
woman, slipping cautiously to the ground.

“You war a true prophet fer once, Ann, but I’d be bound nobody’d known
’em anywhere else,” declared her brother.

“Plumb spiled, most likely,” grumbled Ann.  From the depths of her black,
slatted sunbonnet the gimlet eyes keenly scrutinized her nephew and
niece.  “Well, you air growed up fer sure, and I reckon you know more’n
the old schoolmaster hisself.  Thar ain’t nothin’ like the insurance o’
young-uns thet’s got a leetle larnin’,” pursued the old woman with
acerbity.  “Now what I want ter know is, what kin you do thet the gals
and boys what never seen Bentville, can’t?”  Ann Bills had seated herself
before the fireplace, removed her sunbonnet, and was lighting the pipe
she had taken from her pocket.

“Lawsy,’ Ann,” protested Mrs. Coyle indignantly, “their pappy and me air
terrible pleased with what they’ve larned, and I don’t see no call fer
you ter be so powerful ornery.  If all your six boys hed been gals I’ll
be bound thar couldn’t one of ’em make a gown like thet Tally’s wearin’,
and she tuk every stitch herself.  As fer Mart, you’ll know what he kin
do ’fore long, I reckon.”

Mrs. Coyle and her sister-in-law did not agree on the subject of
education.  The latter’s family of boys had grown to man’s estate and
married without having mastered the second reader.  For once Sam Coyle
did not come to his sister’s aid.  Although he had no intention of
allowing his children to return to school, he was swelling with pride at
their changed appearance and his tongue was ready to wage a sharp battle
in the cause of “larnin’.”

Failing to secure an ally, the old dame prudently changed her tactics.
“Hit air purty fair work,” she admitted in a conciliatory tone,
scrutinizing the hem of Talitha’s gown.  “But I don’t set much store by
thet kind o’ goods; hit can’t hold a candle ter homespun when hit comes
ter wear.  If I war you, I’d put Tally ter the loom; she air old ’nough
ter be larnin’ somethin’ of more ’count.”

Talitha turned back to her dishes with a sigh.  Martin had escaped Uncle
Shad’s equally acrimonious tongue and gone to interview Squire Dodd.  He
did not return until the old couple had taken their departure.

Gincy Gooch came over the very next afternoon.  The dinner work was out
of the way and Mrs. Coyle was spinning while Talitha sat on the doorstep
at work on the “store goods” Martin had brought his mother for a new
gown.  Gincy watched the deft fingers wistfully.

“Pappy says you-uns hev larned a heap of things,” she remarked.  “And
you’ve changed a sight; ’most ’pears ter me you ain’t Tally Coyle any
more.”

Talitha laughed.  “Well, I am, and when you’ve been to Bentville a while
you’ll change, too.”

“Kin you reely read books right off ’thout spellin’ out the big words?”

“Yes,” Talitha nodded, remembering her shortcomings of only a year ago.
If she never went back to school how many things she had to be thankful
for.  “You’d like the singing, Gincy,” she said abruptly, “it’s so
different from any music you ever heard.”

“Diff’runt, how?”

“Well, I’ll show you.  Just begin some song and don’t get off the tune no
matter what I sing.”

“I ain’t never got off the tune yit,” reproved Gincy.  She began in a
clear, sweet voice “The Turkish Lady,” an old English ballad (one of many
preserved for generations among the mountaineers).  It ran thus:

    “Lord Bateman was in England born,
    He thought himself of a high degree;
    He could not rest or be contented
    Until he had voyaged across the sea.”

Talitha joined Gincy in a mellow alto, and together the two sang verse
after verse.  The spinning wheel ceased to turn while the spinner
listened to this new blending of voices, for the mountain people only
sang the air.  At the edge of the slope Sam Coyle heard it in amazement.
The old ballad was familiar enough, but it had never sounded so
beautiful.

Gincy showed no surprise at the innovation.  Her hands clasped in her lap
she looked with large, dreamy eyes off to the green-topped hills lying
peacefully against the shining sky.  The echoes crept out of the silences
and chanted the words softly over and over again.

When the song was finished, Gincy hardly paused to take breath before she
swung into another familiar melody and Talitha followed, her work
forgotten.  They had hardly reached the third line when a bass voice
joined them, and Martin dropped down on the doorstep beside the two
girls.

Below, on the creek path, a sorrel horse and its rider had halted.  “Thet
air Gincy’s voice fer sartin.  I reckon the Coyles air a-singin’, too,
but hit sounds diff’runt’n I ever hearn ’em afore; somethin’ like them
a-choirin’ up yander, I reckon,” glancing upward.  With a regretful sigh
he heard the last echo die away.

“Gincy’s goin’ ter hev a chanct ter git larnin’, thet’s all,” declared
Dan Gooch as he jogged slowly homeward.



II
MARTIN SURPRISES GOOSE CREEK


THE next day, Martin began work on the addition to Squire Dodd’s cabin.
Sam Coyle, much elated at his son’s success in securing the job, hastened
thither and planted himself in the shade to watch its progress.  He was
not without company.  There were a number who considered the squire had
shown undue haste in giving so important a piece of work to a
“striplin’,” and had gathered to note proceedings and proffer advice.

Martin listened in silent good humour to the wagging tongues.  That his
employer had confidence in his ability was enough, and he worked with
unceasing energy.  At the end of the second day the critics were
silenced, and before the week was over it had been noised abroad that Sam
Coyle’s son had come back from school with a trade at his “finger eends
’sides a heap o’ book larnin’.”  The Settlement store was, for the first
time in many months, nearly destitute of loungers.

Instead of the intended lean-to, a one story frame addition was built
across the front of the Dodd cabin, shutting the original completely from
view of the traveller on the creek path.  A wide porch increased the
magnificence of the structure, and when a coat of yellow paint with
trimmings of a brilliant red denoted the completion of Martin’s contract,
the spectators were unanimous in agreeing that the mountains had never
seen anything quite so grand.  The peaks looked down at the innovation
with a new dignity—so it seemed to the young carpenter.  He had been
learning the value of simplicity, and he realized how little his
handiwork harmonized with the beauty around it.  But he had only carried
out the wishes of the squire, and he dismissed the subject from his mind
for something more weighty was upon it.

“I’ve been thinking ever since I came home,” he said that night to
Talitha, “of something Professor Scott said: ‘It isn’t enough to get good
things for ourselves, we must pass them on.’  I wish I could take some of
the boys back to school with me.”

“I think you can reckon on Abner Gooch and the three Shackley boys
already.  I call that a pretty fair beginning.  And there’ll be more.  I
heard that Dan Gooch said yesterday over at the Settlement, ‘If you want
ter know what thet school down below here kin teach your young-uns, jest
look at Squar’ Dodd’s manshun yander.’”

Martin laughed grimly.  “If they do go they won’t think it such a work of
art when they come back.”

“When they get back they’ll have learned enough to understand, I reckon,”
responded Talitha.  “The thing is to get them there.  You ought to see
how Gincy’s working, and the whole family too, for that matter.  I
actually believe they’ve picked most of the berries for ten miles around
here.  They are at it now.  Just think of Dan Gooch going berrying!”

“He has some backbone after all.  It’s such a pity he couldn’t have had a
chance when he was young.  And that reminds me, I met Gincy ’way over in
Bear Hollow yesterday morning at sun-up with a bucket.  After berries, I
suppose; but I don’t see how they’re going to eat ’em all.”

“Eat ’em!  They don’t, they’re drying ’em to sell.  The Settlement store
has promised to take every pound.  Then Mrs. Gooch is reckoning on her
geese feathers, too.  If Gincy can only get money enough for a start,
she’ll find work to help her through the year.”

“I reckon so,” assented Martin.  “They’re mighty friendly folks at the
school.”

“You’ve saved enough now, haven’t you?”  Talitha’s mind suddenly reverted
to her brother’s prospects.

“Yes, I’ll make it do with the odd jobs I can pick up; but I misdoubt
father’s being willing for me to go back.  He thinks I know a sight now.
He’s running all over the country trying to get me another job, and
here’s the crop going to waste.  I reckon I’m needed at home for a spell,
anyway,” and Martin went gloomily out to work in the much neglected
field.

He had seen thrifty orchards and gardens in the little sheltered coves of
those great hills near Bentville, and he had often pictured his own home
with such a background.  Disheartened, the young fellow regarded the task
before him for a moment, then rallied his two younger brothers.  With the
promise of a reward they attacked the weeds among the corn while Martin
went on to the little orchard.  It was thick with dead wood, and he fell
to pruning the branches energetically.  With the knowledge he had gained
what a change he could make in the place even in the two months left of
his vacation.

Over in the garden he could hear Talitha and her mother.  Tending garden
and milking the cow was as much woman’s work, according to the Kentucky
mountain code, as washing dishes or making bread.  The sound of a
sturdily wielded hoe in the earth spurred him on.  “I’ll go back some
time, anyhow, if I live,” he declared, striking deep, vigorous blows into
a lifeless tree trunk.

Had Martin and Talitha only known, their energy spoke volumes for the
Cause lying so near their hearts.  A new interest had been suddenly
awakened in the Coyle family.  The slightest pretext took their less
ambitious neighbours along the creek path curious to see “what Mart Coyle
was up ter now.”  A wide, roomy porch across the front of the cabin—which
Martin had skilfully contrived at little expense—served as sitting-room
during the warm weather.  Here Talitha’s wheel whirred diligently in the
shadow of the vines which had taken kindly to her late transplanting.

The Coyle enterprise was contagious.  Dan Gooch, with a new-born
enthusiasm, valiantly led his sons forth to produce order from the
confusion around the exterior of the cabin.  Inside, Gincy and her mother
worked with tireless energy and bright dreams of the future.

From the first Sunday of Martin’s and Talitha’s return, the Gooch family
had taken to “jest droppin’ in,” during the afternoon, until it had
become a settled custom followed by one neighbour after another.  Part
singing was a novelty of which they never tired.  When the blacksmith’s
eldest son found that he was the possessor of a richer, deeper bass voice
than Martin’s, his delight was unbounded.  There were others besides
Gincy who could successfully hold their own in the air in spite of the
other parts, although Gincy’s clear, bird-like tones rang above theirs on
the high notes.

And so the summer wore away, and the heralds of approaching autumn
sounded a warning note in the breezes and fluttered their signals from
the mountain slopes.

It was only a week before the time for their departure that Sam Coyle
gave a reluctant consent to Martin’s and Talitha’s return to school.  Two
others besides Abner and Gincy were to accompany them—Peter and Isaac
Shackley, sons of the blacksmith at the Settlement.  Peter was to take
his horse, a handsome bay of which he was very proud, the fifty miles to
Bentville, and then sell it to defray his expenses at the school.  It had
taken him a long time to determine on the sacrifice, and his was the only
sober face in the merry little company which set forth that September
morning.

The night before, the other members of the party came to the Coyle cabin
in order to make an early start.  That six young people were to leave for
Bentville the next morning made a stir at Goose Creek.  They were
favourites in the mountains, and during the evening a dozen families
called with some parting gift or admonition.  They were not all wisely
chosen, but the kindest intentions prompted each offering.  From the
younger ones there were various gifts of fruit and flowers.  Ann Bills
had so far relented as to present her niece with two pairs of wool
stockings which Talitha could not refuse however much she would have
liked to do so.  Mrs. Twilliger brought several strings of freshly dried
pumpkin which she much feared Gincy might “git ter hankerin’ arter.”  The
Slawson boy, who was “light-minded,” brought his pet coon and wept
bitterly when Abner gently but firmly refused it.  Little Tad Suttle was
equally persistent in forcing on them his dog Wulf, who was warranted to
keep the bears and painters at a proper distance when the company crossed
the mountains.

The Bills family were inclined to consider the occasion a mournful one.
If the young people had been going to the ends of the earth instead of
but fifty miles away, they could not have been more pessimistic.  That
Martin and Talitha had returned unharmed seemed to have no weight with
them.

“Sho, now,” objected the blacksmith jovially, “I ain’t goin’ ter
cornsider my young-uns as lost ter the mountings.  I ’low they’re jest
goin’ ter git some larnin’ and come back ter help me.”

“Book larnin’ ain’t goin’ ter give ’em muscle,” objected the elder Bills.

“Law, no, they’ve got ’nough of thet now.  I ain’t raisin’ a passel of
prizefighters.  If Kid stays home ter help me one blacksmith’s ’nough in
a family, I reckon.  I’ve heerd the Bentville school is great on idees,
and thet’s jest what these mountings air needin’ bad.”

“You talk like we war plumb idjits, Enoch Shackley,” cried Ann Bills, her
black eyes snapping angrily.  “I’ve heerd tell o’ folks you’d never ’low
had any head stuff’in’ till their skulls got a crack and you could git a
sight of their brains, but I never heerd as this part of the kentry war
noted fer sech.  Me and my fambly hain’t never had ter go borrowin’ fer
idees.”

“Lands, no,” said Mrs. Twilliger.  “Hold up your head with the best of
’em, Gincy; Goose Creek folks hain’t never took a back seat fer nobody.”

At last the callers melted away and the weary people they left behind
hurried to bed to get what sleep they might before time for their early
departure.

As the little party started down the slope the next morning, a wonderful
light quavered above the mountain-tops for the most part covered with a
thick, gorgeous leafage of crimson, green, and gold flaming out among the
duller browns.  Now and then a rough, scraggy peak like Bear Knob showed
grimly against the sky.  Below them the mists lay huddled asleep awaiting
the coming of the sun.  The cool smell of the night was still in the air.
Down where the creek path trailed out of sight came a jubilant chorus of
bird voices.

A strange feeling made Gincy’s heart beat faster, and a lump rose in her
throat.  But what might have happened did not, for Talitha, with
foresight, reached up and laid a rough, brown hand tenderly over the one
on the pommel of the saddle.  Gincy looked down into the blue eyes
smiling encouragement and was herself again.

A straggling little procession, they followed the slim stream which
curved around the base of the hills.  At noon the party stopped to eat
their lunch on its banks, and then they left it for a steep climb up the
mountain.

An hour before sunset they had made good progress, coming out suddenly
upon a cleared cove halfway down the mountain.  At the farther side,
against a background of pines, stood a large, well-built cabin.  Vines
tinted with autumn colouring clambered over the broad porch.  The space
in front was cleanly swept.  Back of the low palings in the rear was a
large, thrifty garden, and fragrant odours of ripening fruit came from
the small, but heavily-laden, orchard.

“You can tell that a Bentville student lives here, all right,” said
Martin.  “This is where Tally and I stayed over night on our way to
school last year.”

Their approach had been discovered, for two hounds ran around the house
barking a joyful greeting.  Then a tall, muscular young fellow hurried
out of the door, followed by other members of the family.

There was no look of dismay on Joe Bradshaw’s face at the size of the
party.  With true mountain hospitality they were given a hearty welcome.

Inside the house Gincy looked around curiously.  The two rooms were
better furnished and neater than even Squire Dodd’s, which represented to
her the height of elegance.  In the living-room the supper was cooking
over a stove; the fireplace was not even lighted.  A white linen cloth of
Mrs. Bradshaw’s own weaving covered the table, and there seemed to be
plenty of dishes without the makeshifts common in her home and those of
other mountain families she knew.  True, it was only coarse, blue
earthenware, but in her unaccustomed eyes nothing could be finer.

In the next room were two beds covered with blue and white “kivers,” also
the product of the loom which stood in the corner of the living-room.
Pinned on the walls were a half-dozen prints and bright-coloured
pictures.  Cheesecloth curtains were looped back from the windows, and on
the mission table, of Joe’s making, was a store lamp with a flowered
shade, and more books than Gincy had seen in all her life before.

That night she could hardly sleep for thinking of the wonders awaiting
her on the morrow in the promised land of which she had dreamed through
all the toil of the long summer days.



III
TALITHA SOLVES A PUZZLING PROBLEM


JOE BRADSHAW was a member of the little party which set forth early the
next morning with renewed expectations.  Not a cloud hovered in the deep
blue of the sky as they followed the devious trails across the mountains
and along the foothills, valleyward.  At the end of ten miles they
reached the railroad.  It was the first all but three of the party had
ever seen.  The horse the two girls were riding shied in terror at sight
of the monster puffing forth clouds of smoke and steam.  The passengers
in the coaches looked curiously out at the bright, young faces shadowed
by white sunbonnets.  Gincy clung to Talitha and drew a long breath of
relief as bell and whistle sounded and the train swept on, its rumble and
roar re-echoing among the hills.

After that, the rest of the way seemed short indeed, so near were the
travellers to their journey’s end.  Every few miles now were homes which
bore evidences of a thrift and energy which had not yet penetrated far
into the mountains.  One by one the stars came out, and a full moon
climbed over the ridge and made a silvery, elusive pathway across the
foothills.  Another turn in the trail, and presently the foot-sore
pilgrims came to a smooth pike.  A half-hour later they looked upon
shadowy roofs among tall trees where lights twinkled faintly in the
radiance of the moon.

Martin and Joe hurried ahead along the street sure of a welcome, and they
were not disappointed.

“Here are our two standbys again, and they didn’t come alone, either,”
greeted the secretary with a hearty shake of the hand as the boys entered
the office.

The girls were taken in charge by the dean, who whisked them off to the
dining-room for a late supper.  After that, with much contriving, they
were stowed comfortably away for the night.

“You’d better go straight to sleep,” admonished Talitha.  “Half-past five
will come before you know it and then the rising bell rings.  I expect
we’ll feel pretty stiff for a day or two.”

Gincy only murmured a drowsy reply.  She was already dreaming a beautiful
dream, quite unaware of what Mrs. Donnelly, the dean, was saying to Miss
Howard, her assistant.

“I don’t see how we can keep the girl who came with Talitha Coyle.  We
are overflowing already.  Two beds in every room upstairs—”

“Can’t we manage some way?” urged Miss Howard for the tenth time that
day.  “She’s a bright little thing.  If she were only a boy now, and yet
the boys are coming in at a great rate this year; it’s wonderful!”

“Let me think.”  The dean’s smooth forehead wrinkled in perplexity.
“Well,” with a sudden inspiration, “if that girl from Kerby Knob doesn’t
put in an appearance—she wrote me that her mother was sick and she was
afraid she couldn’t—I’ll keep Gincy, but if Urilla does come back we
shall be obliged to give her precedence because she will be a junior this
year.”

So the matter rested, and blissfully ignorant of the fact that her good
fortune was another girl’s misfortune, Gincy arose in the morning
supremely happy.  She was not to remain long a stranger, for Talitha was
a person who made friends—hosts of them—she had such a way of forgetting
Talitha Coyle, and in a few hours they were Gincy’s also.  She laughed
and chatted among the girls as she helped wipe the great stacks of dishes
after the early breakfast.  There were no lessons yet, but when the
morning’s work was done and the services at the chapel over, Kizzie
Tipton proposed a walk.

“You know the dean said you needn’t hurry to get registered,” added her
new friend.  “I’ll meet you on the front porch in five minutes,” and
Kizzie ran to her room.

Gincy opened the hall door also in haste.  She had thought of something
she wished to say to Talitha—who was just going down the steps with her
books—and nearly ran against a tall, pale-faced girl carrying a heavy
handbag.  “Oh!” Gincy ejaculated with a swift glance at the wan face.
“Jest let me ketch a holt.  I ’most tuk you down, I reckon.”

The weary eyes brightened.  “You’re a new girl,” asserted the late
arrival confidently as Gincy deposited the baggage in a corner of the
hall.

“Yes,” she nodded, “I reckon I be, but I don’t seem ter sense hit much.
Hit’s the nicest place I ever see fer findin’ friends,” and Gincy
disappeared with a parting smile.

The newcomer sat down in thoughtful silence, forgetting that she had not
made known her arrival to the dean.  But that lady chanced to espy her
from the top of the stairs and slowly descended, inwardly determined that
her face should not reveal her embarrassment.

“Well, Urilla, you succeeded in getting here after all,” she said with a
smile.

“Yes, ma’am,” answered the girl, rising respectfully.  “Mother’s able to
sit up most of the time, and she wouldn’t hear to my staying home now
Sally’s big enough to help.  If I can only manage to stay another year.”
Urilla gave a long sigh.

The girl was sent to her room to get a little rest before dinner, and
Gincy, returning from her walk in a high state of exuberance, was called
to the office.

Two hours later, Talitha came unexpectedly upon Mrs. Donnelly.  “I have
been looking for you,” said that lady soberly.—It was a very difficult
thing she had to do.—“I am very sorry to be the bearer of such bad news,
but we shall be obliged to send Gincy home—”

“Send her home!” echoed Talitha in amazement, turning pale and trembling.

“Yes, Urilla Minter has come back, and there isn’t room for both of them;
we’re crowded beyond the limit now.  I’ve done my best, but not a place
can be found for her.  I’ll keep her name on the books so she will have
an opportunity to come back next year.”  Mrs. Donnelly’s heart was sore
at parting with one of her flock who was so eager for an education.
There were tears in her eyes as she turned away.

Talitha wandered out to a seat on the campus to think over the dreadful
tidings.  Gincy going home after working so hard all the summer to come!
This would be her last chance, for Dan Gooch would never get over her
being sent back, and he would hate the Coyles because Gincy would not
have thought of attending the school had it not been for Talitha.  All
the beautiful, rosy clouds which had glorified the morning sky faded,
leaving it dull and grey.

Gincy must not go home; that Talitha instantly decided, but—The girl sat
for a long time struggling with herself, her hands clasped over the
precious little pile of books in her lap.  She was in a far corner,
unnoticed by the merry bands of students passing back and forth.  She
could hear their laughter and happy chatter.  Oh, it was hard, so hard!

At last, Talitha rose quickly as though she were afraid her courage might
vanish, and hastened to the hall and straight to Mrs. Donnelly’s room.
“I’ve come to tell you,” she began breathlessly, with a little tremor in
her voice, “that I’ve—I’ve decided to go home.  Gincy can stay, then.
She mustn’t go, Mrs. Donnelly, she’s been workin’ and lottin’ on it all
summer and her folks wouldn’t ever let her come back again.  I’ll go and
you’ll give her my place, won’t you?”

The dean never forgot the pleading face lifted to hers.  It was white and
the lips were trembling, but the light of a heroic, self-sacrificing
spirit shone in the dark eyes.  “Oh, my child,” protested the woman, “I
can’t bear to think of your going home.  If I could only plan some way,
but I’ve tried and tried.”

“I know it,” nodded Talitha, “but I never once thought there wouldn’t be
room for everybody who wanted to come.  Anyway, I’m glad Gincy’s going to
have a chance.  You ought to hear her sing, Mrs. Donnelly.  And if you’ll
sort o’ mother her a little I’ll be real thankful.  Gincy’s never been
away from home before, and her folks were going to feel so easy because I
was with her.  Don’t feel bad, it couldn’t be helped, I reckon, and maybe
I’ll come back next year.”

Talitha’s heart was heavy indeed as she climbed the stairs to her room.
She found Gincy in a corner weeping piteously over the few belongings
gathered in a little heap.  Talitha knelt beside her and put an arm
tenderly around the thin, bowed shoulders.

“Put your things right back, Gincy,” she said, “you’re going to stay
after all.  I’ve just seen Mrs. Donnelly.”

Gincy looked up in astonishment that at first was too great for words.
“You don’t mean hit?” she gasped at last, clutching her friend’s arm.

“Sure I do,” Talitha nodded with a smile.  Her own burden lightened
wonderfully at the sight of Gincy’s radiant face and suddenly dried
tears.  She left the girl putting her belongings back in drawers and
closet with a joyful haste.  Gincy had not even inquired how this
transformation had been wrought; it was enough for her to know that she
was not to be sent home.

Talitha’s next duty was to find Martin and make known her resolution.
After a long search he was discovered in the library with a pile of
reference books before him.  He looked up with shining eyes.  She knew
how he rejoiced in the opportunity for another year’s work.  It would
take away half his pleasure to learn that she would not be there to share
it, still she was confident that he would see the wisdom of her resolve.
At a sign from her he followed wonderingly out back of the building to a
seat under one of the large trees of the campus where they would be
unnoticed.

“How’s Gincy coming on?  She isn’t getting homesick a’ready, is she?” he
inquired.

“Gincy!  Not much; she’s pleased as can be with everything here.  That’s
what I came to see you about.”  Talitha paused and looked down at her
folded hands, while Martin sat staring at her in bewilderment.  “Mrs.
Donnelly came to see me this morning,” she went on presently.  “She told
me that Gincy must go home, that there is no place for her.  So many
girls have come this fall the rooms are crowded.”

“Go home!” repeated Martin indignantly.  “Oh, we can’t let her; she
mustn’t.”

“Of course not.  She’s been crying till she’s ’most beat out, but I’ve
been thinking it over and Gincy’s going to stay.  I’ve just seen Mrs.
Donnelly again—”

“Well, I’m mighty glad!”  Martin gave a long breath of relief.  “How did
you manage it, Tally?”

“I’m going home instead,” she answered calmly.

“You!”  Her brother sprang up excitedly.  “Tally, I won’t hear to it!”

“Yes, you will.  Sit down, Mart, you’d do the same thing if you were in
my place, you know you would.  I’m not going to be selfish.  Gincy’s
never had any chance and I’ve had a whole year here.  Maybe I can come
back again some time, but if I knew I couldn’t I should go just the
same.”

“But you can’t go home alone,” Martin objected.

“Yes, I can.  I’ll take the train to the Gap and I’m not afraid to walk
the rest of the way.”

“Well, Tally, I suppose you’re right,” her brother said at last, “but
it’ll take the sunshine out of the whole year for me, to know that you’re
missing all this.  And I’d counted so on the good times we’d have
together.”

“Now, Mart, don’t you worry about me one minute.  I reckon it’s all for
the best.  Maybe there’s something special in the mountains for me to do;
I’m going to try to think so anyway.”

“What reason are you going to give the folks for going home?”

“I’m going to tell them the truth that there wasn’t room for so many
girls.  I shan’t say a word about Gincy only that she’s well and having a
fine time.”

That afternoon while Gincy was out of the room, Talitha removed the tiny
wardrobe she had brought, to make room for Urilla’s.  Long before light
the next morning, while Gincy slept soundly, all unaware of her friend’s
sacrifice, Talitha boarded the train which could only take her so short a
distance toward home.  She sank into a seat timidly.  She had never
travelled alone before, and when she reached the Gap the loneliest part
was yet to come.

As the train pulled out she tried to wave a cheerful good-bye to Martin,
who stood disconsolately outside in the darkness.  The coach was full of
people who had evidently travelled all night, for they were in all sorts
of positions trying to get a little sleep.  Talitha’s eyes were
sleepless, although she had hardly closed them that night.  It was
disagreeably warm and stuffy.  She longed to open the window, but the
girl beside her was propped comfortably in the corner of the seat,
oblivious to her surroundings.

Talitha looked at her curiously.  She was a mountain girl, that was
evident, but not from Goose Creek nor the Settlement—possibly from
Redbird.  She might be kin to the Twilligers, there were legions of them
scattered through the mountains, and she favoured them wonderfully, now
Talitha thought of it.

Suddenly the girl opened her eyes and stared at Talitha.  “I reckon I
must hev been asleep,” she said with a wide yawn.  “Whar did you git on?”

“At Bentville.”

“Bentville!  What kind of a place is hit?  I come purty nigh goin’ thar
onct and then I changed my mind.  I couldn’t pin myself down ter book
larnin’ nohow.”

Talitha viewed the speaker with astonishment.  “What’s your name?” she
inquired coldly.

“Piny Twilliger.”

“Did you know that Gincy Gooch is going to school at Bentville?” asked
Talitha.

“Law me, why Gincy’s my cousin.  Whatever put hit into her head?  I
wouldn’t hev thought hit of her.”

“Then you don’t know Gincy,” was the retort.  “She’s as ambitious as can
be and loves to study.  She’s going to be somebody, I tell you.  Abner’s
at school too, and their folks are so proud of them.”

“Law me,” said the girl again.  “I never heerd of any kin ter the
Twilligers takin’ ter larnin’ afore,” and she relapsed into silent
amazement.  She had not recovered speech when the small station at the
Gap was reached.

“Ter think I never asked her name!” murmured Gincy’s cousin in sudden
dismay as Talitha left the car.



IV
THE STORM


WHEN Talitha alighted from the train the sun had not yet risen, but the
rosy banners which heralded its coming floated wide across the eastern
sky.  It was on a morning like this that she and Martin had started
homeward with such elation of spirits, such hopes for the coming year.
But then summer was just begun; now it had gone and her hopes with it.

She started across the foothills and up the long mountain trail, the old
elasticity gone from her step, the hardness of her lot weighting her
down.  It seemed as though her feet could never carry her the long, weary
way home.  Upon a jutting crag she stopped and looked back.  Far in the
distance, cradled among the foothills of the Cumberlands, it lay, the
place of her heart’s desire.  Would she ever see it again?

Talitha looked at the sky.  The breakfast bell would be ringing by this
time, and happy, laughing faces gathered around the long tables.  Her
head bowed as though she could hear the fervent grace, and a sob rose in
her throat.  Suddenly the petition of a young leader at prayers, the
night before, came to her: “Wilt Thou give us strength and courage to
meet bravely the trials and temptations of each day.”  How full of
meaning they were to the one who uttered them Talitha well knew.  Owen
Calfee’s face showed with what high courage he was meeting the hardships
which had beset his path from early youth.

Talitha fiercely blinked back the tears.  “I’m plumb spoilin’ everythin’
by my foolishness,” she thought aloud, unconsciously relapsing into the
speech of the mountains.  “I reckon hit ain’t pleasin’ ter the Lord—my
thinkin’ sech sorry thoughts.  I’ve clean forgotten that I’d ought ter be
thankful that Martin could stay and that Gincy’s havin’ a chance.  My,
but if she isn’t the happiest child!”  Talitha rose reluctantly.  “I
shouldn’t like to be caught in the dark, and that’s what I’m bound to be
if I stop here any longer.”  She stretched out her hands toward the
valley with a wistful gesture of parting.  “I’m so glad you’re there,
Gincy,” she whispered.  “I wouldn’t have you home for nothing.”

Through the long forenoon’s weary climb up the mountain’s interminable
slope and over its craggy crest to the other side, she resolutely laid
aside all thoughts of her disappointment and began making plans to be put
into execution as soon as possible after reaching home.

At noon she was almost thankful that she had not reached the creek where
the little party had lunched so happily two days before.  Now she spread
her simple fare upon a smooth ledge and watched the varied light and
shadow across the fast changing foliage as she ate.  The birds fluttered
and sang in the pines above her head.  Now and then one grew bold enough
to fly down for the crumbs she scattered upon the ground.  Over the
opposite edge of the flinty table a pair of bright eyes peered longingly.
Talitha laughed as she flung the bushy-tailed visitor her last morsel,
and rose to resume her journey.

She planned to reach home by supper time, but it had not been so easy to
travel without the aid of a strong arm over the roughest places.  No
thought of fear had entered her mind until that moment; now the prospect
of being alone at night on those wooded heights where the darkness was
dense under the thick branching trees made her shrink.

The afternoon was half gone when Talitha dropped down at the foot of a
pine, tired and footsore.  She was not yet rested from the journey of the
two days previous, and it seemed as though her aching feet could never
carry her home that night.  She sat debating with herself as to the
possibility of finding a nearby shelter.  Not a cabin was in sight.  She
looked around anxiously, shading her eyes with her hand, to peer along
the ridges.  A broad shaft of sunlight lay across the leafage of the
opposite mountain.  How vividly it brought out the autumn tints which
flecked the green like rich tapestry.  Then, with a frightened gasp of
dismay, she noticed for the first time the pile of threatening clouds in
the west, and the long, deep shadows which lay in the hollows of those
great hills.

Over the highest peak of the ridge beyond, they were coming—the slim,
mist-coloured lances of the storm.  Down the mountain-side they marched,
legion after legion.  A swift line of fire zigzagged above their heads,
and suddenly the sky seemed filled with the rattle of musketry.

Talitha fled, at the first sign of approach, to the shelter of a thick
cluster of oaks.  She reached it trembling and breathless only to see a
cabin a few rods beyond.  Without waiting to speculate who its occupants
might be, she ran to it, the storm at her back, the wind contesting each
step over the rough slope.  Her little bundle was a cumbrous weight upon
her shoulders.

At the door the girl knocked hurriedly.  Her heart was beating fast.  It
was twilight around her, and the voice of the storm came up with a
terrible roar.  There was no answer from within the cabin and the door
did not open, but in her great stress Talitha entered timidly.

The wind closed the door violently behind her before she realized that
the place was not empty.  The feeble flame in the fireplace left the one
room mostly in shadow, but it revealed the occupant, a weazened old man,
wrapped in a faded quilt, sitting before the hearth.  Talitha felt a
sudden relief that she was not alone while such a storm raged outside.  A
man sick and perhaps in need of care was not to her an object of fear
even though a stranger.

“I declar’ if hit ain’t Tally Coyle!” came in wheezy tones from the
depths of the bed-quilt.  “I ’lowed you war off ter the valley school
long ’fore this.”

Talitha could hardly find her voice so great was her astonishment.  She
had gone farther out of her way than she knew to stumble upon her old
teacher’s cabin.  “Why, howdy, Mr. Quinn, you aren’t sick, are you?” she
said, throwing down her bundle and shaking the raindrops from her moist
skirts.

“Jest ailin’ a leetle mite.  I hevn’t been what you mought call
robustious the hull summer, and last week I was took with a mis’ry in my
chist.  I’ve been honin’ the hull day ter see some one and here you’ve
come.  I reckon the Lord sent you.”  The old man broke into a wheezing
cough which left him panting.

Talitha went to the fireplace and piled on fresh wood with a lavish hand.
There was a brisk crackling as the flames shot upward merrily.  “I’m
going right to get supper,” she declared, forgetful of her weariness.

Si Quinn spread his hands before the blaze with a sigh of content, and
watched the girl as she bustled about the cabin.  There was much to do
before even a simple meal could be prepared, for the schoolmaster’s
housekeeping even in health was sadly at variance with the methods
Talitha had learned at school the past year.

She brushed the floor as best she could with the stubby old broom, and
then attacked the pile of soiled dishes energetically.  Outside, the
storm raged with fury, and a little rivulet trickled from under the door
across the rough boards of the floor.  Later the corn pone was set to
baking, while the girl fried a platter of bacon and a dish of potatoes.
In a corner of the fireplace, on a few coals among the hot ashes, the
coffee pot sent forth an odour delightful to the nostrils of a
half-famished man.  Si Quinn sniffed it eagerly.

“I hain’t set down ter sech a meal o’ vittles sence I war ter your
house,” he remarked gleefully as he drew his chair to the table and
helped himself liberally to the homely fare.  “A squar’ meal will do me a
heap more good’n medsun.  If I war reel sodden in selfishness, I’d wish
you hadn’t any kin and could stay right along here with me.  But I ain’t,
I’m thankful you’ve got a better place’n this ol’ shack.”

Talitha looked at him curiously.  She had never seen her old schoolmaster
in such a kindly, paternal mood.  In her younger days, the lean,
spectacled face had inspired her with awe and a kind of terror.  But
since her return from Bentville she thought of him with pity, not
unmingled with contempt, at his ignorance and dogged belief in the
strange theories which still prevailed in the isolated portions of the
mountains.  She looked at the haggard old face that showed unmistakable
signs of past suffering, with a troubled conscience.

At last Si Quinn leaned back with a long sigh of satisfaction.  “I reckon
you’ve ’bout saved my life, Tally.  I war beginnin’ ter feel hit warn’t
much use ter hold on ter this world when thar warn’t nobody seemin’ ter
care speshul.  Then you came along jest as though you’d been blowed
acrost the mountings.  I’m mighty cur’us ’bout hit, Tally.  Only a couple
o’ days ago, Dan Gooch looked in and said you-uns, and Ab and Gincy, hed
started fer school.  Did the folks down thar reckon you’d hed ’nough
larnin’ and send you back?”

Talitha hesitated.  She wisely felt the need of being very cautious as to
the report which would go abroad.  “We did go,” she acknowledged, “but
the Girls’ Hall was full—just running over, the dean said—and the folks
around had taken all they could.  There wasn’t another one could be
squeezed in, so I came—back,” she concluded, a renewed sense of her
disappointment nearly overwhelming her.

“Whar’s Gincy?” demanded the old man keenly.

“Oh, she stayed.  She hasn’t ever had a chance, you know.  She’d have
been terribly disappointed to have had to come home, and so would her
father; he’s been lottin’ on it all summer.  I’m so glad they let her
stay,” Talitha added, fervently hoping that her secret had not slipped
out unaware.

“Hit’s cur’us, mighty cur’us,” mused Si Quinn, looking off into the fire
as though he had not heard a word Talitha had been saying.  “Here I’d
been askin’ and askin’ the Lord ter send you here, then Dan Gooch comes
’long and ’lows I won’t set eyes on you agin till next summer and here
you be.  Ain’t hit cur’us?”

“I never heard you were sick,” faltered the girl.  “I’d have come before
if I’d only known.”

“That wan’t hit,” rejoined the schoolmaster.  “I’ve allers done fer
myself, sick or well.  I hain’t ever been used ter bein’ coddled afore,
that ain’t what’s on my mind, Tally.  I wanted ter tell you thet I’ve
been a sorry teacher, but I never sensed hit till you-uns came back from
Bentville.  I never had no sech chance ter git larnin’, and hit seems a
turrible pity you couldn’t hev stayed, but I know ’thout your tellin’ me
that you-uns came back ter give Gincy a chanct—”

“Oh, you mustn’t tell,” implored Talitha.  “Father’d be so angry.”

“Hit shan’t git no further, but hit war jest like Tally Coyle ter do hit,
and mebbe the Lord had a hand in hit, too.  I cal’late He knew jest how
much the Goose Creek school needed a teacher, fer I ain’t ever goin’ back
thar agin, Tally.  My teachin’ days air over, but my heart hones fer
those pore lambs that’s so set on gittin’ larnin’.  I want you ter take
’em and teach ’em all you kin.  Mebbe next year you-uns kin go back ter
Bentville.  Hit seems queer they couldn’t hev put up some kind of a shack
fer the gals ter stay in.  A lot of strong, young fellers like Mart, now,
could hev taken holt.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” agreed Talitha, “but it would take money to make it
comfortable, and the Bentville folks haven’t any to spare.”

The old man nodded thoughtfully.  “Hit’s mighty strange when I’ve heerd
thar’s folks livin’ in cities that’s more money’n they can anyways spend.
And here’s the mounting boys and gals a-thirstin’ fer the larnin’ they
can’t git.”  The girl crouched before the fire puzzled over this new
problem, while Si Quinn creaked back and forth in the old rocker.

Suddenly it stopped.  “I wish you’d git the Book, Tally, over on the
chist, and read a spell; you do hit so easy-like.”

Outside, in the wild night, the wind wailed loudly along the wooded
ridges of the great hills and hurled itself in angry gusts against the
little cabin unnoticed, as Talitha read chapter after chapter in clear,
unfaltering tones.  The old man looked fondly down at her with a paternal
pride.  His heart was at peace, for he had bequeathed his life work to
younger, more capable hands, and he rested content.



V
AN UNEXPECTED RIVAL


THE consternation at the Coyle cabin was great indeed when midway of the
next afternoon Talitha appeared, after making the old schoolmaster as
comfortable as possible.  Although Sam Coyle had given but a grudging
assent to his daughter’s return to Bentville, he now loudly bewailed the
necessity which prevented her from “gittin’ more larnin’.”

His wrath cooled, however, when he learned that Si Quinn, who was highly
esteemed by the dwellers around Red Mountain, had abdicated his place in
the Goose Creek school in Talitha’s favour.  It was an unprecedented
honour, as “gal” teachers were not looked upon favourably among the
mountaineers.  It being the prevailing opinion that only a man could fill
the position with the requisite dignity and severity.

Remembering the tradition, the beginning was an ordeal from which the
girl inwardly shrank.  She had never felt so helplessly ignorant in all
her life, although she had so often smiled with her brother over Si
Quinn’s incompetency.

It was soon rumoured that the old man had sent for Talitha Coyle to come
home and finish the remaining school months.  In the mountains, school
begins the first of July and ends the last of December; when the heavy
rains and snows make travel well-nigh impossible.  For a week the little
flock of pupils had been teacher-less, and Talitha was admonished to make
all haste to pass the required examination and begin her duties.  The
county seat was twenty-five miles away, and she made preparations to
start for it the very next morning, her father accompanying her.
Fortunately, that night Dan Gooch brought word to the Coyle cabin that
Mr. Breel, head of the board of examiners, was at the Settlement and
would willingly give Talitha an examination if she could be on hand the
next morning.

With fear and trembling she set forth at dawn the next day to return at
night in triumph.  It had not proved so terrible an ordeal as she had
imagined.  Mr. Breel had been very kind and wished her success in her
undertaking.

Before Monday morning came, which should see Talitha installed as
mistress of the little school, complications arose in the shape of Jake
Simcox, a tall, fiery-headed, raw-boned youth.  Noting the old
schoolmaster’s growing infirmities the past year, he had resolved to
secure the place.  That it was about to be wrested from him by a “gal”
proved too much for human endurance.  Laboriously he travelled from one
mountain home to another pleading his cause.  But unfortunately for him,
his first call on Dan Gooch made an implacable enemy, for he
thoughtlessly mentioned the Bentville school in terms of derision,
further adding that “Si Quinn, the smartest man in Goose Creek, didn’t
need ter chase off ter git larnin’.”

But Jake departed, feeling that he had failed miserably in making the
desired impression.  He would have felt still more convinced that the
fates were against him could he have known that Dan Gooch immediately
mounted his horse and set out with all possible haste to thwart the new
candidate’s efforts.

Dan secretly surmised the sacrifice Talitha had made that Gincy should
have her chance, and his gratitude gave him a ready tongue in the
former’s behalf.  It was late that night when he and his jaded steed
returned victorious, for every member of the board and a number of
patrons of the school had been surprised at the Settlement store, and
there Jake Simcox’s cause was lost, it being the opinion of the trustees
that the old schoolmaster had a right to name a substitute for the
remainder of the term.

Jake Simcox did not take his defeat kindly, and to be beaten by a “gal”
was the bitterest drop in his cup.  He had a brief pleasure in knowing
that when Talitha began school a number of children whose parents were
his adherents would be absent.

The young teacher was gathering her courage to meet the conditions to
which she had been accustomed all her life; suddenly they appalled her.
How could she make that bare and desolate place cheerful and inviting to
her pupils?

Early that Monday morning, long before the time for her scholars to
arrive, she started for the schoolhouse.  Halfway up the slope she paused
to consider it—a small log cabin set in the midst of blackberry vines and
tall, brown weeds which reached to the eaves.  A narrow, worn path led
through the tangle to the low, front door.  Talitha hurried on
breathlessly and opened it.  The shutter over the one glassless window at
the rear was also thrown back to let a draught of fresh air through the
damp, musty place.  In one corner was a rusty sheet-iron stove, near it a
number of plank benches without backs; while on the opposite side a rude
desk and a single chair completed the furnishings.  There were no
blackboards, no maps.  The walls were as bare and uninteresting as when
Si Quinn sat in the seat of authority and ruled his little flock—she the
most timid and shrinking of them all—with a rod of iron.

She sat for a long time thinking until a certain project entered her
mind.  It was something to be carefully considered.  She sprang up and
filled a tin can with water for the flowers and reddening vines she had
gathered on the way, and placed it on her desk.  Next, a large picture
calendar was pinned to the wall and several pictures from a newspaper
supplement—a part of her possessions acquired at Bentville.

A stream of sunlight through the open window lighted the gay colours on
walls and desk.  The children hovered about the door in amazement until
they were bidden to enter.  They were all small but Billy Gooch, the
eldest, who was short and stocky for his fourteen years and quite
prepared to be his young teacher’s most zealous champion.

The feeling of timidity with which Talitha began her duties vanished
before the morning was over; and in its place was a great anxiety to help
her pupils and make more attractive the cheerless place which only a wide
stretch of the imagination could call a schoolhouse.  The latter seemed
an impossibility, but when she reached the creek path that night on her
way home, she found Dan Gooch waiting for her, eager for the earliest
news of the day’s proceedings.  To this sympathetic listener she told her
needs and plans.  He heard her to the end with a silent gravity which
gave little sign of encouragement, but at dawn the next morning, Dan was
in the saddle wending his way to the Settlement store.  The flitch of
bacon in his saddlebag had been secretly purloined from the family’s
scanty store to be bartered for a few lengths of sawed timber and a small
quantity of black paint.  Dan correctly surmising that the storekeeper,
being a patron of the school, would add his own contribution in the way
of generous measure beside the nails and loan of a hammer.

A few days later when Talitha entered the schoolroom, two large
blackboards nailed securely to the rough walls met her astonished eyes.
Si Quinn had never been able to evoke the interest which had so suddenly
been aroused in the Goose Creek school.

The secret which the young teacher had so patiently guarded for weeks was
at last revealed in the shape of maps and several much needed books.  A
bundle of papers and magazines from the Bentville school was a welcome
addition to Talitha’s slender stock of material.  A lump rose in Dan
Gooch’s throat as he helped her unpack the box from the city publishing
house and hang the maps where the best light from the window would fall
upon them.  No words were needed to tell him that a large part of the
money, hoarded so carefully for Talitha’s expenses at Bentville, had been
spent in their purchase, and three of his children would be benefited by
them.  Mentally he resolved that it should all be returned to her some
day in good measure.

Si Quinn was not ignorant of his former pupil’s successes.  As often as
his health permitted he hobbled up the winding path and sat contentedly,
like a happy child, listening to the young teacher explaining things of
which he had never heard.  At times he would shake his head in
bewilderment, but he never disputed her word, even when his most
cherished theory—that the earth was square—was disproved.  His dulled
brain failed to grasp the explanation, but the bigoted faith in his own
meagre stock of knowledge died pitifully away.

Jake Simcox also was not unmindful of his rival’s success as a teacher.
With increasing anger he heard her praises sounded.  Already his friends
had yielded to their children’s entreaties and sent them to school.  Jake
kept aloof from the place until one day, wandering idly across the
foothills, he came suddenly in full view of the schoolhouse perched on
the side of Red Mountain.  Its worn, weather-beaten logs looked ancient
enough against the autumn-tinted foliage.  As he looked, the scowl on his
face deepened.  He hesitated a moment, then took the trail toward it.
The place would be deserted for it was long past school time; there was
not a house in sight, still he approached it cautiously with sly, furtive
glances around.

Before he reached the building he could see that the weeds and blackberry
bushes had been exterminated, and in their places were broad-leaved ferns
planted close to the rough sides, and a healthy ivy that in another year
would give both grace and beauty to the walls.  Jake eyed these changes
with a sneer.  He tried the door; it was locked, an unheard-of thing
which he also resented.  After much effort he unfastened the shutter,
threw it back, and sprang into the room.

The light of the setting sun streamed in broad shafts over the crest of
the mountain straight into the schoolhouse and illumined it to the
farthest corner.  The autumn flowers and vines on the desk glowed
crimson.  The blackboards, maps, and pictures had transformed the place;
it was bare no longer.  A pail of water on a box, with a basin, towel,
and soap, was another innovation.

Secretly, Jake Simcox felt himself dwindle and grow small before such
superior knowledge, yet it only served to rouse him to greater
indignation that a “gal” should be better qualified to teach than he.
Striding to the desk he turned the leaves of the text-books Talitha
cherished so carefully, with a rough hand, shaking his head over the
bewildering pages.  Naturally impetuous, his fiery temper once thoroughly
aroused swept him away in unreasoning wrath.  At last he dropped upon a
bench, moodily taking note of every object around him until they seemed
seared into his memory.

The sun sank behind the mountain’s crest and the long shadows deepened
down the slopes.  They crept silently in at the open window and filled
the room with gloom, and still he huddled there frowning until only a
faint, grey light struggled at the square opening.  Then Jake moved
slightly.  Two forces were wrestling within him—one very feebly, now worn
out with the unequal conflict.  He sprang up, and, listening at every
step, closed the shutter cautiously and struck a match.  There was a
basket of pine cones and crisp leaves behind the stove.  He lifted the
lid and thrust them in.  Another match and the mass was ablaze.
Recklessly the wood from a generous box full was thrown upon it, and then
in the midst of this furnace of flame hastily, as though his conscience
would smite him in the act, he caught the books from the desk and threw
them upon the pile.  The pictures from the walls followed, the maps—what
he could tear off in great clinging shreds—were also added to the
holocaust.

The stove was red hot by this time and roaring like a young volcano.  The
miscreant burned his fingers putting on the cover, and then it glowered
at him like a red monster as he watched it.  Already his rage was
somewhat cooled; the provocation which had led to such a deed began to
look miserably small.  He looked around at the bared walls and wished he
could put everything back as he found it.

But instead of dying down the fire seemed to wax hotter; there was a
snapping and crackling in the short length of pipe.  A strange smell
suddenly pervaded the place which the frightened Jake knew was the mud
and stick chimney.  It was afire, and while he stared in consternation,
he heard it crumble and fall.

For a moment the young fellow stood rooted to the spot.  In his thirst
for revenge he had committed a most serious offence, for which the
mountaineers—a law unto themselves—would not hesitate to mete out a swift
punishment.  The cabin was doomed.  The flames had leaped to the roof;
the stovepipe reeled and hung tipsily, ready to drop in a moment.

Terror stricken, Jake Simcox flung back the shutter and leaped out into
the darkness.  Like some wild thing of the mountains he fled down the
slope, on and on, only looking back once to see forked tongues of light
against the sky reaching higher and higher, until a swift, illumining
flash told that the great pine behind the little schoolhouse had caught
fire, and like a signal torch was blazing his shameful deed to all the
mountains.  Where could he go to escape the consequences?

He turned toward a thicket of young trees to aid his escape, but as he
reached it a lumbering body emerged and proceeded leisurely toward the
creek, the measured jingle of a bell marking every step.



VI
HUNTING A VARMINT


SUPPER was late at the Gooch cabin.  Brindled Bess, who daily supplied a
large portion of the evening meal, had strayed farther away than usual.
For more than an hour Billy and his sister had been searching the
mountain-side.

From his doorstep Dan looked gloomily forth into the fast gathering
night.  If the animal, suddenly startled at the brink of a ledge, had
leaped over, it would be a sore calamity to the family.  Dan listened to
the clatter of dishes inside the cabin until hunger and suspense overcame
him.  He started up and with rapid strides disappeared across the
mountain in a haste entirely foreign to his habits.

Both eye and ear were keenly alert.  There was a strange, coppery glow on
the eastern horizon.  It reached far above the treetops, lurid and
threatening against the soft blue of the evening sky.

“Some foolish feller’s let his bresh fire git away from him, I reckon,”
commented Dan.  But he went on without hearing a sound save those of the
night.

Suddenly, there was a crackling of bushes above the creek path, the thud
of hurried, stumbling steps.  They came nearer until he could hear
panting breaths, and Sudie was flying past him white-faced, wild-eyed,
her hair streaming out like a frightened dryad of the mountains.

Dan caught roughly at her arm, and but for his grip she would have fallen
in terror.  “What’s the matter?  Whar’s thet cow critter?” he demanded.

Sudie struggled with her sobs.  “Oh, pappy, the schoolhouse is afire!
Hit’s all-burnin’-up!” she gasped.

“What!” ejaculated her father in amazement.

“Hit shore is,” asseverated Billy, coming up red-faced and panting.  “We
war a-headin’ the cow critter this way when we seen the fire a-bustin’
out’n the roof.  Hit’s—”  But Dan had not waited to hear more.  He was
sprinting in the direction of the schoolhouse like a boy.  His children
watched him for a moment in open-mouthed astonishment at such unheard-of
alacrity on their father’s part, then followed.

A good quarter of a mile brought him in plain sight of the burning
building, where he could plainly see the futility of further effort.  The
little schoolhouse was a mass of flame, but the old, well-seasoned logs
would burn for hours yet.  Fortunately the heavy shower of the morning
prevented the flames from spreading, the weeds and bushes had been so
thoroughly cleared away.  Only the sentinel pine at the back of the cabin
was doomed.

Sudie clung to her father, sobbing wildly.  “What’ll Tally say?  We can’t
never go to school no more,” she wailed.

“Hesh, honey, hit don’t do no good ter take on thet a-way,” urged Dan.
“Somebody must hev been mighty keerless with matches or the like ter hev
fired hit.  I reckoned Tally’d hed more sense.”

“Hit warn’t her,” Billy burst out, anxious to vindicate his teacher.
“Hit war thet Jake Simcox, I’ll be boun’.  Jest as we hove in sight of
the place I seen him a-scootin’ fer the pines like a painter war after
him.”

“The low-down, sneakin’ varmint!  Thet’s jest who did hit, and he ’lowed
not ter git ketched in the night time.  He’ll git larned better.  The
dark’ll kiver a heap o’ things, but no sech deed as this.”  All the
fierceness that lies smouldering in the nature of the average mountain
man leaped into as fierce a flame as that consuming the little
schoolhouse.  His younger children’s opportunities had been snatched from
them by this miscreant.  He should not escape—a swift, deserved
punishment should be meted out to this offender as only mountain men
could measure it.

“Run home, Sudie, and tell your mammy she’ll hev ter tend ter the cow
critter ter-night, me and Billy won’t be back fer a spell.  Thar’s a heap
ter be done before mornin’.”

His father’s ominous tone startled Billy.  It brought to memory stories
he had heard of the Twilliger and Amyx feuds—his mother was a Twilliger.
He trembled.

“Son,” said Dan as Sudie disappeared, “do you ’low you can make the Coyle
place ter-night?”

“I reckon so,” answered Billy, bravely trying to forget that it was long
past his supper time.  Mountain justice never waited on hunger.

“Clip up thar and back as soon as you kin, and tell Sam Coyle fer me,
thet we shall expect ter see him at the Forks ter-morrow mornin’ by
light, ter hunt varmints.  They may hev left the kentry, but we’ll smoke
’em out if they’re ter be found.  Kin you remember?”

“Yes, Pappy”

“Well, I’m goin’ ter the Twilligers.  I kin git the boys ter push on to
the Settlemint, and then the news’ll carry fast enough, I reckon,” and
father and son parted.

At daybreak the Forks was the scene of an assembling of the clans.  Old
scores were forgotten.  They were meeting in a common cause which had
suddenly endeared itself to all.  Not one of the older men but had
children among Tally’s flock, and they had begun to realize what the
school had meant to them.

Nearly all of the company were horseback, but every member carried a
“shooting iron,” a fact which had its own significance.

“If we could hev took after thet varmint last night, I reckon we could
hev treed him,” said Eli Twilliger.  “But he’d be a plumb fool if he
warn’t out of the kentry by this time.  Hit’s a mighty good thing he
hasn’t any kin in these parts.”

“Them long legs of his’n could take him cornsiderable fur, but he hasn’t
any hoss critter ter save his strength.  I reckon he ain’t out of reach
yit.  He never war no great hand ter exert hisself, Jake warn’t,” drawled
the blacksmith.

“Well, he’s gittin’ further off while we’re argefyin’,” objected Dan
Gooch testily.  “I ’low hit’s time we war gittin’ down ter bizness.  Some
of you fellers take the trails ’tween you, and Sam and I’ll go ’long the
creek.  We’ll meet whar the old schoolhouse war, and if you’ve run down
any game you kin bring hit along.”

At nine o’clock the party straggled in from different directions
empty-handed.  Eli Twilliger was the last one.  His had been a hard,
rough climb.  Thin and wiry, sure of foot as a wild cat, and as ready to
pounce upon the object of his search, not a man knew so well the hiding
places those mighty hills afforded.  His shirt was torn, his hands and
face bore scratches received in a careful search through the narrow
subterranean passages which honeycombed the cliffs.  Tired and hungry, he
was in an ugly mood as with long strides he made toward the group
gathered at the edge of the pine thicket.

Dan Gooch turned toward him with a warning finger which he resented.
“What’s do-in’?” he growled.  “Hev you caged the varmint and air makin’ a
show of him?”  He peered curiously over the intervening shoulders and was
suddenly silenced.

In sight of the charred, smouldering ruins from which still issued little
puffs of smoke, Talitha, nothing daunted by her ill fortune, had gathered
her little flock.  Smiles had begun to cover their tear-stained faces.
It was a delightful novelty to sit on that mossy, sun-flecked bank and
prepare the day’s lessons.  Billy Gooch shared his large slate with the
youngest of the Twilligers, and two small girls bent industriously over
the same book.

The eyes of the rough mountaineers moistened, their hands tightened upon
their rifles ominously.  There was a stir among the foremost, and Si
Quinn faced them.  His face was like a thunder cloud.  One crutch waved
so threateningly that those nearest shrank back.  “What air you goin’ ter
do ’bout hit?  Thet’s what I want ter ask.  You might hev knowed you
couldn’t ketch that feller; he wan’t brung up in the mountings fer
nothin’.  Hit was as big a piece of devilment as I ever heerd of, but
mebbe hit won’t be the worst thing could hev happened, except fer the
leetle gal losin’ the money she put inter hit.  Let’s go ter work and put
up somethin’ thet won’t shame us.  You-all know thet old shack warn’t no
way fitten fer a schoolhouse.  I can’t help you ter cut a stick of timber
much as I’d give fer the strength ter do hit, but I’ll give ’nough ter
make up fer all Tally lost—”

“Sho now, Si, we ain’t goin’ ter let you do hit,” interrupted the
blacksmith.  “We’ll jest count your advice wuth thet much, and I reckon
hit air.  If we ain’t robustious ’nough ter put up another schoolhouse
and git what Tally needs for our young-uns, I ’low we’re a sorry lot—”

“How you do go on, Enoch,” jibed Eli Twilliger, pushing his way to the
front.  “Air you intendin’ ter take the stump fer the next ’lection?
Let’s git down ter bizness.  Thar ain’t nothin’ I can see ter hinder us
from startin’ ter-morrow mornin’, and if the weather is fair Tally shall
hev her schoolhouse in two weeks.  Ain’t thet so, boys?”

For answer, a shout went up that started the echoes from their
hiding-places in the hills.  Talitha and her flock looked up at them
wonderingly.  She was too far away to comprehend what good fortune was to
be hers, but she could rejoice that something had restored the men to
good humour.  Greater than sorrow at the frustrating of her plans and the
loss in which her small savings had been invested, was her horror at the
revival of the old feud spirit.  She had learned at the Bentville school
the terribleness of it.  In agony she had watched her father the previous
night as he cleaned and loaded his rifle.  Jake Simcox had done a
despicable, cowardly thing, but she could not wish him dealt with
according to the code of mountain justice.

At noon she sent the children home and walked slowly beside the
schoolmaster.  There were many questions she wished to ask him, but she
kept silent, knowing that he would speak of his own accord or not at all.

“Hit war jest as I ’lowed,” he said at last.  “Jake took time by the
forelock and mighty well he did.”

“Oh, I’m so glad they didn’t find him!” exclaimed Talitha in a tone that
struck the schoolmaster oddly.

“What’s thet, leetle gal!  Mighty queer talk fer the gran’darter of a
Bills.”  The faded eyes twinkled.

“I can’t help it, it isn’t right; and it’s a terrible thing for folks to
remember all their lives!”

“Pore leetle gal,” the old man nodded understandingly.  “You warn’t
bigger’n Sudie, I reckon, time o’ the Amyx shootin’.  ’Twar a shame ter
saddle you with sech mem’ries.  I never did hev much use fer sech doin’s,
and I said so, but hit warn’t a grain o’ use.  You might jest as well
talk ter a passel of hounds arter a Bushy tail.  But chirk up, you won’t
see Jake in these parts agin.  What we’re most consarned ’bout now is
whar you’re goin’ ter keep school when the ugly weather comes on.”

They had come to the parting of the ways, and here Talitha left the old
man hobbling painfully toward his cabin.

Si Quinn’s progress homeward was slow.  He stopped now and then to regain
his breath and chuckle feebly to himself.  “I reckon she thinks I’ve a
heart of stun ter take hit so ca’m, but I ’low Jake Simcox didn’t do sech
a bad thing.  Hit war worse fer hisself than fer Goose Creek.  Law,
what’ll the gal say when she hears of hit!  I reckon I’d better be
sendin’ fer them school fixin’s ter-morrow.”  He had reached the cabin
door, and now he shuffled inside, closing it carefully.  Shadowed by
pines, the place was always gloomy enough even at mid-day with the
shutters thrown wide.  Now he uncovered the coals on the hearth, laid on
a few small sticks, and swung the battered old tea kettle over the blaze.
Then he drew up his chair cosily before it, and thrusting his hand into
his trousers’ pocket brought forth a small leather bag.  From it he
counted a number of bills, smoothing each one tenderly across his knee.

“She shall hev ’em,” he said aloud.  “I’ll do without somehow, and hit
won’t be fer long.  The old man’s nearin’ the end of the trail—”  He
glanced around uneasily, with a vague consciousness of something—he knew
not what.  In the far corner of the cabin a pair of eyes, bloodshot and
wild, glared at him from under a thatch of red hair.

The old man grasped the money.  It disappeared in his shirt as he
staggered to his feet and faced the intruder.

“You needn’t be afeard, I ain’t goin’ ter tech hit.”  The figure issued
from the corner lamely.  In the light it was still more forbidding.  A
bruise on the forehead made a disfiguring, parti-coloured lump on his
otherwise pale, drawn face.  “I ain’t teched a thing, not even a crumb,
tho’ I’m ’most famished,” he growled.

“Hush, you crazy loon!”  Si Quinn raised a warning finger.

“Aw, yes, I know,” sneered the young fellow recklessly.  “The dogs air
arter the wolf and they kin hev him.”  He threw up his arms wildly.

“Set down in thet cheer and be still,” commanded the old man.

Jake dropped obediently into a seat.

“I ’lowed you war out’n the kentry.  Why didn’t you make tracks when you
had a chanct?”

“I did aim ter,” answered Jake Simcox, “but I fell, crawlin’ over thet
ledge by the Gulch, and I didn’t know nothin’ till this mornin’.  I could
hear the men thrashin’ the bushes all ’round me, but I was jest out of
sight of ’em.  I wish fer the land they’d tuk me then and thar and done
with hit.”

“The way of a transgressor is shorely hard,” exclaimed the old man
pityingly.

“I didn’t go fer ter fire the place, Si, I shore didn’t.  I jest thought
ter burn the books and sech.  Oh, I don’t know what made me do hit, ’less
I was plumb crazy!”  Jake bowed his head in his hands and groaned in
agony.

The schoolmaster set the coffee pot upon the coals, where it simmered
gently.  “Sho now, Jake,” he said kindly, “you’re all beat out.  Draw up
and hev a bite; hit ain’t much but hit’ll put some heart in you.  I don’t
cornsider thet jest burnin’ thet old shack war sech a turrible sin; hit
war the sperit you done hit in.  You did ’low to burn all thet pore gal
spent most of her savin’s on, and thet was the meanest part of the hull
bizness.  I allers said thet temper of yours would bring you ter grief.
Hit’s like a skeery hoss critter; when hit gits loose you never can
cal’late on all the didos hit’s goin’ ter cut up.  Do you think thet if
you hed another chanct you hev got grit ’nough ter turn ’round in your
tracks?”

Jake reached a hand over the table and grasped the hard, shrivelled one.
“Oh, I shore would if I could only hev hit,” he answered humbly.  “I
shore would, but hit’s too late.”

“Hit ain’t,” contradicted the old man cheerfully.  “So long as you see
the error of your ways, I’ll see thet you git out of this bizness hopin’
hit’s a lesson you won’t forgit.”

Until Jake Simcox was able both mentally and physically to make the
journey, he remained in the schoolmaster’s cabin, hiding away in the
little loft at the least sign of danger.

Late the third night after a hearty supper, Si Quinn filled his knapsack
with provisions and slung it across the young shoulders.  “Hike over the
Ohiar line as quick as you kin,” he admonished, “and then find a job near
a school whar you kin git some larnin’.  I’m goin’ ter give you this,”
putting a bill in the young fellow’s hand.  “Hit’ll help you out till you
git work, if you’re savin’.  I’d make hit more, but most of the rest is
goin’ fer books and maps fer Tally’s new schoolhouse they’re buildin’ fer
her.”

Jake looked up shamefacedly; the money seemed to burn his hand, but to
what straits might he be brought if he refused it.  “I’ll pay hit all
back—every cent,” he faltered, “and I shan’t ever fergit what you’ve done
fer me.”  Then he was swallowed up by the darkness.



VII
THE JAM SOCIAL


THE tiny, blue calcimined room with one window looking southward seemed
almost palatial in comparison with Gincy’s humble home quarters.  Instead
of the overhanging mountains were the foothills and the college gardens.

She tried to picture the scene back home without her at this early hour.
Her mother milking Brindled Bet, Billy feeding the pigs, and her
father—she couldn’t be thankful enough he wasn’t like Sam Coyle—getting
ready to gather the “crap” in the south cove.

There was a slight stirring in the lower berth of the double-decker.
“Talitha,” she called out softly.  “Air you awake?”  But the voice which
answered was not Talitha’s.

“It’s Urilla,” it said hesitatingly.

Gincy leaned over and her eyes sought the occupant of the cot below.
Propped up on the pillow was the pale face of the girl who had arrived
yesterday.  The solemn brown eyes looked straight up into hers
inquiringly as though not at all sure of a welcome.  “I reckon you’re
some surprised,” she said.  “You were asleep when I came in last night
and I aimed to keep pretty still.”

“Yes,” answered Gincy rather dazed.  “But whar’s Talitha?”

Urilla shook her head.  “Mrs. Donnelly sent me here—I had this room last
term.  I reckon Talitha’s on this floor, though.  The first and second
year girls are mostly together.”

Gincy swung down and began dressing without another word.  She would
interview Talitha at breakfast; perhaps they could arrange to room
together after all.  Urilla looked too sober for a roommate.  “Whar you
from?” Gincy asked finally, rolling up her hair.

“Jackson County,” Urilla answered promptly.  “I rode twenty miles
yesterday and the road was might rocky.  Where’d you come from?”

“Over in Clay,” Gincy smiled into the tired face as she answered.  “I
should think you’d be plumb tickled to be back.  Seems like you couldn’t
stay away from here nohow, but I heerd you say your mammy war sick,” she
added, anxious not to appear lacking in friendly interest.

“Not bed sick, or I couldn’t have come.  She’s up, but I keep studying
about her and wondering if Sallie—that’s my next sister—will keep her
from working.  Mother’s had a spell of fever and don’t seem to get
strong.”

Apparently, Urilla was fumbling in the little trunk on the floor for some
article of wearing apparel, but Gincy saw the teardrops, and instantly
her tender heart warmed.  She stooped over and took the pale face between
her two hard little palms.  “You mustn’t fret, honey, mammy had the fever
a couple of years back, and she’s robustious as kin be now.”

Urilla looked the thanks her lips were unable to speak.  In a minute she
had regained her composure, and by the time the breakfast bell sounded,
her few belongings were carefully hung in her half of the little closet,
the bedclothes airing, and the tiny dresser in perfect order.

Together they went down the long flights of stairs, but not to the same
dining-room.  Gincy had been assigned to a table in the Annex where
Martin and Talitha ate, but the latter had not arrived.  Silently she
waited for the blessing, and then catching Martin’s eye, “Whar’s
Talitha?” she inquired.

“I don’t know—exactly,” he answered with hesitation and truthfully, he
thought.  She might be anywhere between Clover Bottom and Lost Creek by
this time.

Gincy ate her oatmeal without suspicion.  Why should Martin know after
all, when he roomed halfway across the campus?  Another thought came to
her.  Perhaps Talitha had volunteered to go to one of the cottages that
she might stay in the hall.  It was just like her to be so unselfish.

This was the morning for registering, and Gincy felt very new indeed.  In
the absence of Talitha, Urilla and Kizzie Tipton offered to act as
escorts.  It seemed hours before her end of the line reached the desk and
she was assigned to an examination in the Industrial Building a block
away.  Her sunny face was quite woe-begone as they started.

“Don’t you fret,” admonished Urilla.  “I know just how you feel, but you
needn’t be afraid.”

“I’m plumb ’shamed of my ignorance.  I won’t be nowhar ’side of you-all,”
Gincy answered disconsolately.

“You’ll be just where I was last year,” consoled Kizzie.

“Do you reckon so?  Well, I’m bound ter work every minnit now I’ve got
started.”  Gincy’s mouth showed an even line of determination.  She
looked around curiously as they entered the big, brick building.  On
either side of the wide stairway were the rooms for cooking and sewing.
Students were passing in and out.

“I’ve had cooking,” said Urilla, “and I’ve taught Sallie to make good
bread.”

“I’d rather take sewing; it’s easier.”  Kizzie’s black eyes twinkled.

“If I had my ruthers it would be cookin’,” declared Gincy.  “I could help
mammy a heap; hit’s better to move ’round some, too.”

A crowd was constantly passing up and down the stairs leading to the
second floor.  Some of the boys and girls had yellow slips in their
hands; a few looked worried.  In the large, upstairs classrooms there was
a sprinkling of parents.  Many had come a score of miles with ox teams
and stood around anxiously awaiting the result of the examination.

All new pupils were assigned to Room 2, and here Gincy discovered Abner,
his yellow head bent over a sheet of paper covered with figures.  Gincy
regarded him with confidence.  Abner was strong in arithmetic—the one
study the mountain teachers had impressed upon their pupils.  For herself
she was not so sure.  Her knowledge of geography was hazy.  In grammar
the parts of speech had been carefully reviewed, but she was in doubt
about parsing, and diagramming looked to her like a jumble of words
tumbling over a precarious footing of loose boards.  She dropped into a
vacant seat near the door while Urilla looked for a teacher who was not
too busy to interview her.  Presently, she returned, and Gincy found
herself shaking hands with an attractive young woman whose near-sighted
brown eyes held the friendliest look in the world.

“I’m so glad to meet you, Miss Gooch; you’re from Clay County?  You’ll
find a good many boys and girls from there.  Urilla told me all about you
at breakfast time and we’re going to help you get acquainted.  You’ll be
one of my specials on the third floor, I can tell that by looking at
you.”

Gincy’s heart took sudden courage.  If all the teachers were going to be
like Miss Howard she certainly would be a “special” if she had to study
all night to accomplish it.  Miss Howard sat close and questioned her
softly, not seeming to mind when she stumbled or failed entirely.  Gincy
had a musical voice and read the easy selections in a way which pleased
the teacher, for she recommended elocution and sub-normal arithmetic on
the little slip which Gincy bore away an hour later.  The other studies
were not wholly settled, but it seemed like a good beginning.

“Be sure to come to the Jam Social to-night,” had been Miss Howard’s
parting words, and Gincy had promised readily, although not feeling at
all sure what a “Jam Social” really was.

She wandered around from one building to another, nowhere encountering
Talitha or any one who had seen her.  Once inside the Hall again she went
straight to the office to question Mrs. Donnelly.

From behind a desk piled high with mail, the dean answered, “She’s gone
home, Miss Gooch.”

“Gone home!  When?”  Gincy’s voice sounded strange to her own ears.

“About two o’clock this morning.  She slept with me last night and Martin
saw her off.”

“But why?  Was any one sick—or?”  The dean shook her head and began to
open her mail.  Suddenly Gincy knew it all.  Talitha had gone that she
might stay.  After working so hard, too.  What would Sam Coyle say to
her?  Not willing to make any sacrifices himself—for his children’s
good—he would be angry to have them generous with others.  Gincy turned
and went up to her room.  How could she accept such a sacrifice?  She
wrestled with the problem for hours, then in despair thought of Miss
Howard.  The little teacher listened patiently with one soft hand
covering the girl’s work-roughened one.  When Gincy had ended with a sob
in her voice, Miss Howard’s arm stole around her and held her close.

“Don’t worry, dear, Talitha will come back to us some time.  She’s
determined to have an education.  She has chosen to give you your chance
now; make the very best of it.  It would be foolish for you to start home
and disappoint her—it would be useless, too.  She’s going to write you in
a day or so.”

Somewhat comforted, Gincy went back to her room.  On every side doors
were ajar and girls unpacking.  There was the merry chatter of friends
long separated, and those newly found, which sent a delightful glow
through the heart of the mountain girl.  Few and far between were the
opportunities for sociability back in the hills, and as she realized what
she was gaining, a keen sense of Talitha’s loss smote her.

“You’d better get ready for the Social before dinner,” a voice called out
from behind, and Kizzie overtook Gincy.  “I’ll call for you and Urilla
promptly at seven.”

“I’d forgotten hit, sure enough,” answered Gincy, quickening her steps.

Early in the evening the large chapel blazed forth a welcome to the
returning students from its many windows.  From every direction they
came—in groups or singly.  Above, was a starlit sky, and the air was full
of a soft, sweet melody unlike anything Gincy had ever heard before.  Her
ears, used only to the thrum of the banjo, or a crude performance on a
small reed organ, were thrilled with delight as the college band finished
the overture from “William Tell.”

She glanced shyly at Urilla to see if her emotion was shared, but the
quiet face betrayed nothing more than deep satisfaction at being once
more among her beloved schoolmates.

The great auditorium was filling rapidly.  Happy faces peered down from
the galleries, girls and boys elbowed their way past, calling out hearty
greetings to those they recognized.  There was a short lull when the
president made his welcoming speech; after that, it seemed to Gincy a
thousand hives had swarmed.  Abner and Martin caught the spirit at once
and moved constantly from one group to another shaking hands, exchanging
jokes, and growing merrier each moment.  Gincy watched them astonished.
Abner’s light hair was tossed back like a mane, his cheeks were rosy, his
eyes alight with fun.  Martin took it more quietly, but never had she
seen such a look of pleasure in his face.

Gincy forgot her plain dress—plain even in comparison with the simple
clothes around her—and the fact that she was surrounded by hundreds of
strange faces.  The spirit of youth—so often quenched in these young
mountain people before it fairly shows itself—was clamouring for
expression.  She drew a long breath and decided to be one of the gay
company.

An hour later as the three girls emerged from the building which the bell
in the tower had suddenly hushed, Gincy felt that she had come into her
own.  Her timidity had vanished, and a pleasant presage of popularity
made her innocently merry and once more her own natural self.



VIII
THE MASTER KEY


IT was nearly time for the rising bell, and Gincy propped herself up on
one elbow to watch the light creeping above the foothills and the ox
teams crawling along Big Hill pike.

Suddenly, she remembered her new duties as monitor of the third floor.
It was so hard lately to keep order during study hours and after the last
bell at night.  Gincy could not help connecting it in some way with Nancy
Jane Ping and Mallie Green, the two recent arrivals from her own county.
They had been reproved time and again for an untidy room, but it seemed
to do no good.

“They’re always studyin’ up some foolishness to keep things upset,” she
declared disgustedly.  Gincy had been feeling particularly lonely now
that Urilla had gone home for a whole week; things had been happening,
too.  Miss Howard was at her wit’s end to discover the offenders, so sly
were they, but Kizzie Tipton and Lalla Ponder were always the victims.

Sometimes the bedding was piled in a heap in the middle of the floor, or
Lalla’s school hat was filled with water and her best dress missing only
to be found later folded under the mattress.  The vandals covered their
tracks very neatly, and Miss Howard, knowing the excitable temperaments
around her, kept the matter as quiet as possible.

Gincy thought it over carefully until breakfast time, then decided to do
some special detective work for the reputation of the Hall.  “Some fracas
between their kin, I reckon.”  Gincy was used to the mountain feuds,
which, like a slumbering fire, always broke out in unexpected places.
“Mallie’s been left to run till she’s no ’count; why don’t she study to
get some learnin’ stid o’ hatchin’ up deviltry?  Nancy Jane and she make
a team; looks like they don’t show good sense.”  Gincy shook her head
sadly, thinking how hard she had worked for the privilege which others
esteemed so lightly.  School had meant for her sacrifice, and long hours
of toil.

Saturday was a busy day in the Hall.  Its many corridors were thoroughly
swept and mopped, the rooms carefully cleaned.  Gincy was here and there
and everywhere on the third floor.  By lunch time there was a sharp
twinge in her left ear which sent the blood throbbing to her temples.
Her own room was spotless.  Urilla’s family photographs were tucked in
the wire rack where they would show to the best advantage, the ugly ink
spot on the chenille table spread was turned to the wall, and the small
stove was shining.  But the occupant was not tempted by odours of fresh
gingerbread or turnip salad coming from below.  Her work for the day was
done.  She had counted on going to Lee’s Knob with a walking party for a
picnic supper.  Suddenly, all ambition had left her.  When she awoke from
her long nap her earache was gone, but there lingered in her memory a
curious dream.  The room key had been stolen and Miss Howard was in
trouble.

Another bell rang.  This time it was for dinner, but Gincy still felt
little inclination to move, and a curious absence of hunger.  There were
loitering feet, then hurrying, then the distant clatter from the Annex
announced that the meal was in progress.  Gincy surveyed the tired face
in the glass as she brushed her hair and resolutely choked back the
homesick hunger which the free life of the mountains had fostered.

“I might jest as well walk down that way and see if things air all
right.”  How loud her steps sounded on the bare corridor floor.  Gincy
paused before trying the door of Number 16.  She did hope that Lalla and
Kizzie had left it locked.  But no, here was the key, and on the outside,
too.  “I call thet plumb shiftlessness,” she told herself disgustedly.
The girls certainly needed a lesson.  Gincy stuck her head in, carefully
surveyed the room, and then locked the door, slipping the key into her
pocket.  Let them go to Miss Howard when they wanted to get in.  She came
back to her own room and sat down by the window.  In a few minutes the
evening song, in one harmonious chorus, was wafted to her ears, then
snatches of it floated up the stairs as the girls returned to their
rooms.  Some one tapped lightly, then turned the knob, and peered in.  It
was Mallie Green, and Gincy fancied she looked surprised to see her.

“Howdy!  I was passing and I thought—I’d see—why—you wan’t at dinner.”
Mallie blurted it out in her usual explosive fashion, her gaze shifting
evasively.

“I didn’t feel to want any; my ear aches,” answered Gincy with a sudden
accession of coolness toward the small, shrinking figure.  She had been a
target for Nancy Ping’s ready wit many a time, but to-day Mallie seemed
far less likable.  Every minute her suspicions grew stronger.  Why was
Mallie poking into people’s rooms and pretending—Gincy felt it to be mere
pretending—to be friends?  It was more than mere prankishness to put wet
towels on a pile of freshly-ironed clothes, it was malicious, especially
as the girls were all trying to economize as much as possible.

A few minutes later Gincy presented the key of Number 16 to Miss Howard.
“They haven’t asked for the master key,” said the latter, “so they must
be downstairs in the parlour.  Sometimes they don’t come up until the
study bell rings.”

“Let’s go back and see if there is any one hanging around the door,”
suggested Gincy.

To their astonishment they found Lalla and Kizzie entertaining callers.
Gincy stood for a moment dumfounded, then dragged Miss Howard to a quiet
corner of the hall.  “I know,” she whispered, “some one left that key in
the door.  They heard me coming and didn’t have time to get it out.
We’ll keep hit, then I’d like to see them get in.”

“Do you really think it’s Mallie?” asked Miss Howard soberly.  “I can’t
see any reason for her doing it.”

“Nor I, only the Greens and Ponders never did get on back yonder, and
Lalla’s always ahead of Mallie—she’s a year younger, too.”

Miss Howard stopped suddenly, she had started back to her room.  “No,
Gincy, it wasn’t Mallie; she went into the dining-room ahead of me this
evening and gave out a notice for the basket ball team.  I remember now.
Besides, she and Nancy Jane both wipe dishes and are never upstairs until
a half-hour after meal time.”

For almost a week after that the upper corridors were peaceful.  No one
but Gincy doubted that they would remain so.  Saturday evening, when Miss
Howard was making her tour of inspection, she met Lalla and Kizzie going
to choir practice.  “I’ll look into your room just the same, girls,” she
said.  “You don’t know how good it seems, though, to get over dreading
it.”

Kizzie sighed.  “I couldn’t have stood it another day.  It was getting
positively ghost-y, having such things goin’ on.”

Miss Howard sighed too as she fitted the master key into the door of
Number 16.  Had she a real traitor in the house, or was it some prankish
girl who had gone too far and was now thoroughly frightened?  The room
was in perfect order.  How well the two had learned their lesson of
neatness.  It rested the tired little teacher just to look at the clean
floor, the fresh curtains, and orderly books.  She went over to the
window and looked out.  Beyond the roof of the new dining-room was a
long, regular pile of wood, then the tennis court framed by huge oaks,
and still beyond, the mountains.

Miss Howard stood lost in thought for a moment.  Each day brought its
problems.  She was roused by a light footstep, there was a quick click of
the lock, and the master key was pulled out from the other side.  She was
surely a prisoner.  Thoroughly impatient at her own stupidity, Miss
Howard tried the window.  She could only pull it down a few inches from
the top.  This was the cleverest, most daring piece of lawlessness which
had ever occurred in the Hall.  With the master key gone all kinds of
vandalism were possible in that room and every other.  She dropped into a
chair irresolute.

A party of seniors had the east parlour until 7:30, which almost emptied
the corridor.  One might call incessantly and not be heard, unless by the
wrong girls—the very ones from whom she wished to keep the matter a
secret.

The chapel bell rang for chorus practice.  The outer world began to grow
dusky, still Miss Howard sat perfectly quiet, apparently reading.  She
was thinking of a mystery story which led through a labyrinth of baffling
events to a most simple solution.  She grew more and more doubtful of her
ability as a detective.

Presently, two people stopped outside the door for a little chat.  It was
Martha Spellman—on her way to the linen closet—and Lalla.  Miss Howard
waited patiently now that immediate release was certain, until the door
opened.

Lalla’s face was the picture of astonishment as she noticed the occupant
of her room.  “You’d better not speak of it, Lalla,” cautioned her
teacher after describing the manner of her incarceration.  “The girls
know enough already; they’ll be going home next thing.  No one likes to
feel that she’s at the mercy of some lawless person.”

However, Miss Howard made an exception of Gincy, who seemed a link
between herself and the mountain people.  Besides Gincy’s position as
monitor demanded greater confidence.  “Whoever it was, knew I was there,”
she concluded.

“They were after the key, they didn’t care who was in there,” said Gincy
grimly.  “Hit ain’t likely they’ll come again very soon, though, after
this.”

But the very next evening Number 16 was again invaded.  This time Lalla’s
little silver pin was missing, and her school books hidden in the
woodbox.

“Shall we search Mallie’s and Nancy Jane’s room?” asked Miss Howard as
Lalla stood before her after making her final complaint.  “This matter is
growing serious.”

Lalla hesitated.  “You wouldn’t be likely to find anything.  They’re both
too smart for that.  We might watch them a spell longer.”

“Besides,” continued Miss Howard, “Mallie and Nancy Jane are nearly
always busy when things happen in your room.”

Lalla shook her head as though unconvinced.  “I reckon hit’s jest one
person.  I ain’t sayin’ who.”

“Lalla,” interrogated Gincy shrewdly, “who do you reckon’s so plumb
foolish as to sneak into your room whenever you go out for dinner?”

“Mebbe you can tell me,” answered Lalla with a flash of temper.  “I’m
goin’ home next week if hit keeps on.”

“Wait a while,” encouraged Gincy, ignoring the insinuation.  Personally,
she was not fond of Lalla, whose keen wit never spared any one, but of
all the mountain pupils she was the most talented—so the teachers had
said—and Gincy was working for the good of the school.

“I’ve got hit to work out and I’m goin’ to do hit,” she said to herself
that night.  “I reckon Lalla’s plumb out of patience or she wouldn’t be
so touchy.”

She took a firmer grip on the baffling mental problem, her detective
instinct now fully aroused.  Things happened at dinner time.  Mallie and
Nancy Jane were nearly always at meals—and yet—Gincy thought over every
other girl in the Hall; not one seemed to have either the disposition or
the ability to carry on, undetected, such a warfare.

At six o’clock that evening, she was behind the door of Number 16, the
new master key showing temptingly in the lock.  She had figured it all
out; the room must be watched from the inside.  This time both window and
door were to be reckoned with.  She raised the former to further her
scheme, and told no one except Miss Howard, who promised to bring Gincy’s
dinner to her own room that she might eat it later.

It was a weary vigil, but Gincy worked out some problems and waited
patiently.  The hour was almost gone when a slight tap came at the door.
She crowded behind a dress in the corner and listened eagerly.  The door
swung slightly and Nancy Jane Ping looked in.  Her small, inquisitive
eyes seemed to pierce every corner, and Gincy had a breathless moment of
expectancy.  Kizzie’s yellow muslin was a feeble barrier for the gimlet
glances to penetrate.

For a moment, the intruder stood keenly surveying the room, then withdrew
and walked slowly down the hall.  Gincy waited, but she did not return.
After all, the evidence was very incomplete.  Anybody might have looked
into a room whose door was slightly ajar.  It didn’t matter how much
inward conviction one had if she lacked tangible proof.  The whole
baffling pursuit had to be begun again, and Gincy united her Scotch
persistency and Irish wit afresh.

For a week she was absent from the dining-room at the dinner hour, the
most sociable time of the day.  It had not been necessary to tell Kizzie
or Lalla, or, in fact, anybody, as she sat in the Annex dining-room, and
they rarely saw each other.

Still nothing happened, and Gincy went on studying her arithmetic and
planning her work for rhetoricals.  She did not forget to keep the window
open, however, and the shining new master key in the door as a bait.
“Whoever hit is won’t resk coming in at the window, they’d be suspicioned
sure if any one should open the door.”

She reasoned it all out as she sat motionless on the fifth night of her
vigil.  Almost at that moment the event which she had been anticipating
happened.  The key clicked in the lock and she was shut in.  For one
instant she listened to hear in which direction the retreating footsteps
were going—there was a telltale squeak which betrayed it—then Gincy
bounded across the room and slipped out of the window.  She ran
noiselessly to where the halls crossed and a door led to a back stair
landing.  Gincy knew that she could see from there any one who came down
the main hall, while the dark corner was a safe hiding-place for herself.

She had barely gained the desired spot, when some one vaulted past and
out upon the roof.  It was Lalla Ponder who stole cautiously along and
deposited a small, shining object in a convenient niche near the cornice.
Gincy could hardly believe her eyes, but when Lalla turned her back, she
looked into the main hall and saw that it was entirely empty.  She knew
that Lalla would not attempt to gain her room by the window, but would
come back into the hall and either go down the back stairs or come up
boldly and unlock her door.  Gincy pounded on a nearby door vigorously,
knowing that its occupant was probably taking care of the lamps in the
lower hall, then she walked noisily to meet Lalla, who had regained the
hall when her back was turned.

“May I borrow your dictionary?” she asked in the grip of a sudden
courage.  “Mary must be out; she doesn’t answer when I knock.”

“Of course you may,” Lalla answered, but Gincy noticed how her hand
trembled as she unlocked the door with her own key which hung on a narrow
plaid ribbon at her belt.  She hesitated before stepping in, and gave a
little start of surprise when she saw an empty room.  “I’m losing my
nerve, I reckon, with all the queer doin’s ’round here lately.”

Gincy’s face hardened.  Could Lalla be crazy?  She watched the girl
narrowly as she searched the closet, peered behind the door with every
sign of anxiety, and gave a sigh of relief when she found nothing out of
order.

Once in possession of the dictionary, Gincy hurried to Miss Howard with
her story.

“Have you been dreaming, child?” the latter asked in astonishment.  But
Gincy shook her head.

“I’ve been studyin’ ’bout hit since I found her out.  Hit’s that feud
business and she’s trying to fasten hit onto Mallie.  The girls will
believe hit too, Mallie’s so ill.”

Miss Howard from her own conviction felt that they would.  She followed
Gincy to the end of the hall; they slipped out upon the roof and found
both keys securely hidden from any casual observer just where Lalla had
concealed them five minutes before.  Silently the two filed back to Miss
Howard’s room.  Gincy felt the little teacher’s inward struggle to
readjust her point of view.  Mallie was not a favourite, while Lalla had
quite a following and was counted unusually bright.

“Hit’s this way,” Gincy explained to the bewildered teacher.  “The Greens
and Ponders have warred hit for years back there in the hills, and they
aim never to forget hit.  Most of the young folks see how foolish hit is,
but they’re a sorry lot.”

Miss Howard sighed.  “I must have time to think it over.  I’m rather
upset this evening, Gincy.  Thank you for helping me.  Please don’t say
anything about it until I see you again.  I can’t see why Lalla should
want to injure her own clothes to get Mallie sent home, though.”

After Gincy had left, Miss Howard sat for a long time, her hands toying
idly with the two keys.  If the dean knew of the trouble, Lalla would be
suspended at once as she richly deserved.  She would go back to the
poorest of mountain homes and the bright, keen mind, undirected and bent
on mischief, would soon bring the girl to grief.

The next day, at her first opportunity, she called Gincy into her room.
Carefully she approached the subject.  “What kind of a home did you say
Lalla had, Gincy?”

“Mighty pore,” was the answer.  “They’re the illest kind of people.”

Miss Howard pondered a moment over the next question.  “What do you
suppose will become of her when she gets back in the mountains?”

Gincy shook her head gloomily.

“Don’t you suppose it will be worth while for us to try reforming her?”
Then Miss Howard explained the probation plan.  “Only you and I know that
she is the mischief maker.  If nothing more happens the pupils will soon
forget it.  Of course everything depends on how she acts.  She must
contradict the report about Mallie and promise better behaviour in the
future.”

Gincy’s face showed an inward struggle; this was so unlike the code of
the mountains.  “I’m afraid I couldn’t trust her,” she said at last, “but
I’m willing to do anything you say.”

“I’m going to have a long talk with her this afternoon,” Miss Howard
continued, “and find out the reason for her conduct.”

There was a light tap at the door, then it was pushed open and Lalla
walked in.  Her eyes had a sleepless look, her face was colourless.
Instantly the two knew her errand.  She talked very rapidly, as if
fearful of losing her courage.  “I started at first to fool Kizzie—she
said no one could do it—then I remembered something pretty mean Mallie
did to me back home and it seemed like my time had come to get even.
When you wanted to search her room I got to studying about it.  I was
taking away her chance for learning, and she needing it mighty bad—as bad
as any one could.  I was letting you think her a thief—”  Here Lalla
broke down completely.  “I reckon you’ll have—to—send me h—ome, I’m plumb
bad, and—”

Gincy waited for no more.  She flung her arms around the weeping girl
with sudden tenderness.

“I am glad you were brave enough to confess your wrongdoing, Lalla,” said
Miss Howard, much relieved.  “I think you deserve another chance, and
Gincy and I are going to see that you have it, too.  We don’t propose to
tell anybody about this, so you’ll have nothing to live down.  Just show
us a clean record from now on.”

“You don’t mean—” and here the magnitude of Miss Howard’s generosity
seemed to transform Lalla’s whole being.  She stood up tall and straight
before the two.  “You’ll never be sorry for trusting me,” she said.  “And
I reckon if you can forgive me for worrying you so, I ought to forgive
Mallie and help her to be a better girl, too.”



IX
THE BAPTIZING


GINCY worked hard every day.  Each night she went to bed weary in mind
and body, but the morning found her anxious to begin again.  Saturday
afternoon was free for long walking trips to Cowbell Hollow, Blue Lick,
or the nearby peaks.  Already an early frost had touched the tulip trees
with spots of gold, the sumac showed a fiery rim, and Nature was doing
her best to woo attention.  Gincy and Urilla did not need the lure, their
hearts were longing for the hills.

Miss Howard must have read their thoughts.  Early Saturday morning she
tapped at their door.  “Girls, wouldn’t you like to go out to the
bungalow on Indian Mountain this afternoon?  The college team will take
us and we can come back by moonlight to-morrow evening.”

“Of course we would!” both girls exclaimed.  Then Gincy hugged the little
teacher until she laughingly slipped away, admonishing them to be ready
soon after lunch.

“We’ll get the room straightened out in a jiffy,” said Urilla before the
door had fairly closed.  “I’m so glad we’re going, honey, it’ll make you
over.”

Gincy had never seen her calm room-mate quite so enthusiastic—her cheeks
were flushed with excitement and she rushed around dusting the furniture
with a vigorous hand.  “I’d better clear out right away,” she laughed,
“and see if there’s any mail.  There won’t be enough left of me to go if
you keep on the way you’ve started; you suck up the dust like a cyclone.”

“Bring me a letter from Talitha,” Urilla called after her.

It was four miles to Indian Mountain, the last two a steady climb—steep
in places and sidling—but the five did not mind it.  Zack and Zeke, the
two fat mules belonging to the college farm, took a steady jog-trot until
they reached the foot, and then slowed down for the long, hard pull.
Lalla Ponder was poised recklessly near a mound of provisions guarded by
some extra quilts.  Her light curls and nimble tongue were in constant
motion.

“I like tippy places and caves,” she said.  “There’s one back in Clay
that’s haunted, they say, but I’ve been in it and never cared a rap.”

“You’re never afraid of anything,” remarked Kizzie, looking up at her
room-mate admiringly.  “I don’t know where you haven’t been that’s
crawl-y and creep-y.”

“Well, there’s one place on this mountain.  I’ve never been all the way
through Fat Man’s Misery.”

“Let’s all try hit,” Gincy proposed recklessly.  “If hit can be done.”

“The boys often do it, but it’s a pretty hard climb for you girls,” said
Miss Howard who sat with the driver.

“I’m going to build a fire in the fireplace and pop some corn,” Urilla
suddenly remarked.

“Perhaps Gincy will help me sweep the bungalow before she goes
exploring,” ventured Miss Howard with a twinkle.

“I reckon I will,” assented Gincy, catching the look of mischief.
“You-all no ’count folks kin go on and have your fun; you’ll be back
comin’ meal time.”

The wagon suddenly lurched, checking the chorus of protests.  Lalla lost
her balance, falling on Urilla.  The basket of fruit and vegetables
overturned and the driver halted for repairs.  “Hit’s only a rock that
big storm onsettled t’other night.  Them ornery mules jest nachelly
struck hit,” he said.

Back and forth the road wound, continually disclosing new vistas.  In the
coves farmers were gathering the “crap.”  There were pine-capped crests,
bare, tumbled rocks, stream beds showing traces of tempestuous high
water, threaded now by tiny, twinkling rills.  Beyond, and still beyond,
reared peak after peak of the Cumberlands.  Gincy looked eagerly toward
the southeast.  For a moment she almost imagined she could see the tiny
cabin perched above Goose Creek.

After a hard climb of almost two hours, the level space on the
mountain-top was reached.  From a thicket of young trees they emerged
into a cleared space where stood a long, red bungalow apparently without
doors or windows.  Built at the edge of a cliff, it commanded a wonderful
view of the surrounding mountains and the Blue Grass country.

“Oh!  We’re here at last!” Gincy tumbled out hastily.  “Whar do you git
in?”

“Down the chimney, of course,” laughed Urilla.  “Look for the ladder
under the bungalow.”

“You might watch and see how I do it,” said Miss Howard, producing a key
and going around to the rear of the building.  Presently she pushed up
sections of the side—one by one—and lastly threw back the wide front
doors.

Gincy stood for a moment enraptured.  Below for miles was a fair, level
country dotted with towns—another world of which she knew nothing.  The
sun was dipping westward toward a bluish-purple horizon.

By five o’clock everything was in order.  “Not a lazy bone among you,”
Miss Howard assured them.  “Now scatter and have a good time.”

They needed no second bidding.  Lalla led off at a break-neck speed.
“We’ll start in at the cave and come back by Fat Man’s Misery; it’ll land
us right in front of the bungalow.”

Urilla groaned.  “Sh-h-h,” warned Kizzie, “we’re going to initiate Gincy;
none of us are fat enough to get stuck, so you needn’t worry.”

“I’m not worrying,” answered Urilla reproachfully.  “I’m tired after all
my work this morning, but I’m not going to back out.”

The path to the cave led through a grove of young oaks.  There were tall
ferns and rhododendrons, and mountain laurel.  Lalla paused at an immense
fallen tree which seemed to block the way; its great roots hung over the
yawning space below.  Nimbly she sprang upon the giant trunk and
disappeared on the other side, calling for the rest to follow.

When the three had done so, they caught a vanishing glimpse of Lalla
descending hand over hand on the strong branch of a mammoth grapevine.
Thirty feet below she landed upon the level surface of a mossy boulder.
Gincy followed Kizzie, and Urilla came last.  Before them was the large
opening of the cave—a favourite haunt of the students, who from time to
time occupied the college bungalow.  At its rear, a long, wide crack in
the solid rock led in a zigzag direction for twenty rods or more.  The
path was extremely narrow, and sloping at a sharp incline.  Kizzie dodged
ahead and Gincy was close behind.  Each moment the former grew more
reckless; she gathered her skirts around her and slid down a swift
descent, the others following.

“Whew! but it’s dampish!” said Gincy.  “Hear that water?”

A steady drip, drip, drip came from the walls.  In the cracks were long
fronded ferns, moss, and here and there wild geraniums.  A cool draught
struck them.  At the farther end the rocks seemed almost to touch, and
only a tiny thread of light showed from above.  Gincy was close to Kizzie
when they reached the narrowest part and began the long, tortuous climb.

“We’ll be ready for hot coffee by the time we get to the top,” called
Urilla from the rear.

“I hope Miss Howard won’t fuss; I kin eat anythin’ I’m so hungry,” said
Gincy.

“Of course she won’t fuss,” panted Kizzie.  “She’s a born manager; she’ll
have everything on the table in great shape and a picture painted to
boot.”

Up, up, with a scanty, stony foothold, Gincy followed close behind
Kizzie, her face growing redder, her breath shorter.  The crack of blue
was broadening, roots and stocky ferns afforded a surer grasp.

“We’re almost there!” Kizzie exulted.  “What on earth are you doing with
that stick, Gincy?”

“Watch me and see!”  Dexterously Gincy inserted the short, stout stick
crosswise above her head and swung up a long step to safe footing beside
her leader.  “Why, we’re up, aren’t we?” she said, astonished as her eyes
caught a glimpse of the foundation of the bungalow a few yards away.  The
four pulled themselves up the few remaining feet and dropped down in a
weary, silent row on a big, flat stone which commanded a glorious view.
Even Lalla’s twinkling eyes had lost their usual expression of mischief,
and she sat soberly viewing the scene before her.

“Look, Kizzie,” exclaimed Urilla, pointing back to the open bungalow,
“Miss Howard’s been to the spring for water, the table’s all set, and I
can smell the chicken.”

Nancy Jane was up at sunrise the next morning.  She and Mallie stole out
of bed noiselessly and started for the spring—it was their turn to get
water.  There had been a heavy dew, but neither girl wore rubbers.
“Another fine day,” said Mallie, stepping high.  “Just look at the hills!
We’re the highest.”

The winding footpath near the cliff’s edge gave a magnificent view of the
peaks which formed a huge semicircle around Indian Mountain.  “I’d almost
like to live up here,” said Nancy Jane.  “It’s more sightly than back in
the hills and so near Bentville.”

The two stood near the sagging gate of a yard which had been swept clean
as a floor.  A few long-legged chickens stepped about gingerly.  On the
very edge of the cliff stood a low frame house, and near it a corn crib
set high to keep out the rats.  The path to the spring led through the
yard.

“The Haggis family live here,” announced Mallie as she held the gate
open.  “Miss Howard told me about them last night—they’re awfully poor.”

A small, fat boy wearing a single loose garment was busily playing in the
rain barrel.  He had a gourd with which he dipped the water out into a
pail, sprinkling himself plentifully meanwhile.  In the house breakfast
was over, and Mrs. Haggis walked around heavily as though her night’s
sleep had failed to rest her.  She looked old from sickness and overwork;
but the girls knew that look—nearly all the mountain women had it—and
judged her to be about forty-five.

“Howdy,” she said, beaming at them as they approached the house.  “I’m
proud ter see ye.  I was a-feelin’ jest as down-sperited an’ lonesome
when ye druv up yistiddy, an’ all of a suddint the chickens begun ter
crow like they knew you’d come.  How’s Miss Howard?  I think a heap o’
seein’ her every year.”

“She’s well,” smiled Nancy Jane, “and coming over to see you to-day.  We
were all pretty tired last night and went to bed early.”

“I hope our cow didn’t keep ye awake; Job found her thar come light this
mornin’.  I reckon she’s proud you’ve come—like we-uns.”

The girls laughed merrily.  “Urilla drove her off in the night.  She was
browsing around the bushes ringing her bell like a fire alarm; it was too
funny!”  Mallie ended the recital with such evident enjoyment of the
situation that Mrs. Haggis joined in the laugh.

“Hit’s comin’ two weeks sence a soul war on this mounting,” sighed the
woman, “an’ I’m too porely ter travel any.  Didn’t you never feel like
you’d jest got ter talk to some one ’sides your own folks?  When I’m shet
of the men folks fer the day an’ can’t even see ’em workin’ in the cove
or hear old Barb’s bell, thar ain’t a human ter talk to ’cept Elam,
onless my Rodie comes up from the Hollow an’ packs her baby up these yere
rocks.”

Mrs. Haggis was walking along with them toward the spring, talking
eagerly.  Little Elam had grabbed Nancy Jane’s proffered finger and was
trotting by her side; with his other hand he held his dress up as he had
seen his mother do.  Both the girls noticed how clean the faded blue
calico was, and that the back yard was swept as carefully as the front.

“Why, Mrs. Haggis,” said Mallie, “you don’t look strong enough to do so
much work; you’re wearing yourself out cleaning like this.”

The woman sighed.  “’Pears like when I don’t work, I git ter studyin’
’bout the chil’ren—I’ve buried seven of ’em.  That’s when we lived over
in the fur aidge o’ Jackson County.  Thar’s only three left ’sides Elam;
two are up in Indiany—married—an’ Rodie’s man works the college farm
below here.  I don’t see her none too often; she helps tend the crap.”

The bushes and saplings hedged their path for several rods, then they
came to a tumble of rocks on the very edge of the cliff.  A skeleton pine
whose roots still clung in the crevices, between the rocks, stood out
bare and white.  At its base was a windlass, and to the bare trunk were
attached wires which slanted down into the treetops below.  Mrs. Haggis
fastened the pail the girls had brought to the upper wire—a block of wood
and a pulley kept it upright—and started it on its way.

“My,” exclaimed Mallie, looking down at the tops of the tulip trees,
“it’s a long way to go for water.  Is there a spring at the bottom?”

“Yes, nigh fourteen hundred feet down,” said Mrs. Haggis.  “You-all hang
onto Elam, he’s crazy ter look over the aidge o’ things.”

“Let us do it,” protested Nancy Jane, alternately watching the slender,
bent figure and the pail bobbing down the wire.

“’Tain’t nothin’, doin’ this; hit’s the washin’ wears me out.”

“You don’t mean you, have to pull it all up from down there and then
carry it to the house?” Mallie inquired in astonishment.

“What I can’t ketch when hit rains.  Where’d ye think I got hit?”

“I didn’t think,” said Mallie soberly, tugging at Elam.  “You say your
daughter comes up this way.  I wonder if we couldn’t find the path and go
to her house some time?”

“In course ye could.  She’d appreciate a visit from you-all the best
kind.  Hit’s middlin’ steep, though, an’ a power o’ work climbin’ back,
but I reckon ye wouldn’t mind.”

Nancy Jane insisted on bringing up the water; it was quite an effort for
even her strong, young arms.  Then they hurried back to the bungalow to
find Gincy frying bacon and the rest making beds.  “I knew you’d be
coming along pretty soon,” she said, dropping the eggs into the skillet.
“Miss Howard wants to ask you something.”

“How would you like to visit Miss Clark’s school to-day, it’s only a
little piece from the foot of the mountain near the pinnacle?  We can
walk it in an hour and a half.”

“But it’s Sunday!” exclaimed Mallie.  “How could we?”

Urilla laughed.  “Isn’t Sunday a good day to go to Sunday-school, honey?
You must be dreaming.  Wake up!”

“Oh, that’s it.  I never thought of a Sunday-school out here; of course
I’ll go.  When do we start?”

“Just as soon as the dishes are done.  We’ll put up our dinners and walk
back just before sunset.  We must allow two hours for the climb, anyhow.”
Miss Howard began planning for the luncheon.

By eight o’clock the little party were on their way.  Mrs. Haggis came
out to the gate as they went by.  “I wish I war goin’, too,” she said
wistfully, “but pore folks has ter work.  I couldn’t tromp ’round the
mountings an’ git my meals.  You-all go on an’ I’ll wash some dishes; I
couldn’t run ’round nohow an’ let Job do hit.”

The visitors waved a good-bye and started on.  A mountain bluebird darted
hither and yon, a cardinal shot like a bright gleam through the gay
foliage.  The dew was still heavy in the shady places, but they followed
the deep wagon track caused by heavy loads of picnickers from the
college, and parties at the bungalow.  The season was almost over for
these, and then the long winter’s isolation began for the Haggis
family—an isolation shared by thousands over this great mountain region.

Every downward turn revealed a glimpse of beauty which the girls had not
noticed going up.  From the coves where the men had been ploughing for
fall crops came a fragrant, earthy odour.  Off to the southeast range
after range rose blue against the sky.  At last they reached the pike
which led past the little settlement at the foot of the pinnacle.  A
number of people passed them on horseback with the usual greeting;
otherwise the stillness was Sabbath-like.

A turn in the road disclosed the church house, a neat log building near a
little spring, and overshadowed by a turreted-topped mountain.  There
were other buildings in the same yard, and probably a dozen scattered
around in sight.  The girls noticed that they were of a better type than
those back in the hills at Goose Creek, for only one was windowless.

Two vehicles were approaching.  The driver of the first was a tall,
pleasant-faced, youngish-looking woman who nodded at them with a smile of
surprised recognition as she checked the sleek chestnut.

“Why, good-morning, Miss Howard!  Had you started for my place?  We’re
not going to have any Sunday-school to-day—there’s to be a baptizing in
the afternoon—and I promised to attend services at Bentville this
morning.  It’s the only chance I’ve had for a year.”

“I wouldn’t have you miss it for anything, Miss Clark; go right on, all
we want is permission to eat our lunch in your yard,” said Miss Howard,
smiling.  “You’d like to stay to the baptizing, wouldn’t you, girls?”

There was an enthusiastic affirmative from every one.  Nobody in the
mountains ever missed a baptizing if it were possible to get there.

Miss Clark leaned forward.  “Go right into the dog-trot at my house; my
raincoat is hanging on the right—near my bedroom door; under it you will
find the key.  Make yourself perfectly at home until I come back.  You’d
better make some coffee on the oil stove; there’s cream in the spring
house.  I’ll come back early.”

“Thank you ever so much, but don’t hurry back!” urged Miss Howard.  “You
need the change, and we’ll get along splendidly.”

“I’m so glad we came!” exclaimed Urilla.  “A baptizin’ is lots more
interesting than a Sunday-school.  So that’s Miss Clark; I never saw her
before.”

“Nor I,” said Kizzie, “but I’m sure I shall like her.  They say she’s
helped a good many girls to go to Bentville after they’ve finished out
here.”

“And boys, too,” added Miss Howard.  “She’s changed the whole
neighbourhood.  If you could only hear her tell of some of her thrilling
experiences during the last twelve years—of the shootings, and brawlings,
and fightings.  To-day the people go to her for everything.  She teaches
them to sew, and cook, shows them how to care for the sick and the
babies.  Oh, Miss Clark is a wonderful woman!”

“She must be,” said Gincy soberly, thinking of Goose Creek and its needs.
The second team was passing them and she looked up quickly as a familiar
voice called out:

“Hello, what are you-all doing out this way?”  It was Joe Bradshaw and
his roommate, Raphael Sloan.

“What are you?” she retorted.

“Raf lives out here at Pigg Branch and I’ve been visiting him.  We
thought you were up at the bungalow and we’d drive up for two or three
hours.”

“Awfully sorry,” said Lalla, “we brought our dinners, and—”  Then she
looked at Miss Howard.  That lady smiled.

“You’d better come back with us—we’ll have plenty for two more—then we
can all see the baptizing this afternoon.”

The boys needed no second invitation.  “We were coming down for that
anyhow,” said Raphael, as they turned around.

Miss Clark’s home was close to the church house.  It was a log house,
built Virginia style, with a wide, covered porch through the centre
separating the two sides.  This dog-trot was a cool place in warm
weather, a place to churn, and wash, a place to visit, and sew, or even
take a nap.  Mallie sank down upon the old-fashioned couch and looked off
toward the cabins across the road.  They were scattered up the branch,
and on beyond, one perched high in a patch of ploughed ground on the
opposite mountain.

“Isn’t this a lovely place!” she exclaimed, glancing back at the
trellised nasturtiums and morning-glories against the kitchen windows.
“I think Miss Clark is great!  Look at those ducks in the branch, and
such a lot of chickens.  How can she find time for everything?”

“Of course she’s great!”  Raphael Sloan sank down on the floor
cross-legged.  “She can do everything—play the organ, preach a sermon,
knock a bench together better than the boys, and ride any horse around
here.  She rode the most ornery mule in these parts one night.  Ever hear
about it?”

There was a chorus of negatives, and Raphael’s dark eyes lighted over the
prospect of thrilling the company.  “It was about five years ago when the
Bennett and MacGowan feud was stirring things up ’round here and
everybody seemed bound to take sides.  Miss Clark tried to keep out of
it, for there were children from both families in school.  One morning
Hugh MacGowan came over to borrow a big needle to sew up his mule’s
shoulder—some one had cut a long gash in it the night before.  You just
ought to have seen her eyes flash—I went to school to her then—and she
everlastingly told us what she thought of a man or boy who would hurt an
animal because he hated the owner.  Of course the Bennett children went
home and told it, and—”

“I thought they all liked her,” interrupted Gincy.

“They did, but the old folks didn’t relish being criticised even though
no names were used.  Miss Clark found a note pinned to her door the next
morning telling her to mind her own business or she’d get into trouble.

“Things were quiet for a while, then one time about midnight, she heard
some drunken men going by shouting and singing—then four or five shots.
It was bright moonlight and Miss Clark could see that one was wounded and
swaying on his mule; the rest galloped off.  Izzie Gray was staying with
her then, and begged her not to stir outside, but do you suppose she’d do
anything of the kind?  Not much.  She sailed out and found Lem Bennett
bleeding to death—his arm all shot up.”

Raphael stopped suddenly with dramatic effect.  His audience was plainly
excited and expectant.  “Go on, Raf!” commanded Joe impatiently.  “What
next?”

“Well, Miss Clark rode that mule clear into Bentville and got a doctor,
or the Bennett youngsters wouldn’t have a father to-day, I can tell you.”

“Did it stop the fighting?” asked Gincy, jumping up suddenly.  She fished
the key from under the long raincoat and fitted it into the lock.

“Yes, I really think it did.  She told Lem Bennett—he was the worst of
the crowd—that she saved his life so he could have a chance to be a
better man, and that she loved his children and wanted them to have a
better father.  Then she had a long talk with the MacGowans.  After that
the county went dry—she had a hand in that, too—and there wasn’t any more
trouble.  Oh, Miss Clark is fine, I tell you!”

“I should think she was,” said Nancy Jane, her eyes open wide with
admiration.  “Come on, let’s go in and see how she lives.”

Gincy was already inside.  The rest followed.  There was a large bookcase
filled with books and magazines, a piano, a big fireplace with a
comfortable seat and chair near it.

“Miss Clark made that seat,” said Raphael.  “We boys made the chair, and
the piano was sent her by some rich people up north.  We helped her paint
and varnish the floors, too.”

“She has some new rugs,” said Miss Howard.  “They’re like those made down
at the loom house.”

There were three made of rags with patterns in the borders.  They were
blue and white.  The curtains were white cheesecloth with a blue,
stencilled pattern across the bottom.  A few water colours and Hoffman’s
Christ were the only pictures.

“Come on back and help me find the oil stove; I’m getting hungry,” called
Kizzie from the dining-room.  “Isn’t this cosy?” she asked, pointing to
the long, built-in cupboard and the little square table in the centre of
the room.

Beyond, was the kitchen.  A large range occupied one corner near the
sink.  “We’ve made candy and popped corn here many a time,” said Raphael.
“Miss Clark has a cooking class every week this year for the older
people.”

The oil stove was soon discovered and the coffee over.  They ate their
dinner in the dogtrot and the crumbs went to the chickens who were
sociably inclined.  Then they started for the church house, going through
the garden and a long arbour.

“What lovely flowers!”  Mallie stopped to admire the larkspurs and fall
roses until the rest had disappeared inside the church, then she
followed.

It was a T-shaped building, one upright being used for the day school and
the other for the Sunday-school and monthly preaching.  In case of a
crowd the two rooms could be thrown into one.  A tiny, portable organ
occupied the space near the pulpit.  Various mottoes, picture cards, and
Bible charts adorned the walls.  There were a large fireplace and a small
sheet-iron stove, a dozen long benches which could be stacked at one side
when they met for sociability, and a little Sunday-school library sitting
in neat uprightness on the open shelves.

Miss Howard played a half-dozen hymns and they all sang, then Gincy, in a
clear, sweet voice, read the lesson.  Miss Howard was explaining it when
the people began to gather for the baptizing.  They came on horseback, in
jolt wagons, and afoot.  Not far from the house the branch widened until
in spring it was almost a pond.  Here, under the shade of a dozen walnut
and tulip trees, a motley crowd was assembling and the folks inside the
church house hurried out to join them.  Once outside, they saw Miss Clark
coming up the pike, her horse trotting briskly.

They waited at the gate.  It wanted only a few minutes of the time and
the horse must be unharnessed.  Joe dropped the bars and Rafael helped
Miss Clark out of the carriage.  “You go on with the rest,” he said in a
low tone, “we’ll be along after a bit.”

Together they went down the little slope, its edge crowded with women and
children.  One lone cottonwood shadowed the pool in its deepest place,
stretching mottled arms almost to the opposite bank.  Half its roots were
bare and white, washed by the spring torrents.

Each moment the gathering was augmented by fresh arrivals.  Joe and
Raphael came up silently and stood near Miss Clark.  A gaunt mountain
preacher whispered a few words to her, his face showing some perplexity.
She turned to the boys.

“Raphael, won’t you and Joe run up to the house?  In the woodshed you
will find a shovel and hoe.  Bring them here as quickly as you can.”

Five minutes later the boys came panting back, bearing the required
utensils.  Two brawny mountain men took them, waded out into the shallow
water, and began digging.

“They’re making it deeper,” said Nancy Jane.  “My, but won’t it be
roily!”

While the men worked the strange audience waited.  Near the water’s edge
stood the candidates for baptism—two girls about seventeen, a woman, and
a middle-aged man with wiry black hair and dark, smouldering eyes.  He
was short and stocky, a man of force, and—if roused—of fury.

A long carryall was toiling up the hill.  Joe saw it first.  “It’s the
college team,” he whispered to Miss Howard.  “There must be a dozen
people.”

The teacher nodded.  “Professor Butler’s going to do the baptizing; the
rest came along to sing.”

Already they could hear the strains of “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” the
rich, full tones swelling through the quiet autumn air as the people in
the carryall approached.  One by one they joined the waiting crowd.  The
digging had stopped and there was a hush of expectancy as the minister
made his way toward the waiting candidates.  He spoke to them quietly,
then turned until his glance swept the assemblage.

Gincy never forgot that day.  The frightened girls in the foreground,
with their coarse, white dresses; the children, their faces curious and
alarmed; the sunbonneted women; the row of men on the fence in the
rear—sallow, sunburned, and some bearing the marks of dissipation.  But
what impressed her most was the exalted look on the face of the man when
he emerged from the water.

“Who is he?” she whispered to Raphael Sloan.

“Lem Bennett,” he whispered back, “and the woman is his wife.”



X
SI QUINN REVEALS A SECRET


ONLY that one forenoon did Talitha hold school in the hollow.  The very
next day the weather took a turn, a cold wind blew up, and for more than
a week a lowering sky gave promise of rain it failed to fulfil-except now
and then in spiteful gusts.  Her hopes, to which she had clung with a
brave persistence, vanished with the sunshine.

She was greatly puzzled at the indifference her family displayed over the
loss of the schoolhouse and its contents.  Evidently the school must be
discontinued until another year at least.  It was getting too late in the
season to hope for more than a few days—at a time—warm enough to hold the
session out of doors.  She had thought some place might be opened to her,
but the cabins were small and already overcrowded.  When she suggested
that the children meet at her own home for a few hours each day, her
parents decidedly objected.  Even Dan Gooch seemed to forget his anxiety
to have Billy and Sudie “git larnin’,” and, although she had offered to
assist them with their lessons, along with her own brothers, they had not
put in an appearance.

Now that her plans for helping the young people of Goose Creek had
failed, Talitha felt more keenly than ever the disappointment of
returning home.  She took all the heaviest work of the household upon her
strong, young shoulders.  The spinning wheel whirred through the long
afternoons which otherwise would have been dull and dreary enough.  She
had no heart to call on neighbours or kinfolk; they did not need her.  Si
Quinn had also lost all interest in school matters, or she had failed to
meet his expectations.  It was strange she had not known it before, and
yet she had done her best.

She had time now to notice the change that had come over her father.
Every morning he went off, his axe over his shoulder; such
fore-handedness in getting the winter’s wood was unusual in him.  When
Martin was home it was he who saw that they did not lack for fuel when
the cold weather came on.

At the end of the second week she received a letter from her brother.  It
was the first he had ever written her, for they had never been separated
before.  Talitha puzzled over its pages, growing more and more bewildered
at their contents: “Si Quinn wrote me about the schoolhouse.  Isn’t it
great!  Jake always was heady, he could work up that temper of his until
he was worse than a hornet.  I hope this’ll be a lesson he’ll remember.
I’m just as proud of you as I can be.  Everything has worked out for the
best after all, hasn’t it?  Gincy is studying like a whale.  She was
mightily disturbed when she heard you’d gone home on her account and I
had all I could do to keep her from tagging along after you.  But Gincy
has a heap of good sense.  She’s Miss Howard’s right hand man; I don’t
get a sight of her except at meal times, but I can hear her voice on the
high notes ’way above the rest come Harmonia nights.—Oh, Gincy’s making
good, all right, and I’m glad as can be, but I do miss you awfully, sis—”

Talitha finished and then her eyes wandered back toward the beginning.
“I don’t understand it one bit,” she thought.  “Mart doesn’t seem to care
at all that the schoolhouse burned.  He writes as though it were almost a
joke.”  The tears rushed to Talitha’s eyes.  “I’m going right over to the
schoolmaster’s, maybe he can explain it,” she decided at last.  “I do
wonder what he wrote Martin.”

The girl snatched up her sunbonnet and hurried out of the door, the
letter in her hand.  Half-way to the old man’s cabin she met him hobbling
cheerfully along by the aid of his crutch.  The satisfied smile on his
face brought Talitha’s grievance freshly to mind; she almost resented his
unusually jovial greeting.

“Halloo, thar, Tally; you shore air lookin’ robustious—”

“Good-morning,” responded Talitha coldly.  “I’ve just got a letter from
Martin, and—and I’ve been wondering what you told him.  He writes as
though it wasn’t—well, he almost joked about the schoolhouse being
burned.”  The girl’s lips quivered.

“Law, now, did he?” considered the old man, evading the look of reproach
in Talitha’s eyes.  “I didn’t go fer to give him any sech idee.  Hit war
a powerful mean thing fer Jake Simcox ter do, and I aimed ter lay thet
out plain ter Mart.  S’pose you jest walk along with me ter the ruins.  I
thought a sight of thet old shack; hit’s whar I spent cornsiderable many
years.  I like ter think of you-all a set-tin’ on them benches.  You war
a powerful bouncin’ leetle gal, Tally, and I war an ill enough teacher,
but I done the best I knowed then.”

Talitha’s anger had suddenly vanished.  There was something pitiful in
the schoolmaster’s fondness for recalling the past.  After all, he felt
the loss of the old place more deeply than he would have people think.
“You mustn’t say that,” she insisted.  “Of course you did the best you
could, but I know just how you feel; I wish I’d done more when I had the
chance.”

“Law, now, Tally, you’re jest a colt, as hit war, and thar’s plenty of
chances comin’ fer you.  Hit ain’t as if you war sech a broken-down hoss
critter as I be.”

“But I can’t bear to give up the school!” cried the girl.  “I’ve been
trying so hard to think of some way, and nobody seems to have the least
interest in it any more.”

“Don’t they now?” said Si Quinn with recovered cheerfulness.  Then
stopping suddenly, “’Pears ter me suthin’s been goin’ on up this a way.”
They had come to where, through a cleared space among the trees, a
blackened heap was visible—all that was left of the poor little
schoolhouse.

But Talitha hardly noticed it.  Something beyond had caught her eye—a
substantial yet picturesque structure of logs, the rough bark still
covering them and adding a beauty in harmony with the surroundings.  The
carefully laid chimney at one end was receiving the last finishing
touches at the hands of a capable mason from the Settlement.  A dozen men
stood about watching him admiringly.

The old man saw Talitha’s eyes widen in amazement.

“Why, what is it?” she cried suddenly.  “I don’t understand!”

“Well, well, honey,” chuckled Si Quinn, “I reckon thet’s the joke Mart
writ you ’bout, and I declar’ if hit ain’t the biggest one I ever heerd
tell on.  Hit’s goin’ ter be all ready fer you ter begin school Monday,
and nobody war goin’ ter say anythin’ ter you ’bout hit till thet time;
but I see I jest had ter, you war frettin’ so.”

The new schoolhouse was a most pretentious affair in the eyes of its
builders.  The logs were carefully chinked to keep out the cold, and the
three good-sized windows contained shining panes of glass.  Inside, there
were backs to the rough benches.  Desks, the amateur carpenters had felt
unable to cope with, but there was a little platform with a rude table
for the teacher.  A large sheet-iron stove gave promise of warming the
farthest corners of the room.

It was all so far beyond Talitha’s most ambitious dreams that she sank
upon a seat and burst into tears.  The men looked at her abashed.

“Law me, Tally,” expostulated Sam Coyle, “hit looks fairly ongrateful fer
you ter take on that-a-way.”

“Now shet up, Sam,” commanded the schoolmaster with his old authority.
“Tally’s jest as tickled as anybody, but hit’s all come so mighty sudden
she’s kerried plumb off her feet.”

“I should say I was!” laughed the girl, wiping her eyes.  “I never
dreamed of such a thing.”

The next Monday morning Talitha sang all the way to school.  The air was
frosty and a nipping wind reddened her cheeks and made her fingers
tingle, but she laughed a merry defiance at the cold.  How warm and cosy
the new schoolhouse should be when the children came trooping in.  A turn
in the worn footpath and there it stood before her, new and inviting,
beckoning her on.  Some one had been there before her, for smoke came
from the chimney.  The young teacher hastened her steps.  The door was
unlocked and she entered.  The place was empty but warm to the farthest
nook, and Talitha rubbed her eyes.  There were familiar looking books on
the table and maps on the walls beside the wide stretches of blackboard.
There were pictures also, not just such as she would have chosen, but how
they brightened the place!  “If hit’s picters Tally wants, why hit’s
picters she shall hev,” declared the storekeeper at the Settlement.  And
forthwith he had gathered his accumulation of calendars, chromo
advertisements, and picture cards to beautify the schoolroom.

For a time Talitha’s heart was as light as a feather, then something
began to trouble her.  Quite by accident she discovered that Si Quinn’s
funds were getting low.  How little he could afford to replace the books
and maps which had been destroyed she did not imagine.  She only knew
that he seemed to have grown paler and thinner each time she saw him.  He
had a habit of dropping in at the school almost daily, and when a week
passed and he did not appear, Talitha called at the cabin.

She knocked, but there was no response and she opened the door with
misgiving.  The old man was not there.  She looked curiously around; the
remnants of a scanty meal were on the table, and with a sudden
inspiration she began to investigate the condition of his larder.  The
girl stood amazed at the result.  She knew he had not been able to
cultivate his little garden patch the past summer, but because of the
small sum he had earned for years in the Goose Creek school, Si Quinn had
been looked upon as a well-to-do man in the community.

Much troubled at her discovery, Talitha set her wits to work.  The old
man was too proud, she knew, to accept any offers of assistance.
Suddenly a plan entered her head.  Christmas was only three weeks
distant—that was her opportunity, only something must be done meanwhile.
Where could he have gone?  The girl ran to the door and looked out.
There he was now coming along the creek path.  She hurried out to meet
him.

“Howdy, Tally!” he called, a smile brightening the wan, haggard face.

“I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” cried the girl.  “I’m going to
take you home with me for supper and I know father and mother won’t hear
to your coming back to-night.”

The old schoolmaster needed little urging to accompany her, and he did
ample justice to the supper Talitha cooked with her own hands.  The next
morning a drizzling sleet prevented him from leaving.  It was almost a
week before he finally took his departure, and then it was to respond to
an urgent invitation from the Gooch family to visit them.  The Shackleys
would also be offended if they were neglected, so before the rounds were
made, Si Quinn’s face lost its pallor and he was quite like himself
again.

One morning Pom Ethers, the wagoner, stopped at the schoolhouse with a
goodly sized wooden box.  “Talitha Coyle” was painted on it in large
black letters.  The children gathered around while the man, with much
curiosity, opened it.

“Laws-a-massy!” exclaimed Porn Ethers as the cover came off.  “If they
ain’t all books!  What’ll ye ever do with sech a heap of ’em, Tally?”
There were two dozen volumes in neat but cheap bindings; some new to the
young teacher, and others she had read over and over in the school
library at Bentville.

“Read and study them of course,” she answered.  “They’re just what we’ve
needed all the time.  Who could have sent them?”

“Hit beats me,” said the wagoner.  “Thar ain’t nothin’ ter show whar they
come from; mebbe the schoolmaster can tell ye.”

Si Quinn did not seem to know who the unknown donor might be, although he
might have surmised, for the very next day he received a letter
containing five dollars wrapped in an unsigned epistle, stating that the
sender had found a place at good wages.  After Christmas he was going to
school—working evenings for his keep.

The schoolmaster smiled and nodded knowingly as he read it over and over
to himself, then laid the sheets on the flame in the wide fireplace and
watched them turn to ashes.

It took a great deal of scheming on Talitha’s part to bring her plans to
maturity.  Billy Gooch was her right hand man, who could keep a secret
better than some of his elders.  Her younger brothers, Rufe and Dock,
were too small to be of much service, while most of her other pupils
lived too far away to help her after school hours.

Christmas Eve there were to be exercises at the schoolhouse, which was to
be trimmed with evergreen and holly for the occasion.  Talitha had heard
of Christmas trees, although she had never seen one, but they meant
candles, glittering trimmings, and little gifts far beyond the reach of
her small purse.

The schoolhouse looked like Santa Claus’ bower when the last decoration
was in place.  From every available spot glowed the red berries of the
holly, with their shining green leaves against a background of pine and
fir.  At last she was free to go.  With one last look of satisfaction she
locked the door, and, accompanied by Billy and Sudie, took her way to the
old schoolmaster’s cabin.  She did not see the faces peering excitedly
out at her from behind the pine thicket where, on that memorable night,
Jake Simcox had thought himself safe from detection.

Si Quinn had not finished his stay at the Shackleys, so the coast was
clear.  The Saturday before Talitha, with the aid of Billy and his
sister, had given the cabin such a scrubbing as it had never known.  The
fireplace was newly whitewashed and filled with odorous pine and balsam
boughs.  There was also a huge pile of wood in one corner of the room.
Only the finishing touches were lacking to make the preparations complete
for the great surprise to be precipitated upon the schoolmaster, and in
these all his former patrons were to have a hand.

The children had brought their arms full of holly and pine, and now they
ran out for more while Talitha tried to give a festive air to the poor
little place.  She smiled to herself as she did so, wondering meanwhile
what the old man would say to such “vanities”—as he would have called
them a year ago.

Presently there was a heavy step at the door, and Porn Ethers staggered
in, his arms weighted with bundles of all shapes and sizes.  There was a
veritable Santa Claus twinkle in the grey eyes under the shaggy eyebrows.

“Thar’s a heap more things in the wagon, Tally.  I couldn’t git hit
nearer’n the big rock, but I can pack ’em up easy ’nough, I reckon.  Law,
but Si’ll think hit air Chris’mus fer sure!  Thar’s three flitches of
bacon and a ham, and Mis’ Spurlock’s sent one of her puddin’s,”
enumerated the wagoner as he deposited the offerings upon the table.
“The Shackleys and the Twilligers hev fairly outdone theirselves.  What
I’m afeard of is thet now the schoolmaster’ll be gittin’ the dyspepsy;
too much eatin’ air right down onhealthy—so I’ve heerd.  But I’d be
willin’ ter take the resk if hit war me.”  The grey eyes twinkled again.

Billy and Sudie came in with another armful of greens and hurried to Porn
Ethers’ assistance.  In a comparatively short time the contents of the
wagon were neatly stowed away on the shelves, the bed made up with the
new blankets and blue coverlet, and the table set in Talitha’s most
approved fashion with some of the choicest goodies surrounding a large
bunch of holly.

“When the fire is burning and the candles lighted it’ll look real
Christmas-y,” decided the young teacher as the finishing touches were
completed.  “I shall have to run ahead and see to that.  How I wish
Martin were here to-night,” she sighed as she started homeward.



XI
CHRISTMAS DOINGS


THE dusk of Christmas Eve had gathered when Talitha set out for the
schoolhouse, leaving the rest of the family to follow later.  The place
was already warm, but the candles must be lighted; the company would
gather at an early hour.  Already there was the sound of wheels, the
tread of oxen on the wagon track, and the chatter of voices.  Every man,
woman, and child in Goose Creek, able to hobble forth, would be present.

As she neared the place she saw that light already flamed from the
windows.  Her steps quickened into a run; she reached the schoolhouse
quite breathless.  The door was ajar.  Talitha pushed it open and
entered.  At first she was only aware that something very puzzling was
going on.  She rubbed her eyes—they were dazed with the light—and looked
again.

On the platform was a Christmas tree, so tall that the flame of its
topmost candle barely escaped the ceiling.  The twinkling lights, the
glittering tinsel, the toys, made it the most beautiful thing Talitha had
ever seen.  Several people were moving about it lighting more candles and
hanging small, red stockings, with bulging sides, to the lower branches.
Did her eyes deceive her?  Was one of them—yes, it was really Martin, and
there was Miss Howard, and Abner, and Gincy!

The latter rushed forward and caught Talitha in her arms.  “We’ve been
planning for it ever so long; I was determined to come home with the boys
and surprise you,” laughed Gincy with a hug.  “Then we coaxed Miss Howard
to come too, and when the Bentville folks heard about the school and what
you’d done, they wanted to help, so there’s something on the tree for
every pupil.”

“Hello, Tally,” Abner interrupted excitedly.  “This is a dandy
schoolhouse!  I should think you’d be awfully ’bliged to Jake Simcox for
burnin’ that old shack—”

“Sh!”  Talitha held up a warning finger, for a crowd was flocking in at
the door.  Foremost were the Shackleys with Si Quinn.  At first the
company looked about bewildered, then their tongues suddenly loosened and
the din was deafening.

“Fer the land’s sake!” exclaimed Ann Bills, with a violent poke of her
elbow in her husband’s ribs, “jest look at thet pine, will ye, all rigged
out with poppets and sech.  Whar d’ye s’pose Tally got all thet plunder?”

“I reckon hit war packed all the way from Bentville,” Shad Bills answered
shrewdly.  “Thar’s Miss Howard over yon—and—I’m blest if hit ain’t Mart
and Abner lightin’ them candles!  The young-uns hev come back fer
Chris’mus, Ann—”  But his wife did not hear, her keen eyes had spied
Gincy, and she was already elbowing her way through the crowd in a
masterful fashion.

Half-dazed, the aged schoolmaster glanced around; it was all very
strange—and beautiful, too.  His faded old eyes winked and blinked at the
unaccustomed twinkle and glitter.  It almost took his breath and he
dropped trembling, into a seat.  How could Talitha have thought of all
this!  Did they have such things at Bentville?  All the years of his
teaching he had never once dreamed of celebrating Christmas in this
fashion.  He eyed the tree—what he could see of it over the heads of the
crowd—with all a child’s delight.  How shining and stately it looked!
Its tallest candle glittered like a star, while those among the holly and
pine, around the room, shone back bravely as though they were not to be
outdone.  And how the folks chattered!

Talitha slipped away to find Martin.  She wanted to meet him alone,
although that seemed an impossibility, but she darted around the tree and
caught him tucking away a parcel under the branches at the base.  How
tall and manly he looked.

“Oh, Tally!” he exclaimed, beaming at her.  “Did we surprise you?”  He
stooped and kissed her.

Talitha only nodded; she could not trust her voice.

“I can see now why you came back, Tally,” Martin began, but he did not
finish, for the two were suddenly besieged by Abner and Gincy and dragged
before the surprised company who had not yet discovered Martin.

It was quite a few minutes before the excited audience settled into
quiet, and then it was as decorous and interested as one could wish.
Miss Howard could hardly have presided with more dignity than did
Talitha, and the exercises went off better than either could have
believed possible with those alluring gifts before the children’s eyes.

The dialogue between the Twilliger twins went smoothly without prompting.
The youngest Dodd boy—small for his ten years and one of the brightest
pupils—recited “The Night Before Christmas” like a general, and received
long and vociferous applause, as did also the song by little Polly
Suttle.  Billy Gooch came in for a large share of approval at his
rendering of Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg; there was a marching drill
in which Rufe Coyle beat the time on an old drum of his grandfather—who
had been through the war.  The vigorous rat-a-tat-tat set the men’s
restless feet tapping to the great delight of the children.  The
exercises were at last concluded with the singing of the “Star Spangled
Banner” by the school, the younger pupils waving small flags through the
chorus.

At the close of the song, Miss Howard, with the aid of Martin and Abner,
began to distribute the gifts from the tree.  Minta Bills was the first
name called, but the child failed to understand and hung back timidly.

“Don’t ye hear Miss Howard callin’ ye?  Go ’long, honey,” coaxed her
father, giving the child a gentle push.  He did not comprehend just what
was wanted, but the young woman from Bentville must be obeyed.

“Minty! whar’s yer raisin’?” reproved Ann Bills, turning sharply to her
granddaughter.  Minta edged shyly toward the tree, and Miss Howard put a
stocking full of candy and a small but gaily dressed doll into her arms,
watching the look of astonishment and delight grow in her face.  At the
sight of the latter all the mother instinct was aroused, and she stumbled
back to her father, hugging her precious burden close.  All Goose Creek
watched her.  The big blue eyes were fastened on the doll, and the long
yellow curls fashioned a sort of halo for the sweet, childish face.

Ann Bills’ hard mouth twitched and she gave Minta a kindly pat as she
bent over to view the gift at closer range.  “Hit do beat all,” she told
her son in an audible whisper.  “Thet thar poppet fairly looks like a
human.”

For a few minutes Minta was the envy of the school, but it was soon
discovered that none of the pupils had been overlooked—that even their
teacher had been remembered with enough “store goods” for a new gown, the
package Martin was hiding under the branches.

“I declare, if I didn’t forget all about the schoolmaster,” Martin
whispered to Talitha.  “I’m so sorry—”

“Oh!” his sister gave a start.  “And I did too.  Martin, I’m going right
over to speak to Enoch Shackley, and in ten minutes you must follow me.
Just slip away without any one seeing you; I’ll be waiting outside.”

Halfway across the room Talitha was waylaid by a tall, black-eyed girl
with a conspicuous pompadour.  “I reckon you don’t know me, I ’lowed you
wouldn’t—at first sight, anyway, but I war on the train the mornin’ you
come from Bentville and you told me ’bout Gincy’s goin’ ter school.  I
didn’t find out your name, but when I heerd ’bout a gal comin’ back here
to Goose Creek to teach school I pieced hit all together and I knew hit
war you.”

“This is Piny Twilliger?” inquired Talitha politely.

“You’re jest right.  I’ve had a powerful fine time, and I’ve been
a-tellin’ Gincy thet I’m goin’ ter Bentville too, next term.  I’ve
changed my mind ’bout gittin’ larnin’.”

Talitha made her escape as soon as possible, although Piny would have
liked to prolong the conversation.  With a whispered word in Enoch
Shackley’s ear she slipped out of the door unnoticed.



XII
GOOSE CREEK PLOTS AGAINST THE SCHOOLMASTER


“HIT air gittin’ powerful late,” admonished Enoch Shackley, rounding up
the last of his brood.  “I can take you-uns along ter your place,” he
said to the schoolmaster.  “I reckon you’re honin’ ter git home.”

The old man’s face suddenly fell.  Never within his memory had he spent
so festive an evening, and now to go from it to his cold, comfortless
cabin.  The blacksmith observed the look with an unfeeling smile, and
attempted to hasten his offspring’s preparations for departure.

“Hurry up thar, chil’ren.  Law me, your teacher’s gone ’fore this.  She’s
glad ’nough ter git shet o’ you fer one spell, I reckon.”

It certainly was a mystery where Talitha and Martin had so suddenly
disappeared.  Even Abner and Gincy looked puzzled, finally accepting Mr.
Shackley’s offer—made with a knowing twinkle of the eye—of a “couple of
cheers” in his wagon.

The company flocked out of the schoolhouse with their perforated tin
lanterns like a swarm of fireflies dodging hither and thither among the
trees.  Saddle horses were mounted, and the patient oxen again yoked to
the wagons filled with chairs.

Strange to say, many of the folks were taking the same road—following a
short distance behind the Shackleys.  The sound of their voices and the
twinkling lights in the rear at any other time would have aroused Si
Quinn’s curiosity, at least.  Now he was too much occupied with the
thought of his own failures and the future which loomed before him more
dismal than ever.  Lost in revery he failed to notice when the oxen
stopped at the footpath leading up to his cabin, until the blacksmith’s
voice roused him.

“Here you air, Si!  Jest let me ketch a holt of you.  Middlin’ dampish,
ain’t hit?  I ’low Abner better go ’long with the lantern.  I’ll wait fer
him.”

Had the two looked around as they slowly climbed the slope, they would
have seen the shadowy company following at a little distance.

“I’ll stop and start a fire for you,” offered Abner, with a great feeling
of pity for the old man who leaned heavily on his strong, young arm.  “If
you haven’t been home for a week it ain’t a fit place for you to go
into.”

“Thar won’t be a live coal,” panted the schoolmaster.

“I’ve matches in my pocket, but it’ll take a considerable spell to drive
out the cold and damp.”  The boy eyed the dim outlines of the cabin with
misgiving.  It looked gloomy and unhomelike as possible.

Once at the door—guiltless of fastenings—Si Quinn drew a long, reluctant
sigh.

His hand on the latch, Abner heard sounds of feet close by.  He looked
around; there were strange, moving shadows on the path.  He was not
slow-witted; it was Christmas Eve and a suspicion of something flashed
across his mind.  One glimpse of the already lighted room and he turned,
helped the old man in, and hastily closed the door just as there came a
tugging at his coat.  A score of Goose Creek folks were behind him.

“Oh, what did he say?” whispered Talitha excitedly.

“He hadn’t got that far,” grinned Abner in sudden comprehension.

“Let’s give three cheers for the schoolmaster,” suggested Martin.

Such a demonstration was new to the mountain people who had not been to
Bentville, but they listened with appreciation and joined in most lustily
when it ended with: “A Merry Christmas!  Wish You a Merry Christmas!”
And then the company quietly dispersed.

“We made a power o’ racket,” said Dan Gooch as later he entered his own
cabin.  “But I’d like ter hev seen how the old man looked when he war
fairly inside.  We did a toler’ble job, chinkin’ up them crannies.  You’d
never hev suspected what the place war like,” he chuckled.

As more than one of the company around the little old cabin that night
had surmised, the schoolmaster’s face, as he gazed about the room—only a
few days ago as cheerless as it could well be—was worth seeing.  The pine
boughs in the fireplace crackled and snapped merrily as the flames leaped
upward and sent a delightful glow through the place.  A half-dozen
candles twinkled out from bunches of holly and pine.  The bed with its
warm, new covering was like a gay flower plot; shelves and table bore
unmistakable evidences of Christmas cheer.

The faded eyes grew misty as they caught sight of a card on the shelf
above the fireplace.  It bore, in large letters: “A Merry Christmas from
the Goose Creek Folks.”

The old man’s knees suddenly weakened and he dropped into a chair.  He
heard the cheering and tried to rise and open the door, but he could not
summon strength.  As the last echo of “Merry Christmas” died away across
the mountains with the sound of retreating footsteps, the tears trickled
down his cheeks.  It was the happiest hour of his whole life.  His poor
efforts had been appreciated after all; he was not to be forgotten in his
old age.

Until a much later hour than usual lights shone from the little homes
about Goose Creek.  The young people had loitered along the way from the
schoolhouse, there was so much to talk over.  Miss Howard was to stay all
night with Gincy.  The Coyle and Gooch families were to spend Christmas
at the home of the former.  It was to be a great day for the two
households, and Talitha’s head was awhirl with excitement.  She had
unselfishly worked hard to bring happiness to others, and the greatest
surprise had come to her.  She was going back to Bentville the day after
Christmas, with Miss Howard, and Martin, and the rest.  Gincy, hawk-eyed
where her friend was concerned, had rushed to the dean when she
discovered that two of the students were to leave, and engaged a place
for Talitha.  Piney Twilliger had been fortunate enough to secure the
other.

Sam Coyle made no objection, he was secretly bubbling over with pride at
his daughter’s success.  There could be no more school that winter;
besides, he was beginning to feel that an education was something to be
really desired.

By dawn on Christmas day two households at least were astir.  The air was
unusually mild with the fresh smell of a recent shower.  The sun rose and
beamed down with the warmth of May.  By the time the Coyle family had
breakfasted, Gincy and Abner were on hand to assist in the preparations.
The loom, warping bars, spinning wheel, and a rude chest were turned out
of doors to make place for the expected guests.

“We’re real lucky to have such weather,” said Talitha.  “I don’t know how
we would ever have managed with the table if we couldn’t have cleared
things away.  As it is there won’t be room enough for the children—”

“I’ll knock something together that’ll be nearer their size,” comforted
Martin.

“Good boy,” smiled his sister, much relieved.  “I was thinking of setting
them in a row on the floor.  That wouldn’t be very Christmas-y, would it?
But a table of their own will pleasure them mightily.”  Talitha hustled
back into the cabin; there was an unusual amount of work for even her
capable hands.  Besides assisting in the preparation of so elaborate a
meal, her belongings were to be made ready for her departure early on the
morrow.  It was too late in the season to risk further delay.  Any day
now, winter might rush upon the mountains with icy wind and sleet or a
blinding snowstorm, making the rough roads altogether impassable.

“This air a weather breeder,” observed Sam Coyle pessimistically.  “I’d
feel a sight easier if you-uns hed a-started this mornin’.”

“An’ miss their Chris’mus turkey,” reproved his wife.  “Jest be thankful
hit air fine ’nough ter turn things out’n doors, ’though Tally ’lows now,
hit would hev pleasured the comp’ny more ter hev set the table ’long of
them pines.”

“Hit air not so much ’count whar hit’s set as what’s set on hit,”
retorted Sam jovially.  “Thet air the main thing; the scener-y hain’t
needed ter give me an appetite.  The smell o’ them turkeys air gone to my
stummick a’ready, an’ I reckon I sh’ll hev ter take ter the crick ter git
out’n reach of hit if the dinner’s later’n common.”

“Be keerful you don’t fall in,” warned Mrs. Coyle sarcastically.  She
paused in the midst of her egg beating to look about for Dock, her
youngest, who was prone to get into mischief if unwatched.

By ten o’clock the company had arrived.  It included the Bills family, as
being next of kin, and Miss Howard who had waited to come with Mrs. Gooch
and the younger children.  Martin and Abner made themselves as useful as
possible by taking the smaller members of the assembled families a short
distance along the mountain-side in search of the hickory nuts which
might have escaped their eyes at nutting time.

The company sat out of doors and visited with the host, while Talitha and
her mother, with Gincy’s aid, completed the final preparations for the
Christmas feast.  The children’s table was laid beside a clump of laurel.
When the youngsters appeared, they were immediately set down before
well-filled plates while their elders gathered in the cabin.  The family
table had been lengthened by Martin’s skilful contriving and placed
cornerwise across the room.  Even then it took some managing to get the
guests properly seated.

Mrs. Coyle surveyed the feast with pardonable pride; it would have done
credit to more notable housewives.  Not since the early days of her
marriage had she had the opportunity to show such hospitality.  Two of
the largest, plumpest turkeys in her flock graced the centre of the board
in company with a fat, wild goose, potatoes, turnips, beans, squash,
dishes of pickle, a salad—Talitha had learned to make at
Bentville—besides the usual Christmas pies, and a large black cake Gincy
had trimmed with a wreath of holly.  Both front and back doors were wide
open, and a gentle breeze cooled the heated room where both the new stove
and the fireplace had been doing extra duty.

Around the little cabin rose the great sheltering hills, their peaks a
misty purple in the soft haze of a belated Indian summer.  Below, Goose
Creek, still little more than a rivulet, basked lazily in the sunshine.

At first the appetites were too keen to allow of much conversation, but
at last Shad Bills laid down his knife and fork and looked around with a
grin.  “Has anybody heerd how the schoolmaster’s feelin’?” he suddenly
inquired.  “I ’lowed a-toppin’ off the Chris’mus doin’s with thet
surprise war a leetle too much fer the old man.”

“I seen him this mornin’,” said Dan Gooch.  “He war as peart as a Juny
bug.  The Twilligers give him an invite to eat turkey with them.  Yes,
sir,” he smiled reminiscently, “I reckon Goose Creek never see no sech
doin’s as we had last night.  I don’t rightly know as we’d ought ter let
Tally slip off this-a-way without writin’ out a promise thet she’ll come
back and teach the school next year.”

Sam Coyle grinned appreciatively.  Not one of the men in the company
could read or write.  “I reckon her word of mouth’ll do.  Tally’s boun’
ter come back all right,” her father declared.

“She can’t always be comin’ back to teach,” put in Gincy.  “If you go to
Commencement next spring maybe you’ll want Tally to have a diploma, too.”

Sam Coyle wisely refrained from a reply.  That he had not looked with
favour upon his daughter’s ambition to get an education was well known,
and now that he had been proved in the wrong he did not propose to lay
himself open to further criticism.  However, he inwardly determined that
Talitha should keep the Goose Creek school.  The money was a great help
to the family, and Dan Gooch would like nothing better than to have a
chance to secure it for Gincy, he reasoned selfishly.  Miss Howard
shrewdly read the man’s thoughts, but she said nothing, although she
inwardly resolved that Talitha should have her chance with the rest.

After the dinner was over and the dishes cleared away, the young people
went to the schoolhouse.  The maps and pictures were to be brought home
for safekeeping, although there was no probable danger of their being
molested.  Besides, the young teacher wanted to see the place again
before leaving for Bentville.

There was a strong odour of pine as Martin flung open the door.  The
despoiled tree still stood on the platform.  Miss Howard had put the
tinsel trimmings carefully away for future Christmases.

“It certainly looks as though we had had a good time last night,” said
Talitha, glancing around.  “Billy, I think I’ll let you and Sudie sweep
out when you have a chance.  You may keep the greens up as long as you
choose; they’ll last some time.  Good-bye until next summer,” she said to
herself as she reluctantly turned away.

They stopped a moment at the little heap of ashes and charred logs below
the new structure.  “It’s a fitting monument for the old shack we used to
call a schoolhouse,” said Martin reflectively.  “When I remember the days
we spent in it, I—”

“Don’t,” said Talitha gently.  “The schoolmaster did the best he knew.
He can see his mistakes as well as anybody now.”  Miss Howard was silent,
but she thought of the many such places scattered over the mountains,
some of them presided over by just such teachers as Si Quinn had been.

Early that evening Martin and Talitha slipped away to the old
schoolmaster’s cabin to say good-bye, for they would start by light the
next morning.

“I ’lowed you’d be ’long,” he said, beaming down at them.  “I came home
early so’s not ter miss you.”

“Oh, we wouldn’t have gone away without coming to see you,” Talitha
assured him, drawing up a stool before the bright blaze in the fireplace.
Martin seated himself upon an old chest in the corner and looked around.
He had been curious to see how Talitha had managed to rehabilitate the
dingy place of which he had such disagreeable recollections.

“You wouldn’t know my old shack now, would you?” Si Quinn noticed the
young fellow’s survey of the room.  “You kin lay the hull thing ter
Tally, I’ll be boun’—”

“Oh, no, no,” protested the girl, blushing.  “I just—”

“Don’t I know your sly tricks?  You started hit an’ did a heap besides.
Not that Goose Creek folks ain’t the frien’liest, best-hearted critters
in the hull mountings.”

“Just think what you’ve done for me!” cried Talitha in a low tone.
“Those books and maps—I couldn’t have replaced them this fall—and that
box was such a godsend!  Billy’s going to see that all the children have
a chance to read the books this winter.  They’ll be learning a lot and
the days won’t seem so long.  I’ll send them a package of papers and
magazines in the spring.”

“Law me, Tally, hit war little ’nough I did.  I’d hev done a heap more,
but I couldn’t.  Hit’ll seem mighty lonesome with you-uns gone, but I’ll
git some comfort thinkin’ of the chanct you’re havin’.”

The call must necessarily be a brief one.  Talitha was very tired and
there was a long ride before them on the morrow.  But as the two rose to
go the old man caught at the girl’s sleeve.  “Martin, you jest g’long and
bide fer Tally by the big tree.  I’ve somethin’ special ter say ter her.”

Martin looked surprised, but he obeyed.

“I war told ter keep hit a secret, Tally,” said Si Quinn as the door
closed behind her brother.  “But I couldn’t let you go ’way a-thinkin’ I
sent you thet box, fer I didn’t.  I’ll trust you never ter speak of hit
long as I live if I tell you.  Hit war Jake Simcox—”

“Jake—!”  Talitha stopped short in amazement.

“Yes, he’s repented of his folly and is turnin’ over a new leaf.  He air
a good piece from Goose Creek and he’s got a chanct ter work an’ go ter
school.  What’s more, he ’lows ter make up—some time—fer all the mischief
he done.  But he war sech a pore ignorunt feller—I reckon you’ve fergiven
him, Tally, hit worked out a sight o’ good fer you and fer Goose Creek.”

“Yes, yes, indeed!” cried the girl, the tears in her eyes, “and I’m so
glad he’s having a chance.  I wish you’d tell him so.”

“’Tain’t likely I’ll ever see him agin, but he’s goin’ ter make a man of
himself yit, I reckon.”  The schoolmaster looked down at his favourite
pupil and there was a smile on his face that softened the plain, rugged
features like sunshine from within shining outwardly.  Standing in the
glow of the firelight with the Christmas holly and pine on shelf and
wall, the twinkling candles—he had lighted in honour of his guests—the
white-haired, white-bearded man seemed like the memory of an old-time
Christmas that had slipped back to its mountain home for a brief renewal
of past pleasures.

Talitha carried the picture away with her as she went thoughtfully down
the path toward the big pine where Martin waited.



XIII
THE “STILL” CAVE


BY dawn the next morning, the little party set forth for the return trip
across the mountains.  The four had come the distance to Goose Creek on
horses and mules hired from the school farm.  Talitha was mounted on Dan
Gooch’s sorrel he had unselfishly lent her, her father firmly refusing to
allow his one mule to be taken from the place.

“I ’low they’ll find room on the farm fer the beastie, a spell,” said
Dan, anxious to show Talitha a favour.  “I’m reckonin’ on gettin’ down
ter Bentville myself, come spring, ter see what the school air like and
what you’re doin’ thar.”

“I wish you would make us a visit, Mr. Gooch,” urged Miss Howard, “and
then come back and tell the Goose Creek folks all about it and bring them
to Commencement.”

“You’d never know whar ter stow ’em all,” Dan smiled broadly.

“We’ll put up some tents on the campus,” put in Gincy.  “You ought to see
what a splendid, big place it is with such lovely trees—”

“It’s time we were starting,” called Martin in front, and the little
cavalcade moved away.  The sorrel was in the rear, but the faithful old
beast did his best, and Talitha resolved that on reaching Bentville he
should have a well-earned rest until his master came after him.

There was a wintry chill in the air, which was not surprising at that
early hour.  If the sun came out it would be delightful travelling.
Martin watched the sky a little anxiously while the others laughed and
chatted on unheeding.  At last, over the bald peak of the mountain, the
sun looked down at them through a veil of mist which gradually
disappeared.  A cool wind was all that prevented the day from being as
delightful as the previous one had been.  But their progress would
necessarily be slow, for the sorrel proved to have little endurance.
Talitha favoured him as much as possible by keeping behind the others and
slipping down occasionally to walk beside him with encouraging pats.

“We can easily get as far as Joe Bradshaw’s,” said Martin.  “They’ll be
looking for us about sundown.”

The gorgeous colouring of autumn had gone from the mountains, but there
was still the holly with its scarlet berries, the green of the laurel,
the fir, and pine, and here and there, on hickory and oak, a patch of
colour where the leaves still clung.

At noon the party stopped for dinner in a hollow shielded from the wind.
They spread out the eatables which they had brought in their saddlebags,
on the thick, green grass.  The horses and mules were tethered to graze,
after being watered at a trickling rill which filtered out of the rocks
close beside them.

After lingering longer than usual to give the sorrel a chance to rest,
the company started on.  Miss Howard looked at her watch; it was
half-past one.  “We’ll just about make it and that’s all,” she commented
to herself cheerfully.

For some time after leaving the hollow they followed the dry bed of a
stream.  The rocky bottom was covered with loose stones, and now and then
a small boulder jutted out from the bank.  They were in shadow, for
hedging them in on either side, rose the mountains thickly covered with
pine.  At last they left the stream bed and turned into a trail leading
over the mountain.  Rising above it was the ridge of still another which
they must cross before the Bradshaw home could be sighted.

In the effort of guiding their animals into the trail, they did not at
first notice the change in the sky until suddenly Martin, ahead, looked
up.  The sun had disappeared, and a grey mist clung to the tall peaks.
The air had grown cold—a sudden drop of the temperature—which was an
unmistakable sign of the approaching storm.  He did not call out to
startle those in the rear, but on reaching a small cove he turned the
mule he was riding into it, and beckoned to the others.  They were coming
up Indian file, and one by one halted beside him—all but Talitha.  Martin
could see her some distance below them.  Something had happened to the
sorrel, for his sister had dismounted and was leading it with difficulty.

“There’s a storm coming up.”  Miss Howard shivered and looked around
anxiously.  “It’s growing colder every minute, I do believe; I never knew
such a sudden change.”

“It must have been coming on since noon only we were so sheltered we
didn’t notice it,” returned Martin.  “Just hold Jack and I’ll go back and
help Talitha,” slipping the mule’s rein into Abner’s hand.

The sorrel clung to the trail with three feet; the fourth was evidently
disabled.  The animal’s ears were laid back and there was a despairing
look in his eyes.  Vainly Talitha tugged at the rein while she gently
urged him on.

“What’s the matter?” Martin inquired.

“Well, he’s all tuckered out for one thing, then he’s got something in
his foot—a sharp stone, I reckon, for he’s limped ever since he left the
creek bed.  Poor thing, I might have known he couldn’t stand such a
jaunt.”

With difficulty Martin got down and examined the injured member.  It did
not take him long, with the aid of his jack-knife, to extract the
offending stone, which had cut an ugly gash.  “There, that feels better,
doesn’t it, old fellow?  Just see if you can’t step along now.”  He
stroked the animal’s nose coaxingly.  “You’d better go ahead, Tally, and
we’ll follow.”  The tired sorrel plucked up courage and limped after.

When they reached the cove Abner silently pointed to the peaks on the
opposite range, and Martin saw with dismay that they were nearly buried
in a storm of flying snowflakes which was gradually drawing nearer.  The
boys’ faces whitened as their eyes met.  If they had been alone it would
be serious enough with the prospect of a heavy snowfall to wipe out the
trail, but with Miss Howard and the girls to look after—Martin felt a
shiver, which was not from the cold wind, creep over him.  It was Miss
Howard herself who finally spoke with a calm decision.

“Boys, have you plenty of matches?”

“Yes,” they both answered.

“And we have enough left from our lunch to make quite a respectable
supper.  Well, it’s perfectly useless to think of going on to-night, I
can see that; the sorrel can’t endure it for one thing and the storm
would overtake us before we were halfway down the mountain.  We’ve got to
camp out for the night—”

“But where?” inquired Talitha, looking around in bewilderment.  How bleak
and lonely the mountains looked, how shadowy they were growing already!

“There, there, girls, we’re not going to worry,” Miss Howard said
cheerfully, noticing the troubled faces.  “I’ve discovered that this is
the very place where we were caught in a heavy rain storm when I was out
on extension work with Professor and Mrs. Denny, and we found such a nice
place to spend the night.  If I’m not mistaken I can go right to it—”  A
snowflake struck Miss Howard’s cheek, another and another.  “We haven’t
any time to spare.  Come on and don’t lose sight of me for a minute.”

“Wait, please, Miss Howard,” called Martin.  “Tally must ride Jack and
I’ll lead the sorrel.”  He helped his sister mount, and then the teacher
turned her horse toward the farthest side of the cove, the others
following.  Martin saw one rider after another disappear, for the moment,
over the edge of the slope as though they had mysteriously slipped from
sight.  He went on with a shamefaced feeling that he was not the one to
find shelter for the little company—he was older than Abner.  But as well
as he knew the caves and passages around Goose Creek, these were strange
to him; he had never once thought of the possibility of some time needing
shelter among them.  Although there was no way to help himself he felt
very uncomfortable.  He pulled his hat brim low to shade his eyes—the
snow was coming faster—and watched the last of the straggling line that
in spite of his efforts was getting farther and farther away, winding
down around huge boulders and clusters of laurel and pine.  Miss Howard
had been the first to vanish, now Talitha on the submissive Jack was also
out of sight.  He urged his reluctant beast forward, several times nearly
missing his footing.

Miss Howard had not been mistaken.  As her friends said, her bump of
location was well developed.  Just as the dusk and the storm were closing
down upon them, she led her followers into a narrow passageway between
rocky walls, and stopped at the large, black mouth of a cave.

“Here we are,” she called back.  “Where are your matches?  I’d like to
see if the place is already inhabited.”

“I have some.”  Abner sprang to the ground, handed the mule’s rein to
Talitha, and came to the teacher’s side.

“Feel on the ground just inside the cave and find me some dry twigs or
splinters, if you can; we must be careful of the matches.”

The boy fumbled about on his knees for a moment.  “Here are some and they
feel real tinder-y, too.  Let me go ahead.”  Abner struck a match and
applied it carefully to the pine twigs he had bunched.  It made a fine
torch, revealing what at first appeared to be a small cave, but which
gradually widened as they went on to one of considerable dimensions.

Several times the boy stopped to renew his torch.  Fortunately there was
plenty of material—a litter of pine, balsam, and fir boughs, as though
the place had been recently occupied.  There were no signs of the
presence of wild animals as the young woman had secretly feared, but
suddenly Abner stopped in astonishment.  He instantly recognized the dark
object at the farther end of the cave and shivered, remembering certain
events of his boyhood days.

“It’s only an old still that’s been there for years,” reassured Miss
Howard, failing to understand.  She slipped from her horse.  “Now we must
have a fire the very first thing.  That’s the place,” pointing to what
seemed a natural fireplace in the rocky wall where lay a heap of ashes.
“There’s a kind of chimney above it, so we won’t be smoked out.”

“Why, there’s a fine bed of coals!” Abner presently exclaimed, uncovering
them.

“That’s fortunate; it’ll be such a saving of matches.  I think we can
pick up plenty of stuff to make a good fire, then we must go out and
forage for enough to last through the night.”  Miss Howard seemed as
cheerful and matter-of-fact as though she were in her own home, while in
reality she was much perplexed at the unmistakable evidences that the
place had, very recently, been inhabited.  It was much too late in the
season for surveyors, or parties in search of botanical or geological
specimens.  They might have been hunters lured to the mountains by the
unusually pleasant weather and the prospect of returning with a full game
bag.  She tried to think of the latter possibility; at any rate the young
people’s suspicions must not be aroused.

In a few moments Abner and Gincy had a brisk fire burning.  Talitha was
feeding the horses and mules some corn she found in the saddlebags.
“They’ll have a pretty slim supper, I’m afraid, and they’re so hungry—I
wonder why Martin doesn’t come,” she broke off, looking anxiously toward
the entrance.  “Do you suppose he could have missed the way?”

“I think more likely the sorrel is having a hard time to get along,” said
her teacher.  “But if he isn’t here soon Abner and I will go to meet
him.”

The glow of the fire lighted the cave, and the young woman glanced around
with apparent carelessness, but her eyes were keen and watchful.  Behind
the old still she picked up a man’s coat.  It had not lain there long,
for it was only slightly damp and no musty smell clung to it.  She
quietly tucked it into a niche of the wall.  Over by the fire the girls
were examining the contents of the saddlebags in an effort to eke out a
respectable supper.  “I wish I hadn’t eaten so much at noon,” she heard
Gincy say.  “I didn’t need it and I feel just as hungry as though I
hadn’t had a bite of breakfast or dinner, either.”

Miss Howard did not allow herself to think of the consequences should
they find themselves hemmed in by snowdrifts the next morning, but she
was again reminded that Martin had not yet appeared.  Something must be
done immediately.  She hurried over to the young people, and with their
help two large torches were made.  One was lighted.  “We may not need the
other, but we’ll keep it for an emergency,” she said.  “Stay right here
and don’t worry; we’ll be back soon.”  Miss Howard and Abner hurried out
of the cave.

How dark it had grown!  The young woman was startled as, with torch held
aloft, she peered out at the end of the passageway.  There were no signs
of Martin anywhere.

“You’d better call to him,” she said to Abner.

“Halloo! halloo!” the lad repeated again and again, and then they both
listened.  The echoes died away in the hollows of the great hills, but no
answering call came back to them.



XIV
LOST ON THE MOUNTAINS


MARTIN saw the last of his party through a cloud of whirling flakes.  He
followed as fast as the lame and now nearly exhausted horse would allow
him, but not a trace of them was again visible.  Even the tracks of the
animals were obliterated by the fast falling snow.  He did not lose
courage, however, although the trail itself grew fainter and fainter in
the deepening twilight.  But finally his steps grew more halting and
doubtful; twice he barely saved himself from slipping over a rocky ledge.
At last he paused in bewilderment.

Shading his eyes with both hands he looked around.  He could not see two
rods before him.  Which way should he go?  Where had the little company
disappeared?  He hated to call and bring Miss Howard back to show him the
way—or perhaps she would send Abner.  At any rate he must have help as
soon as possible, and lifting up his voice he shouted with all the
strength of his lungs, then waited in vain for some reply.  The old horse
whinnied inquiringly and rubbed his cold nose against Martin’s shoulder.
It brought the young fellow’s grievance to mind afresh.  If his father
had not refused to let Talitha ride Cain—a biddable young mule—although
there would be no work for the animal until spring, he would not be in
this plight; the whole party could have made much faster progress and
perhaps have reached the Bradshaw place in spite of the storm.  But there
was no time for bitter reflection; he must keep moving.  Evidently his
companions were already beyond the sound of his voice—call as he might.

In that partially sheltered place he could feel the air growing colder—a
wind swept through the pines above his head and sent down light clouds of
snow.  Martin shivered helplessly, then in despair made a plunge forward,
the sorrel stumbled after; both slipped—it was a misstep—and went down,
down, the young fellow still clinging to the bridle with one hand while
the other caught at bush and sapling to break his fall.  Every moment he
expected the horse would descend upon him.  It was so close he could hear
its frightened snorts as it crashed downward.

Martin’s head grew dizzy, a weird light whirled before him; strange cries
echoed in his ears, and he felt numb in a helpless fright.  Then he
suddenly stopped with a jolt and jar that opened his eyes.  Still that
glow, brighter than ever, was before them.

“Lands!” shouted a voice, “be careful or that critter’ll tromp on you!”

“Why, the poor boy, he must have slipped over the bank and the horse
after him.  It’s a miracle they were not killed!”

Martin tried to speak, but he was too dazed to put the words together.

“Abner, see if he’s hurt anywhere.  I do hope there are no bones broken.
We shouldn’t have let him get so far behind,” Miss Howard was reproaching
herself severely.

“I reckon he’s stunned more than anything else,” decided Abner wisely,
after helping Martin to his feet and brushing off the snow.  “But if the
sorrel ain’t used up it’ll be a wonder.  He air too old fer such
servigrous exercise.”

Although the animal floundered about excitedly, his fright was partly due
to the flaming torch which Miss Howard held above her head.  Abner soon
quieted the frantic creature.  They were near the passageway leading to
the cave and shielded from the fury of the storm.

“Soon as you can, fasten your horse to that pine and help me get Martin
in by the fire; we’ll come back after it shortly.”

Together, the two helped the young fellow along the passageway.  The
torch had suddenly flickered out, but a pale light showed the entrance to
the cave.  Two heads were thrust anxiously out, then the watchers ran to
meet them.

“Is Martin hurt?” exclaimed Talitha as she caught hold of him.

“I don’t really think so,” assured her teacher, “but he must be chilled
through.  We must get him in by the fire—not too close—and rub him well.
I wish he had something hot to drink.”

Gradually Martin came to himself, although he seemed much exhausted.  He
lay propped up near the fire, the girls hovering over him while Miss
Howard and Abner again disappeared.  Presently they returned with the
sorrel.

Except for numerous bruises and being badly shaken up, the old horse had
escaped injury, but it was plainly evident that he would not be able to
carry Talitha farther on her journey.

None of the party were thinking of that now, they were too thankful to be
together once more.  Fortunately the cave was large enough to allow of
the animals being tethered near the entrance and leave room about the
fireplace for their riders to spread the scanty supper.  It was meagre
enough, and the party thought hungrily of the bountiful dinner they had
eaten that noon—it seemed like yesterday.  If the weather permitted them
to go on the next morning there would be several hours’ journey before
they could get anything more to eat, and if they were obliged to stay
longer—  That was too serious to think about and they tried to help Miss
Howard make as light of the situation as possible.

“I saved an ear of corn for the sorrel,” whispered Talitha to Abner.
“It’s in Jack’s saddlebag.”  It was terribly hard to see the faithful
animals nosing about on the ground for a bit of provender—much worse than
going without herself, Talitha thought.  Abner nodded and slipped away.
After a time he returned with an armful of sticks and threw them down
before the fire.

“I can easily find enough to last through the night, and perhaps I can
get a little fodder if I look around.  It doesn’t seem to be snowing
quite so much, but I can hardly tell, it’s so sheltered here,” he said,
choosing some dry pine for another torch.

“If you are going to start out foraging I’m going with you,” Miss Howard
declared.  “I don’t want any more people getting lost.  I’m sure that
Martin wouldn’t care to repeat his experience.”

The young fellow shook his head.  “I’ll be all right come morning,
though,” he announced confidently.

“Let us go along and help Abner, then we can get all that is needed in
two or three trips,” begged Gincy.

The young woman hesitated.  “I don’t know but it might be a good plan,”
she answered finally.  “But Martin must stay right where he is and try to
get rested.”

Miss Howard halted at the entrance to the passageway, holding the torch
aloft and keeping a sharp eye on her charges.  She might have been
Liberty enlightening the mountains as she stood there—the light flaming
out over the white slopes beyond.  The snow was still falling upon them,
but in more scattering flakes as though the storm had spent its force.

Suddenly, she saw—with a start—little gleams of light flash far upon the
opposite mountain-side.  They vanished and again appeared in another
place as though people—there were certainly more than one—were moving
about.  She thought of the coat she had found in the cave, and her old
anxiety returned.  Talitha and Gincy coming up—their arms heaped with
firewood—wondered at her pale face.

“I reckon you’re plumb tuckered out,” said the latter sympathizingly.
“My, what a pile Abner’s got!  Don’t you ’low it’ll do us to-night if
we’re careful?”

The teacher surveyed it with doubt, but she only said calmly, “I’m sure
it will last a long time, and if we should need any more it can be easily
gathered.”

“If I only had a hatchet I could get some big sticks down in that
holler,” panted Abner.  “I picked up a little green stuff for the beastes
to nibble at, it’ll make ’em more content, but it’s mighty poor feedin’.”

Entering the cave they found Martin asleep by the fire.  Quietly they
moved about, making themselves comfortable as possible for the night and
were soon dozing around the fireplace.

Miss Howard did not allow her eyes to close.  She watched and listened,
alert to catch any unusual sound, while the young people around her slept
fitfully.

Late in the night she heard voices, then a wild shout and the crunching
of hoofs in the snow.  The mules did not stir, but the horses became
restless and one of them whinnied.  The sleepers awoke suddenly and sat
up.  Miss Howard looked at her watch, it was nearly twelve o’clock.  She
smiled at them sleepily.

“Don’t you want to sing something?” she inquired.  “Perhaps the night
won’t seem so long if we do.”

Talitha rubbed her eyes.  It was a strange request at that late hour and
in such a place, but she cheerfully joined in with the others when her
teacher began the old choral so familiar to Bentville pupils:

    “A mighty fortress is our God,
    A bulwark never failing—”

The strong, young voices filled the cave with strange echoes which
penetrated into the night.  The singers caught the spirit of the song as
they went on and on.  All their fears for the morrow had vanished.  The
dumb creatures looked around at them in astonishment.

Miss Howard was keeping her eyes on the entrance as she sang.  Over the
animals’ heads she could see a light coming along the passageway.  It
grew brighter and brighter as it neared the cave opening.  Her charges
did not see it; Martin was singing with closed eyes, and the two girls
were watching Abner pile fresh sticks upon the fire.  She knew how
superstitious were the mountain people, especially the lawless ones who
were fugitives from justice because of their propensity for appropriating
their neighbours’ horses and cattle.  Was it possible that after all her
little party was to be molested?

As the last note died away, a man’s head, covered with a coonskin cap,
was thrust inside and then as suddenly withdrawn.  “Come on, Joe, Gid,
here they are safe and sound!” shouted a bluff voice, and the
Bradshaws—father and sons—hurried into the cave.

With delighted shouts the wayfarers gathered around them.

“We’ve been beatin’ ’bout these here mountings sence nine o’clock,” said
the older man, “and we war jest ready ter give up when we heard the
singin’.  Hit war powerful deceivin’ at first—a-comin’ up out’n the
ground that-away, till I ’lowed you war nowhar but in that old still
cave.”

“Then it was the light from your lanterns I saw when the young people
were gathering the firewood.  Didn’t you see my torch?”

Joe Bradshaw laughed while his father and brother looked sheepish.  “Yes,
we did see it, but Pappy and Gid ’lowed it was a harnt.  At first it
looked like a fire from where we were, and then it disappeared so
suddenly it really was mystifying.”

“’Twas the singin’ thet fetched us,” persisted the elder Bradshaw.  “We’d
been expectin’ you sence before sundown, and when hit went on nine
o’clock and war dark and snowy I ’lowed you war lost and we jest set out
ter sarch.  Thar war a passel o’ hoss thieves in these parts a leetle
spell back, and we ’lowed, too, thet mebbe they’d got a holt of your
beastes and left you ter foot hit.  Thet’s the reason we didn’t sarch
here fust thing.  This has been the place ter find sech as them, and we
warn’t nowise anxious ter make their ’quaintance.”

“Gid has some corn in the saddlebags for the beastes,” said Joe, “and I
have something for your supper that mother sent.  You must be nearly
starved.”

But Talitha agreed with her teacher that it would be better to wait until
morning and have a hearty meal before continuing their journey.  Relieved
of the necessity for watchfulness, Miss Howard was soon asleep.  After
talking a little longer her charges followed suit while the Bradshaws
kept careful guard.

It was later than usual when the little company breakfasted the next
morning.  There was no finer cook in all the mountains than Mrs.
Bradshaw.  A large loaf of light bread and a bag of crullers were a
welcome addition to the potatoes Joe had put roasting in the ashes at an
early hour, and the bacon, eggs, and coffee served in true camp fashion.
As they ate they could hear the melting snow dripping from the rocks.
The sun was shining and sent splashes of light into the passageway.  They
could not be otherwise than merry, although they listened with a shiver
to Martin’s account of his experience the previous night.

“It seemed as though I slipped miles—that I should never get to the foot
of this awful mountain.  And I could hear the old sorrel tearing along
after me.  Every minute I expected he’d land on top and I’d be crushed to
a pulp—”

“But he didn’t,” Abner chimed in.  “The old beastie is sure ’nough game.
I’ve seen him slide down into the holler from Red Mountain when it was
icy, and he just put his legs together stiff and slipped along as slick
as—”

“You’d better ride my hoss critter the rest of the way,” Gid offered with
true mountain hospitality.  “I’ll lead the sorrel home and keep him ’til
he’s called fer—thar’s ’nough stable room.”

Talitha felt as grateful for this proposal as Abner and Gincy could
possibly have done, for she knew the animal would have the best of care
and a long rest.  Dan Gooch would not be able to come for him until
spring opened.

Before leaving the cave Miss Howard brought out the coat she had tucked
away.  The elder Bradshaw examined it closely, while the others watched
his face, which wore a mysterious expression.  “I’d best pack hit ’long
with me,” he said presently.  “I might happen on the owner; I reckon he
war in haste ter git away or he’d never left sech as this behind in the
ol’ still cave.  I call hit downright onlucky.”

“I never knew before there was a still in these parts,” said Martin.  “I
thought it was over by Pigg Branch.”

“Mebbe you’ll find one thar now if you’ll take the resk of sarchin’ fer
hit, but this here one war put out o’ business a cornsiderable spell
back.”  The man chuckled with such evident amusement that all but Miss
Howard and his two sons stared in surprise.

“I think you’d better tell them,” urged the former, “it is a very
interesting story.”

“My mam war sure ’nough peart,” grinned the old man.  “Lish Dumley kep’
this still when I war ’bout Joe’s age, and pap and I uster come up and
call on him oftener’n war fer our good.  Hit made mam mighty sober-sided,
but we never paid no ’tention ter anythin’ she said.  One day she tuk hit
inter her head ter go ter the Gap ter see Lizy Sneed-they war gals
tergether—and left pappy and me ter tend the young-uns.

“That night this ol’ still war raided and Lish Dumley and his men caught
red-handed.  Hit’s the last they seen of the mountings fer many a year,
’cept mebbe what they could view through the bars.”

“I ’low your mammy was mightily pleasured to have the stillin’ stopped,”
said Gincy innocently.

Mr. Bradshaw smiled broadly.  “Law, yes.  When mam undertook a thing hit
war good as done.  She never said nothin’ ter nobody, but the sheriff let
hit leak out; he war thet pleased mam war so gritty.  Pappy ’lowed
Dumley’d burn our cabin once he got out’n the pen, but I reckon he war
too broken-sperited ter take revenge thet’d only shut him up agin.”

“I ’low our mammy’d do the same thing if thet still war a-runnin’ now,”
said Gid proudly.  “She air mighty servigrous when hit comes ter whiskey
and sech, and pappy air jest as set agin hit, too.”

The little party looked with a new interest around the cave, and at the
dark silent object which the sheriff and his men had wrecked that it do
no more harm.  If it only had a voice how many strange tales it could
tell them.

Out on the trail once more with the sun shining above their heads, they
made more rapid progress than the day previous.  Gid was far in the rear
leading the sorrel.  Not more than a quarter of a mile from the cave, Mr.
Bradshaw, who was ahead, stopped suddenly.  As the rest of the party came
up he pointed into a sheltered hollow shut in by rocky walls.

“See whar those fellers stopped last night.  Hit’s a wonder they didn’t
rout you out of thet cave and take your beastes.”  A heap of ashes and
the much trodden earth showed where the desperadoes had camped.  Gincy
and Talitha were pale with fright.  How near they had been to danger
after all!

Because of their late start, the party did not reach the Bradshaw home
until nearly noon.

“I ’lowed you’d come,” Mrs. Bradshaw declared.  “The boys and their pappy
generally gits what they go after.  Only I reckoned they might hev
fetched along a couple or so of them hoss thieves, the sheriff and his
men hev been a-sarchin’ fer, seein’ thar war sech a comp’ny of you,” she
added.

“I hev found whar they war last night,” exclaimed Pappy Bradshaw
triumphantly.  “And I hev somethin’ ter remember the leader of the gang.
He may be a-callin’ fer hit some day.”  The man chuckled loudly to
himself, but Miss Howard instantly changed the subject.

In good season the next morning the party were once more on their way and
reached Bentville early that evening.



XV
THE WALKING PARTY


SPRING came on apace.  There was a lingering perfume from the apple
blossoms in the air when Lalla proposed a walking party.  “We’ll go to
the Crater, have our supper, and come back by moonlight.  Miss Howard’s
going with us—isn’t it grand?”

“Splendid!” said Gincy.  “I reckon Miss Howard’s planning to let some one
else inspect the rooms and hall this afternoon; she knows I can’t squeeze
in another thing and go.  I’m worn out already trying to plan for my
work, and lessons, and music.”

“That’s all arranged,” said Lalla, “we’re to start promptly from the
front steps at two o’clock.  I’ll help you put away the towels; I’m all
ready this minute!”

Gincy looked at Lalla’s short, brown skirt and percale waist as she was
counting the sheets.  “Well,” she said at last, “I don’t believe I’ve a
thing to wear—climbing’s terribly hard on clothes.”

“I’ve another old skirt you’re welcome to; it’s a fright, though.”

“Bring her along, I’ll be plumb tickled to improve her looks,” agreed
Gincy gaily.

Lalla ran off and soon reappeared with a bright homespun.  “That’s what I
wore for the first three months.  I thought it was pretty then; I never
saw such a thing to wear, you can’t tear it to save your life!”

“I’ll be a regular beacon light, we won’t need the moon coming back,”
said Gincy as she flew around to finish her morning’s work.  “I’ll put a
twist of red ribbon around Abner’s old hat.  I’ve a piece that’s almost a
match.”

When the four girls gathered on the front porch of the Hall, there sat
Miss Howard with her folding easel and box of paints.  “Girls,” she said,
“suppose we change our minds and go to Slate Lick this afternoon, then I
can do some sketching.”

“Good!” exclaimed Gincy delightedly.  “I haven’t been out that way at
all.”

“It’s mighty pretty, and not so hard walking,” said Kizzie, and the rest
seemed equally pleased with the change.

“We’ll go down Scafflecane Pike and cut across to the railroad, it’s a
good deal shorter.”  Miss Howard gathered up her belongings and started
off ahead at a brisk pace.  At the gate they met Mallie and Nancy Jane,
the latter had been crying.

“Let’s ask them to go with us,” said Miss Howard, turning suddenly.
There was a brief consultation behind the cypresses, then Lalla sped back
after the two.

“Tell them to come just as they are!” called Urilla.  “Thank goodness,
they aren’t dressed up.”

“What a queer looking bundle,” remarked Mallie as the two joined the
waiting group.

“Isn’t it?” responded Gincy, patting a bulky parcel.  “Shooting irons
come handy whar thar air dangerous animals,” relapsing into her former
vocabulary.

Nancy Jane brightened visibly.  “I’m glad some one feels funny; I’ve been
too homesick for anything all day.  I haven’t had a letter this week.”

“You’ll get one on the evening mail,” Gincy assured her.  “No news, good
news.  I belong to the Don’t Worry Club; you’d better join.”

“Guess I will.  I’ve got to scratch around and find out about a lot of
new birds before I see Professor Lewis again.  I don’t know any, for
sure, except robins and buzzards.  This will be a good time to get
information.”

There was a general laugh in which Nancy Jane joined, her sorrows for the
moment occupying the background.  They filed down the long, straight road
and crossed Silver Creek.  There was a substantial bridge—built for high
water—but Lalla and Mallie preferred the rickety foot-bridge farther down
which trembled at every slight bit of weight imposed upon it.  Miss
Howard watched rather anxiously, but was soon reassured.  They reached
the farther end safely and started off across the fields toward the
railroad.

The foothills seemed a vast, undulating semicircle.  One bold knob higher
than the rest, with precipitous sides patched with pines, stood out with
more importance; but it lacked their allurement of tender colouring.

Straight into the heart of the range, the railroad cut its way, and a
long, creeping freight train trailed by just as they turned to follow the
track.  A shower of cinders deluged Mallie and Lalla; they wheeled and
walked backward until Gincy and Kizzie caught up.  Nancy Jane panted
close behind.

“I’ve got a monster in my eye!” moaned Mallie, plucking at the offender.
Her efforts were vain, and each girl, in turn, was rewarded in the same
way.  Urilla and Miss Howard, far in the rear, were talking too earnestly
to make much progress, or notice the group ahead.

“I’m so glad your mother’s better,” the teacher was saying.  “I know you
want to stay, and we can’t spare such girls as you very well.”

Urilla’s face beamed.  “Oh, Miss Howard, do you really mean it?  I feel
that I’m improving, I was so stupid at first—now I can see through things
better.  Gincy’s helped me, she’s always saying something nice and
encouraging.”

“Gincy’s a treasure!” said Miss Howard warmly.  “But where are the girls,
they were on the track a minute ago?”

Another train thundered by.  “I wish they wouldn’t keep so far ahead,
that’s the 3:15, and it goes like lightning when it’s making up time,”
Urilla remarked uneasily.

They hurried along, scanning each clump of bushes and stack of grain, but
no one was visible.  “They couldn’t have gone in here!” exclaimed Miss
Howard, looking at a little weather beaten cabin very near the track.
Then she listened.  Yes, there were voices that sounded familiar.
Through the half-open door, the two caught glimpses of Gincy’s bright
skirt and gay hat.

“I wonder what they’re doing, and why we didn’t see them when they turned
off the track,” said Urilla as they opened a rickety gate and went into
the yard.  “What a dreadful place to live!”

Miss Howard agreed as she looked at the forlorn and desolate little cabin
with not one home-like feature; even the yard was bare and wind-swept.

“Why, there’s Talitha!”

“What?”  The two pushed up eagerly.

“Mrs. Donnelly told me this morning she had gone to see some of her
kinfolk, but I didn’t know they lived here,” said Urilla, looking
curiously at the bare little cabin.

Standing just inside the door, the missing girls were talking to Talitha,
who, with her dress pinned up around her and a towel over her head, was
busy cleaning.  Three small children played near the fireplace, and
beyond, propped upon an old pillow, her bright eyes watching the
newcomer, was the tiniest woman they had ever seen.

“Have you had measles?” asked Talitha, waving her broom at them.  “If you
haven’t, stay out.”

“Of course,” answered Urilla scornfully, “years ago; but I don’t see
any.”

Another wave directed them to a small bed near a darkened window.  Two
flushed faces peered above a ragged quilt.

“Why!” gasped Urilla, taking in the situation.  “But how did you know?  I
thought—”

Miss Howard suddenly interrupted with, “This must be Mrs. Gantley.  I
intended to find you yesterday, but I thought you lived on the Big Hill
pike.  Are you feeling better?”

The little woman shifted her position slightly, a shadow of a smile
flitting across her face.  “Yes, since Tally came I’m easier in my mind.
The children ain’t bad sick—jest feverish and powerful troublesome; I
couldn’t keep ’em from ketchin’ cold no way, out o’ bed.”

Gincy and Talitha were having a quiet conference in another part of the
room.  “I found out this morning that she’s kin on mother’s side—way
back,” said the latter in a low voice.  “They used to live in Cowbell
Hollow, but he ran away and left them a month ago.”

Talitha looked unutterable things as she referred to the recreant Mr.
Gantley.  Accustomed as she was to the delinquencies of the mountain men,
the desertion of a helpless family seemed the blackest of crimes.  She
glanced meaningly in the direction of a large basket in the corner, and
whispered, “They were almost starving.  Martin helped me or I couldn’t
have got it here—Mrs. Donnelly gave me so many things, but—”

“See here,” said Gincy, slipping an arm around Talitha’s waist, “I’m
going to stay and help; I can go for a walk any Saturday.  We’ll scrub
the children, gather wood, and cook.  Won’t it be fun!”

“Are you sure you want to?” asked Talitha, her tired face brightening.

“Of course; the rest can trot along just the same.”

“Dear me,” grumbled Lalla as they proceeded without Gincy, “I’d like to
get hold of that man.  Do you know anything about the family, Miss
Howard?”

“Not much, only he’s fond of moonshine.  He sold the home about three
weeks ago—told her he was getting ready to come to Bentville, where there
was a good school for the children.  When she found that he had really
gone, she thought he might be here and followed him.”  Miss Howard walked
on with her head held high; she did not want the girls to read in her
face the fulness of disgust which she felt for a man of that type.  There
were others like him whose sons and daughters were working their way
through school, trying to redeem the family name and become worthy
citizens.

“It’s a shame!” said Mallie.  “They ought to catch him and make him work
good and hard—beat him if he didn’t—and give all his wages to his folks.
I’d teach him to run away from those pretty children, and—”

“There isn’t a chair in the house,” interrupted Nancy Jane, “and I didn’t
see a dish.  That poor woman might just as well chase a Bushy tail;
she’ll never see him again—not until the children grow up, then he’ll
come back and live on them.”

“I should be glad to get rid of him,” said Urilla conclusively.  “I’ve
seen men like that before.”

There was silence for a moment, and the group became more widely
scattered.  Lalla forged straight ahead until she was several rods in
advance.  She scanned the great slate boulders on either side and
listened.  There were voices, familiar ones, then all was quiet.
Everywhere the foothills hemmed them in.  Suddenly a rock crashed in
front of her.  Looking up she saw Abner’s shock of light hair as, flat on
his stomach, he peered over the edge of the cliff.  The head disappeared
and an improvised mask took its place.

“Halt!” commanded a muffled voice which closely resembled Martin’s.
Lalla threw up her hands in mock fright.  “Come around behind that pine
tree, we’re laying for some of our crowd.  There’s something in the wind
to-day, for Raphael Sloan and Joe Bradshaw sneaked off without letting us
know—dropped out all of a sudden.  Keep your eye peeled for them, won’t
you?  Likely they’re up at the springs.”

“Don’t let the rest know we’re here,” warned Abner, peering over Martin’s
shoulder, “it might spoil the fun.”

“I guess not,” agreed Lalla with her old love for a joke.  “Go ahead and
have your fun; but what if they go back the other way?”

“You mustn’t let ’em.  Think up some scheme; you can do it.”  Both heads
disappeared as Nancy Jane’s voice was borne to them from below.

Lalla picked a few violets and walked on carelessly, looking up at the
mountains on the opposite side.  “Hurry up or we’ll never get there!” she
called back, waving her flowers; “there’ll be heaps of these at Slate
Lick.”

The gorge widened.  A trickling, shallow stream crept through the bed.
The foothills seemed suddenly to have become mountains and surrounded
them, making a basin-like valley.  On the opposite side, sheltered by
walnuts, stood a few deserted houses and a building which seemed halfway
between a store and a peanut stand.

“There’s quite a colony here in summer,” said Miss Howard, when at last
they stood in front of the spring house and fitted the long key into the
padlock.  “The sulphur water calls them, and the view.  Isn’t it
beautiful!  I want to get the Knob painted in while the haze is over it.
You young folks run along and do your climbing; I’ll whistle for you when
it’s time to go back.”

“If Talitha and Gincy were only here!” sighed Kizzie after the first long
climb.  Together they stood panting for breath and watched the scene
below.

“Where’s Lalla?  She beats everything for disappearing right before one’s
eyes,” Nancy Jane frowned.

“Couldn’t lose her though, that’s the beauty of it,” remarked Urilla as
they looked around behind the trees and boulders.  Below, Miss Howard sat
intent upon her canvas.  A tinkling cowbell was the only sound which
greeted their ears.  “I’m for going on.  It’s one of Lalla’s tricks;
she’s a good deal nearer than we think—probably laughing at us this
minute.”

But Lalla, when she dropped behind the rest, had taken a trail leading
off to the left.  She was sure that it came back to the main trail again,
and it would give her a splendid opportunity to pop out and surprise
them.  She soon found that it led around an immense boulder, that it was
steep, and grew steeper.  As she paused quite breathless, the sound of
men’s voices came from behind the rock.

A clump of small evergreens made a convenient hiding-place; behind them
Lalla listened.  She was not in the least alarmed, only curious.  The
voices grew louder, one of them seemed to be chanting or reciting
something; it was hard to tell which.  Lalla stole out a little farther
and crouched close to the rock, listening breathlessly.

“Louder, Raf, so I can hear you at this distance.”  Lalla fancied she
could have touched Joe Bradshaw had not the rock projected a thin edge
between them.  She sank noiselessly into a bed of tall ferns.  So here
were the truants!  Martin and Abner should hear about them; she would
jump out and give Joe the scare of his life.

On and on went the voices, the nearer one correcting and halting the
speaker from time to time.

Lalla listened intently; her eyes grew larger.  What was Raphael saying!
She sat perfectly rigid as the truth flashed upon her.  It was his speech
for the Mountain Congress, and he was to speak against Abner.  No wonder
they stole away from the boys.

For some minutes Lalla sat undecided.  Raphael Sloan was a formidable
opponent, and Abner new at the business of debating.  If she could only
give the latter a hint—she wouldn’t tell right out.  How proud Gincy
would be to have her brother win the debate.  Her heart beat fast and she
listened as she had never listened before; not a word must be lost and
she must not be discovered now for the world!

“You’ll have to be ready for the rebuttal; they’ll get you on that
point—Abner’s working like a tiger.”  And then there was an audible
movement on the other side of the boulder which made Lalla’s heart beat
like a trip-hammer.  To her infinite relief, Raphael Sloan moved on up
the trail and Joe after him.  She could hear their voices growing fainter
and fainter each moment.

Cautiously she slipped from her hiding-place and retraced her steps to a
point lower down.  There was a way to cut across the other trail, but it
was through blackberry bushes, wild grapevines, and a tangle of
underbrush.  Lalla did not hesitate, however; slipping and sliding, she
fairly rushed forward, not stopping for scratches nor even bruises.  From
the thicket she suddenly emerged into a small opening—hardly a
clearing—in which was a tiny shack of logs.  To all appearances it was
deserted, but Lalla decided to avoid it and come out just beyond.  A gun
sounded very near; a hound bayed.  She shrank back where the shadows were
deep, and silently threaded her way in the direction of the old trail.
It could not be many rods farther on.

For fully a half-hour she stumbled along, then she heard Nancy Jane’s
voice, and the girls fell on her with loud reproaches.

“I was exploring,” Lalla said with shining eyes, and then she told them
about the cabin.  “It’s mighty secret; I’d never found it only for taking
the short cut.  Folks could do stillin’ and no one be the wiser.”

“I wonder if they do make moonshine there,” said Mallie after a pause.
“We heard that shot and were worrying about you.  Don’t you run away
again.”

Lalla smiled, but did not answer.

A long whistle came from below.  It was repeated.  “That’s Miss Howard!”
exclaimed Kizzie.  “She wants us right away; see how late it’s getting.”

All the way down Lalla was very quiet.  Her head was full of plans to
help Abner and find out more about the mysterious cabin.  Mystery
appealed to her vivid imagination and stimulated her to immediate action.

A thin trail of smoke came up to them as they made the last steep descent
into the basin.  “Oh, Lalla, Miss Howard’s getting supper and I’m so
hungry,” said Kizzie.  But Lalla was thinking of the two boys—which way
could they have gone home?



XVI
THE MOUNTAIN CONGRESS


IT was several days before Lalla saw Abner alone.  He was certainly
working like a tiger.  He rushed over to meals, and when the boys were
dismissed, was gone like a shot, not waiting to join the groups who
visited in the yard.

It wanted a week of the Mountain Congress when she followed him into the
library one day and straight back to the stack room.  There was a long
table in one corner and piles of reference books on it.  Abner had
snatched his cap off and was digging for the bottom one of the nearest
pile when Lalla touched his shoulder.

“Working on your debate?” she whispered.  “I hope you’ll win.”

Abner looked up gratefully.  “I don’t reckon on it much—Raphael’s an old
hand, they tell me—but I’m learnin’ a lot, that’s one sure thing.”

“I’ve thought of some points which will be likely to help you.”  Lalla
pushed a sheet his way.  “You can never tell what they’re going to spring
on you just at the last.”

Abner took it with a look of surprise.  “I didn’t know that you even knew
the subject of the debate; we’ve tried to keep it a secret.”  Lalla
reddened—she had not thought of this emergency.  “Of course I told
Gincy,” Abner continued, “and I know she trusts you, so it’s all right.”

He had misconstrued her evident embarrassment, and was trying to reassure
her.  For one moment Lalla’s courage failed, but she was sure Abner stood
little chance of winning without some help, and there was almost no risk
of discovery, not even if Gincy told her brother that she had kept the
secret.

Lalla’s impetuous nature was capable of a good deal of
self-sacrifice—mistaken at times, but nevertheless genuine in motive.
She had a warm feeling of gratitude toward the girl who had not, by even
so much as a look, hinted at her adventures with the master key.  Indeed,
Lalla felt that Gincy had entire confidence in her assurance that she
would be perfectly straightforward from that time on.

It was the mountain warfare over again, and Lalla did not feel any real
compunction about the methods.  She knew instinctively, however, that
Gincy and Abner would look at it differently and was prepared for
questions.

However, they did not come.  “These seem like dandy points; they might do
me a heap of good when it comes to the final touchdown.”  Abner showed
her the result of his digging for the last few weeks—a whole tablet full
of notes, disorderly enough but right to the point.

Lalla glanced over them with a shrewd eye, and nodded.  “Abner, they’re
splendid!  But won’t you be scared half to death in front of that crowd?”

He shook his head resolutely.  “I’m going to bluff it if I am; it doesn’t
do to show one’s feelings.”

“No, and Goose Creek folks aren’t the scary kind.”

“You bet they aren’t—not the girls, anyhow.”  Abner spoke with
conviction.

Devotional exercises the next morning were brief.  Then the excitement
began.  Banners went up all over the chapel, and nominations were made
for governor of Appalachian America.  There were speeches and special
music to arouse enthusiasm for the Mountain Congress.

The girls from Clay sat in the gallery—a row of bright faces keenly
watching every movement below to see what counties were represented.

“There’s Pike, and Letcher, and Magoffin!” whispered Gincy excitedly.

“And Floyd, and Knott, and Breathitt!” added Talitha.

“Perry, Harlan, Leslie, and—Oh, look at Clay!  Goody!  Goody!” Mallie
almost lost her balance and fell into the crowd below.  Nancy Jane pulled
her back and kept a firm grip on the excited girl for some time.

“It’s awfully interesting!” sighed Lalla, her eyes growing bigger as she
watched the platform.  “But I suppose the congress itself will be twice
as exciting.”

There were funny speeches from the candidates, each vying with the other
in promising favour to his particular section of the country.  The
applause was frequent, and the college band played “Dixie.”  Every one
filed out full of enthusiasm; they would know the result of the election
by evening.

Lalla and Gincy walked over to Memorial Hall behind Abner and Martin.
There was a grand rally out in front—practising yells and singing class
songs.  The noise was deafening.

“I’m saving my voice until Friday night,” Lalla told Abner in the first
lull.  “I know you’re going to beat and then you’ll hear me yell!”

Gincy smiled happily.  “Abner’s going to do his best; that’s the main
thing.  I’m proud to think he’s even got a chance to do it, without his
beating.”

“Of course it’s an honour to have the chance,” said Lalla, “but, Gincy,
just think how proud Goose Creek will be to have Abner come home with the
medal.”

In spite of himself Abner flushed with pleased anticipation.  He was
making the fight of his life for a public honour and did not intend to be
beaten.  Every word of his speech was photographed upon his brain, ready
for instant use, if—and here was the hard part—if his opponent did not
think of some entirely new line of argument.

Friday evening found the Hall alive with excitement.  The girls were
divided into factions.  Raphael Sloan was the best debater Bentville had
had for some time, and while Abner was popular, he was too new to inspire
general confidence.  Nearly everybody—except the Goose Creek folks—was
sure of the boy who had never been defeated.

The chapel was in an uproar when the girls arrived.  Occupying the centre
and front were delegates from each county to the Mountain Congress.
Class colours were everywhere in evidence.  Pennants were fluttering, and
yell after yell went up when the Governor of Appalachian America—one of
the senior boys—took his seat on the platform.

Afterwards the whole thing seemed like a dream to Lalla.  Raphael, tall,
dark-eyed, with the flush of anticipated victory on his face.  Abner,
intense, pale at first and somewhat hesitating, but warming up with fiery
eloquence toward the last and meeting every argument with growing
confidence.

Not once did he fail in the rebuttal, nor even hesitate, and Lalla saw an
amazed look creep over Joe Bradshaw’s face as Abner answered with a
glibness born of knowledge, sweeping the very foundation from under his
opponent’s feet.

There could be but one verdict, and the Goose Creek girls saw Abner
hoisted upon strong, young shoulders and borne in triumph around the
room.  Once more the pennants waved and pandemonium broke loose.  This
time they joined in the yells.  Lalla, in the centre of the circle of
girls, never stopped until her voice gave out.

Joe Bradshaw took his roommate’s defeat quite philosophically.  He was
fond of Abner and Martin, but somewhat puzzled at the former’s quick
replies to every argument.  “You did splendidly!” he said, wringing
Abner’s hand.  “Clay County is right to the front to-night.”

Abner gave Lalla a quick glance of gratitude.  She was watching him as he
talked to Joe and the surrounding boys, not forgetting to wave at the
home girls who found it impossible to reach him.  Gincy’s eyes were full
of tears—proud ones.  If her father and mother could only have been here
to see Abner beat the best debater in all the mountain counties.  It
would have rewarded them for every sacrifice.

There was to be a spread in the Industrial Building for the winner.
Talitha and Martin held frequent conferences all the next day, and by
four o’clock a constant procession of boys and girls were busy carrying
parcels, bunting, and branches of pine for decoration, and making the
rooms of the Agricultural Department attractive for the evening crowd.
It was to be a great event for the Goose Creek folks, and they had
prepared accordingly.  Pete Shackley guarded the chickens.  “I knew
Abner’d beat, those roosters have been crowing under my bed for two
nights.  I toted the box into my room the minute I bought them; there’s
no telling where they’d be to-day if I hadn’t.”

Gincy and Mallie kept the door of Number 4 securely locked, but that
precaution did not prevent savoury odours from escaping which the boys
sniffed eagerly.

“Cake!” exclaimed Martin delightedly.  “Tally said Miss Browning was
going to let them use the cooking room all day.  I smell fruit cookies,
too.  My, but it’s going to be a spread!  I wonder what Piny Twilliger’s
doing ’round here; she likes good eating, I suppose.”

“Of course, but didn’t you know she’s Abner’s cousin from Redbird?” and
Isaac Shackley grasped a big pot of ferns and moved on, leaving Martin
staring in astonishment.

Piny was so tall and snappy and altogether loud—such a contrast to
Gincy—Martin had taken a special dislike to her the very first time she
came to Harmonia.  That was at the opening of the spring term and now it
was getting pretty well along toward Commencement.  But the girl’s voice
did not seem to improve—it was still coarse and penetrating—she wore the
gayest colours, and Martin couldn’t enumerate all the reasons why he
disliked her, but he did.

It was growing dusk when everything was ready for the spread.  They were
to serve it in the Domestic Science room at eight o’clock.  Nancy Jane
had the key and was instructed to remain in charge until the ice cream
arrived, then hurry over to the Hall to dress.  Nancy Jane turned on the
lights and surveyed the room with satisfaction; there was a good deal to
show for all their work.  The cake was delicious, the chicken fried to a
turn.  There were great plates of rolls and plenty of pickles.  The long
table down the centre of the room was decorated with Abner’s class
colours, while all around, in festoons, were the orange and black of the
Mountain Society—the first typifying the brilliant autumn colouring of
the hills; the second, the wealth of coal found in their mines.

The building was far from deserted.  There was a clatter of feet up and
down the bare stairs—fully a dozen boys roomed on the third floor—and
Nancy Jane locked the door to secure herself from unceremonious callers.
“They’d like to play some game on us—those seniors,” she thought.
“They’re pretty sore because a new pupil carried off the honours.”

It was seven o’clock, but the cream had not come, and Nancy Jane was in a
quandary.  Some one rattled the door knob.  “Who is it?” she asked.

“Piny, Piny Twilliger.  Let me in; I’ve come to take your place and let
you get dressed.  Martin had a message that the cream wouldn’t be here
for half an hour yet.  There wasn’t another soul ready, so Gincy asked me
to come.”

Nancy Jane unlocked the door to let in—was it really Piny?  The tall
figure was attired in a bright red muslin much beruffled.  A brilliant
bow with generous outstanding loops surmounted the dozen or more puffs of
hair, and excitement lent additional colour to cheeks that were always
flushed.

Nancy Jane hurried over to the Hall and up to her room.  She didn’t even
take time to ask Gincy why she had sent Piny Twilliger to guard the
precious cream.  It wouldn’t do to say much about kinfolk.  But all the
time she was hurrying into her white dotted lawn, she wondered if
anything would happen to their eatables.  Surely some of the girls would
be ready in a few minutes.

It was almost a quarter of eight when Nancy Jane ran down the front
stairs.  She rapped lightly at several doors, but there was no response.
Evidently everybody who belonged to the Mountain Society had gone.  It
was only a short distance to the Industrial Building, and she ran across
the campus toward the lights.  There was the buzzing of excited
voices—the front walk seemed thronged with students.  What could have
happened?  Nancy Jane felt an awful premonition of disaster.  Of course
it was the cream.  Piny must have left her post and some of the boys
carried it off.

“Is that you, Nancy Jane?”  It was Mallie’s voice.  “The cake’s
gone—every scrap!  Some one rapped on the door and Piny went out; it was
the boys with the cream, and while they were talking some one tore the
screen and jumped in the side window and took every smitch of cake off
the table.  Piny’s rushing ’round like a hornet and vows she’ll find out
who did it before she sleeps a wink to-night.  But I don’t believe she
can; it’s either eaten up or hidden by this time.”

Nancy Jane listened in dismay.  All their lovely frosted cake gone!  She
ran into the room looking for Piny—somehow she wanted to hear the whole
story from her lips.

But among the babel of voices Piny’s could not be heard.  She had
disappeared completely and did not hear Martin’s angry comment.  “I
shouldn’t wonder if she had hidden it herself; she’d think that was a
great joke.”

“Hush, Martin,” said Talitha, “Piny isn’t mean if she is fond of a joke.”
But Martin’s eyes continued to flash as he walked out into the dark,
around the building, and looked up at the outside stairs.  They were
built more as a fire-escape, but the boys on the upper floor often used
them.  Martin stood in the shadow of the wood-working department and eyed
the row of lighted windows.  A dark object was crouched on the upper step
and as he eyed it intently, it rose and began a noiseless descent.

Martin edged as close as he dared.  It passed the lower window and he
saw, to his utter amazement, that it was Piny Twilliger, who seemed in
great haste to get down.  He intercepted her as she reached the ground.
“What is it, Piny?” he whispered.

“I’ve found them!” she gasped, “and the cake isn’t eaten yet.  Get all
the boys together you can.  Some will have to watch the door of their
room—it’s Seth Laney and that crowd.  You’d better get the Shackley boys
and go up on the outside—that’s the only way you’ll get in.  While the
rest are making an awful racket in the hall to attract their attention,
you can climb in the window.”

“You do beat everything!” exclaimed Martin, quite conscience-smitten to
think he had ever suspected Piny.  “You’re a regular general!  You bet
we’ll get that cake,” and he ran around the building and into the big
front entrance like a shot.

It took only a minute to plan the campaign as outlined by Piny.  There
was an instant siege—within ten minutes an unconditional surrender—and
the cake was saved.  Borne down in triumph by Martin and Abner, they
paused in front of her with a low bow.  “Madam,” they said, “the honour
belongs to you.  Have a piece.”

But Piny laughingly refused to be made a heroine of, and waited until
every one else was served.  She blushed furiously when they toasted her
in lemonade for her presence of mind and courage.  “I reckon hit wan’t
much,” she said, modestly disclaiming all honours.  “I’d promised to
watch things, an’ I wan’t goin’ to be beaten nohow.”

The spread was a great success.  Afterwards, Abner walked back to the
Hall with Gincy and Lalla.  “You helped me a lot,” he assured the latter.
“I worked up all those notes you gave me and they seemed to strike the
nail on the head.  I don’t see how you ever thought of them.”

“That wasn’t anything,” said Lalla, “you had a dozen points a good deal
better than mine.  I’m glad the decision was unanimous for you, though;
it was a bigger honour.”

“I didn’t know you helped Abner,” remarked Gincy as they sat in her room
waiting for the warning bell to ring.  “I’m so proud of him and grateful
to you.  Miss Howard says you do splendidly in your work this term,
Lalla.”

“You always say such nice things,” answered Lalla, evading Gincy’s eye.
“There isn’t another girl in Bentville who has encouraged me the way you
have.  I guess I remember, and—”  She broke off suddenly.  Perhaps after
all she would better tell Gincy the truth about the debate.

Gincy listened, her hard-working hands tightly clasped, and a sinking at
her heart.  It was just plain cheating and the Gooch family had never
done anything like that.  Of course Abner didn’t know or he never would
have used the paper Lalla gave him—that was one comfort.  Then Gincy
thought of Raphael.  Perhaps after all the medal really belonged to him;
but how could she straighten it all out?  Why were there so many tangles
in life, anyhow?

“Gincy,” said Lalla, abruptly changing the subject, “that Mr. Gantley has
come back.  Talitha told me this evening and I forgot to tell you.  The
college folks found him up in that shack on the mountain, and they told
him he’d got to go to work or they’d lock him up, and then they gave him
a job in the garden.  You needn’t worry about the family any more.”

Lalla ran to her room at the sound of the bell, leaving Gincy in a brown
study.  If she told it might get Lalla and Abner into all kinds of
trouble.  Perhaps they would even have the debate all over again with a
new subject, or Abner might have to give up the medal in disgrace.  There
were so many terrible possibilities, Gincy slept little that night.
Early the next morning she arose fully decided on a course of action.
Miss Howard should settle it; she could hardly wait to find her.

The little teacher listened patiently.  “I’ll tell you this evening.
Come to my room at half-past seven; meanwhile don’t worry.”

Somewhat comforted, Gincy went about her work.  Promptly at seven she
presented herself at Miss Howard’s door.  “I just couldn’t wait another
minute,” she said by way of apology.

“You don’t need to,” was the assurance.  “It’s all right.  Professor Ames
says the decision might not have been unanimous, but Abner would have
received the medal anyhow on his main argument.  It isn’t necessary that
anything be said about it except to Lalla.  We want her to cultivate
higher ideas of honour than those she has been used to at home.”

Gincy left the room jubilant; a great burden had rolled off her mind.
She could go to bed with a clear conscience and make up the sleep she had
lost the night before.



XVII
KID SHACKLEY GETS A GLIMPSE OF THE WORLD


THE Shackley cabin stood high and dry above the bed of Goose Creek; for,
while there was nothing to fear from the narrow, trickling stream of
summer, the moody, tempestuous torrent of spring threatened everything
within reach, and Enoch Shackley was a cautious man.

It was ten o’clock, but the flickering of flambeaux, the sound of
hurrying feet over the bare floor of the long living-room, the uneasy
tugging of old Bob at his chain, and a saddled mule in front of the door,
indicated some unusual nocturnal adventure.

Presently, far in the distance could be heard the creak of a jolt wagon
and the sound of voices singing “Sourwood Mountain.”

The cabin door suddenly flew open and Kid Shackley appeared.  He was a
chunky, muscular boy, a worthy successor of his father, when the
blacksmith should grow too old to follow his trade.  “They’re comin’,
mammy!  Good-bye, I’ll tell you and pappy all ’bout hit when I git back.
Looks like a feller kin hear ter Kingdom Come in the night time.”

His place in the doorway was filled by a tall, gaunt figure in a meagre
dress of blue calico, who peered out anxiously after him.  “Ain’t ye
hongry, son?  Whar d’ye reckon ye’ll git yore breakfast?”

“Sam Gooch ’lows we’ll be at Redbird somewhar near the Twilligers—Eli’s
kin.  Likely they’ll want ter go on ’count of Piny.  We’ll get ter the
Branch ’bout sun-up.”

Kid was in the saddle now, facing the newcomers.  The jolt wagon with its
oxen threading along the stony bed of Goose Creek—a lantern hung in front
of the driver—cast long shadows which seemed to multiply like those of a
mysterious moving caravan.  They filled the gorge.

“G’lang, Billy,” and Kid was slowly descending the steep incline to join
the travellers who suddenly halted.

“Come on, come on!” chorused the voices from below.

Kid greeted the half-dozen occupants of the wagon in true mountain
fashion.  “Howdy, Dan Gooch,” to the man guiding the oxen, “you’re here
on time.  I heerd our rooster speakin’ up a spell back.  He reckoned
’twas mornin’ by the clatter.”

“He’d better watch out or Brer Fox’ll get him.  Them pesky varmints tuk
nigh onto twenty little uns fer us last night.  G’lang, Bright!” and the
cracking whip and groaning wagon drowned the greetings of the others.

Kid fell in behind.  There was no possible chance for conversation, so
they sang old English ballads, and “The Old Time Religion,” which Talitha
had taught them.  As they rode along in the damp coolness, Kid watched
the lumbering wagon ahead, full of indistinct figures, with a curious
feeling of something new and strange about to enter his life.

Right and left, the great pine-covered mountains both guarded and
threatened with their looming shapes.  The highest part of the creek bed
made the only passable wagon road, and that was poor enough.  The air was
full of moist odours, and above, the deep blue dome was pierced with
twinkling points of light.

The night wore on until the twinkling lights were lost, and a greyness
settled over the mountain world.  They were travelling northwest, leaving
range after range of the Cumberlands, broken only by the deep gorge of a
river bed, behind them.  Ahead, were the foothills, and beyond, Kid had
never seen.  He only knew from the glowing accounts of Pete, and Isaac,
and Talitha—who had made him promise to come to Bentville—that the Blue
Grass in all its richness lay very near the college.

Leaving the river bed they struck a mountain road which led, at long
intervals, past lonely, unpainted cabins more humble than those in the
small settlement at Goose Creek.  Early as it was, people were astir,
noisily harnessing their mules, or yoking oxen.  Here and there a jaded
saddle-horse or spirited colt was being pressed into service.  They were
all bound for the same place.

“Hit’s like a circus, er buryin’, er baptizin’—” and here words failed
him.  But he remembered Talitha’s description, and tried to imagine how
it would seem to see thousands of people on one level, wooded space.

They had stopped singing now.  A faint, rosy glow was spreading above the
mountains back of them, and glimpses of a great rolling valley came from
the front.  The road ran steeply down, causing the occupants of the wagon
to sway in their chairs.  Dan Gooch plied the brake, vociferating to his
oxen: “Hi thar, Bright!  Steady, Star!  See, yon’s Redbird!”

Sam Coyle straightened an inert figure.  He had been half dozing,
conscious of little except his broken rest.  His journey to Bentville was
prompted by a curiosity which had been growing ever since Abner had won
the medal.  There was a little pricking below the jealousy in his heart
when he thought what a “sorry” father he had been.  Dan Gooch was growing
more enthusiastic every day over “larnin’.”  Sam wondered if it were too
late—here he glanced at his wife’s worn but radiant face.  She was
looking in the direction of Redbird, but he knew that her heart was going
out to Martin and Talitha in Bentville, and that she had nothing to
regret.

Billy and Sudie grew more excited each moment.  “I’m that hongry I could
eat a bear; I hope they’ll have one fer breakfast!” exclaimed the former.

“More like it’ll be a chicken,” laughed Kid as he guided Nick nearer the
wagon.  “I saw Zeb Twilliger in the hen yard a minute ago.”

A lank, high cheek-boned mountaineer came slouching toward the gate as
they drove up.  “Light and hitch,” he commanded hospitably.  “I reckon
yo’re bound fer Bentville.  Piny’s been pesterin’ the life out o’ us ter
come; she sent word agin this week, an’ I ’low ef she’s honin’ fer us,
we’d shore ought ter go.”

“That’s what I told pappy,” interrupted Kid eagerly.  “He and mammy bide
in the Hollow till they’re fair mossy.  Pete and Ike’ll come back plumb
shamed of we-uns.”  And then the boy flushed at what the words implied.

Sam Coyle failed to make his usual sarcastic retort to the thrust at
Goose Creek.  Indeed he was quite amiable to Kid on their way up to the
door of the rather untidy looking cabin.  There was plenty of bacon and
cornbread, with coffee and fresh buttermilk for breakfast.  The chickens
were for their dinner and had been cooked the day before.  “I never count
on eatin’ chicken till I get a holt of the drumstick,” whispered Billy to
Kid, rolling his eyes.

Mrs. Twilliger was large and loud-voiced.  The older children had all
married and left home except Piny.  “We’d planned ter keep her fer a
spell yit, but I don’t reckon nothin’ ever’ll suit her ’round here now
she’s taken ter schoolin’; she air a queer gal.”

“I wouldn’t let hit fret me,” said Mrs. Gooch with unexpected spirit,
“the mountings air needin’ a few idees; I’m glad Gincy’s gittin’ ’em.
I’m plumb wore out with the old ones.  She and Tally’d much better be
larnin’ out o’ books than marryin’ some no ’count chap thet goes r’arin’
’round, shootin’ up things ginerally.”

Mrs. Twilliger bristled up instantly; the description fitted her eldest
son-in-law too closely for her liking.  However, Mrs. Gooch had an
unexpected ally in the master of the house.  “Thet’s my idee; Piny’s
harum-scarum ’nough without gittin’ in with these chaps ’round yere.  We
hev ’nough o’ them fellers in the fambly a’ready.”

Breakfast over, every one hurried to get a good start for the last part
of the journey to Bentville.  The Twilliger outfit was a span of fat
mules and a light wagon.  They took the lead, and the oxen were soon far
behind.

“You’d better push on, Kid,” advised Dan Gooch as the oxen toiled up the
last foothill before reaching the valley.  “Yon’s Bentville—almost in
sight.  Zeb Twilliger will be thar an hour ahead of us.  Nick hez sperit
’nough ter ketch up ter ’em stid of pokin’ ’long so powerful slow.”

Kid took the advice.  As he reached the top of the hill, he reined Nick
in for a moment to look at the panorama of colour which spread below him.
There were fields of corn and hemp threaded with a narrow, silver path of
water.  Beyond the valley, on a little plateau, was the white tower of a
chapel.  The trees were thick, but they could not entirely screen the
angular outlines of the college buildings occupying the highest part of
the little town.

The boy’s heart beat fast.  He had never been more than ten miles away
from home in all his life before.  Somehow the blacksmith’s trade did not
seem so alluring as it had yesterday; perhaps Pete and Isaac were right
after all.  He was proud of them anyhow.

Down, down toward the bridge which crossed Brushy Fork and the Big Hill
Pike with the hard part of the journey behind him, Kid overtook the
Twilligers.  He exchanged a few remarks, then cantered past, and joined
the long procession of vehicles and horsemen, all headed in the same
direction.  This beat a circus, it beat Talitha’s description carefully
recalled from last year.

Kid was beginning to get excited.  He passed team after team with a
cheery hail, and forged straight up the hill.  Nick did not need to be
urged; he galloped directly into the crowd, and then past, only slowing
down on the main street for Kid to gaze with fascinated eyes at the
booths of popcorn, candy, peanuts, and ice cream.  Everywhere were
students spreading their wares in tempting proximity to the passersby.
On all sides signs read: “This Way to the Campus.”  “Visit the Chapel
Tower.”  “See the Industrial Building.”  “Don’t Miss the Homespun Fair!”

Kid looked at everything with eager eyes.  How could he ever see it all
in a day!  So far there were no familiar faces.  Nick plodded along in
the jam of teams quite subdued.  There were lean, spiritless nags drawing
“sorry” buggies, jolt wagons and oxen, mules and more mules.  Kid watched
them all—the black sunbonnets, the over-trimmed hats, the attractive
young faces and those lacking purpose.  Where were Martin, and Abner, and
the rest?  He looked up at the big boarding hall set back in a yard full
of trees.  A throng was pouring out of the side entrance.  They were
singing a rollicking class song which appealed to Kid’s music-loving
heart.  As they came toward him he saw Martin and Isaac leading the
crowd.

Almost at the same instant they discovered him and made a rush forward.
“Hello, Kid, you’re just in time; we’re going over to the Tabernacle this
minute!” exclaimed Isaac.

“Didn’t any one else come?” asked Martin.

“You’ll see later,” Kid assured him with a grin, “but what’ll I do with
Nick?”

They led him into a long, roped driveway which crossed a little rustic
bridge.  There, in the wooded part of the campus, were hundreds of teams
hitched to the trees or eating from the backs of wagons.  In a bag thrown
across the saddle, Kid had brought feed for the mule.  “Here’s a good
place, it’s near the road and shady, too,” said Isaac.  “We’ll come back
after a while and find the rest of the folks.  Now let’s hurry.”

The three boys started toward a huge, unpainted building with a large
sign across the front, “The Tabernacle,” it read.  People were standing
near the two large entrances which were closed.  “We’ll go around; I know
the way,” said Martin.  There were several doors securely locked, but one
was ajar.  The three slipped in.  The room was full of piney odours from
the banked-up platform.  High up behind the seats for the graduates a
dozen or more boys and girls were fastening festoons of flowers above a
solid wall of green.  Kid had never seen anything of the kind before.  He
stared at the sawdust on the floor which muffled their footsteps, at the
semi-circle of raised seats which were soon to be filled with mountain
people, then back again to the hurrying boys and girls in front.

“If there isn’t Kid Shockley!”  It was Abner’s voice.

“Why, hello!” called Pete, turning suddenly.  “Where are the rest of the
folks?”

“Come up here, Kid,” called out Talitha.  “Here’s Gincy and Mallie and
all of the girls.”

In a moment Kid felt as though he had been in Bentville a week.  He was
hailed cordially by all of the Goose Creek people and immediately set to
work breaking branches for trimming, and hanging banners under the
direction of Lalla.  “We’ve got to be awfully quiet,” she whispered.
“It’s only a half-hour before the doors are opened and two of the
graduates have to rehearse yet.”

From his vantage ground above, Kid looked down at the critics on the
front seat and the tall, dark young man who had begun to speak.  What a
contrast the clear, ringing tones were to those of the mountain orators
he had heard.  For a moment he almost forgot to help Lalla and stood, his
arms full of pine branches, listening intently to the oration.

“Hurry, Kid,” reminded Lalla.  “We’ve got to drag this litter out and
just rush over to the chapel to see them form in line; there isn’t a
minute to spare.”

The musical peal of a bell and the rat-tat-tat of a drum decided the
matter.  In less than five minutes the two were crossing the campus in
the rear of a number of stragglers who were hurrying to see the long
procession begin its march.



XVIII
COMMENCEMENT TIME AT BENTVILLE


TALITHA, from her room in the hall, saw the oxen toiling up the hill just
as the chapel bell was ringing.  She had rushed over from the Tabernacle
to dress and get back before the lines were formed.  In fifteen minutes
the bell would begin to toll and the procession start.  Her father and
mother must not miss it.  She opened the door and sped down the corridor
to Gincy’s room.

“Girls,” she called out, pounding on the door insistently, “the folks are
almost here.  Can’t one of you go down and bring them up to my room—your
mother and my mother, Gincy?  The rest can go on; you can tell them where
to hitch.”

Gincy needed no second bidding; she fairly flew downstairs and out of
doors.  At the side gate she stood for a moment and peered into the faces
of the crowd.  Presently she spied the objects of her search.  The big
red ox and the one with the white star on his forehead were coming her
way.  Sudie and Billy waved their hands, her father smiled, and Sam
Coyle’s indolent figure seemed to grow in stature.  Only the two
sunbonneted women on the back seat appeared quiet and indifferent, but
Gincy knew that inwardly they were far from it.

“Talitha saw you from her room,” she said after the first greeting.
“Jump right out and we’ll go up there; she’s rushing to get ready for the
exercises and there are only a few minutes left.”

Gincy hurried them through the crowd and into the dormitory hall, which
was alive with girls greeting friends and showing them around through the
various rooms.  Her mother and Mrs. Coyle were allowed one peep into the
office of the dean, and the big east parlour with its Colonial furniture
and handsome pictures—gifts from wealthy New England people—then they
were whisked upstairs and into Number 45 to receive a warm greeting from
Talitha.

“How do you like it?” she asked, seating them near the open windows.
“You can look all around while Gincy’s hooking my dress.”  Below, were
the long, well-watered rows of the college garden—a wonderful sight to
eyes accustomed to the small, dried-up mountain patch of vegetables.

“’Tis a sightly place,” remarked Mrs. Gooch, her face alive with
interest.

Mrs. Coyle nodded.  “And fraish air kin pass through ter let out all the
odours,” her mind evidently intent on the airy location of the room.
Then she glanced at the white tucked dress lying on the lower berth of
the double-decker.

Her daughter followed the gaze.  “Look at Gincy’s; hers has more tucks.”
Talitha slipped the princess gown over her head, all the while smiling
delightedly at the amazement in the faces of her guests.

They plied her with questions.  How did she get in all those little
pleats?  Who helped her cut and fit it?  Couldn’t they visit the
sewing-room?  To which Talitha responded as eagerly.  “There, I’m almost
ready; we’ll go on the first stroke of the last bell.  After the
exercises we’ll have dinner, and then I’m bound to show you everything on
the grounds.”

“Look out of this window,” said Gincy, pointing to a stretch of trailing
plants on the south side of the house.  “Strawberries!  Aren’t they
splendid?  Father’s got to have some just like them.”

“Abner and Martin have learned a lot about horticulture; they’ll tend to
things,” said Talitha, noticing the look on her mother’s face which
seemed to say as plainly as words: “Your father wouldn’t find time for
anything of the kind.”

At the first stroke of the last bell, the four descended the stairs and
followed the crowd going in the direction of the Tabernacle.  The college
band in bright, new uniforms, was playing a lively air near the chapel
door.  From every direction the people streamed toward it.  A long line
of the faculty and college graduates was being rapidly formed; each of
the latter wearing a band of purple and gold around the left arm.  For
the most part they were simply dressed, but in their bearing one could
detect a vast difference from the raw material that had flocked in to
Commencement.

The little group from back in the hills was only one of many who looked
with proud, expectant eyes toward the future.  It would be a great day
when one of their number stood in that long line waiting for the honours
which were to crown faithful endeavour.  Talitha was glad to discover her
father looking with pleased interest at the young faces so full of
promise.  Her one desire had been to make him see the difference between
those who had had advantages, and the boys and girls, who, without
education, were living dull, cramped lives in the mountains.

Suddenly the lively air changed, and a hundred young voices took up the
refrain: “We march, we march, to victory—”

Mrs. Coyle’s eyes filled as the ranks went sweeping by.  She could hardly
see to follow them, but Talitha’s strong arm supported her, and, heading
the folks from Goose Creek, they filed into the Tabernacle and sat down
with the great crowd who had already assembled.

A great hush followed the prayer.  Gincy watched her father and mother
keenly as the Hallelujah Chorus pealed forth; then she gave Talitha one
quick, triumphant glance.  Their faces were full of wonder and pleasure,
and Sam Coyle’s stolid countenance wore a look of startled interest, the
like of which she had never seen before.

One by one the graduates took their places for the brief time allotted
them.  They spoke in loud, clear voices, but Sam Coyle seemed hardly to
understand, until a dark-haired girl began about “The Land of
Appalachia.”  She gave the history of the mountain people, how, shut back
in the hills, they were behind the rest of the world.  What wonderful
resources were right at hand if they would only wake up and use them.
How education meant changing the home life and giving more to the girls
and boys which would end in a better life for the parents.

The hungry look on Mrs. Coyle’s face fairly devoured the speaker.
Already she was reaping her reward, and visions of Goose Creek, alive to
its sore need of an education, blotted out the great audience around her.
She sat almost motionless throughout the exercises.  Children cried,
people came and went, the band played “Dixie”; it was greeted noisily.
It played again.  This time it was “America,” and a flutter of white
handkerchiefs came from where the teachers sat; then they arose, and
somehow in a minute the crowd from Goose Creek found themselves standing,
too.  Mrs. Coyle’s eyes were moist, and Dan Gooch swallowed a troublesome
lump in his throat.  Billy and Sudie looked awed and timid, yet they
quivered with delight, and Gincy, her arms resting lightly upon their
shoulders, felt the quiver and held them closer.

The crowd poured out and melted into groups which gathered around
well-filled baskets, or ate sandwiches, and bananas, and drank lemonade
at the big stand near the library.  “If we could only invite you over to
the Hall,” said Gincy regretfully.  “We tried to get you in, but Miss
Denman says she can hardly find room for the company at the two new
tables.  Commencement is a great day.”

“I reckon we can do what most of the strangers air doin’—eat our own
vittles; they’ll be plumb spoiled if we don’t,” said Dan Gooch with mock
severity.  “Come on, chil’ren,” to Billy and Sudie.

“Hit beats anythin’ I ever saw!” exclaimed Sam Coyle, ignoring his
neighbour’s last remark.  “I didn’t hone ter come—at fust—that crap in
the south cove needs a powerful lot o’ tendin’, but I ’lowed ’twould be a
pritty day, an’ Tally’d feel mightily disapinted if I didn’t.”

“Of course I would, father,” said Talitha, her eyes fixed on her mother’s
face.  “You’ll not be sorry you came, either, there’s so much to see
after dinner.”  And she started off arm in arm with Gincy, too happy over
her mother’s evident pleasure and her father’s sudden interest to think
of that old excuse—the neglected “crap” in the south cove.

“Hold on,” called Talitha as Kid Shackley came within hailing distance.
“Having a good time?”

“You bet!” was the emphatic response.  “I’ve cut loose and am doin’ hit
by myself.  Seen the folks?  They have the stuff to eat.”

Talitha pointed back to the throng under the oak trees.  “They’ve just
gone.  You’ll catch them before they get fairly started eating if you
hurry.”

“Oh, Tally,” said Gincy as Kid dodged from view behind the crowd of
vehicles, his boyish head held high, “isn’t Commencement just grand!  I’m
so happy over everything—Abner’s new suit, and the folks coming,
and—honey, your daddy thinks Bentville is all right; he’ll never say
another word against it, I know.”

Talitha nodded.  Her face was radiant and she squeezed Gincy’s hand.
“And there’s Kid, he acts so different; just wild over everything here.
I’m sure he’ll be in school next year, too.  That’s the five-minute bell
now; we’ll have to eat fast and get back.  I’m just crazy to see father’s
face when he gets into the Industrial Building.”

“And mother’s when she sees the Homespun Fair; she’ll go wild over the
rugs, I’m sure.”

Back under the trees groups of people were refreshing themselves.  The
sun flecked the broad backs of the oxen feeding from the rear end of the
jolt wagons.  The mules were sleepily warding off the flies.  A few
horses stamped restlessly.  And on each side of the driveway was a mass
of life and colour enveloped in the fragrant air of June.  Under its
dominating spell, the Goose Creek folks sat until the mass of humanity
began to move; only the babies slept, guarded by their mothers.

As though suddenly roused to action, the young people began to walk back
and forth through the wooded space, some aimlessly, others with a
definite objective point in view.  From the chapel tower, the group from
Goose Creek could hear a voice inviting everybody to come up and see the
surrounding country.

“That’s Martin,” said Kid.  “He’s got what he names a megaphone.  I’d
call hit a horn-a whopper.  You kin hear hit a mile, I’ll bet; I’m goin’
up after a spell ter he’p him out—thar come the gals.”

“They’re just pouring into the Homespun Fair,” said Gincy, coming up
breathless.  “We’ve almost run so you wouldn’t get crowded out entirely.
Sudie and Billy’d better come with me and get some lemonade at the stand;
Talitha’s waiting over there for the rest of you.”

“I’d like ter see some kiverlids thet can beat mammy’s,” said Dan Gooch
as they walked briskly along in the direction indicated by Gincy.

“I don’t reckon as how you will,” responded his wife.  “She was hard ter
beat.”

They turned into the arched entrance of a big, brick building and elbowed
through the crowd toward a large room indicated by the guides.  Once
inside, Mrs. Coyle drew a quick breath of pleased astonishment.  Long
tables down the centre of the room were covered with linen squares of
familiar patterns.  There were also rugs and draperies, and innumerable
articles of unique home workmanship.  The walls were hung with
“kiverlids” and quilts of brilliant patterns.  The Rising Sun, Indian
Feather, Fruit Basket, and many others showed to the best advantage in
the well-lighted place.

Sam Coyle found his way to a table covered with splint baskets.  “Look
here,” he said, beckoning to Talitha and pointing to the price-mark on a
medium sized one.  “Seventy-five cents is a heap of money fer thet; I
reckon they won’t sell nary a one.”

But Sam Coyle reckoned in vain, for Talitha showed him the little tag
marked “Sold” tied to the opposite side of the handle; her eyes sparkling
at his look of amazement.  “I used ter make toler’ble fair ones myself,
years back,” he said, examining it carefully.

Mrs. Gooch dropped into a splint-bottomed rocker in front of a gorgeous
red and green quilt.  She was studying the price-mark and the pattern.
Ten dollars seemed an immense amount of money to pay for it.  She
beckoned to Mrs. Coyle, who was fingering the linen.  “What d’ye think o’
thet?” she asked.

Her neighbour stepped back slowly, viewing the quilt from all points of
vantage.  “Yourn is a heap purtier, but this hez more fine stitches,” she
remarked at last judicially.

“Mebbe hit hez, but hit tuk more fine pieces fer ourn, an’ I’d be proud
ter git half as much.”  Mrs. Gooch was thinking of Sudie and Billy, who
would soon be ready for Bentville.  Here was an unexpected source of
revenue.

One by one Mrs. Coyle examined the squares of linen with a triumphant
feeling.  All day her heart had been sinking at the thought of her
ignorance.  She had been bewildered and overwhelmed by this new world of
opportunity and knowledge.  Now she experienced a quick return of
self-respect as she heard well-dressed visitors exclaim in admiration,
and saw the ready sale of the linen.  She not only knew the patterns, but
had worked out some original designs of her own.  Here was surely a way
to earn more money.

It was fully twenty minutes later when Gincy came panting in without
Sudie and Billy.  “They’ve found Pete and Isaac,” she announced, “and
they’re going to the top of the tower.  They’ll meet us somewhere near
the Industrial Building.  Come on.”

It was only a short distance, but every step was blocked by groups of
visitors, lemonade stands, amateur photographers, venders of patent
medicines.  A wrinkled, toothless old woman sat close to the path smoking
her pipe.  She wore a black calico dress and sunbonnet, and black wool
mitts.  Gincy drew a long breath and thought, for the first time in her
life, what it meant to grow old like that.

“Here we are!  There’s an awful crowd, but we’ll manage to see things
somehow.”  People were pushing their way into the long building and
filling the rooms on either side of the hall.  “Let’s show them the
cooking first,” said Talitha as Gincy started for the sewing department.

Mrs. Coyle edged her way to the glass cases in the centre of the room.
They were filled with all kinds of eatables—salads, delicious looking
rolls, pies, puddings, and chicken done to a turn.  It took some time to
convince her that everything was cooked in those queer-looking boxes.
“Fireless cookers!” she exclaimed incredulously.  “It do beat everythin’,
Tally, how they do things here.”

“I can make one for you, mother, if Martin can’t find time; it may not
look just like the ones here, but it will work splendidly, I know.”

“Shore?” asked her mother doubtfully.  “I’d be proud ter hev one.”

The men folks seemed equally interested.  They gazed at the canned fruit
in the open cupboards, at the model table set for four, and were quite
unwilling to leave when the boys came to take them to the Sloyd room.

The hall upstairs was crowded, there were so many things to see in the
different rooms.  Mrs. Gooch kept an eye out for Billy and Sudie, who had
not put in an appearance.

“They’ll be in the Sloyd room, I know,” Talitha assured her.  “The
Shackley boys fairly live there; Abner and Martin wouldn’t be much better
if they weren’t taking extra studies.”

The crowd in the room was beginning to thin a little.  A few were still
buying bookracks, paper knives, and other small things which were for
sale.

Sam Coyle could hardly believe that the students had made everything on
exhibition.  He halted in front of a big, leather-covered chair.  “Look
here, you-all,” he said, sinking down with characteristic indolence.
“Hit sets powerful easy, too.  Thet’s what I’d hone ter do if I war
young; we wouldn’t live like we do now, but thet’s plumb past mendin’.”

“No, it isn’t, father, if you’ll let Martin help you,” Talitha answered
decidedly.  “I always knew you were handy with tools, and we’re going to
have some—there’s Sudie now, Mrs. Gooch; they’re all over behind that
stack of things in the corner.  Come on.”

“Look, mammy!” announced Billy as he pointed to a small oak table,
polished to an astonishing perfection.  “Abner did hit, and here’s
somethin’ else,” dragging her farther along toward a wide, hanging shelf.
“Hit’s fer books, and I’m ter have one eend.”  He fairly danced with
happiness, and Mrs. Gooch turned to her husband and son a face full of
pride.  Not one sacrifice which she had made for her children seemed
worth remembering now.

It was Mrs. Coyle’s turn for self-gratification when Martin showed her
his book-case and seat which were to be carried home in the jolt wagon.
“I’ve some books to put into it, too.  Professor Johns is going to let me
take charge of the travelling library in a week or two, then we’ll have
some good times at Goose Creek.  Nights, after supper is over, we’ll take
turns reading.  Tally and I have it all planned out.”

The Shackley boys were not to be outdone by Martin and Abner.  They
showed their planting pins, clock case, and umbrella rack with much
pride.  Kid examined everything carefully for the fourth or fifth time.
“I’m comin’ ter Bentville next year,” he announced decidedly.  “I’m goin’
ter work in the wood-working department; they want more boys.”

Dan Gooch patted the broad back.  “See you do, son.  Your pappy kin git
plenty of husky fellers fer blacksmithin’ ’thout usin’ brains, and you’ve
got ’em.”  Kid blushed and eyed Sam Coyle furtively, waiting for the
accustomed gibes, but they did not come.  The latter individual was
apparently engrossed in a mental estimation of the height of the huge
standpipe in plain sight of the back windows.

“If thar ain’t the Twilligers!” he said, looking around suddenly.  “I’d
an idee they’d drapped off’n the fur aidge of the yarth ’fore this, and
had a notion ter begin sarchin’ fer ’em.”

Piny, radiant in a new pink lawn, with her father and mother in tow, bore
directly down upon them.

“Here you are!” she exclaimed.  “I reckoned the boys had tolled you over
this way for the wind-up.  Look here, pappy, what do you think of this,
and this?” pointing to the various pieces of furniture.

Zeb Twilliger stared open-mouthed to the unconcealed delight of the young
folks.  It took some time to convince him and his wife that the boys had
really done the work.  “Wal, wal, I swan!” he ejaculated at last, peering
down at each article critically.

“Ye’d better give ’em a lift gittin’ hit home,” suggested Mrs. Twilliger
generously, and Zeb agreed.

A white cloud of dust hovered over the long procession which filed
homeward, back to the hills.  Talitha waved good-bye as, one by one, the
college buildings were lost to sight, and Kid—with Abner behind him in
the saddle—voiced the general sentiment of the crowd when he turned to
shout cheerily:

“Hurrah fer Bentville and the Goose Creek folks who’ll be thar next
year!”

                                * * * * *

                 PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA





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