The Despot of Broomsedge Cove


THE energy of a persecutor for conscience’ sake is a robust endowment. Untrammeled by the sense of any personal shortcomings, by flouting doubts, or extenuations, or denials ; devoid of compassion or sympathy; insistent, blind, unreasoning, it affords unique opportunity for the display of consistency.

Teck Jepson, as he strode along the red clay road toward the purple slopes, to meet a dun-colored mist rollyig down from the black cloud, bore a strong heart within him, and the testimony of a conscience essentially his own. He encountered rebuke, or doubt, or remonstrance of those trudging on in company by the stalwart declaration. “ Ez the Lord bade me, so I did act! ” His manner implied a fierce elation, and his tall massive figure, his free strong gait, his erect head, were conspicuous in the midst of his more slouching companions. He flung the sonorous phrase over his shoulder, heedless whether it were answered or how, and often the interlocutor was silenced by this assumption of a subtly delegated authority. But there sometimes ensued excited argument among the portion of the congregation that chanced to go his way. In it he took no part; now and again he lifted his voice in the final chant of the meeting, “ Grace is mine ; I hev got my sheer ! ” joining the refrain, as it was sung afar off amongst groups wending northward or southward. Sometimes only a whitecovered wagon was visible in the distance on some high slope, rounding a precipitous curve at the verge, and then disappearing in the dense foliage; and again the presence of the dispersing worshipers was merely intimated by the song rising faint and far from the deep coverts of the mountain, mournfully ringing from crag to crag, and now and then accentuated by a crash of thunder.

Often the comments assumed the third person, so imperatively did his manner imply the withdrawal of his attention :

“ I say, ‘ Ez the Lord bid him ’ ! Shucks ! The Lord ain’t studyin’ ’bout Teck Jepson,” declared Joe Bassett, one of the horsemen who had watched the scene from the defile. " The Lord hev fairly furgot the critter war ever created,” he continued, thus arrogating also intimations from above. “ An’ hyar’s Teck jes’ a-settin’ back an’ purtendin’ ter be gifted with wisdom from on high ! ”

He swung his feet in a disparaging manner in and out of his stirrup-irons, and rolled about in the saddle with an air burlesquing exaggerated importance. He was a tall, good-looking fellow, with a bronzed face and “ sandy ” hair and beard.

But when Parson Donnard rode by, the respect for Teck Jepson’s views was enhanced by the reminder of the pastor’s acquiescence. He cast his excited light gray eye upon Jepson. The young man glanced up, — not with the manner of seeking countenance or needing support; it was with the confident expectation of approval that he said, “ Ez the Lord bade me, so I did act.”

“ Follow the voice of the Lord, brother,” responded the parson’s deep bass tones, and so he rode on.

He had an ascetic visage, with a hollow temple, a thin hooked nose, a long, firm upper lip that closed with a fixed expression upon the lower, which was equally as thin and straight. He was keen on doctrinal points, and had severely elective theories as to admission through the golden gates. In fact, heaven would be somewhat deserted and sorry as a final resort, if Parson Donnard’s passport were essential. He drove a hard bargain in salvation, and there were those of his flock who feebly sought to resign themselves to damnation, so imminent did it seem under his ministration. He rode a big gray mule, that lifted him high above his people, amongst whom he deftly threaded in and out. His progress was unlike that of the oxwagons ; the burly teams, with their swinging gait to and fro, preëmpted the narrow spaces of the red clay road, and caused the passing pedestrians to betake themselves to the heavily gullied slopes on either side. Numbers of dogs, partakers in all mountain excursions, trotted demurely along under the wagon-beds, or followed close at their masters’ heels. More than once a terrible forked blue flash of lightning rent the clouds, with a simultaneous detonation, significant and sinister. Some tree on the heights had been struck, but only the horses were restive. The women sat, unmarking, crowding the wagons, mostly elderly, slouching forms ; here and there one, young and slender, rode behind her cavalier on horseback. The rain fell in large, heavy drops, then ceased, and the primitive procession wended its way, under the black clouds, toward the great steeps. It had gradually dwindled, and the horsemen were far in advance of the others, when Teck Jepson turned into the ragged little bridle-path that led up the mountain. He could distinguish, as he stood here alone, far along the curves of the road, figures whose guise was in some way familiar to him, and thus to be recognized. They suggested to him pilgrims and strangers journeying through life in forlorn and mournful ways. The mountains towered above. A great bird, buffeted by the rising wind, was fain to drift with it across the black sky. The river’s reflection of a flash of lightning, writhing through the valley, betokened the presence of the watercourse among the timber; and suddenly the clouds began visibly to descend, shred by the wind, and here and there slanting into myriads of lines of rain. A hesitating drop fell upon the wide-brim of his hat, and then the world was lost in the tumultuous downpour. Naught could be seen but its serried, dun-colored fibres, save when the lightning flashed through, revealing vague shapes of looming mountain, or rock, or forest. In one of these illuminations, Teck Jepson, walking blindly on, came to a place that he knew. He turned aside, and climbed up a rugged slope toward a great sandstone cliff which jutted out so far that the space beneath must be dry, he knew, while the wind held to its mood. He kept along the sides of the sheer sandstone walls for a time, helping himself by the outspread boughs of the laurel or a pendent vine, till suddenly a great rift in the rock was at hand. He could see its jagged edge beetling high above; could hear amidst the stormy dash of the rain the slow patter of the drops, falling by twos and threes from the eaves-like ledges. A tall bull-weed, that swung, purple and burly, among the rocks, was dry, and as he turned into the great niche, chill and white and sheltered, he saw that others had sought the refuge before him. In the depths within a child was standing, and a young girl sat upon a ledge, a great dog beside her, her elbow on her knee, her chin in her hand, her eyes fixed on the surging storm without. His cursory glance made sure only that she was a stranger. He hardly noted her start of Surprise, her intent gaze suddenly fixed upon him, her murmured response to his succinct salutation, “ Howdy ! ” He sank down on a boulder that lay near the entrance, leaning back against the ledge above, his elbow on it, and supporting his head in his hand. He, too, looked out at the rain surging before the entrance, enveloping all the world in its dim and misty veil; the bull-weed swayed ; the drops that fell on the stone flooring, as it were, of the cleft rebounded slightly, sprang into the air, shimmered with a steely glitter, and fell once more. The roar, the aggregated accentuation of every separate drop, was a distinct sound, easily distinguishable from the swirling frenzy of the wind, or the mutter of the thunder, or the turmoil of the noisy rills summoned into existence by the conformation of the slopes. He was as still as if he were careen in stone ; a massive figure, not devoid of a certain grace, despite the rude garb of jeans, the high boots drawn over his knee, the drooping curves of his broad hat. The girl had not again glanced toward him, but remained motionless, her chin in her hand, her elbow on her knee, absorbed in her own thoughts. The manners of the ancient hound were less reflective. He sat upright on the ledge, looked out at the chill descent of the rain, elusively commingling with the mist, now and again swayed hither and thither by the pervasive gusts ; and as he looked he shivered in every limb, and yawned shrilly and loudly. The inarticulate tones reverberated from the roof of the contracted space, and were repeated unmusically from wall to wall. Teck Jepson glanced up at the disaffected animal, who found this detention so dull, as the dog once move yawned to an unprecedented capacity, stretching himself to his extremest length, and rasping his long claws on the stones.

“ Hesh up ! ” cried Jepson, in momentary inadvertence.

But the old hound, glad of conversation on any terms, wagged his tail goodhumoredly, and came down off the ledge to lick the stranger’s hand. The girl’s face bore a shade of displeasure, although she made no sign that she had heard. Jepson’s eyes fell upon her again. He sat gazing at her, a slow surprise kindling in his face. She took no heed, but looked out at the null mists and the monotonous rain with eyes that seemed as if they could never be dimmed by aught on earth, so pensively lustrous, so crystal clear, they were. They had long dark lashes, and were of a rich brown color, a tint that was repeated in her curling hair, and suggested to his homely experience the gloss and tone of a chestnut fresh from the burr. It curled backward with a deep undulation, which he called a “ cow-lick,” from a brow smooth and white and broad. She had no color in her cheeks, but her lips were deeply crimson and delicately cut, and there was a fine free line drawn from the lower one, defining the chin and her slender throat. Her dark blue homespun dress draped a tall, lithe figure, and the full skirt afforded sufficient amplitude for the old dog to ensconce himself upon its folds and lie wheezingly down, looking out once more at the rainfall, and then closing his eyes in a sort of blinking resignation. Before long he nodded, his lips languishing from their natural appearance; his expression would have seemed a clever caricature of himself, if it were intentional. Still she supported her chin in her hand, slightly bending forward, her elbow resting on her knee, her foot, in its little low-cut shoe with its leather lacing, on the stone below. And still Jepson gazed.

“Idunno ez I ever seen ye afore,” he observed presently.

Her eyes turned slowly, as she gravely surveyed him.

“ I hev seen ye, a-many-a-time, — at preachin’,” she admitted naively, “ at the church-house, and at camp, too.”

Her voice was keyed low, and it had a soft and hesitating accent, as if she were solicitous for the impression conveyed.

“ Waal, I don’t see nuthin’ at meetin’,” he observed, with prideful piety. “ I be all tuk up with the Word.”

“ I’m a perfesser,” she hastily stipulated, sitting upright and looking animatedly at him. “ I hev been perfessin’ a right smart time ; but — I ain’t — leastwise ” — she hesitated, — “ the sperit ain’t never hendered me from seein’ some ez air a-goin’ on, though I ain’t gin over ter lookin’ ’bout, nuther.”

“ Ye ain’t lied much pourin’ out o’ the sperit, then,” he remarked ungraciously.

“ Mebbe not,” she admitted. Then with a sudden thought, “ I jes’ tell ye, though, thar ’d be a mighty failin’ off in religion ef the saints could n’t consort tergether somewhar, an’ see one ’nother, an’ talk an’ laff, arter the preachin’ ’s over. Heap o’ fun goes on at camp, too.”

“ Them ez enjyes tharse’fs at camp won’t ’low ’twar sech ticklin’ fun whenst they gits ter blisterin’ in hell, I ’ll be bound,” he declared, with pious relish.

She moved a little uneasily. “ Mebbe not.” She looked off a little drearily into the rain ; for he had a coercively convincing manner, and perhaps she was reviewing with gloomy forebodings fun she had had at camp.

It was hardly mercy that prompted him to change the subject or any disposition to mitigate the terrors of future retribution as revealed to him. But he was a young man, and his mundane proclivities were none the less strong because unrecognized.

“ That thar yer dog ? ” he asked trivially.

She responded with brightening interest to the more familiar theme.

“ Naw,” she said ; “ he’s jes’ a sorter — a sorter frien’ o’ mine.” She laughed a little, — a fascinating, elusive gleam upon her grave face, like the flitting presence of a sunbeam in a solemn and solitary place.

“ Neighbor’s dog ? ” demanded Jepson.

“ Naw.” Once more the smile rippled across her red lips, showing her even white teeth. “ His owner lives toler’ble fur, over ter Chilhowee; but this hyar dog kem a-visitin’ along o’ him, an’ he kem right off’n, an’ the dog got purty well treated, till now the dog — comical old critter,” she laughed, with her hand on the hound’s head — “ kems thar ez ef we war expectin’ of him, an’ sets up by the fire like folks. I never seen the beat! ”

There was a sudden gleam in Jepson’s eyes; the blue iris had a lighter tint. His lip curled.

“ His owner got purty well treated,” he said, with perverse and intentional misunderstanding.

“ The dog ! ” She was fluttered in her haste to correct him. " The dog got purty well treated.”

“ Ef he kem so all-fired often,” he observed, “ the owner mus’ hev kem a-courtin’.” Then he looked quickly at her.

She flushed to her temples ; her eyes were alight with anger ; she seemed on the verge of an outburst. Checking herself, she said demurely, “ I never thunk so, for one. His owner air eighty year old.”

Teck Jepson had seldom known the twinge of ridicule. He looked away convinced that she was secretly laughing in triumph at his discomfiture because of this adroit turn of the conversation. But when he again glanced at her she had relapsed into her former attitude, her chin in her hand, her foot on the stone, looking out silently and dreamily. Her aspect was little that of a doughty opponent in a war of words; and he took heart of grace.

“ That’s fust rate fur a perfessin’ member,” he declared. He did not fail to observe that she winced. “ I ’ll b’lieve that whenst I see that thar frequent vis’tor’s white scalp, an’ no sooner.”

For a moment it seemed as if she might laugh again. Then she turned upon him with genuine anger, not less serious that it was sudden : —

“ I ain’t able ter see what gin ye a call ter meddle in it. The frequent vis’tor ain’t wantin’ ter be baptized, an’ ain’t a-ondertakin’ ter go ter heaven along o’ you-uns or enny other survigrous saint. Ef he ken git the folks he wants ter ’sociate with in this worl’, the Lord ’ll hev ter poke him up with a mighty sharp stick ter make him keer ennything ’bout the nex’ worl’. That’s the state o’ the frequent vis’tor. Whenst I see ye kernin’ in this place, whar me an’ my little sister, Is’bel, hed got fust ter keep dry, I ’d hev made ye stall outside, ef I’d know’d ye hed no mo’ manners than ter ax me who kems a-courtin’ an’ who don’t. I 'lowed, though, from the way ye cavorted down yander ter the baptizin’, ez ye war powerful perlite an’ pious, bein’ sech a Christian, an’ yer mind war n’t set on courtin’. Talkin’ ’bout courtin’ ter folks ye never see afore ! ”

“ I ’ll be bound I know jes’ who ye air, — yer dad an’ all yer folks,” he declared, in hasty self-justification. “ ’T ain’t ez ef ye’d met, up with a stranger, — somebody from North Ca’liny, or the Lord knows whar. I mus’ hev seen ye agin an’ agin, ’ceptin’ I jes’ don’t take much notice o’ young folks,” he added, in a staid, middle-aged manner. “ Is’bel,” — he leaned forward and addressed the child, a tousled headed, barefooted, wiry little lass of ten or twelve, who had been listening silently and staring at him, — “ what’s yer dad’s name ? ”

“ Eli Strobe,” piped out Isabel.

“ Thar, now ! ” he exclaimed triumphantly. “ Eli Strobe’s cousin married my half-brother, an’ I hev got ez much right ter talk ’bout courtin’ or ennything else ez enny frequent vis’tor.”

This conclusive logic seemed to daunt the girl. She offered no further reproof, and there was a sort of diffidence in her defeated mien, — the more as he continued : “I be mighty keerless o’ who air in this worl ; my interus’ air in them ez hev gone afore. ’Pears ter me thar ain’t none lef’ like ’em, — none like Samson, an’ Daniel, an’ G’liath.”

A vague solemnity dawned upon her face, at the mention of these names. She sat listening in brooding silence, her crystal - clear eyes on his face as he talked.

“ I wisht I hed lived in them days, herdin’ sheep, or suthin’,” he added.

“ Ye’d be dead now,” she remonstrated.

“ Air ye one o’ them ez cling ter this mortial life ? ” he demanded, in reproof. “It’s jes’ a span, a breath, a mist fur the wind to scatter.”

“ Waal, it be powerful comfort’ble whilst it lasts,” she argued.

He glanced at her and shook his head, and then relapsed into silence. The continuous fall of the rain, now glimpsed through the mist, and again sounding dully from out the invisibilities of the vapors, accented the increasing chill of the air ; even their refuge was damp with its heavy saturations. A broad flicker of lightning, diffused through all the fine gray lines, showed the distant looming mountains and gray cliffs without, and illumined her pensive face.

“ Yes, sir,” he declared, shifting his position, his stalwart, handsome figure tense and alert, “none like ’em now. I could n’t holp think in’, whenst I war a witness in the court down yander in town, what pore shakes that thar jedge war compared ter Sol’mon. Sol’mon, now, would hev put Jake Baintree through, — he ’d hev fund out a way ter fix his guilt on the sinner. ’Member the time,” he cried vivaciously, “ Solitum hed ter jedge ’twixt them two wimmin ez claimed one baby ? ”

She nodded doubtfully. The event was not to her in the nature of a reminiscence.

“ Lord ! ” he exclaimed excitedly. “ I war afeard fur about three minits ez that thar leetle critter would git cut in half! I never war so all-fired sheered.”

He fell into silence, revolving in his mind the animation of the scene, — the splendid hall in which the kingly judge pronounced sentence, the crowds of soldiers and priests, the tumult of applause at this vindication of his wisdom, this brilliant exploit of his administrative genius. How the spectacle allured him ! How vacant the modern voids !

Once more he stirred and sighed.

“ Yer dad’s runnin’ agin fur constable,” he said, a trifle wistfully; to such interests, forsooth, he must turn.

There came a shade of anxiety into her face.

“ Yes, sir,” she replied, the title a tribute to his arrogations of seniority and to his piety, of a strange quality though she felt it to be. She took one of the ears of the old hound in her fingers and pleated it, as she looked consciously away. The sleeping dog, vaguely discommoded, now and again lifted his head with a vigorous shake, and then dropped it.

The face of Isabel suddenly seemed less youthful. It too bore that anxiety so troublous and pathetic in women and children who can only suffer, and cannot help. “ They think Eli ain’t goin’ ter be 'lected agin,” he said sagely to himself. “ Suthin’ ’s bruk.”

“ Waal, Eli’s a mighty good man,” he observed aloud, his kindlier impulses uppermost. “ He’s apt ter do his best, an’ that’s all the fur we kin go in this life. He stayed up on the mounting along o’ we-uns one night, not long ago, an he bruk the lonesomeness astonishin’.”

The face of the elder sister was suddenly irradiated ; a triumph was in her eyes all tenderly shining.

“ Dad air a mos’ servigrous talker, sure,” she assented warmly. “ Dad air powerful good comp’ny. 'T ain’t often dad ain’t got suthin’ ter say. I tell ye, it air wuth while ter stop an’ cock yer ears, whenst dad begins ter talk. Dad air ekal ter enny pa’son, ef the truth war knowed, ain’t he, Is’bel ? ”

Isabel seemed almost profane in the eager precipitancy of her assent. But it was only “ Laws-a-massy, yes ! ” that she said with so emphatic an accent. The child’s face had flushed beneath its freckles. She sat upright, bending Steadily on Jepson her concentrated gaze, its intensity redoubled in effect by the very close juxtaposition of her small, piercing dark eyes.

“That’s a fac’.” Teck joined the laudations, their ebullition of enthusiasm proving infectious. " Eli’s a smart man, an’ a good man, too.”

“ So good ter us chillen ! ” cried the elder girl, her eyes alight, — “ me an’ Is’bel; ain’t he, Is’bel ? ”

“ Laws-a-massy, yes ! ” Isabel once more seemed to swiftly take her oath upon it.

“ Why, ef ennything goes wrong thar at home, — the cow gits inter the corn, or the gate swags off’n the henges, — an’ dad gits ter rampin’ an’ ragin’ ’bout’n it, they hev jes’ got ter say ‘ ’T war Is’bel an’ Marcella lef’ the bars down,’ or ‘ The gals war a-swingin’ on the gate.’ An’ like ez not we hed n’t been a-nigh thar. An’ dad, he jes’ cools down ez quick. ‘ ’T war them leetle darters, war it ? Waal,’ ” imitating Strobe’s slow bovine glance, “ ‘ 't ain’t goin’ ter ’sturb me ! ’ But ef it hed been ennybody else, though! ” She shook her head in a way that promised amplest retribution, and laughed again.

“ Yer name’s Marcelly, air it ? ” Teck Jepson said ponderingly.

“ Done fund that out, hev ye ? ” she exclaimed. Then, with a swift transition back to the paternal perfections, she continued, “ Dad’s a tremenjious scholar, — kin read an’ write s’prisin’. Dad’s been ter school, I tell ye, an’ what he larnt thar warn’t how ter ketch grasshoppers. Dad’s the bes’ shot in Brumsaidge Cove. Nobody kin shoot agin dad, though, bein’ constable,” — her voice fell with the sedateness of her logic, — “ he ain’t gin over ter shootin’matches, like he war. An’ dad kin arrest ennybody,” she declared sweepingly, “bein’ constable. The sher’ff ain’t got no mo’ power over folks, sca’cely.”

“ An’ dad ’lows the sher’ff be made oufc’n dough, besides,” said Isabel suddenly. “ Dad say a biscuit hev got ez much backbone ez that thar sher’ff.”

Her sister flashed a warning glance at her. Then Marcella’s own bright face fell. “ I reckon that’s one reason he hev got a better chance o’ bein’ fleeted agin than dad hev. Some folks flow ez dad hev set too much store by the law,” she observed, lowering her voice, and allured into a confidential mood by his apparent appreciation of “ dad.” “ Some say ez dad hev whetted the law’s scythe powerful sharp, whilst his own hev been lef’ ter rust. He hev been mo’ tuk up with seein’ arter the law, ’n gittin’ 'lected agin, an’ — an’ ” — she hesitated — “ folks air agin him, an’ bound ter git him beat.”

Isabel fixed an eager electioneering gaze on Jepson’s face. “ They lets youuns vote down in Brumsaidge, though ye do live some higher on the mounting, now ? ” she interrogated him.

“ I kin vote fur him — ef I wants ter,” he said, a trifle waggishly. “ But I ain’t a-goin’ ter let ye buy my vote, so ye need n’t try.”

“ I dunno ez I be a-tradin’,” said Isabel shortly.

“ Is’bel, shet up ! ” exclaimed the repressive elder sister, looking apprehensively at Jepson to note the effect of the child’s curt speech.

But as he lounged upon the ledges of the rock, his head supported on his hand, he was looking with languid goodhumor at Isabel, and had evidently taken no offense.

“ Dad say it be powerful aggervatin’ ter run fur office,” resumed Marcella. “ He say he don’t mind sarvin’ the people, — that’s mighty easy, fur the law be laid down plain, an’ he sets a heap o’ store by the law; but it’s a powerful differ ter please this man an’ not git that one set catawampus, an’ mos’ of ’em air goin’ ter be middlin’ mad, no matter what he does or don’t do. An’ he say sometimes he feels, whenst he be axin’ ’em ter vote fur him, like flyin’ roun’ an’ kickin’ ’em all right an’ lef’, an’ goin’ home fur good.”

“ Waal, I ain’t never seen no candidate fur office do sech ez that yit, an’ I’d be powerful glad ef I war flowed ter live till I did see it,” he retorted, the sensibilities of the suffrage with which he was endowed becoming roused at the suggestion.

She saw that she had impinged upon his sensitiveness. She looked at him a trifle deprecatingly ; then, with that daring impulse which often furnishes a false step with stumbling sequelæ, she pursued the subject: “ Granny 'lows it fairly sets her teeth on aidge ter hear me a-honin’ an’ a-moanin’ ’bout the 'lection, an’ dad’s chances, an’ voters, an’ the office, an’ sech. An’ “t ain’t nowise perlite an’ sensible fur wimmin-folks ter spen’ thar time in sech ez they ain’t got no business in. I can’t holp dad nor hender. But I jes’ feel like ez ef I could take a rifle an’ stan’ at the polls, an’ shoot down them ez don’t vote fur dad! ” Her eyes flashed, albeit she looked half laughing at him. “ T’other night thar war a man at our house ez don’t b’long somehows ter dad’s party.”

“ Which party ? ” demanded Jepson.

“ Dunno. Dad’s. An’ this man, he said, ' I be powerful sorry I can’t vote fur ye, Eli, kase ye air on the t’other side.’ An’ dad, he say, ez slow an’ onconsarned, ‘ Don’t vote fur me, ef ye ’d ruther not. It ain’t goin’ ter kill me ter git beat.’ An’ I jes spoke up, an’ I say, ‘ Naw, it air goin’ ter kill me!'

“ Ye look toler’ble live yit,” commented Teck Jepson.

“ Granny 'lowed she war so ’shamed o’ me, she could hev made soup out’n me, or minch meat, ez onconsarned ez ef I ’d been a Shanghai.”

“ What did Eli say ? ”

“ Oh, nuthin’. Dad 'lows ez everything I do air right an’ jes’ so — me an’ Is’bel, don’t he, Is’bel ? ” “ Laws-a-massy, yes,” Isabel affirmed without hesitation.

The rain was gradually subsiding. One could see beyond the jagged roof of the niche, far across the valley, the gray lines sparsely falling with a free motion and an effect of vast lengths, reaching as they did to the zenith. The dreary mists were gathering themselves together to coalesce in some uncomprehended symmetry of vaporous form, and in silent march were betaking themselves thence with reluctant and exiled mien. Dissimilar, as of a different texture and an alien origin, was the vague gray haze, hardly discernible, rising from the dank earth, and suspended only a few feet above. Suddenly the sun smote it, and how it glistered, now amethystine, now pearly, now a gilded gauze ! The wooded mountain-side was splendidly green again, attesting that the rich, ripe August was still straying along the slopes. A sense of renewal, revivification, was in the silver-shotted, misty intervals. The moist leaves, glossy and emerald stirred in the air. Every blade of grass about the portal of the grotto wore globular gauds, as the raindrops caught the light where they swung. A quail called and called down the wet, briery tangles, — sweet vibrant tones ! And all at once, that splendid apotheosis of color, that supreme triumph of light, the rainbow, was set in the clouds. How far it reached, — how far ! From sombre Chilhowee to the cloud-capped Smoky Mountains, — and the vast landscape beneath was spanned by the glowing arch. And now it was dimmed, as the light fluctuated, and again it glowed in pristine brilliancy and softness ; for albeit the rain steadily fell, the sun shone.

Teck Jepson watched the change with meditative eyes. The old dog took note of it, too, yawning with an expansive expression, and stretching himself to an unsuspected length ; coming down off the ledges, dragging one slow foot after the other. He sat down on the wet grass, heedless of the drops that fell upon him, and gazed gravely about, as if he appreciated the scenery.

“ Look at old Watch, now.” commented Isabel. “ Arter takin’ so much trouble ter keep hisself dry an’ out’n the storm, he air goin’ ter git ez wet ez ef he hed been in the thick of it. Ain’t that jes’ percisely like a dog ! ”

“ Waal, Watch ain’t got no call ter be like nuthin’ else.” Marcella spoke absently, hardly heeding what she said, only mechanically defending her canine friend. She was leaning back amongst the vines that hung down the sides of the rift, and trembled above her head, and rested on her shoulder. Her eyes seemed to share the pensive brilliance of the hour, so full of a dreaming light, so softly shadowed by the melancholy droop of the long lashes, they were, as she looked, unseeing, into the illuminated sunset, through the soft falling of the glittering rain. The spirited pose of her delicate head on its slender throat was hardly less marked, in this moment of languor, than when held alert and upright. All her lithe and slender figure was relaxed, as she leaned back in the bower that the vines wove for her, and toyed with a tendril in her hand.

He gazed long and silently at her, as she sat there, wondering again that he should never before have seen her. He felt now as if they had often met, and he became sensible of the repetitious impression in a sort of doubting amazement. Her characteristics he seemed to have long ago conned. He was prepared for every turn of her alert head, every sudden uplifting of her definite arrogant eyebrows above those soft eyes. He even felt a fostering familiar regard for the wish nearest her heart, and in the fullness of a warm partisan impulse he abruptly spoke : —

“ I ’ll tell ye right now what’s doin’ Eli mo’ harm with the voters o’ the deestric’ ’n ennything else. It’s this hyar everlastin’ upholdin’ o’ Jake Baintree.”

“ It’s the law’s upholdin’ Jake Baintree ! ” said Marcella quickly.

The dream-light had fled from her face; she looked at him with a deep shifting spark in her clear eyes, betokening a disquieted spirit and a touch of anger.

He changed his attitude, and glanced out over the landscape. ” I never expect ter spend my time argufyin’ with enny gal-folks,” he said in an offhand way, and with a laughing sneer. " But ye kin set it down, ef ye air minded ter. Yer dad’s rampin’ round an’ upholdin’ Jake Baintree, kase this leetle old yearthly jedge down yander didn’t hev sense enough or law enough ter fix his sin on him, air a-goin’ ter defeat Eli, — besides all else folks hev got agin him. Ye mark my words.”

“ Waal, I dunno but they hed ez soon take the jedge’s say-so ez yourn.”

She resembled her father, when she gave herself to argument; the slow, calculating glance that she bent upon Jepson, as she turned her head, was singularly like the look she sometimes mimicked.

“ I ain’t a-settin’ up my say-so agin the jedge’s,” he responded quickly. “ It ’s the fac’s. He can’t git around ’em. An’ Eli can’t git around ’em. An’ the folks in the deestric’ can’t git around ’em. The storm will burst some day, though. The Lord will repay.”

There was an anxious flush on her usually pale face. Her eyes were bright and restless. The irritation of not being able to reconcile her father’s opinions with the prospect of success was smouldering in her manner, and suddenly flamed out in words.

“ From all I hev seen, ye air likely ter take the Lord’s jobs off’n his hands. He need n’t bother ’bout repayin’ nobody in Brumsaidge, whar sech a headin’ man ez ye air be a-loose. Ye ’ll repay. Ye would n’t let Jake Baintree git baptized, kase ye ’low he killed a man ez the jury say he did n’t kill, an’ kase ye fund somebody’s old clo’s hid somewliar. Now mebbe ye hev killed su’thin’, — mebbe ye hev killed a man’s soul stiddier his body. Mebbe he ’ll never git ter the baptizin’ p’int agin. He can’t git the sperit whenst he want it; he can’t whistle it back like a dog that follows him.”

“ That war my aim,” he said coolly.

She stared at him, horrified, catching her breath.

“Did he gin Sam’l Keale time ter think on salvation ? Ez the Lord bade me, so I did act,” he protested.

She relapsed into silence.

“ Jake Baintree be plumb cur’ous,” said Isabel, knitting her brows, and laughing, — a constrained demonstration that had no mirth in it. She had wearied of the discussion, which she scarcely understood, and resorted with a freshened zest to gossip.

“ How be he cur’ous ? ” demanded Jepson.

“ Waal,” said Isabel, twisting the corner of her apron in and out of her fingers, “ he looks cur’ous. An’ he sets an’ stare-gazes an’ stare-gazes the fire. An’ he kin read an’ write. He larnt in jail. An’ his folks dunno what ter make o’ him, nohow. He don’t talk none, sca’cely. They ’low he war jes’ a boy whenst he went away, an’ now he be a plumb differ, ez ef he war somebody else. Mebbe he air somebody else.” Isabel paused, with a contortion of the countenance, showing all her jagged teeth, as if she sought to express in some facial way the extreme curiousness of Jake Baintree.

“ How ye know so much about him ? ” demanded Jepson, surprised.

“ Marcelly, she useter go thar a heap, an’ I jes’ up an’ go with Marcelly. Marcelly, she useter tote ’em things, whenst they war so powerful pore an’ tormented how ter git along, — roastin’ears an’ 'taters, — an’ holped ’em weave some. She war helpin’ ’em weave whenst he kem home.”

A sudden repulsion seized Teck Jepson. " He ain’t the frequent vis’tor ? ” he exclaimed.

Marcella drew back, with an abrupt cry. “ I be afeard o’ Jake Baintree,” she said.

There was a moment of embarrassment. He had his regrets that he had spoken, and she had hers that she had answered. With a woman’s tact, she would have passed it by in silence. But he made a blundering, clumsy attempt to better the situation, and asked, with a feint of mirth, " Who be that thar frequent vis’tor, ennyhows ? ”

“ Ye kin hev that fur a riddle,” she said, with a chilly accent. She glanced loftily past him, as she rose. " Kem ’long, Is’bel; it’s quit rainin’, an’ we hed better be a-startin’.”

She stood for a moment, tall, fair, erect, under the rugged arch, which was massively imposed upon the clearing sky. A red suffusion of light was over the valley. The mountains were darkling and purple. An inexpressible sense of freshness blended with the eventide languors. All the woods were vibrant with the ceaseless chirr of the cicada, and the antiphonal chanting of frogs rose and fell by the water-side. Pensiveness pervaded the hour, and melancholy. Far-away cattle, homeward bound, were lowing and clanking their mellow bells. And the misty air ministered to the sun’s splendors, and bore the elongated rays far into space in gorgeous amplifications. The ground was dank, and Isabel’s bare feet pattered along with a noisy sound, and she was beset with forebodings.

“ I ’ll be bound the foot-bredge over the ruver air nigh under water by this time, an’ I ain’t one o’ the swimmin’ kind,” Isabel observed with callow pertness. " I warn’t raised ter be a frawg.”

Jepson had hesitated behind the two girls. Isabel’s words seemed to suggest his opportunity. “I mought ez well g’long home with you-uns ez no,” he remarked. " ’T ain’t out’n my way none ter the Settlemint, an’ I ’ll holp ye over the log.”

They trudged along silently through the forest, with its ceaseless pulsations of sound : Isabel in the van, the other two walking side by side, and the dog of the 44 frequent visitor ” in the rear. Sometimes the shadows fell on Marcella’s fair face, sometimes the roseate glow of the west; and Jepson found a fascination undreamed of before in noting their fluctuations. Her expression betokened little favor toward him, — less, perhaps, than he realized. He had never sought the approval of others, and disapproval he was not quick to discern, since he had no self-disparagement to keep his fears alert.

Long before they reached the river they heard the water roaring, but the unhewn log that served as foot-bridge, thrown from bank to bank, was not yet submerged, and the two girls walked swiftly and lightly across, with no need for assistance. Suddenly the woods gave way, and Broomsedge Cove lay before them, vague in the closing dusk. Half a dozen log cabins were scattered at long intervals, — for this was the Settlemint, — their red lights growing distinct since the day had so waned. The sky was crimson above, and seemed to touch the gaunt, black, towering mountains that circled close about the sequestered nook. A star was gleaming near the horizon. Voices rose fitfully and fell to silence, and all was mute save for the nocturnal song of the woods, and a few strokes of an axe at some woodpile, that set the echoes all a-hewing.

They paused beside a rail fence inclosing one of the cabins, where the flare of firelight flickered out into the passage between the two rooms. Marcella’s face had become only a vague suggestion, white in the closing dusk, as they stood together a moment by the bars. For she had spoken at last, offering the customary invitation to come in and bide to supper.

“ I mus’ be a-travelin’ up the mounting, " he drawled in response. Then he hesitated. “ This air the fust time I ever seen ye, but I reckon ’t won’t be the las’.”

He strode off then, and she watched him as he went, a fine, stalwart figure, with an assured gait and a singularly erect pose. A deft, swift step he had, too, and she was presently gazing into the closing obscurity where he had disappeared.

“ I’d jes’ ez lief’t would be the las’,” she said to herself, — “ I’d jes’ ez lief.”


Locked in the stony grasp of the mountains was Broomsedge Cove. Rugged with sudden deep depressions and abrupt declivities, heavily wooded here and anon broken by crags and defying cultivation, this limited terrace of the mountains was all unlike the neighboring coves, those fair nooks of the ranges, fertile and smiling, and level as a floor. The road, dry in summer, was the bed of a stream in winter, and the denizens of Broomsedge then cared little to rove abroad. Certain stretches of abandoned land, once cultivated, had given the place its name, and down all the slopes flourished the graceless broomsedge, —pest, poverty-bitten, blight. It seemed to seek the manner of the worthier growths, to bear itself like wheat, or rye, or oats ; it wore the semblance of a crop, as it shared with them the bounty of the sun and the benediction of the rain. It waved in the wind, half defiant, half forlorn. Wherever it possessed the fields, the grace of utility and the guerdon of labor was gone, and this flout of nature, this perversity of herbage, prospered unwelcome in their stead. But Broomsedge Cove could boast some fields of grain, fair and thrifty enough, their unripe green tint contrasting with the red-brown tones of the sedge.

By daylight the settlement was hardly so apparent to the casual eye as at night, when each scattered red light was the exponent of a fireside. The houses, sometimes a quarter of a mile apart, nestling amidst their orchards, were quite invisible while the foliage lasted. The inequalities of the ground further masked the size and extent of the hamlet; occasionally a blue curl of smoke from beyond a jagged hill gave the only intimation that its further slopes were preëmpted as a home. The blacksmith’s shop was on the extreme outskirts, beyond the fields and the abandoned spaces where the broomsedge grew. The massive wooded mountain rose close behind it; the gorge narrowed just beyond it, and between the cliffs a stream, with a swift arrowy motion, and now and then a white flash, shot down the steeps. The smith made it useful in his simple art, and its song was a solace to his idle hours. But this was not the only chant flung forth upon the air. Loud and long were the sounds of revelry often issuing from the forge, and in a diminuendo of undiminished gayety reaching even the ears of the far-away neighbors, who thanked their stars that they were no nearer. The elders, constrained alike by dignity and religion, were wont to shake their heads, and sourly marvel what iniquity could be going on at the forge ; and the younger men frequently found themselves obliged to go over at once and investigate. The forge was the resort of certain hilarious spirits, among whom the smith himself was chief. Concerning these roisterers grim reports were bruited abroad. It was averred that a greasy pack of " playin’-kyerds ” was cherished there, and that a “streak o’ luck ” seemed to be more desired than light on salvation. A jug of a portly grace bad been descried, one day, lurking behind the elevated hearth of the forge, — quite empty, it is true, but an aroma lingered about its corn-cob stopper that was fresh, and fragrant, and unmistakable. They often sang ; the blacksmith’s burly bass voice could be heard with the supplementing echoes over many a furlong of his native wilds. They pitched horse-shoes in lieu of “ quates,” and wrestled and measured their strength in many good-humored combats. When the great barn-like doors were open and the forge fire flickered out into the night, the place under the overhanging ledge of the mountain was like the mouth of some vast cavern. To those chancing to look in from the glooms without, while the white light fell here and there in a brilliant gleam upon the faces within, and anon fluctuated, and then sank to a red glow, and so to darkness, the hearty mortal fellows at their turbulent sports were vaguely unfamiliar, and as uncanny as goblins, or gnomes, or troglodytes. And the Settlemint seemed wise in wishing them no nearer.

It was a weird and isolated place, and with these impressions astir about it, there was little wonder that a wilder fantasy should presently gain a circulation.

Teck Jepson heard it for the first time one momentous August day. As he rode slowly along the circuitous ways of Broomsedge, he was conscious that he surveyed the scene with an interest which it had never before elicited. The porch of Eli Strobe’s cabin was vacant, but as he dismounted from his horse, and hitched him to the rack beside the door of the blacksmith’s shop, he glanced from time to time at the house, the hop and gourd vines hanging motionless about it, for no wind stirred. Through their screen his sharp eyes descried a spinning-wheel— idle and motionless. No face at the tiny window, no flutter of a blue dress among the poultry in the door-yard. The place might have been deserted save for the tendril of smoke slowly curling out of the stick chimney, and the dog of the “ frequent visitor,” standing in the door, wagging his tail, which he had a call to do, Teck remembered, being “ purty well treated.” He momentarily canvassed the dwellers on and about Chilhowee with a vague desire to identify the owner, but the dog in no respect resembled his master, and Teck’s mu sings were vain. Then he turned away, and sat down upon a log beside the blacksmith’s shop, and silently gazed at the far-away blue mountains, against which, in an oblique line, the roof of Strobe’s cabin was drawn.

There were half a dozen men lounging about the forge, for it was seldom that Clem Sanders was alone; and besides his special cronies, the mountain gossips were wont to congregate here. The forge was silent; the smith himself was leaning against the anvil, just within the door, his brawny arms folded across his chest, his pipe between his teeth, his languid eyes fixed on the majestic mountains without, dome on dome and range on range, stretching far away into the distance; while below, the sunlit valley smiled, with only the shadow of a flying bird or an uncertain mist, vague and vagrant, to mar the sheen. He was a tall, bluff fellow, with reddish brown hair, straight dark eyebrows, and a broad low forehead. He had many wrinkles in the corners of his eyes; not from age, for he was only some twenty four or five, but from persistent twinkling. They were brown eyes and bright ones, not large, but long and narrow. He had a square face and a flexible mouth with merry curves, the better revealed since he wore no beard. His checked homespun shirt was open at his throat; the sleeve was rolled up, showing his great hammer-arm; its swelling cords and muscle were a source of perpetual pride to its possessor.

He took little part in the conversation, the twinkling wrinkles about his eyes expressing his interest when it waxed facetious. Eli Strobe was leaning back against the door in a rickety chair; two men who were sitting on the log moved, to give Jepson more room. A tall, slim, jeans-clad young mountaineer, booted to the knee and accoutred with shot-pouch and powder-horn, with long light hair showing a tendency to tousled ringlets, lay at length on the grass without the door.

“ Howdy,” said Jepson, succinctly and comprehensively, to the group. Then suddenly addressing the two men on the log, “ I seen ye two bucks thar on yer critters, at the baptizin’. Ye hain’t got no right ter mighty nigh ride down the saints that-a-way, ’mongst the congregation, an’ ef I hed noticed in time I ’d hev made ye ’light an’ hitch.”

There was a momentary hesitation. Then one of them, Gideon Dake, a languid, lank, loose-jointed fellow, observed, with as little animation as if he were an automaton, “ Oh, shet up, Teck ! Ye air too robustious. Ye ’low ter fairly rule the Cove ! ”

The other, Joe Bassett, spoke more briskly. “ I ain’t afeard ter be a sorter sinner, now, Teck. The devil’s got his hands so full a-lookin’ arter Clem Sanders hyar ez he ain’t goin’ ter stop jes’ fur me. Hev ye hearn ez he war viewed right hyar in the forge ? ”

“ Shucks ! ” said Jepson, surlily incredulous. Then leaning forward to look at the burly blacksmith within, “ That ain’t a true word, air it, Clem ? ”

“ Dunno,” said the blacksmith cavalierly. “Let them say ez seen him.”

“ Ef I do ride down the saints, I ain’t never hed Satan ter kem a-bulgin’ ter the Settlemint ter look arter me,” protested Bassett.

Jepson glanced about him doubtfully. “ Who say they seen him ? ”

“ Old Pa’son Donnard,” said Bassett, beginning to narrate the old story to a new listener with a relish proportionate to the rarity of the opportunity. “ Old man war comin’ from Piomingo Cove, whar he hed hed preachin’ the day before. ’T war toler’ble late. Thar warn’t no moon, an’ the dark, it overtuk him. Waal, sir, he kem nigh hyar along o’ the water-side. An’ he say all of a suddint he seen this place like a yawnin’ mouth o’ hell, ez ef the mounting hed opened. An’ the flames o’ the forge fire, they le’pt up, an’ sunk down, an’ flared out, an’ drapped in, kase Clem, he ’d let one o’ them fool boys caper with the bellows. An’ pa’son, he see two o’ them boys a-wrastlin’ in that unholy light; an’ Jim Crane war a-dancin’, an’ a-shufflin’, an’ a-cuttin’ the pigeon-wing ; an’ Buck Blake war a-playin’ a reg’lar dancin’chune on the fiddle ; an’ Clem hyar an’ Mose Hull war a-playin’ kyerds, an’ a-bettin’. Clem war a-settin’ on the shoein’ stool, an’ Mose on a plough, an’ they laid that kyerds on the top o’ a cag o’ nails. An’ Clem war a-beatin’ Mose. An’ wunst in a while he ’d fling back his head an’ holler, bein’ so glad ! An’ suddint Pa’son Donnard say his eyes war opened. He seen settin’ in the midst, propped up on the anvil, Satan hisself. He hed horns, an’ he hed wings, suthin’ like a bat’s, — looked sorter bat-wise, only big ez a man. An’ Pa’son Donnard say he knowed ’twar Satan even before he tuk notice o’ his feet, — one war a huff, an’ the t’other war a club-foot! An’ he hed ’em both propped up on the stump what the anvil sets on. An’ the devil war a-lookin’ over Clem’s shoulder at sech kyerds ez Clem held. An’ when Clem would beat, Satan would jes’ hug hisself, an’ rock back’ards an’ for’ards, an’ laff till his teeth flashed fire. An’ sometimes Satan would lean over an’ mighty nigh p’int out ter Clem which kyerd ter play. An’ pa’son say the Lord opened his eyes agin.”

“ ’Pears ter me they war stretched toler’ble wide a-fust,” grumbled Clem. Although this graphic detail was no news to him, he was beginning to look much disaffected. He mechanically moved away from the anvil upon which Satan had made himself so much at home. He came and stood outside, with arms still folded, leaning against the door.

“ An’ pa’,son’s eyes war opened anew,” Bassett drawled on. “ An’ thar, he say, whilst the wrastlin’ war a-goin’ on, an’ the dancer war a-dancin’ an’ a-shakin’ his foot all around the floor, an’ the fiddler war a-playin’ ter the top o’ his bent, an’ the fire war a-flarin’ red an’ a-flamin’ white over ’em all, an’ Clem war a-laffin’ an’ a-hollerin’, tickled ter death, an’ a-playin’ his kyerds, an’ Satan war a-lookin’ over his shoulder an’ grinnin’ till the smoke shot out’n his nose, an’ eyes, an’ ears, an’ ye could see him spit fire wunst in a while, the back winder o’ the forge opened slow. An’ thar stood on the outside — who d’ye reckon ? ”

“ Oh, shucks! ” said Clem uneasily.

The others said nothing, and the narrator went on: —

“ The back winder o’ the shop opened, an’ thar, holdin’ the batten shutter in his han’, plain, — it bein’ so dark a-hint him an’ so light inside, — war Clem hisself ! Like he mought look in death, white, an’ solemn, an’ stony, a-gazin’ in on hisself ez he looks in life, hearty, an’ sunburnt, an’ laffin’, an’ a-playin’ o’ kyerds, with the devil, tickled ter death, lookin’ over his shoulder. An’ pa’son say the bleached, white, dead Clem catched his eye of a suddint, an’ clap ! bang! the winder war shet, an’ thar warn’t nuthin’ settin’ on the anvil, an’ Clem war a-gapin’, an’ a-stretchin’ his arms, an’ sayin’ ’t war bed-time, an’ tellin’ that Jeemes boy ter quit playin’ the fool with that bellows, else he ’d shoe him all round with red-hot horse-shoes.”

Teck Jepson listened in silence, his absorbed eyes upon the ground, now and then lifting them to the narrator’s face with a glance of excited surprise.

The person most nearly interested in the chronicle spoke abruptly: —

“ Pa’son Donnard never see sech ez that, sure enough ; he air sorter mooneyed, ef the truth war knowed. An’ ez the boys war a-dancin’ an’ a-cavortin’, he jes’ ’lowed he see it.”

“ Pa’son Donnard would n’t be the fust, ef he did see the devil,” argued Teck Jepson. “ Plenty o’ them the Bible tells about seen him.”

The blacksmith’s eyes had no merry twinkle in them now. He looked off loweringly at the scene, so familiar to him in its multitudinous phases, as he spoke.

“ Waal, I don’t b’lieve pa’son see nuthin’. Satan don’t lope round in Broomsaidge none generally ; never war seen afore. Takes pa’son ter view him. An’ I ain’t dead,” he added, with a live insistence. “ An’ yit he seen me dead.”

“Ye will be some day,” said Jepson bluntly.

Sanders looked down, darkly frowning.

“ Why n’t he take somebody else ter go lookin’ inter a winder at thar dead se’fs, stiddier me ? ” he complained. “ I ain’t the only mortial man in the Cove ! I jes’ did n’t know fur awhile what I war goin’ ter do ’bout’n it. An’ at las’ I went up ter pa’son’s house, an’ I called his son Jube out. An’ I say ter Jube,

‘ Jube, ye an’ me hev been powerful frien 'ly since we useter play ’longside o’ one another in the woodpile, ’fore we could walk. An’ I hope I won’t break none o’ yer bones ez ye can spare or git the doctor ter set agin right handy, kase I’m useter hammerin’ tougher stuff ’n ye be. But I’m a-goin’ ter take yer dad’s visions out on ye, bein’ ez I can’t thrash a ole man an’ a preacher. Ye ’ll see mo’ sights ’n ever he done.”

“ What did Jube do ? ” asked Jepson.

A dreary futility settled on the strong man’s face.

“ Flung his arm around my neck, an’ begged an’ begged,” he said, baffled. “ He ’lowed his dad wanted ter break up them meetin’s at the forge, — gredges we-uns our fun. He never war young hisself, ye know.” He attempted to point the weak sarcasm with a sneer. ” But Jube sneaks off, an’ kems ter the forge every chance he gits. He war thar the night o’ the vision. Old man war so bent on seein’ Satan, an’ dead folks ez air live an’ hearty, he did n’t see his own son Jube ’mongst the sinners. An’ Jube war a-walkin’ round on his hands, like a plumb catamount, with his heels six feet high up in the air, a-wavin’ round.”

“ Mebbe that war why he did n’t see Jube, his head bein’ so nigh the groun’,” suggested Jepson. “ Jube don’t generally kerry his heels a-top o’ him.”

The blacksmith listened, but made no response.

“ I told Jube,” he resumed presently, “ I’d let him off, ef his dad did n’t put me in none o’ his preachin’.”

“ Ev’ybody in Brumsaidge an’ the mountings round knows ’bout’n it, ennyhow,” said Eli Strobe. “Ye needn’t be so powerful partic’lar.”

“Waal, ennyhows, ’twould in an’ about kill me ef he war ter go ter blatin’ out in the church-house, ’fore all the congregation, ’bout the devil a-laffin’ at me whilst playin’ kyerds, an’ me dead, lookin’ through the winder at my live self. Shucks ! ”

This unique slander had sunk deep into Clem Sanders’s good-natured heart. He looked so harried and hopeless that he might well have excited sympathy, but the circumstance had certain grotesque phases which Eli Strobe could not fail to relish.

“Ye hain’t done no work sence on that anvil, hev ye ? ” he demanded, with his slow side-glance and his air of burly jocundity, which did not always commend itself to his interlocutor.

The blacksmith shook his head.

“ Waal, sir,” exclaimed Eli, bringing his tilted chair upon its forelegs with an abrupt thump, and placing a hand on either knee, “ ef ye an’ that thar striker o’ yourn gits enny mo’ afeard o’ that thar anvil ’n ye hev always been, all the critters in the Cove ’ll be bar’foot ’fore long, or else hev ter go all the way ter Pete Blenkins’s forge at the Notch ter git shod.”

“ Clem’s jes’ a-purtendin’,” said Gideon Dake. “ He war a-worlkin’ night afore las’. What ails ye ter be sech a liar, Clem ? Ye want us ter gin ye the credit o’ bein’ convicted o’ sin an’ acceptin’ o’ warnin’s, whenst ye air jes’ sodden in the ways o’ the worl’.”

“ I warn’t at the forge, night afore las’,” said the blacksmith, flustered and uncertain. “ What would I be a-doin’ of, workin’ of a night ? I ain’t kep’ busy in the day, let alone bein’ obligated ter work of a night.”

“ I dunno what ye war a-doin’ of,” said Dake, altogether unaware of the significance of his disclosure. “I know the forge fire war lighted, an’ the anvil a-ringin’, an’ the bellows a-blowin’, an’ the hand-hammer an’ sledge a-strikin’, fur I hearn ’em ’bout midnight, kase I war obligated ter go arter the doctor fur granny, ez war tuk powerful bad, an’ looked like ter die.”

Sanders gazed at the speaker in blank amazement for a moment. Then his color began to change. He grew as pale as his swarthy tints might ever blanch, — an ashen pallor, — like that white Thing, perhaps, which Parson Donnard had beheld gazing into the window at its hale and full-pulsed simulacrum. Was it this that closed the doors of the forge in the dead of the night, and kindled the fires, and beat out that metallic melody, as familiar to him as the sound of his own voice ?

“ Who strikes fur me, then, I wonder ? ” he said to himself ; he was beginning to adopt this pallid, and joyless, and solemn identity. A sudden recollection of the malevolent presence on the anvil, a suggestion of an association with him as striker, and all at once Clem gave way. “ Move up thar on that log! ” he cried, as he sank down by the other men, outside of the familiar shanty where he had spent all his days since first he was old and strong enough to strike for his father, succeeding at last from the sledge to the hand-hammer, which the elder had laid down forever. He had never thought to shrink from its very walls, to glance back over his shoulder into its familiar dusky recesses, and wince in prophetic dread of what he might chance to see. His heart beat so loud, with so erratic and tumultuous a throb, that he wondered the other men did not hear, did not notice his agitation. They had not appreciated the significance of this testimony to him who was sleeping half a mile or more distant, on that night and at that hour, when the fires were kindled in the midnight, and the anvil rang, and so strange an essence as that pallid identity of a live man so strangely busied itself, and handled his tools, and aped his gestures, and did his work. “ Knows jes’ whar ter find things, — hammer, an’ nails, an’ swage, an’ tongs, I reckon.” The others were talking of trivial matters. How could they ? he wondered. And then he was glad that they could, and that they noted him not, had forgotten him.

An old dog had trotted over from Eli Strobe’s, — the dog which Teck Jepson had recognized as the property of the “ frequent visitor.” He came along with the easy, confident manner appertaining to both dogs and people who are more highly appreciated than they deserve ; for he was not useful, being too good-natured for a watch-dog, and having no particular nose for game and no compensating energy or joy in its pursuit, and he was by no means comely. His long tongue lolled out, his small eyes looked hot. He showed no signs of recognition of any of the men, but sat down gravely in front of them.

“ I b’lieve that thar old dog hain’t got no owner,” Jepson said tentatively to Eli Strobe, with a craft of which he was ashamed. “ Yer darter tole me the t’other day’t warn’t hern.”

Eli Strobe’s slow side-glance was directed toward the long-haired youth, who lay at length on the grass, and who had not spoken. “ Andy’s,” he said curtly, — “ Andy Longwood’s. ”

Jepson felt the blood mount to his face. So this was the " frequent visitor,” whose name she would not speak ; this was the riddle she had left him to guess, — this long-haired, curly-pated creature. “ I’d shear him like a sheep,” he said contemptuously to himself.

The young man, at the sound of his name, turned upward a gentle, placid face. “Talkin’ ter me?” he drawled slowly.

Eli Strobe gave him a bull-like, sidelong glower, and shook his head.

“ Sheep, fur true ! ” Jepson thought, scanning his mild countenance. “ I 'll be bound he kin say ' Ba-a ! ’ ” He looked with an easy contempt after the young fellow, as he rose and strolled away, the old dog at his heels. “ Ef ennybody war ter take a notion ter Marcelly Strobe, he need n’t mind that thar leetle spindle-shanked Woolly.” He watched Andy Longwood take his way toward Eli Strobe’s cabin without one qualm of distrust or displeasure. This the vaunted “ frequent visitor ” !

So strong a factor is jealousy in sentiment at this stage that, relieved of his unacknowledged apprehensions, Jepson’s sudden assumption that he had only a sort of paternal or fraternal interest in Marcella, equally divided with the callow Isabel, was altogether sincere, and he was unaware of those subtle mental processes by which he was self-deceived. He produced much the same impression upon himself that he did on Eli Strobe, when he said with a casual smile, “ He ’s a-danglin’ arter Marcelly, ain’t he ?”

Eli Strobe sullenly nodded. “ He mought ez well dangle off, too.” He cast an authoritative side-glance at Jepson, which intimated the possibility of paternal interference in matters of the heart. “ Marcelly ain’t sech ez ter take a likin’ ter him, but somehows she can’t git rid o’ the critter.”

“ I hev hearn,” said Joe Bassett animatedly, “ ez how Marcelly an Clem ” — the blacksmith had strolled off, his hands in his pockets, his hat pulled far over his gloomy face — “ hev been keep in’ comp’ny tergether.”

There was no cloud now upon the paternal brow. But Eli Strobe affected doubt or ignorance. “ No countin’ on gals ; no way ter find ’em out. They will ter-day, an’ they won’t ter-morrer, like the wind blows. Yes, sir.” He rose ponderously from his chair. “ Waal, Teck,” he continued, " I be powerful sorry ye won’t bide along o’ we-uns ternight. I never done ye this-a-way, whenst I war on the mounting.”

For Jepson had declined his hospitality, and had expected to ride up the mountain before dark. He hesitated now, and glanced toward the gray little cabin, with its background of a roseate sky and an amethystine mountain. The evening star glittered in the haze above. A flutter among the vines, —a flitting blue dress, was it ? How the grudging distance denied him !

“ Ax me agin ! ” he exclaimed, letting his hand fall heavily on his host’s arm. And so they strolled toward the cabin together.

Clement Sanders, moodily loitering along the river bank, followed them with anxious eyes.

“All them cussed critters a-waitin’ on Marcelly ! She ’ll take a notion ter some o’ em, whilst I’m bein’ lured by Satan. I reckon I ain’t been doin’ right; them kyerds hed a snare in ’em surely. I never won nuthin’ sca’cely, nohow, an’ it ’ll go powerful hard with me ter lose Marcelly at sech a game.”

Everything spoke of approaching night. The long, low nocturnal susurrus of the woods was already on the air. A bat came noiselessly flitting past. The color was fading out of the west. A whip-poor-will plained in the dense foliage hard by. A wind, willful wanderer, had sprung up somewhere, and was abroad in the slopes. The forge fire had not been kindled that day, and the ashes were gray on the hearth. He went within, despite some secret perturbation, and with the care characteristic of a good workman saw that all his tools were in place ; he closed the doors, fastened the shutters, and betook himself homeward. He paused when he had nearly reached the cabin on the rise, and looked back. How lonely was the dark little shanty, with the looming mountain beetling above, — how far from any other building! Out of sight, indeed, when once over the hill, — out of sight and out of hearing. Anything might happen there.

The late moon came stealing into the broad, uninclosed passage between the two rooms of his mother’s house, before he had finished his supper. He looked at it from the dusky red glow of the room, but half illumined by the smouldering fire, as he sat at the pine table, and strove to answer his mother’s chat, and to eat and drink with a normal appetite. The sheen was melancholy and white, and the leaves of the vines that it limned on the floor scarcely stirred. A bird — a wren, perhaps, some tiny, house-loving thing — had built in their midst; a colorless simulacrum of the circular nest, of the delicate shape within, the head and bill distinct, was on the puncheons. But presently she put her head beneath her wing, and then one might hardly have distinguished amidst the tracery of the shadows the nest from a leaf of the gourd vines or from the globular fruit itself. When he strode up the ladder, presently, to the roofroom, he found the moon there, too, in the homely and solitary place. The glittering square of the tiny window lay on the floor; a soft irradiation from it seemed to enrich the narrow, tent-like space. He noted the glimmer on the white boughs of a gigantic poplar hard by, and the pendent trailing branches of the beech. It was very still without: no dog barked, no foot stirred, — only the insistent cry of the cicada ; he could even hear the sylvan chant of the stream as it hied down the mountain-side, in the lonely splendors of the night. “ Seems ef they war laffin’ an’ talkin’ at Strobe’s, I mought hear ’em hyar,” he said. He longed to join them, and yet he doubted. He was in no mood for company. “ I be ez mum ez a dumb one,” he said. " I don’t want ter set thar tongue-tied, an’ let them fellers show off talkin’.” And still he doubted. Mental perturbation wrought upon his resources as toil could not. He sank down in a chair, and bent his head upon his hand, while he cogitated.

Suddenly, the moon had changed in the sky. The trees without caught the light from another quarter. He had slept for hours. He sprang to his numb feet, and bent down to the tiny aperture to look out. The next moment his heart seemed to stand still.

Out of sight had he thought the forge? He had not reckoned on the elevation of the roof-room window of the cabin on the rise. Far along the broad moonlit vista between the mountain and the cliffs of the gorge, he saw the dark little building, with the looming heights above; and eould it be that here and there lines of red light gleamed through its ill-chinked walls ? And did he hear, or did he fancy, vibrating in the midnight, the clink-clank of th e hammer and the sledge, the sound he knew so well? For one instant the strongest feeling within him was the instinct of an outraged proprietor. And in that instant he reached out of the window, seized the shining beech boughs so close at hand, and swung down to the ground, having paused only to slip into his long boot-leg a “ shootin’ iron ” for the intimidation of the unknown trespasser. He was on his feet and in the road before he remembered that strange, white-faced identity of his lurking about the forge and opening the shutter to look in upon its hilarious image. Not the first time had It kindled the fires and wielded the hammer, he recollected with a chilly thrill. Had not the chance wayfarer noted the uncanny sounds of forging in the night, while he, the smith, was lying far away in a deep sleep ?

He was advancing mechanically along the road. Suddenly he paused. He could not face It; he would not encounter Its gaze. What a frightful thing to stand and meet It! He fell to trembling, and with his sleeve wiped the cold drops from his brow. How dark the mountains gloomed ! With what a sense of silence was the moon endowed! Pacing the woods in stately guise, like some fair maiden, lily-crowned, — hath any heard her step ? And all at once he lifted his head to the sound of the forge, the clinking and the clanking of the hammer and the sledge. Regular, sonorous, unceasing, it was. “ He oughter understand the biz’ness,” he thought. And he rolled up his sleeve, and wondered if the pallid resemblance wielded an arm like that.

He had turned about to go home. And yet he paused in the way, looking back over his shoulder. The idea exerted a morbid fascination upon him. He hardly trusted his resolve; he knew that he was toying with a temptation ; he expected to flee even when he advanced, as he turned once more and ran fleetly, deftly, down the road toward the place. What if he should meet It running too ! Would It seem so horrible to him but for the thought of that solemn pallor, that stony stillness, on Its face ? More than once he paused and turned, only to change about again, and run swiftly toward the forge. A new terror presently beset him as he neared the building. He could no longer flee ; he could not turn his back upon the forge, for the ghastly fear of what might issue forth and pursue. Perhaps the familiar sounds of the forging had unconsciously some bracing effect upon his nerves. He was near enough now to hear the anvil ring and ring. Once he fancied a word was spoken, and then only the crash of the sledge following the imperative clink of the hand-hammer ; his practiced ear detected the difference in the vibrations when the smith smote the face of the anvil instead of the metal in process of forging, as a signal that the blows of the sledge should cease. “ Jes like me ! " he thought; and like any other smith, he knew. The blows had quickened anew, and rang resonantly vibrant when he was close at hand. Now and again the heavy sighing of the bellows burst forth, and the light of the fanned fire flared through the chinking. He stole cautiously to the window, — the window he remembered, through which It had looked at him. His hand was upon the shutter when he caught his foot in a vine of the dense undergrowth, and came heavily to the ground, with a noisy thud and a commotion of dislodged stone and gravel rolling beneath his feet.

Instantly the place was dark and silent. He drew himself up, bruised and shaken, and ran limping around to the door. It was closed. He pulled it open, and the pale moonlight fell through the broad aperture, revealing the empty and dusky place. A few coals glowed slumberously beneath the sooty hood. He could not at once remember whether he had left fire here. He doubted his senses. Had he seen aught, heard aught ? Stay ! the anvil, telltale, was still softly ringing, ringing, — fine and faint metallic tones. He could hardly have said why this obedience to natural laws should have shaken his superstition, but with the conviction that the intrusion was of human origin, he ran out into the night, and roused the echoes with his wild halloo. How they tossed the word to and fro! How they hailed the further steeps, and how the savage heights replied! And when lie had listened until all had sunk to silence, a far and faint “ Halloo! ” from the vague upper air startled him with a chill tremor. He suddenly began to reflect that he had found both door and shutter closed, and this place, sounding and alight one moment, dark and silent and empty the next. As to the fire, he trembled to think where it might have been kindled. And the anvil,—would it not ring if that pallid simulacrum of a smith should smite it? With these thoughts he betook himself home, leaving the forge silent and dark behind him, although he often sought with a fearful fancy to think it alight once more, and to hear the ring of the anvil or the melancholy sighing of the bellows.

Charles Egbert Craddock.