In the Clouds


CONSCIENCE, the great moral inquisitor, whose sessions are held in secret, whose absolute justice is untempered by mercy, whose processes are unrelated and superior to the laws of the land, makes manifest its decrees only at such long intervals that we are prone to consider their results exceptional. Although its measures are invariably meted, they are seldom so plainly set forth as in Peter Rood’s fate. Alethea, listening to ’Gustus Tom’s story, saw in aghast dismay how he had been pursued by those terrible potencies of the right which he had sought to disregard. Many things that had been vague were made distinct. She understood suddenly the meaning of the strange words he had spoken at the camp-meeting, when his spiritual struggles had nearly betrayed him. She divined the mingled fear and self-reproach, and at the same time the cowardly gratulation he experienced because of his fancied security, when entrapped to serve on the jury. She remembered with a new comprehension his joyous excitement when it appeared that the idiot boy had not been drowned, and the pallid anguish on his face as the lawyer dexterously reversed the probabilities. It might seem that he had expiated his deed, but the extremest penalties were not abated. He had been a pillar in the church, renowned for a certain insistent piety, and zealous to foster good repute among men ; and this last possession that he held dear upon earth, which may be maintained even by a dead man, who can carry naught out of the world, was wrested from him.

The truth which he had so feared, which he had so labored to hide, over which the grave had seemed to close, was at last brought to light by very simple means.

On the eventful morning, the miller’s erratic grandson, awaking early, he knew not why, had sought to utilize the occurrence by robbing an owl’s nest in the hollow of a tree beside the mill. The day had not yet dawned, and he hoped that one or the other of the great birds would be away on its nocturnal foragings, so that he might the more easily secure the owlet, which he had long wanted for a pet. It was very still, ’Gustus Tom said. The frogs by the water had ceased their croaking ; the katydids were silenced long ago ; he heard only the surging monotone of the gleaming cascade falling over the natural dam. He had climbed the tree to the lower limbs, and had perched on one of them to rest for a moment, when there broke upon the air the sound of the galloping of a horse far away, approaching at a tremendous rate of speed. Presently he came into view, his head stretched forward, his coat flecked with foam, his rider plying both heel and whip.

This rider was Peter Rood, whom ’Gustus Tom knew well, as he often came to the mill. He dismounted hastily, close to the water-side. He walked uncertainly, even pausing sometimes to steady himself by holding to the supports of the old mill. He was evidently very drunk, and thus it appeared to ’Gustus Tom the less surprising that he should drag two or three fence rails stranded on the margin of the river, — which was high and full of floating rubbish, — and laboriously place them in a position to cumber the wheel ; an empty barrel, too, he found and put to this use. some poles, driftwood. He paused after a careful survey of his work, and held up his head, looking away toward the east, as if he were listening. It seemed to ’Gustus Tom, all veiled by the dew-tipped chestnut leaves, that Rood was strangely intent of purpose for a drunken man. He heard, long before the boy did, some monition of approach in the distance, for he caught eagerly at his horse’s bridle. Yet he was drunk enough to find difficulty in mounting. As the animal swerved, he was obliged to grasp the stirrup with one hand in order to steady it, so that he could put his foot in it; then he flung his right leg over the saddle, and away he went along the grassy margin of the road, — noiseless, swift, dark, like some black shadow, some noxious exhalation of the night.

'Gustus Tom explained at this point, with tears and many anxious twistings of the button on his shirt front, — which was quite useless, the correlative button-hole being torn out, — that he understood so little of what all this meant at the time that it seemed to him the only important point involved was to remember to tell his grandfather early in the day of Pete Rood’s drunken freak of clogging the mill-wheel. He did not call out and make his presence known, because he was frightened by the man’s strange conduct and his terrible look. As he still sat meditating on the limb of the tree, the sound which had aroused Peter Rood again broke upon the silence. Once more the regular thud of hoofs, &emdsah; of many hoofs. The pace was far slower than the rattling gallop at which Pete Rood had come. There were several men in the group that presently appeared. ‘Gustus Tom knew some of them, he could n’t help knowing Mink Lorey from tar off; he looked so wild and gamesome ; the moonlight was on his face and all his hair was flying. He knew Mink well. Mink it was who climbed the timbers of the race and lifted the gate. And once more ’Gustus Tom, with quivering lips and twisting the futile buttou on his shirt front, began to exculpate himself. He did not understand what Mink was about to do until the gate was lifted and the water surged through. The wheel, turning with its curiously contrived clogs, jerked spasmodically, gave sudden violent wrenches, finally breaking and crashing against the shanty, that itself tottered and careened and fell. He heard Tad scream, for the idiot, having incurred the miller’s displeasure during the day, had been locked in the mill, supperless, to sleep. ‘Gustus Tom did not see the boy in the river, because of the breaking timbers, the clouds of dust and flour and meal, and the splashing of the water. The men, evidently frightened, galloped away, Mink among them. For the house had been alarmed by the noise ; old Griff ran out, wringing his hands and crying aloud, first for the loss of the mill, then for the fate of the idiot. The others of the family came, too. ’Gustus Tom easily slipped down unobserved from the tree, in the midst of the excitement, and no one ever was aware, except sister Eudory, that he knew more than the rest. Lately she had noticed that he was afraid of the dark and would not sit alone; and she had begun to say so much of this that he was alarmed lest she might excite the suspicions of others. And so, thinking she would keep his secret, — he would have divulged it to no one else, — he told her that he was afraid of Peter Rood, who was dead, and who perhaps had found out in the other world that he knew the secret, and would come and haunt him to make sure that he did not reveal it. And at the renewal of these ghastly terrors ’Gustus Tom bent his head upon his arm, and began to sob afresh.

“ Why didn’t ye tell at fust, ’Gustus Tom ? asked Alethea, her mind futilely reviewing the complications that circumstance had woven about Mink Lorey.

’Gustus Tom lifted his head, a gleam of this world’s acumen shining through the tears in his eyes.

“ He ‘d hev walloped the life out’n me, ef I hed told. He kem nigh every day ter the mill afterward, whenst they war a-s’archin’ fur the body. An’ his eyes looked so black an’ mad an’ cur - ous whenst he cut ’em round at me, I ’lowed he knowed what I knowed. An’ I war afeard o’ him.

Aunt Dely could not be altogether repressed. “Waal, ’Gustus Tom, ye air a bad aig,” she remarked, politely.

“ Ye ter know all that whenst ye war down thar at Shaftesville, along o’ yer gran’dad, an’ seen them men a-talkin’ by the yard-medjure, an’ a-cavortin’ ’bout in the court, ez prideful ez ef thar brains war ez nimble ez thar tongues; an’ ye look at ’em try Mink fur bustin down the mill an’ drowndin’ Tad, an ye ter know ez Pete Rood done it, — an ye say nuthin’! ”

“ Waal,” said ’Gustus Tom, sorely beset, “ he war a-settin’ thar in the cheer ; he could hev told hisself.”

“ Why n’t ye tell arter he drapped dead?” suggested the politic Mrs. Purvine.

The boy winced at the recollection. “ He looked so awful! ” he said, putting up his hand to his eyes, as if to shut out the image presented. “ I war ’feared he ‘d harnt me.”

It occurred to sister Eudora that this investigation was degenerating into a persecution of ’Gustus Tom. She had looked from one to the other in grave excitement and with a flushing face, as she stood on the hearth, the breath from the fire waving her flaxen hair, hanging upon her shoulders.

Suddenly, with an accession of color, she stepped across the broad, ill-joined stones, and, fixing a threatening eye on Mrs. Purviue’s moon-face, she lifted her fat hand, and retributively smote that lady on the knee.

’Gustus Tom had never manifested any special desire to suit his own conduct to a high standard of deportment, but he appeared to entertain the most sedulous solicitude concerning sister Eudory’s manners, and to be jealous that she should be esteemed the pink of juvenile propriety. His scandal at the present lapse was very great. It expressed itself in such unequivocal phrase, such energetic shakings of his tow-head, which seemed communicated, with diminished rigor, however, to her plump little shoulders, — for he went through all the motions of discipline, — that Mrs. Purvine, beaming with injudicious laughter, was forced to interfere. Her indulgence did not serve to reassure sister Eudory, who stood dismayed at the fullness of fraternal displeasure. She presently put her hands before her eyes, although she did not shed tears, and thus she was led toward the door, to be taken home as unfit for polite society. Mrs. Purvine hurried after her, carrying the roasted egg — which was very hot, in its shell — between two chips, and further pressing upon her a present of a sweetpotato, an ear of pop-corn, and a young kitten, ‘all of which sister Eudory, regardless of the animate and the inanimate, the hot and the cold, carried together in her apron. The affront was but a slight matter to aunt Dely, whose lenient temperament precluded her from viewing it as an enormity ; but as the brother and sister went away in humiliation, one could well guess that sister Eudora would be a woman grown before she would be allowed to contemplate with indifference the dreadful day when she “ hit Mis’ Purvine.”

In whatever manner it might have seemed judicious to make use, in Mink’s interest, of the disclosures of Peter Rood’s agency in the destruction of the mill, anything like caution, or reserve, or secrecy was rendered impossible by the circumstance that it was Mrs. Purvine who shared in the discovery of the fact. For weeks no one passed the house, going or coming on the winding road, whom she did not descry through the worldly glass windows, — which thus demonstrated an additional justification for their existence, — and whom she did not hail with a loud outcry from the unsteady flight of steps, and bring to a not unwilling pause as she hurried out to the fence, with her glib tongue full of words. There was no weather too cold for the indulgence of this gossip. Sometimes aunt Dely would merely fling her apron over her head, if the exigency suggested haste ; or she would hood herself with her shawl, like a cowled friar, and stand in the snow, defiant of the rigors of the temperature. More often, however, the passer-by would suffer himself to be persuaded to come in and sit down by aunt Dely’s fire, and discuss with her all the details so tardily elicited. Pete Rood’s death, considered as a judgment upon him, was a favorite point of contemplation, offering that symmetrical exposition of cause and effect, sin and retribution, peculiarly edifying to the obdurate in heart and acceptable to the literalist in religion. So much was said on this subject at the store, and the blacksmith-shop, and the saw-mill,— those places where the mountain cronies most congregated, — that it came to the ear of Rood’s relatives with all the added poignancy of comment. They indignantly maintained that only the ingenuity of malice could feign to attach any special meaning to the moment or manner of his death, for it was widely known that he had for years suffered from a serious affection of the heart; they stigmatized the whole story as an effort to blacken his name in order to clear Mink Lorey. Their attitude and sentiment enlisted a certain sympathy, and it was only when they were not of the company that the counterreplication was made that it was a supremely significant moment when Peter Rood’s doom fell upon him, and that it behoves those who sit in the shadow of death to be not easily diverted from the true interpretation of the darkling signs of the wrath of God.

It was a scene of pathetic interest when his aged mother, resolved upon forcing a recantation, came herself to the millers home. A dark, withered, white-haired crone she was, with a hooked nose and a keen, fierce, intent eye that suggested strength of mind and purpose defying age and ailments. She shrewdly questioned the boy, and sought to involve him in discrepancies and to elicit some admission that the story had been prompted by Alethea Sayles. Her dark-browed sons stood about the great white-covered ox-wagon, their bemired boots drawn high over their trousers, their broad hats pulled down to their lowering eyes, maintaining a sedulous silence. So strong a family resemblance existed between them and the dead man that ’Gustus Tom was greatly perturbed as from time to time he glanced at them; looking away instantly with a resolution to see them no more, and yet again with a morbid fascination turning his eyes to meet theirs, before whose dark and solemn anger he quailed. Now and then the sobs would burst from him. and he would lay his head on his arm against the rails, as he cowered in the fence corner; for the old woman would not enter the miller’s house, but stood upon the frozen crust of snow by the roadside, and looked upon the denuded site of the mill, and the turbulent river, and the austere bleak bluffs on the opposite bank. The miller appeared in his door, himself the impersonation of winter, his snowy locks and beard falling about his rugged face ; the desolate little shanty was plainly to he seen among the naked and writhen boughs of the orchard, that bore only snow and icicles in the stead of the bloom and fruit they had known.

Cross-questioning, threats, all the devices of suggestion, availed naught. The terrible story once told, ’Gustus Tom found the pluck somehow to stand by it without other support than the uncognizant affection of sister Eudory ; for the miller’s mind was darkening daily, and the shallow Sophy cared for none of it. She came to the door once to lead the old man within from the piercing wind, and she lingered for a moment, her golden hair flying in the blast; her placid blue eyes and superficial smile underwent no change when the old woman turned away, baffled and hopeless and stricken.

“ I ’lowed my son war dead,” she said to the cluster of gossips who had assisted at the colloquy. She shook her head as she leaned upon her stick, and hobbled down across the frozen ruts of the road toward the wagon. " I ‘lowed my son war dead, an’ I mourned him. But I said the words of a fool, for he war alive; the best part of him, his good name, war lef’ ter me. An’ now he air beset, an’ druv, an’ run down ter death, — fur ye air now a-murderin’ of him in takin’ his good name. Lemme know, neighbors,” — she turned, with her hand upon the wheel, — “ when the deed unfairly done, so ez I kin gin myself ter mournin’ my son, fur then he ’ll be plumb dead.”

The two dark-browed brothers said never a word ; the slow oxen started ; the wagon moved creaking down the road toward the snowy mountains, with their whitened slopes and black trees, and gray shadows.

The public sentiment excited in favor of Mink Lorey by the developments during his trial, and which had expressed itself in the riot and attempt at a rescue, had sustained a rebuff consequent upon his assault on Judge Gwinnan. Nevertheless, it is difficult to nullify a popular prepossession, and the discovery that the young mountaineer had been the victim of the machinations of the true criminal, that he had been placed in jeopardy, had suffered many months’ imprisonment, had still longer duress in prospect, served to justify him in some sort, and reinstated him in the feelings of the people, never very logical. All the details of the trial were canvassed anew with reviviscent interest. Now that the veil of mystery was torn from it. there seemed still other inculpations involved. It would appear to imply some gross negligence, some intentional spite, some grotesque perversion of justice, that the criminal should have been one of the jury impaneled to try an innocent man. The fact itself was shocking. It was significant that only through accident had it come to light, and it augured grievous insecurity of liberty, life, and property.

Mr. Harshaw, who shortly returned to Shaftesville to spend the Christmas vacation, was not slow to note the direction and progress of popular favor. In the state of his feelings toward Gwinnan, he had no great impulse to combat the position taken by the unlearned that it was a grave dereliction on the part of the court that Pete Rood had been admitted to the panel. Why should he expound the theory of judicial challenges, the conclusiveness of the voir dire, in instances of general eligibility? He truly believed that in the incarceration of the jury Gwinnan had sacrificed the interests of the defense and a favorable verdict, and as he felt much reminiscent interest in the details of his cases he could listen with all the relish of mental affirmation to the denunciations of the stranger judge, who was often profanely apostrophized and warned to show his head no more in Cherokee County.

“ Somebody besides Mink Lorey ‘ll try ter beat some sense inter it, ef he do,” said Bylor. The bitterness of the affront offered to the jury by their imprisonment had grown more poignant as time went on, for while the general excitement had gradually subsided, the fact remained. Not one of the unlucky panel, venturing from time to time into town with peltry, or game, or produce for sale, could escape the gibes and laughter of retrospective ridicule. The dignity of the interests involved had ceased to be as a shield to them. Even the acrimony excited by their failure to agree had yielded to light sarcasm and jocose scorn,—not ill-natured, perhaps, but sufficiently nettling to proud and sensitive men whom accident had succeeded in immuring behind the bars. Everywhere the subject lurked in ambuscade, — in the stores, at the tavern, on the streets. The jailer was the most hospitable man alive. “ When ’ll ye kem an’ take pot-luck agin, gentlemen ? ” he would hail them in chance encounters. “ My door air easy ter open—from the outside! Or he would call out, with a roguish twinkle in his brown eyes, “ How’s ’rithmetic up in the cove? ” in allusion to the unlucky thirteen on the panel. It seemed to them that humiliation was their portion, and the festive and gala occasion known as “goin’ ter town,” which had hitherto been so replete with excitement and interest, and was in the nature of a tour and a recompense of toil, had resolved itself into a series of mortifications.

Harshaw’s law-office proved in some sort a refuge to the coterie, as it had always been more or less a resort. It had some of the functions of a club-house, and its frequenters felt hardly less at home than its proprietor. He was a man difficult to be taken amiss by his country friends. He had a sonorous, hearty greeting for whoever came. If he were at work, half a dozen sprawling fellows talking about his fireside were no hindrance to the flow of his thought, the scratch of his pen, or the chase of some elusive bit of legal game through the pages of a law-book. More often he bore a part in the conversation. The bare floor defied the red clay mire that came in with the heavy boots; the broken bricks in the hearth were not more unsightly in his eyes for the stains of tobacco juice. The high mantelpiece was ornamented by a box of tobacco, a can of kerosene, and an untrimmed lamp that asserted its presence in unctuous odors. There were some of the heavy books of his profession in a case, and many more lying in piles on the floor, near the walls, defenseless against the borrower. There was a window on one side of the office, and another opening upon the street. At this a face was often applied, with a pair of hands held above the eyes to shut out the light, that the passer-by might scan the interior, perchance to see if some one sought were within ; perchance merely to regale an idle curiosity. The unique proceeding occasioned no comment and gave no offense. An open door showed an inner apartment, where consultations were held when too important for the ear of the indiscriminate groups in the main office, and where there was a lounge, on which he slept during court week, or when political business was too brisk to admit of his driving out to his home on his farm, some miles from the town.

“Well,” said Harshaw, tilting his chair back upon its hind legs, until it creaked and quaked with the weight, and clasping both hands behind his yellow head, “ I wonder you ain’t willing for Gwinnan to be a fool, considering what Mink got for beating his skull into a different shape.”

The county boasted no weekly newspaper, and without it the news was a laggard. Ben Doaks looked up with interest ; Bylor paused expectant. Jerry Brice, too, was present, for there was an unusual number from the coves in town to-day,—the Saturday before Christmas, — to sell and purchase many commodities designed to promote Christmas cheer ; to see also the little display the village made, to profit by the crowd and the event.

The hickory logs crackled on the hearth, above the gleaming coals, and the white and yellow flames were broadly flaring ; great beds of gray ashes lay beneath, for they were seldom removed; the murmurous monotone of the fire filled the pause.

“ Yes, sir,” said Harshaw, taking his pipe from his lips and knocking the ashes from the bowl, “ Mink got a sentence for twenty years in the penitentiary, for assault with intent to commit murder.”

There was dead silence. The clay pipe that Jerry Price was smoking fell from his hands unheeded, and broke into fragments on the hearth. This knowledge affected the group more than the news of Mink’s death might have done. That at least was uncertain. The mind flags and fails to follow in the journey to the unknown the spirit that has quitted the familiar flesh, — the entity for which it has merely a name, an impression, an illusion of acquaintance. But this sordid, definite fact, this measure of desolation bounded by four walls, this hopeless rage, this mental revulsion from ignominy, all were of mortal experience and easily imagined.

“ Yes, sir,” resumed Harshaw; his florid face was grave, but firm. He had the air of a man whose feelings have been schooled to calmness, but who protests against a fact. “ I did what I could for Mink. I could n’t defend him myself, — could n’t leave the interests of my constituents in the House for the sake of an individual ; but I put the case in Jerome Maupert’s hands. Maupert could n’t help it. Mink was locking the door of the state prison and doublelocking it every time he lifted his hand to strike Gwinnan. A judge, yon know,” — he rolled his eyes significantly at the group, — “a judge is a mighty big man, and Mink is just a poor mountain boy.”

He stuck his pipe into his mouth again, and vigorously puffed it into a glow.

“ The crowd in court cheered when the jury gave their verdict,” he said.

The group looked at each other with quick, offended glances ; then lapsed into gazing at the fire and contemplating the circumstances.

“ ’Pears like ez nobody kin git even with Gwinnan right handy,” said Bylor. “ Ef’t war n’t fur makin’ bad wuss fur Mink, I’d wisht ez he hed killed him.”

“ Shucks ! ” said Harshaw scornfully. “ Gwinnan thinks he’s mighty popular with the people. He’s always doing the humbugging and bamboozling dodge. Just before I left Glaston the attorneygeneral —Kenbigh, ye know— showed me a letter from Judge Gwinnan asking him to take no notice of Mink’s assault, as he was n’t willing to prosecute.”

He brought his chair down with a thump on its fore-legs, and looked about the circle, his roseate plump face full of bantering sarcasm.

“What war his notion fur that?” demanded Doaks, slowly possessing himself of the facts.

“ To impose on the people — so good — so lenient ” —

“ Mighty lenient, sure ! ” interpolated Bylor. He rubbed his wrist mechanically ; he never was quite sure that he had not been shackled.

“ Letter dated just about two weeks after Mink was sentenced,” Harshaw sneered.

“ Waal, who war the prosecutor, then ? ” demanded Jerry Price, at a loss.

“ Why, of course they did n’t wait for a prosecutor. Mink was tried on a presentment by the grand jury; and as the criminal court came on right straight, Kenbigh just hurried him through. He’s a regular blood-hound, Kenbigh is.”

There was silence for a few moments. Several of the sticks of wood had burned in two and fallen apart, and were sending up dull columns of smoke, some of which puffed into the room, — an old trick of the chimney’s, if the testimony of the blackened ceiling be admitted.

“ As if,” cried Harshaw, suddenly uncrossing and crossing his legs, reversing their position, “ Gwinnan, of all the men in the world, would n’t know and think of that! But Kenbigh seemed to take it all in, —seemed to think ‘t was Gwinnan’s modesty. He showed me the answer he wrote to the judge.” Harshaw cast up his eyes meditatively to the ceiling, as if seeking to recall the words. “ He begged to express his admiration of Judge Gwinnan’s modesty in thinking that so serious an injury to one of the most brilliant ornaments of the state judiciary could fail to be summarily punished, or would need his personal interposition as prosecutor.”

They all listened with an absent air, as if the refusal to hear the compliments nullified them.

Harshaw gave a short, satirical laugh, showing his strong white teeth.

“ I wisht ter Gawd that thar Gwinnan wanted ter go ter Congress, or sech, ez would fling him ’fore the vote o’ Cher’kee County, — it be in the same congressional deestric’ whar he hails from, — I’d show him,” said Bylor, shaking his head with the savagery of supposititious revenge, and in the full delusion of unbridled power characteristic of the free and independent American unit. " I ‘d show him.”

“ I reckon everybody don’t feel like we-uns do,” said Jerry Price, who, although he smarted under the unmerited disgrace he had experienced at the hands of Gwinnan, had submitted to it as a judicial necessity. Its rankling pangs were manifested only when, chancing to meet the foreman, Jerry would ask, in a manner charged with interest and an affectation of mystery, whether he had had his tongue measured yet, and how many joints it had been ascertained to have.

“ They ’re a little more disgruntled over in Kildeer than you are here,” Harshaw declared. “You’d allow the court-room was a distric’ school, if you could know the way he domineers over there. I always look to see the learned counsel put his finger in his mouth and whine when Gwinnan gets on the rampage.”

“ Why, look-a-hyar, Mr, Harshaw,” demanded Bylor, “ do you-uns call this a free country ? Ain’t thar no way o’ stoppin’ him off? Goin’ ter hev five mo’ years o’ him on the bench ? ”

“ He ’ll be impeached some day, mark my words,” Harshaw declared; and then he fell to eying the smoking fire with slow, sullen, vengeful speculation, and for the rest of the day he was not such jovial company as his general repute for good fellowship might seem to promise.

In this interval of leisure which the holidays afforded him, both as legislator and lawyer, Harshaw devoted himself to furthering his political prospects and strengthening his hold upon the predilections of the people. He was a man of many mental and moral phases : he sang loud and long at the “ watch meeting,” at the cross-roads church; he attended the rural merry-makings ; there was eggnog at his house on Christmas Day for all who came that way, and the flavor of his hospitality was not impaired by his shaking hands with his guests, and violently promising to vote for them at the next election, each enlightened and independent citizen being himself not quite clear as to who was the prospective candidate: but the whole episode faded from recollection with the day, mingling with the vain phantasmagoria of wild elation, and subsequent drowsiness, and retributive headache, and physical repentance. He went on a camp hunt with a party of roaring blades. The weather in the changeful Southern winter had turned singularly fine and dry ; the air had all the crisp buoyancy of autumn and all the freshness of spring; fires drowsed on hearths ; doors stood ajar; the sunshine was pervasive, warm, languorous, imbued with pensive vernal illusions. One might wonder to see the silent sere grass ; were there indeed no whirring songs, no skittering points of light, hovering in mazy tangles, and telling the joy that existence might prove to the tiniest insect life? Birds? The trees were empty, but one must look to make sure : only the rising quail from the clumps of withered weeds ; only the infrequent cry of the wild turkey down the bare, sunny vistas of the woods. The shadows of the deciduous trees were spare and linear, distinctly traced on the brown ground or upon the gray rock. In these fine curves and strokes of dendritic scripture a graceful sylvan idyl might perchance be deciphered by the curious. But the dense masses of laurel and the darkling company of pines cloaked themselves in their encompassing gloom, in these bright days as ever, and in their shade the dank smell and the depressing chill attested the winter solstice. Vague shimmers hung about the mountains, blue in the distance, garnet and brown and black close at hand. The terrible heights and unexplored depths, the vast sheer, precipitous descents, the titanic cliffs, the breadth, the muscle, the tremendous velocity, of the torrents hurling down the gorges, gave august impressions of space unknown to the redundant richness of the summer woods. There were vistas of incomparable amplitude, as still, with the somnolent sunshine and the sparse shadow, as if they were some luminous effect on a canvas, painted in dark and light browns, graduated through the tints of the sere leaf in ascendant transition to the pale gold of the sunbeams ; affording, despite the paucity of detail, an ecstasy to the sense of color.

it was a moment of preëminent consequence to Harshaw one day, when far up a stately avenue a deer appeared with the suddenness of an illusion, yet giving so complete a realization of its presence that the very fullness and splendor of its surprised eyes left their impression. Then, as in some jugglery of the senses, the animal with consummate grace and lightness, vanished, bounding through the laurel.

The wind was adverse and the hounds did not readily catch the scent. A few tentative, melancholy yelps of uncertainty arose; then a deep, musical, bell-like bay, another, and the pack opened with a great swelling, oscillating cry, that the mountains echoed as with a thousand voices, and in a vast compass of tone. The mounted men, hallooing to one another, dashed off in different directions, making through the woods toward various “stands” which the deer might be expected to pass. Now and then the horn sounded to recall the stragglers,— inexpressibly stirring tones, launched from crag to crag, from height to height; far-away ravines repeated the summons with a fine and delicate mystery of resonance, rendered elusive and idealized, till one might believe that never yet did such sound waves float from the prosaic cow-horn of the mountaineer.

Harshaw’s pursuits had not been those of a Nimrod, and although a good horseman and a fair marksman he had found himself at a grievous disadvantage with others of the party who were mountaineers and crack shots. Stimulated by rivalry, they had achieved prodigies in instances of quickness of sight and unerring aim in unpropitious, almost impossible circumstances. They had already had some good sport, in which he had acquitted himself creditably enough ; but his inexperience and ignorance of the topography of the country had given him some occasion to perceive that without more familiarity with the localities he could not fully enjoy a camp hunt. He was not surprised when, becoming involved in an almost impenetrable tangle of the laurel, he lost his companions, who got over the broken ground with an amazing swiftness, divination of direction, and quickness of resource. He drew rein upon emerging, and listened to the baying hounds : now loud, now faint and far away ; now sharply yelping for the lost trail, and again lifting the exultant, bell-like cry of bated triumph. He despaired of rejoining his friends till the deer was lost or killed, and, remembering the pluck of the personnel of the diversion, of the deer, the hounds, and the mountaineers, he reflected that this result might not soon ensue.

The echoes infinitely confused the sounds, giving no reliable suggestion of the direction which the hunt was taking. He pushed on for a time, — a long time, his watch told him,—in the complete silence of the wintry woods. He began to experience a dull growing apprehensiveness. He had no faint approximative knowledge concerning the locality ; there was no path, not even a herder’s trail. He could himself establish no landmark by which he might be guided. There was a lavish repetitiousness in the scene: grand as it might be with scarred cliffs and sudden chasms and stupendous trees, it was presented anew with prolific magnificence forty yards further, and ride as he might he seemed to make no progress. As time passed, there recurred to his recollection instances — rare, it is true, but as uninviting to the imagination as infrequent — of men who have been lost in these fastnesses, trained woodsmen, herders, the familiars of the wild nature into whose penetralia even they had ventured too far. A handful of bleaching bones might tell the story, or perhaps the mysterious disappearance would be explained by much circling of birds of prey. Mr. Harshaw felt a sudden violent appreciation of the methods and interests and affluent attractiveness of the civilized world. He could not sufficiently condemn his folly in venturing out of its beaten track; in leaving, even for a space, the things he loved for the things he cared not for. The scene was inexpressibly repugnant to him; the woods closed him in so frowningly; his mind recoiled from the stern, Gorgon-like faces of the crags on every hand. The wintry sunlight was reddening ; he could see only the zenith through the dense forest, and upon its limited section were interposed many interlacing outlines of the bare boughs; nevertheless, he was aware that the sky was clouding. The wind did not stir; the woods were appallingly still; there was no sound of horn or hounds ; the chase had gone like a phantom hunt, — suddenly evoked, as suddenly disappearing.


As Harshaw paused to let his mare breathe, an abrupt sound smote his ear ; he lifted his head to listen. It was the fitful clank of a cow-bell—and again ; nearer than he had thought at first. He experienced infinite relief. The prosaic jangling had a welcome significance. It intimated the vicinity of some dwelling-place, for at this season the cattle are not at large in the withered pasturage of the mountain. He heard the bushes cracking at a little distance ; he pressed his reluctant mare in that direction, through a briery tangle, over the trunks of fallen trees, pausing now and then to listen to the sound. Suddenly there was a great thwack; a thick human tongue stammered a curse. There was something strange and repellent and unnatural in the mouthing tones. The next moment he understood. The laurel gave way into the open aisles of the brown woods; a red suffusion of the sunset lingered among the dark boles on the high slopes, contending with, rather than illuminating, the lucent yellow tints on the dead leaves. A red cow shambled along at a clumsy run amid the pervasive duskiness, that was rather felt than seen ; and driving her with a long hickory sprout was a tall mountain boy. who turned his head at the sound of the hoofs behind him, showing under the bent and drooping brim of an old white hat a pale and flabby face, on which pitiless nature had fixed the stamp of denied intelligence. He gazed, with open mouth and starting eyes, at the horseman ; then, regardless of Harshaw’s friendly hail, he dropped his stick, and with a strange, unearthly howl he fled along the woodland ways like a frightened deer. He plunged into the laurel, and was out of sight in a moment.

Harshaw began to drive the cow along, hoping she would take the familiar barn-yard way. He could hardly gauge his relief when, almost immediately, he saw before him a rail fence ; and yet he had an accession of irritation because of the folly, the futility, of the whole mishap. His consciousness was so schooled to the exactions of political life that he experienced the sort of grotesque shame as if the misadventure were already added to the capital of a political opponent expert in the art of ridicule.

No one was visible in the little clearing. Smoke, however, was curling briskly from the chimney of a log hut; there was a barn of poles hard by, evidently well filled. Harshaw hallooed, with no response save that his hearty voice roused the dogs ; they came trooping from under the house and from out of it, sharply barking, although two or three, still drowsy, paused to stretch themselves to a surprising length and to yawn with a vast dental display. The cow went in by the way, doubtless, that she had come out, stepping over the fence, where a number of rails had been thrown off. Harshaw, thinking it as well to encounter the dogs within the inclosure as without, followed her example, the mare resisting slightly, and stumbling over those of the rails that lay upon the ground. He saw that his approach had occasioned a commotion within the house ; there was a vague flutter of skirts elusively appearing and disappearing. Across the doorway, low down, were nailed wooden slats, doubtless to restrain the excursiveness of a small child, who suddenly thrust his head over them, and was instantly snatched back by some invisible hand.

Nevertheless, the inhabitants were presently induced to hold a parley, perhaps because of Harshaw’s manifest determination to force an entrance, despite the dogs that leaped and yelped about his stirrup irons, their vocal efforts more shrilly keyed as his whip descended among them ; for although he held his revolver cocked, he was too shrewd a politician to present its muzzle to a mountaineer’s dog save in the direst emergency. A woman suddenly appeared at the door. She looked at him with so keen and doubtful a gaze, with a gravity so forbidding, a silence so significant, that, accustomed as he was to the hospitable greeting and smile of welcome that graces the threshold of every home of the region, however humble, he lost for the moment his ready assurance. When he told her of his plight, she received the statement with the chilling silence of incredulity. Nevertheless, upon his request for shelter for the night and a guide the next morning, she did not refuse, as he had feared, but told him in a spiritless way to ’light and hitch, and that the boy would look after his horse. He strode up to the house, the dogs, suddenly all very friendly, at his heels, and stepped over the barricade that restrained the adventurous juvenile who was now hanging upon it, looking with eager interest at the world of the dooryard, which was a very wide world to him. He followed Harshaw to his seat by the fire, eying with great persistence his boots and his spurs. The latter exerted upon him special fascinations, and he presently stooped down and applied a small inquisitive finger to the rowel. The interior was not unlike the other homes of the region,— two high beds, a ladder ascending to a chamber in the roof, a rude table, a spinning-wheel, at which a gaunt, half-grown girl was working as industriously as if oblivious of the stranger’s presence. The woman sat with her arms folded, her eyes on the fire, pondering deeply. A young man came to the back door, glanced in, and turned away.

When the woman fixed her grave, wide, prominent eyes upon Harshaw, there was something in their expression so unnerving that his refuge seemed hardly more comfortable than the savage wilderness without. But he said bluffly to himself that he had not stumped Kildeer and Cherokee for nothing ; he rallied his traditions as a politician. Surely, he reflected, he who could so beguile other men’s adherents to vote for him could win his way to a simple woman’s friendship, if he tried.

He looked at the child and smiled, and said that the boy was " mighty peart.” He dropped into the vernacular as a conscious concession to the habits of the “ plain people.”

The woman’s fierce face was transfigured. “ That’s a true word, stranger,” she said, beamingly. “ Philetus ain’t three year old yit, air he, Sereny ? ”

The girl in an abrupt, piping way confirmed the marvel, and Harshaw looked again at Philetus, who had no sort of hesitancy in seeking to take off the spurs and convert them to his own use.

His mother went on : “ Philetus, though, ain’t nigh so pretty ez three others I hed ez died. Yes, sir, we-uns lived up higher than this, on a mounting over vunder thar.”

“ You have n’t been living here long ? ” said Harshaw, merely by way of making talk.

The woman instantly resumed her stony, impassive manner. “ ’T ain’t long nor short by some folkses’ medjure,” she said equivocally. She looked watchfully at him from time to time. An old gray cat that sat on the warm stones in the corner of the hearth, purring, and feigning to lift now one of her forepaws and then the other, eyed him with a round, yellow, somnolent stare, as if she too had a charge to keep him under surveillance. She got up suddenly, arching her back, to affectionately rub against the great booted feet of the idiot, who came and leaned on the chimney and gazed solemnly at the stranger. He was overgrown and overfat, and had a big, puffy, important face and a cavalier, arrogant manner.

Don’ wanter,” he said, in his thick, mouthing utterance, as the woman, once more seeming flustered and anxious, told him to take the basket and fill it with chips.

The whir of the spinning-wheel was suddenly silent, and the girl, who officiated as a sort of echo of her mother’s words, a reflection of her actions, came and emptied the basket of the few bits of bark within it, and handed it to him.

“ G’ way, Sereny,” he said good-naturedly, but declining the duty.

The unfathomable dispensation of idiocy, its irreconcilability with mundane theories of divine justice or mercy, its presentment at once repellent and grotesque, has its morbid effect when confronted with sanity. Harshaw was a man neither of delicate instincts nor any subtle endowment, but the contemplation of the great vacant face grimacing at him, coupled with the singular influences of his reception, required a recollection of the anguished anxiety he had experienced, the sound of the rising wind without, the sight of the whirling dead leaves, the gathering gloom of the cloudy dusk, to reconcile him to the conditions of his refuge.

“ Well, my man,” he said, looking at the boy, “ what’s your name ? ”

The idiot grinned importantly. “ Tad,” he stuttered thickly, — “ Tad Simpkins. What’s yourn ? ”

Harshaw sat for a moment in stunned surprise. Then all the discomforts of the situation vanished before the triumphs of this discovery. This—this great, well-fed, hearty creature, the forlorn, maltreated idiot depicted by the evidence in Mink Lorey’s trial; this, the pitiable boy drowned in the mill like a rat in a trap ; this, the elusive spectre of the attorney-general’s science ! The next moment it occurred to him that he must use special caution here ; the motives that had led these people to harbor the idiot, if not to conceal him, were suspicious, and favored his theory in the trial — which he had adopted more from the poverty of his resources than a full credulity — that the retirement of the boy reputed drowned was prompted by a deep-seated enmity to Mink Lorey.

He turned to the woman, all his normal faculties on the alert.

“Well, that’s a fact, Mrs. Simpkins; your son ain’t plumb bright,— I can see that, — but he’s right there. I ought to tell you my name.”

“ Mine ain’t Simpkins,” said the woman suddenly, responding quickly to his clever touch, “ an’ Tad thar ain’t my son.” She was mixing corn-meal batter for bread in a wooden bowl; she stirred it energetically as she went on with a sort of partisan acrimony : “ Mebbe he ain’t bright, ez ye call it, but I ain’t never hearn o’ Tad doin’ a mean thing yit,— not ter the chill’n, nor dogs, nor cats, nor nuthin’. He may be lackin’ in the head, but he ain’t lackin’ in the heart; thar’s whar’s the complaint o’ mos’ folks ez ain’t idjits. I dunno which air held gifted in the sight o’ the Lord. ’T ain’t in human wisdom ter say. Tad ’ll make a better show at the jedgmint day ‘n many folks ez ’low they hev hed thar senses through life.”

“Ain’t no idjit, nuther,” protested Tad, gruffly.

“ Well, my name’s Harshaw, — Bob Harshaw.” The guest leaned forward, with his elbows on his knees, looking steadily at her as he talked. She held her head on one side, listening eagerly, almost laboriously, sedulous that she should lose no point, showing how sharp had been her desire for him to give an account of himself. As he noticed this, he was more than ever sure that the household had some cause to fear the law. His vanity received a slight shock in the self-evident fact that she had never before heard of him. “ I’m a lawyer from Shaftesville. I defended Mink Lorey when he was tried for drowning that chap.”

“ Flung me in the water! ” exclaimed Tad parenthetically.

“ I hearn ’bout that,” said the woman. She had knelt on the broad hearth-stone, depositing the bowl beside her while she made up the pones in her hands, tossing them from one palm to the other, then placing them upon the hoe which smoked upon the hot live coals drawn out from the bed of the fire. “ I war glad the rescuers tuk him out,” she continued, “ fur Tad ain’t drownded.”

“ The rescuers did n’t take him out,” said Harsliaw, sharply.

The woman looked up, surprised ; her hand shook a little with the bread in it ; she was evidently capable of appreciating the weight of responsibility.

“ Why, Lethe Sayles told me so,” she said.

“ Lethe Sayles ! ” he exclaimed, perplexed. Her name instantly recalled Gwinnan — incongruous association of ideas ! —and Mink’s persuasion of Gwinnan’s enmity toward him for her sake. Had she known the judge before? he wondered. Had Mink some foundation for his jealousy beyond the disasters of the trial ? Somehow, this false representation to the people who knew that the lad was not drowned had, he thought, an undeveloped significance in view of that fact. Harshaw resolved that there should be no question of the substantiality of Tad’s apparition when the case should come up to be tried anew. He forgot himself for the moment. “I’ll produce you in open court, my fine fellow,” he said, swaggering to his feet and striking the boy on his fat shoulder. “ That’s what I’m bound for ! ”

He had naught in mind save the details of his case. He regarded the incident only as the symmetrical justification of his conduct of the evidence and his evolution of the theory of the crime. He did not pause to reflect on its slight and ineffective value to Mink himself, to whom the complete result could only mean that a few years were not to be added to the long term of imprisonment which already impended for him. He did not even notice that the woman rose suddenly from her knees, went toward the door, and beckoned in the burly young fellow who had appeared on the porch at intervals, covertly surveying the scene within.

“ Naw, sir,” she exclaimed, with an agitated, accelerated method of speech and a fierce eye, “ ye won’t! Ye ain’t a-goin’ ter kem in hyar an’ spy us out an’ perduce us in court, fur yer profit an’ our destruction.” Harshaw turned and gazed at her, with a flushing, indignant face and an amazement that knew no bounds. The young man had his rifle in his hand; she herself was taking down a gun which lay in a rack above the fireplace. “Ye war n’t axed ter kem in hyar, but it be our say-so ez ter when ye go out.”

The surprise of it overpowered him for a moment; he stood blankly staring at them. The next, he realized that his pistols were in the holster with his saddle, and his gun that he had placed beside the door had been removed. He was not, however, deficient in physical courage.

“ Take care how you attempt to detain me !” he blustered.

She laughed in return, shrilly, mirthlessly ; as he looked at her he was sure that she would not hesitate to draw the trigger that her long, lean fingers, bedaubed with the corn-meal batter, already touched.

The idiot put his hands before his eyes, with a hoarse, wheezing moan of horror and remonstrance. The girl looked on with the tranquillity of sanity.

Harshaw could rely only on the superiority of his own intellectual endowments.

“ Why, look here, madam,” he said bluffly, rallying his wits, “ what do you want of me, — to stay here ? I have got no notion of going, I assure you ; not till daybreak, anyhow.”

He flung himself into his chair, and looked up at her with an exasperating composure, as if relegating to her all the jeopardy of the initiative and the prerogatives of action.

She quailed before this unexpected submission. She could have had no doubts as to her course had he shown fight ; the tall and subsidiary young man also wore an air of sheepish defeat. Harshaw stifled his questions ; he gave no sign of the anger that seethed within him, the haunting fear that would not down. He stretched out his booted legs to the warm fire, feeling in the very capacity of motion, in the endowment of sensation, a relief, an appreciated value in sheer life which is the common sequence of escape, and remembering that by this time, but for his quick expedient, he might be in case to never move again. He thrust his broad hat far back on his yellow head, put his hands into his pockets, and looked in his confident fashion about his surroundings, while the woman lowered her weapon, and presently went mechanically about her preparations for supper, evidently attended by some lurking regret for her precipitancy. She looked askance at him now and then, and after a time ventured upon a question.

“Ye say yer name be Harshaw?” she asked.

“ I said so,” Harshaw replied. So alert were her suspicions that she fancied significance in the simple phrase. She exchanged a quick glance with the young man, who appeared at once lowering and beset with doubt.

Even Tad apprehended the meaning in the look.

“ Ye know my name, ’pears like, better ’n yourn,” he grinned, with a guttural, foolish laugh.

As the boy spoke Harshaw was impressed anew with the change in his fate : the creature of cuffs and curses, who had been the very derision of perverse circumstances, was a marvelous contrast to the well-fed, fat, kindly-tended lad who leered good-humoredly from where he lounged against the great chimney. Yet despite this attestation of benignant impulses harbored here, there was the rifle, which had had such importunate concern for his attention, standing ready at the woman’s right hand.

“ Well, madam,” said the politician, “ I have been about right smart in the mountains, and I have partaken of the cheer around many a hearth-stone, but this is the first time I have ever been invited to look down the muzzle of a rifle.”

She winced visibly at this reflection upon her hospitality, as she knelt on the hearth, slipping the knife under the baking pones on the hoe, and turning them with a dextrous flip.

“ I would n’t have believed it,” continued Harshaw. “ I have never heard of anybody but law-breakers giving themselves to such practices, — moonshiners and the like.”

The woman suddenly lifted her face, her dismayed jaw falling at the significant word. Harshaw could have laughed aloud. The simple little riddle was guessed. And yet the situation was all the graver for him. There was a step outside ; the door opened for only a narrow space ; darkness had fallen ; the room was illumined by the flaring flames darting up the chimney ; he knew that he was scrutinized sharply from without, and now and then he heard the sound of voices in low conference.

It was well, doubtless, that the secret petitions he preferred to the powers of the earth and the air for the utter confusion and the eternal destruction of the mountain hunters who had made so sliglit and ineffective a search for him

— or perhaps none at all — could not be realized, or his misfortune might have engendered far-reaching and divergent calamity, disproportionate in all eyes save his own.

He knew now that he had stumbled upon a gang of moonshiners, and had been taken for a revenue spy, or a straggler from a raiding party. How to escape with this impression paramount, or indeed how to escape at all, was a question that bristled with portentous dubitation. He was content to pretermit it in the guarded watchfulness that absorbed his every faculty, as one by one the men strode in to the number of four or five, each casting upon him a keen look, supplementing the survey through the door.

One of them he suddenly recognized, “I have seen you before,” he said, with a jolly intonation. “ This is Sam Marvin, ain’t it ? ”

The owner of the name was discomfited when confronted with it, and, seeing this, Harshaw was sorry that he had, with the politician’s instinct, made a point of remembering it.

He could with difficulty eat, despite the fatigues of the day, but he sat down among them, with a hearty show of appetite and with his wonted bluff manner. His sharpened attention took cognizance of many details which under ordinary circumstances he would not have noticed. He could have sworn to every one of the rough faces — and right welcome would have been the opportunity

— grouped about the table. The men ate in a business-like, capacious fashion, especially one lean, lank fellow, with unkempt black hair and a thin face, the chin decorated with what is known as a goatee. Notwithstanding their roughness they were not altogether unkind.

Philetus could not complain of disregarded pleas as he begged from chair to chair, under the firm impression that there was something choice in the menu not included in the contents of the pan placed for him on a bench, which should serve as table, while he was to be seated on an inverted noggin. And the dogs spent the time of the family meal alternately in a petrified expectancy and sudden elastic bounds to catch the bits flung liberally over the shoulders.

When the repast, conducted chiefly in silence, was concluded, the group reassembled about the hearth-stone, the pipes were lighted, and conversation again became practicable. It required some strong control of his faculties to bear himself as an honored guest instead of a suspected informer, trapped, but Harshaw managed to support much of his wonted manner as he lighted a pipe that he had in his pocket and pulled it into a strong glow. Nevertheless, he was beset with a realization of how easy it would be for them to rid themselves of him without a possibility that his fate would excite suspicion. As he looked into the flaming coals of the fire, his quickened imagination could picture a man lying lifeless at the foot of great crags, — lying lifeless where he had fallen, but with an averted face,—and another vista in which his horse, with an empty saddle, with pistols in the holster, cropped the grass on a slope. He thought of it often afterward,— the man lying lifeless beneath the crags, with a face he did not see! This was the doom that persistently forced itself upon him as most obviously, most insistently, his ; naught else could so readily release these desperadoes from the peril that threatened them. He began to remember various stories of Marvin’s old encounters with the “ revenuers : ” on one occasion shots had been exchanged ; one or more of the posse had been killed ; he could not remember accurately, but he thought this was accredited to Jeb Peake, — “ hongry Jeb,” who could, according to the popular account of him, “ chaw up five men of his weight at a mouthful an’ beg for more.” They had much at stake ; perhaps, as they looked into the fire with that slow, ruminative gaze, they also saw a picture, — a halter wavering in the wind. The room alternately flared and faded as the flames rose and fell. It bore traces of renovation : the door was new, the floor patched. He made a rough guess that Marvin had taken possession of one of the long-deserted huts seen at intervals in the mountains. Raindrops presently pattered on the roof; then ceased, as if waiting breathlessly for some mandate; and again a fusillade; and anon torrents. The melancholy elements in the wild wastes without seemed not uncheerful companions in lieu of the saturnine group about the fire. Alack, for liberty, the familiar thing! Harshaw sought to reassure himself, noting their kindness to the idiot and to the little child. Philetus climbed over their feet, and made demands, of a frequency appalling to a mind less repetitious than the one encased in the downy yellow head, to be ridden on their great miry boots.

Suddenly Marvin spoke: “ My wife ’lows ez how ye defended Mink Lorey when he war tried.”

“I did,” said Harshaw jauntily.

“ Waal, did this hyar gal, — this Lethe Sayles, ez lives yander at the t’other eend o’ the county, — did she up an’ tell in court ennything ’bout me ? ”

Harshaw was not a truthful man for conscience’ sake ; but in the course of his practice he had had occasion to remark the inherent capacity of the truth for prevailing. He was far too acute to prevaricate.

“ Yes,” he said, sticking two fingers into his vest pocket and swinging the leg he had crossed over the other, “ she swore that you were moonshining and told her so ; she had told me as much before. We wanted to prove that Mink was drunk, and had somewhere to get whiskey besides the bonded still. We could n’t get in all the evidence, though.”

The fire snapped and sparkled and flared. The pendent sponge-like masses of soot clinging to the chimney continually wavered in the strong current of air ; now and then fire was communicated to it, and a dull emblazonment of sparks would trace some mysterious characters, dying out when half realized.

Harshaw could but see that his frankness had produced its impression : there was a troublous cast in all the stolid countenances around the hearth ; but he was glad to be regarded as a problem as well as a danger.

“ In the name o’ Gawd,” exclaimed Marvin irritably, “ why did ye kem hyar ter this hyar place fur ? Ain’t Shaftesville big enough ter hold ye ? ”

Harshaw repeated the account of himself which he had already given to Mrs. Marvin. “ I ain’t ready to go yet,” he remarked. “ But when your wife thought I wanted to, by George, she got down the gun and said I should n’t.”

“ Ye know too much,” suddenly put in “ hongry Jeb,” who looked as cadaverous and as melancholy as his name might imply.

“ I know enough to shut my mouth,” said Harshaw bluffly, “ and keep it shut.”

He looked eagerly at “ hongry Jeb,” as he threw this out tentatively.

The mountaineer’s face was distinct in the firelight, and he gazed at the leaping flames instead of at the speaker.

“ I ain’t able ter afford ter resk it,” said " hongry Jeb.” He made a sudden pass across his jugular toward his left ear, exclaiming “ Tchisk ! ” — the whites of his eyes and the double row of his shining teeth showing as he smiled horribly on Harshaw.

The lawyer turned sick. How could he hope that these moonshiners would jeopardize aught for his sake ? He could trust only to himself.

There was some drinking as the evening wore on ; the monotony of this proceeding was beguiled by the fact that one of the dogs took a drop occasionally, at the instance of the youngest of the moonshiners — a mere boy of twenty — and Marvin’s son Mose. It. was desired that he should extend his fitness as a boon companion by the use of a pipe, but he revolted at fire and distrusted smoke, and displayed much power of shrillness when snatched by the ears and cuffed. He was finally kicked out, to crawl wlieezingly under the house, debarred from the hearth-stone which unaccomplished dogs who were not even bibulous, much less smokers, were privileged to enjoy.

But the evening was not convivial. The moonshiners brooded silently as they drank and smoked. Among them, unmolested, Tad sat. He had never been so happy as now, poor fellow. He goggled about and laughed to himself till he fell asleep, his grotesque head dropping to one side, his mouth open, snoring prosperously.

Marvin glanced at him presently. Then he looked at Harshaw, showing his long tobacco-stained teeth as he laughed. “I hearn ye hev all been in a mighty tucker ter know what hed kem o’ Tad. down yander in the flat-woods.” he said. He sat in a slouching posture as he smoked, his legs crossed, his shoulders bent, his head thrust forward. “ Lethe Sayles tole me ’bout’n it.”

“ Old Griff has nearly lost his mind about Tad,” said Harshaw.

“ What ? ” demanded Marvin, with an affectation of deep surprise. “ Can’t he find nuthin’ else ter cuss an’ beat ? ”

“ Pore — old — man ! ” exclaimed “ hongry Jeb.” wagging his black head, and showing the gleaming whites of his eyes in his characteristic sidelong glance.

“ Well, I expect Tad has been a good deal better off along of you,” Harshaw admitted. “ But that don’t make it right for you to have kidnapped him.”

“ Lord knows, we-uns did n’t want him,” said Marvin. “ We-uns ain’t gifted in goadin’ sech a critter ez him, like old man Griff. We can’t git work enough out’n him ter make him wuth the stealin’. He jes’ kem up ter whar we-uns lived, one night. I reckon’t war jes a few nights arter he war flung in the water. He looked mighty peaked.”

“ An’ I never see a critter so hongry,” put in the pullet boldly from her seat in the chimney corner, her long yellow feet dangling beneath her short homespun skirt, her hair, which was luxuriant, gathered in a sort of top-knot on her head, “ ’thout’t war Jeb thar.” She gave a cackling laugh of elation at this thrust, as she knitted off her needle in a manner that might make one wonder to see a pullet so deft.

Jeb good-naturedly grinned, and Marvin went on : —

“ We reckoned he war a spy for the revenuers, kase they’lowed we would n’t s’pect sech ez him, sent ter find out edzac’ly whar the place be, an’ we war ’feared ter let him go back.”

Harshaw winced.

“ So we jes’ kerried him off along o’ we-uns. Mebbe ’t war n’t right, but folkses sech ez we - uns air can’t be choosers.”

“Naw, sir ; else we can’t be folkses,” said “ hongry Jeb.”

How could he grin, with that lean, ghastly countenance, whenever he contemplated his terrible jeopardy !

“ Ef Tad hed been well keered fur at home I ’d hev felt wuss, but ’t would n’t hev made no differ,” said Marvin ; “ but I know’d I could do better by him ’n old Griff.”

“Mink’s in jail now for drowning him,” said Harshaw, surprised at his own boldness.

“ Waal, stranger,” said Marvin satirically, evidently going to make the best of it, “ the court air gin over ter makin’ mistakes, an’ we pay taxes ter support a S’preme Court ter make some mo’.

Man’s human, arter all; he can’t be trested ter turn from everything else, an’ take arter the right an’ jestice. He ain ‘t like my gran dad’s dog, ez would always leave the scent of deer or b’ar an trail Injun. That dog knowed what war expected of him, an’ he done it. But man’s human. Man’s nuthin’ but human.”

“ Ho ! ho ! ho ! ” laughed “ hongry Jeb,” in appreciative elation.

A pause ensued.

The sound of the rain on the roof was intermitted at intervals, and the wind lifted a desolate voice in the solitudes. The sense of the vast wilderness without, measureless, trackless, infinitely melancholy, preyed upon the consciousness. Perhaps Harshaw, in the quick transition from the artificial life of the world, was more susceptible to the influence, more easily abashed, confronted with the grave, austere, and august presence of Nature. He had a fleeting remembrance of life in the city: the gush of soft light; the mingled sound of music and the babbling of the fountain in the rotunda of the hotel ; the Capitol building, seen sometimes through morning fogs and contending sunshine, isolated in the air above the roofs of the surrounding town, like a fine mirage, some castellated illusion ; and again its white limestone walls ponderously imposed, every line definite, upon the deep blue midday sky.

That other sphere of his existence seemed for the moment more real to him ; he had a reluctance as of awakening from a trance, as he gazed at the unkempt circle of mountaineers about the dying fire.

They were beginning to yawn heavily now. Marvin was laying the chunks together and covering them with ashes, to keep the coals till morning. Harshaw looked on meditatively. Once, as he lifted his eyes, he became aware that they were all covertly watching him with curiosity and speculation.

Charles Egbert Craddock.