THE bellows ceased to sigh. Bereft of its breath, the riotous white flaring of the forge fire sank suddenly into a listless yellow flame and a dull tawny coal. The shop, transformed from the vividly illuminated interior presented but a moment ago, was a shadowy, cavernous place, suffused with a dusky red glow that barely served to show the anvil, the black hood, the sombre suggestions of wall and roof, and the figures of the two startled men. One still reached upward to the bellows ; the other stood with the hammer in his hand, his figure alert and tense against the dimly radiating focus of the fire, that cast a fluctuating, feeble glimmer upon their faces. Outside, the wind went howling by; the torrents were tossed hither and thither in its tempestuous, devious course, and drove heavily before it. Some freakish spirit of the air seemed to catch the shutter in Marcella’s grasp, striving to tear it from her ; she vainly sought to tighten her hold, feeling like one in a dream, who seeks to move, and finds in dismay a hopeless breach between the will and the muscles ; but the next moment the fickle blast was gone, leaving the frail batten trembling but passive in her hand. Her red shawl, worn hood-wise, had fallen about her throat, releasing the curling masses of her hair. She stared with dilated eyes into the ill-lighted place ; her heart throbbed with a vague fright, redoubled as she noticed their evident agitation, and became impressed anew with the strangeness of their presence here at this hour, — their inexplicable intrusion upon the smith’s prerogative.
It was she who was first enabled to speak. “ Whar’s Clem Sanders ? ” she demanded, in a tone of reprehension and accusation, her voice lifted that it might be heard above the iteration of the rain on the roof and the wild skirl of the wind as it came and went. So great was the repulsion which Jake Baintree inspired, and her shrinking from the knowledge of his dolorous record of suspicion and imprisonment and ostracism, which branded him with the shame and the cruelty of a crime of which the verdict of the jury declared him innocent, that it was not at his jailbleached face, distinct amongst the shadows, that she looked, but at the stranger, still motionless beside the anvil, on which the red-hot metal had cooled to a dull tint, and still with the hammer in his hand, gazing silently at her.
He did not answer ; he turned his head slightly and looked at Baintree, as if referring the question to him, — a large, well-shaped head, with the hair cut so close upon it that the light, striking upward, barely indicated its reddishyellow tint. Marcella reluctantly followed his glance to Jake Baintree’s face, which was suddenly instinct with his wonted sly intelligence.
“ Why, howdy, Marcelly,” he said, as casually as if they had met on the roadside in the summer sunshine. “ War ye a-wantin’ ter see Clem ? ”
There seemed something sinister to her in this deliberate ignoring of the singular circumstances of the encounter: she could not account for it; she could only perceive the relief in the stranger’s manner, a covert reliance on Jake Baintree’s cleverness to possess the situation. He looked down, and mechanically turned the piece of iron on the anvil with the smith’s tongs, and she knew he thus hid a smile of relish of his coadjutor’s ready retort.
She was easily angered, and it was not in Eli Strobe’s daughter to be readily affrighted. She replied with that note of reproof and objection with which she had inaugurated the conversation. " I never would hev kem ter Clem Sanders’s forge a-sarchin’ fur you-uns,” she said. “ I never would hev expected ter see ye hyar.”
Somehow, her faculties seemed extended in some sort. She was looking at Baintree’s white face, cut upon the darkling shadows about him, and yet she knew that the stranger, although his head was bent down, was gazing at her with fixed and curious eyes. She did not realize the interest awakened by her face, richly dim in the shadow, like an old painting, pale no longer, but with the dull flush of excitement and anger, her delicately red lips, her brilliant clear eyes, and the curling tangles of the wind-tossed hair indefinite against the folds of the dark red shawl and the obscurity without. She was feeling baffled ; her nerves were strained; somewhere the terrible heights gave forth a wild, sonorous, maddened voice, full of a frantic anguish, and she was reminded of her father, and his torturing frenzy, and her errand for help, which the surprise had effaced for the instant. She suddenly flung out her arms toward them through the window.
“ He ’s dyin’ ! He’s dyin’ ! An’ I mought ez well go ax the mountings fur holp ez you-uns ! ”
She fell half fainting against the window-frame, hardly noticing that, with a change of expression and an abrupt start, Jake Baintree came with his deft, light step toward her. But when he was near she shrank from him, with that aversion which one experiences from the propinquity of a cold-blooded animal, and she stood erect. His voice was full of feeling, and she was sensible of an effort at self-reproach, as a duty which she owed him as reparation.
“ Laws-a-massy, Marcelly, air Eli wuss ? I kin do ennythin’ fur him ez Clem Sanders kin.”
She glanced quickly at the stranger, to judge if he had smiled again, perchance, at her outburst, so alert was her pride to take cognizance of ridicule even at the moment that she was sobbing out her errand. His face was grave, so far as the shadows would reveal it. Then her attention reverted to Jake Baintree, and she looked at him with a wondering distrust and curiosity as he suddenly exclaimed, " The Lord’s hand is in it! ” So pious he was, to be sure, for a man who had renounced religion, and who had no other use for a river than a wild fowl might find. “The Lord’s hand is in it! No use ter ride fourteen mile ; this hyar man ’s a doctor, Marcelly, an’ he ’ll physic Eli.”
He laid his hand on the broad shoulder of the man, who turned and stared at him in palpable amazement. The fire was so low she could barely see his face, but his whole attitude was expressive of surprise and objection.
“ He’s a valley man, Marcelly, an’ he be a powerful smart man,” Jake Baintree said, with less the air of introduction than of a showman commending a work of art. “ He’s the doctor ez physicked me whilst in jail, an’ he brung me through wonderful; an’ that’s how I kem ter be ’quainted with him. He ’ll kem right straight, Marcelly,” he continued, with an assurance as of a proprietor. “ Ye jes’ run home out’n the rain, whilst we git our coats an’ hats on, an’ sech; we ’ll kem ez soon ez we kin. I dunno what ailed me ter let ye stan’ out than in the rain an’ under them drippin’ eaves all this time. Ye jes’ g’long, an’ we ’ll foller ye.”
Marcella hesitated for a moment; then turned away from the window, and the dull red scene within disappeared as if it had been caught up into the black night. Outside it seemed darker, if that were possible, than before ; the lightnings had ceased their delirious quiver ; the winds were steadier; the rain was a continuous downpour. She kept her hand on the wall of the forge, as she slowly made the circuit around it, still trembling with the excitements of the evening, and anxiously malcontent with the result of the interview. What strange man was this, that lent himself to these curious midnight labors, these unwarranted intrusions ? What could he be doing in that forge, with the smith’s tongs, and swage, and bellows, that he wielded as his own ? And why was he secret about it, and easily startled and affrighted ? And how amazing was it that he, a physician, should be at the disposal of Jake Baintree, and accept his guidance! Then she recollected the astonishment of the stranger, plainly shown, upon Jake Baintree’s proposal that he should act in the place of the distant physician. Was he a doctor at all ? she wondered ; and suddenly she remembered his evident reluctance, and was chilled with the contradictory fear that after all he might not come. More than once she paused, as she stumbled along in the darkness, to judge if perchance, amidst the clamors of the elements, she might hear their footsteps splashing in the muddy road behind her. No sound save the march of the legions of the rain down and down the valley ; the wind wailed afar off, under sentence of exile. An utter darkness overspread all the world. She might not have kept the road, save for that strange yet familiar phenomenon of the independence of the muscles, by which one mechanically performs actions, the processes of which have no recognized correlative consciousness in the brain. Her feet found the way which her intelligence could not discern. She presently felt the wet blades of the cornstalks in her face, and knew that she was in the turn-row, walking as one blind or asleep along the straight, narrow space, and turning when the gate was reached. Again she paused to listen if any footfall followed : only the turmoils of the rain sobbing in the half-
spent passion of the storm, and the melancholy stirring of the shaking forests, until suddenly an alien sound smote her ear, a high, cracked, exhausted voice, now talking incoherently, now seeking to scream with muscles that failed midway, all betokening the continued delirium within the cabin. The proximity of the dwelling was further suggested by the feeble flicker through the crevices of the batten shutter. Once more she reflected how powerless they within were to succor or subdue this strange, distraught spirit that seemed to have invaded their home; how far away that entity whom they knew as Eli Strobe had journeyed, unconscious of their efforts, unresponsive to their appeals. As she reached the porch she turned again, peering into the darkness : the rain had almost ceased near at hand ; further away she could hear the pattering of the long files of drops into the valley below, but it had a fitful, discursive effect, and the comparative silence betokened that this verge of the rain-cloud had followed into the vasty vagueness wherein the great vaporous masses were expended. The vines close at hand were all dripping, dripping; more than once their iteration beguiled into hopeful credulity her anxious desire to hear a step close at hand. Although a passive silence, or rather a sense of spent sound, made the air null, the wind was still abroad in the upper atmosphere ; for once or twice the rifts that it rent in the black, overhanging clouds showed the palpitating splendors of a white star. A raucous sound made her start, — only a frog croaking in a pool by the fence. And once more that wild, strange voice within rang out, with all the suggested lapses of identity to make her shrink and wince. She burst into tears, and started again toward the gate. She would not go in and tell the frantic grandmother and sister how her mission had failed, how she had been mocked and derided with fantastic misrepresentations and promises. A doctor, was he, forsooth, a " mighty smart man,” who would haunt the little mountain forge in company with Jake Baintree, in the secret midnight, for some inexplicable purpose, and wield the hammer at the anvil! She knew little of the habitudes of this world, but she sneered with contempt of her own credulity as she sought to imagine the only medical man within her ken, the old country doctor, at such escapades, — he of the big spectacles, and the rickety buggy, and the bald head, and the black store-clothes. Conventionality, reliability, and respectability could not have been more expressively impersonated.
Again that wild, exhausted wail from within, the vague sound of the troubled comments of the watchers, and she started anew upon her mission to arouse the neighbors; weeping that so much time had been wasted, and her heart throbbing with anger and resentment that she had been so ready a dupe. She had reached the turn-row, when suddenly the galloping of horses invaded the silence; the hoof-beats were resonant, as they splashed into the pools of the red clay road. She stood still amongst the leaning stalks, the blades softly swaying about her, listening, hoping, doubting. It seemed that no other errand than hers could bring men out at this hour, and yet the sharp pangs of disappointment had been too fierce for her to wittingly and willfully encounter them again. Her heart sank in an interval of silence ; then that turbulent sound of swift equestrians was again upon the air, and she knew that the horsemen were coming in single file down the unimpeded ways of the turn-row. She faced about precipitately, and ran like a frightened deer. She would be there first ; they should never know that she had doubted them, and had come forth to search for others. She was half laughing and half crying, in the intensity of her relief, in her relish of her own quick resource. Nevertheless, she had barely reached the gate, so swift was their progress, when they reined up beside it; she silently ran through it in the darkness, and in the interval while they dismounted and hitched their horses she made her way to the porch. The shaft of light that fell out into the night, as Mrs. Strobe, hearing their approach, cautiously opened the door, revealed Marcella, her tall figure swathed in her clinging wet garments, her red shawl twisted about her throat, her dense hair weighted with rain hanging upon it, her eyes soft and dewy, her lips all tenderly smiling upon the advancing shadows.
“I fetched him, Marcelly !” Jake Baintree exclaimed, as he came up the Steps of the porch, and the light from the room showed his keen, clearly cut face, shiny with the rain, and his eyes, all eager with interest and excitement, sharply glancing out from under his hatbrim. “ He ’lowed he could n’t do nuthin’ ’thout his physic, so he an’ me hed ter take time ter go — yander,” — he hesitated suddenly and spoke with embarrassment, jerking his thumb vaguely over his shoulder, — “ ter git his med’cine-chist. Good-evenin’, Mis’ Strobe,” he went on, his voice the very essence of oily propitiation, as he caught sight of the timorous little dame, looking forlorn, and smaller and more wrinkled than ever, as she peered out of the door. The long-legged Isabel could easily look over her shoulder, and she did. “ Powerful sorry ter hear from Marcelly how Eli hev been tuk. I hev brung a doctorman, ez hev been abidin’ with me, ter see ef he can’t settle him somehows.”
Mrs. Strobe’s head was cocked askew in inquiry. What kind of a “ doctorman ” was this that abode with Jake Baintree ? Then, as a strange, angry mutter came from the room within, she looked over her shoulder with a frightened gesture.
“ Ennybody ez be named ‘ doctor ’ mought ez well try thar hand on Eli, kase ef they can’t make him no better, I reckon they can’t make him no wuss,” she assented, not too graciously. Her sharp eyes strove to pierce the gloom that hung about the dusky shadow that followed Jake Baintree toward the door. There was still suggested in the manner of the figure that reluctance which Marcella had noted at the forge. It angered her in some sort that he should be so loath to help, and it excited her curiosity. She felt an antagonism toward him, despite the anxious, absorbing emotions that might have been supposed to crowd out every other sentiment. The next moment she had forgotten all except that she had brought help where it was so sorely needed. In the necessity for exertion during the last half hour and the hardships of the storm, she had been spared something of the full realization of the calamity that had befallen them. But as Mrs. Strobe opened the door, and Marcella caught sight of her father anew, she winced from the strange metamorphosis that delirium had wrought ; the alien spirit that possessed the accustomed face and figure almost thwarted recognition. He had risen, wrapped in the sheets, still clinging to his spectral delusion; and as the flicker of the fire rose and fell, and the tallow dip flared and sputtered, his dim, sheeted, ghostly figure, with its bandaged bloody head, gibbered and bowed fantastically in the dusky corner of the cabin where he stood, unnoting the new-comers even while his burning eyes were riveted upon them, still muttering his threats of vengeance on the man who had slain him.
“ Scot-free ! Scot-free,” he exclaimed. “ I ’ll walk ! I ’ll walk ! ”
Jake Baintree’s hat fell from his nerveless hand, as he stood gazing, openmouthed, at the phenomenon of frenzy for the first time presented to his scanty experience. Mrs. Strobe and Isabel, somewhat accustomed to their terrors, took heed of it with a certain painful curiosity as to its further developments.
“ He ’lows he air a harnt,” said Mrs. Strobe in a low voice to Baintree. " An’ ef that air the way he air goin’ ter behave whenst he air dead, a body oughter take a power o’ pains ter keep him alive awhile. I hope he ’ll last out my time, the Lord knows.”
Marcella blessed the tears that crowded out the sight, and as she turned to the stranger, who was entering last of all, and wiped her eyes with the fringed end of the wet shawl, all her heart was in the words, as she adjured him, “ Fur the Lord’s sake ! Fur the Lord’s sake ! ” and fell to sobbing anew.
He made no reply, and it seemed to her — and she could have smitten him for it — a most casual glance that he cast toward the master of the house, now striding about, unintelligibly calling aloud in a raucous voice; now shrinking into the corner and standing close against the wall, muttering in sinister fashion. And surely, surely nothing could have been more deliberate and unexcited than the manner with which the doctor divested himself of his hat and a long shiny black coat which he wore, a strange garment in this locality, where waterproof luxuries had never prevailed. She looked loweringly at him as he quietly drew off his gloves. Now that he stood revealed, she saw that he was a young man, — as young as Jake Baintree himself ; he had a fair complexion, retaining its distinctive characteristic, despite the temporary sunburn. His long mustache was of the reddish-yellow tint of his short hair, and silky and soft; but the growth about the lower part of his face was in that unprepossessing stage known as “ turning out a beard,” and had the harsher quality usual when the chin has been habitually clean shaven. His attire was strangely different from that of the men of the region, although it vied with theirs in its simplicity. He wore blue flannel trousers, with long india-rubber boots drawn to the knees. His blue flannel shirt appeared as seemly as a coat, — for he wore no coat, — since it was undecorated by the suspenders so salient a feature of mountain attire, and his waistband was about his slender waist rather than close under the armpits, in the prevalent fashion. He was singularly trim and light despite the suggestions of sinew and strength about him, and he had the long, soft white hands so common among the profession. She noted their deft certainty of touch as he took the little black medicine-chest to the table, opened it slowly, showing its rows of tiny vials, on which Mrs. Strobe and Isabel gazed with dilated eyes.
He was not slow when he had selected what he wanted : he crossed the room with a quick, sure step, and laid his hand upon his patient’s arm.
“ Come, Jake,” he said in a low voice to Baintree; and as the mountaineer slouched heavily across the floor, Marcella sank into a chair, putting her hands over her eyes that she might not see the doughty Eli Strobe overpowered in this painfully unequal struggle.
She could not have believed that it would be so soon over. A succession of hoarse screams ; the sound of ineffectual, ill-aimed blows; the dragging of heavy feet across the puncheons; wild, half-articulate curses, growing now disjointed and again only a broken word, subsiding at last to a drowsy mutter, and Eli Strobe was silent and asleep.
The stillness seemed to Marcella sinister. She lifted her head slowly, and gazed fearfully up. The stranger was turning away from the bed, his face flushed with exertion, his lips parted in a triumphant smile, showing his strong white shining teeth beneath his yellow mustache. He wiped his brow with a white handkerchief ; the same office was performed by Jake Baintree with his handy coat-sleeve.
“ Whew-w ! ” the mountaineer commented. “ Eli be ez survigrous ez a yoke o’ steers.”
“ Waal, sir ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Strobe, with a deep sigh of relief and content, the sparkle again in her little bird-like eye, the parchment-like tint of her visage disappearing under a flush of pleasure. “ Did enny mortal ever see ennythin’ done like that! I ’d like ter hev some o’ that thar stuff, doctor,” she declared. “Ye mought leave we-uns a bottle.”
The powerful odor of a strange drug was diffused through the room, and the physician turned and placed the door a trifle ajar before he approached the fire, where Jake Baintree was already seated.
“ Set down, doctor, — set down, doctor,” said Mrs. Strobe, pushing a chair toward him. “ Yes, sir, I ’d like ter hev a bottle. What a thing that physic would be fur fractious chil’n ! — put ’em ter sleep off thar meanness. I never hed but one chile, — that thar big buffalo, Eli, thar.” She had resumed her wonted note toward her son, now that he had relapsed into his old familiar self, losing the dreadful dignity of one about to be summoned to a new and untried world, as well as the painful tenderness and prescient grief that hang upon a possible loss. “ But I hev seen him a many a time whenst it would hev brung a heap o’ peace in the house ef he could hev been put ter sleep that-away, in the midst o’ his tantrums. Can’t ye leave a bottle o’ it, doctor ? ”
Isabel looked up apprehensively, thinking herself the possible candidate for this new and unique method of discipline.
But the stranger said he had none to spare for the subjugation of domestic insurgents, and no more than he needed himself; and although Marcella observed that, as he put the bottle into its groove in the case and shut the lid with a snap, his face wore a smile of relish or of ridicule, she did not resent it, so grateful was she, so ready to fall at his feet. Still, terrors beset her ; it seemed too good to be true.
“ He ain’t dead, doctor? ” she asked, in a tone of expostulation, glancing at the motionless figure on the bed.
“ Not at all,” he rejoined, showing his fine teeth.
“ Shet up, Marcelly; ye hev got no sense,” urged her grandmother ; for the natty Mrs. Strobe was all herself again. “ Set down, doctor, an’ rest yer bones. Won’t ye hev a toddy ter sorter hearten ye up ? I hev got some apple-jack hyar strong enough ter climb a tree. Jake,” she continued, turning toward Baintree, “ jes’ ketch a-holt o’ the handle o’ that thar jimmy-john in the corner, an’ haul it hyar. I’d ax Marcelly, ’ceptin’ she looks ’bout broke in two ; an’ I’d git it myself, ’ceptin’ the jimmy-john’s too nigh my size.”
The apology was needless, for Jake Baintree seemed complimented to be permitted to make himself useful, and brought out the demijohn with much glad alacrity. Marcella marveled in self-reproachful dismay that she should have such strange thoughts, but as Jake Baintree poured the fluid into a glass she noted how sinewy and thin his hands were, and white as the doctor’s own, — so long had they been idle and listless in jail; and she wondered with which of them he had killed Samuel Keale, — with both, perchance, —and if handcuffs had been put on those long, bony wrists while he languished in prison. And when he offered her a glass, she shuddered and drew back, and shook her head without a word. Mrs. Strobe also declined to join in the potations. " Sperits air all well enough fur. men,” she observed, — “ they hev got so little sense ennyhow, it don’t matter ef they gits foolisher ’n nat’ral wunst in a while ; but ef the Lord ’ll spare my reason, I ’ll ondertake ter holp him.”
As the stranger sat drinking full three fingers’ measure of the athletic apple-jack so graphically described by Mrs. Strobe, he seemed less reluctant, less doubtful, than before. He said almost nothing, however, leaving the conversation to Jake Baintree, watching him with interest while he talked, and in the intervals of silence meditatively eying the smouldering fire. He had the air of holding himself in abeyance, and quietly awaiting developments. He seemed to indorse all that Baintree said, who talked eagerly, and was by no means averse to giving an account of his friend.
“ I war powerful glad Marcelly met up with we-uns, Mis’ Strobe,” he said, as he sat on the opposite side of the fire, his elbows on his knees, his hat pushed back on his sleek black hair, his eyes seeming hardly so crafty and bright since they betokened such kindliness, that Marcella was reminded anew of his gratitude to her father for the logical stand as to his innocence which the constable had taken after his acquittal. “ I never war so glad ez I hed this hyar doctor-man visitin’ me.” The stranger always had that covert smile, barely to be detected, on his face, when he was thus designated ; but he raised the glass to his lips, and, except by Marcella, it was not noticed. “ He physicked me whenst I war sick in jail, an’ I knowed he war a powerful survigrous man ter hev around whenst folks air ailin’.”
Mrs. Strobe was gracious enough to refrain from controverting this proposition. As she sat in the chimney-corner, with her tiny feet perched upon the rung of the chair, she looked discerningly, and withal approvingly, at the stranger, while Jake Baintree continued his queer introductory discourse. Nevertheless, she began to wonder why they did not finish drinking their liquor and go, for the hour was wearing close to the dawn, and, wiry and stout as she was, she began to feel the effects of her vigil and excitement. Her gratitude, however, kept her up and awake, and curiosity had a stimulating influence. She, too, wondered how the ostracized Jake Baintree had so very capable a “ doctorman ” at his disposal.
“ The old doctors, they ’low they know everything in creation, but they don’t,” Baintree said, voicing a most mundane sentiment.
Mrs. Strobe nodded her head in unabashed acquiescence, despite the destroyed powders, the futile “ yerb tea,” and the subsequent delirium, — so transitory are the effects even of the lessons of experience, the best of all teachers though it be. Man may be defined as the animal who will not learn.
“ But folks hev ter find that out fur tharselves,” continued the wily Baintree, “ so he hed nuthin’ ter do, sca’cely, down thar in Colb’ry. Folks didn’t want a young doctor l’arnin’ on them.”
“ Yes, bes’ not fool too much with yer lungs, an’ yer liver, an’ yer stomick. No gittin’ enny new ones,” Mrs. Strobe agreed unexpectedly.
Jake Baintree seemed to lose his balance at this for a moment, then plunged on resolutely: “ So hevin’ nuthin’ ter do thar, he kem up hyar ter see me.”
Notwithstanding his incidental air, Mrs. Strobe began to perceive that he was definitely driving at something, and he was clever enough to detect this in her sharp eyes, as she fixed them with renewed wonderment upon him. He went directly to the point, with an air of great candor : “ Fac.’ is, Mis’ Strobe, he don’t want folks ginerally ter know he be hyarabouts. Nobody would hev knowed it, nohow, ef he hed n’t kem out ter do you-uns a favior. Clem Sanders would fairly brain us with that big sledge o’ his’n, ef he knew we’d been foolin’ with his forge. He’s a powerful survigrous man, an’ he would n’t think nuthin’ o’ hammerin’ us up on the anvil, an’ drawin’ us down fine. So him an’ me too would be obleeged ter ye ef ye an’ the gals” — he included Marcella and Isabel in his glance — “wouldn’t say nuthin’ ’bout seein’ him. It’s his bizness, an’ nobody else’s.”
The stranger bore with an admirable calmness the stare of amazement which Mrs. Strobe and Isabel fixed upon him. Marcella, who had seen him wielding the hammer at the forge, felt her capacity for surprise blunted. She was prepared to hear anything. Mrs. Strobe’s lower jaw dropped a little in dismay. She was sufficiently sophisticated to know that a physician might have slain his fellow-men in the regular course of business without being called upon to seclude himself in the mountains with the ostracized Baintree. Her inevitable conclusion was quickly reached, — it was not in the regular course of business; he was, doubtless, a fugitive from the law, hiding in the wilderness from the officers of justice. So simple a solution of the mystery was it that it had forced itself irresistibly on both Marcella and Isabel, who gazed upon him with mingled pity, and awe, and repugnance. His hazel eyes were fixed upon the fire, and now and again he lifted the glass of apple-jack to his lips.
Despite the definiteness of Mrs. Strobe’s convictions in general, when an emergency or perplexity supervened, she was less ready to reach a decision than her granddaughter.
“We ain’t got no call ter tell, sure,” said Marcella. “ Dad would hev been dead ef he hed n’t kem ter holp us.”
“ He would! ” echoed Isabel.
“Yes, sir! We hev got Eli agin, some sim’lar ter what he useter was,” said the old woman, feeling herself again in her recollection of her ascendency over her big son. “ An’ what war ye a-doin’ of in the forge ? ” she demanded, turning her lively eye on Baintree.
He looked down into his glass and shook it gently, watching the amber and ruby light of the fire as it struck through the liquor. He made no pretense of consultation with his friend ; he answered for him : —
“ Waal, I’d ez soon tell ye ez not, Mis’ Strobe.” He nodded at the man, who had chanced to glance away at the bed where his patient lay, and grinned significantly. The demonstration said as plainly as if he had spoken, “ Some day when he is away, I will tell you all.”
The old woman nodded her acquiescence and comprehension, and as the stranger abruptly turned his head he came very near surprising them at this telegraphy. Mrs. Strobe spoke precipitately to cover her confusion : —
“ I ’ll be powerful pleased, the Lord knows, not ter tell nuthin’. I be a mighty partic’lar woman with my words. Folks hev got ter be, ef thar kin hev dealin’s in politics. Mos’ly ef ye tell the truth ye ‘ll prosper, but them in pol’tics air ez ‘feard o’ the truth ez a toper o’ cold water. Jes’ gin ’em the fac’s, an’ they ‘ll see snakes ! Ye need n’t be ’feard I’ll tell the truth, stranger,” — that sly, speciously grave look on her thin lips. “ I hev seen too much mis’ry kem from sech practices.”
But the stranger seemed embarrassed and slightly ill at ease, and glanced doubtfully at Jake Baintree, who drained the last drop in his glass. As he held it, empty, still leaning forward, he gazed propitiatingly at her, as she sat shaking with her silent chuckle.
“ Ye ’re funnin’, ain’t ye, Mis’ Strobe ? ”
“ Ye want me ter tell the truth, then, Jake ? Waal, it ’s a mighty tough strain, but I ’ll try.”
Baintree had risen ; he stood swinging his hat in his hand, and laughing, with an effort at geniality.
“ Naw, Mis’ Strobe ; we-uns don’t want ye an’ the gals ter say nuthin’, — that ’ll be ez big a favior ter we-uns ez this hyar doctor-man done you-uns.”
“ We-uns ain’t a-goin’ ter tell nuthin’,” said Marcella, taking the initiative once more.
“ Naw, we ain’t,” echoed Isabel.
“ We ain’t likely ter resk ennything we ain’t used ter, like tellin’ the truth,” said Mrs. Strobe waggishly.
Baintree rather sheepishly continued to swing his hat; then, as he glanced toward the door, still half ajar, “ It’s day ! ” he said.
The puncheon floor of the uninclosed passage without showed in a gray, timorous, colorless medium, too neutral to express the idea of light, too null for darkness. The old dog came up, distinctly visible, stretching his limbs and yawning, as he looked casually into the room ; then went off, wagging his tail slightly, as if pleased in the main to be reminded of his friends within. There were no traces of the storm as the two men came out together, slowly, followed by the family, except the dripping, moisture-laden aspect of tree and vine and wall, the dank, heavy air, the pallid ranks of the corn, here and there beaten down to the ground, and a bird’snest, long ago empty, the sport of the winds, lying upon the porch. Marcella picked up the frail and fibrous thing, suggestive of fleeting song, and transitory love, and lapsing summer. The young stranger had fixed speculative eyes upon her, as she leaned against the vine-draped post, her hair dry again and freshly curling, the dull fringes of her red shawl against the warm whiteness of her neck, her long, curling lashes pensively veiling her downcast eyes. He mechanically threw his waterproof coat over one arm, as he stood, and with the other hand he meditatively turned the end of his long yellow mustache, unheeding Jake Baintree, who was remarking, “ I ’ll be bound, Mis’ Strobe, thar’s a heap o’ timber down in the woods.” The mountaineer glanced away at the opaque densities of the mists that filled the valleys, and rose to the mountain-tops, and hung about the little cabin, and had a drearier pallor than the gray sky. where, indeed, once or twice a glittering point betokened a fading star in the rifts of the clouds. Then the two men went down the steps and through the gate, where they were lost to sight in the vapors before they reached the turn-row.
Mrs. Strobe and Isabel stood and stared at the point where they had vanished, until they could no longer hear their regular footfalls, growing ever fainter and fainter ; but Marcella still turned the relic of the spring weavings in her hand, and took pensive note of the autumn in its riddled and void meshes.
Isabel spoke first.
“ That thar stranger air the curiousest man of all the men ez hev ever been ter this house,” she observed oracularly, as if she were a competent judge of curiousness, and a connoisseur in human bric-à-brac.
Her grandmother chuckled silently.
“ An’ that’s a bold sayin’,” commented the little old cynic.
The mists continued to press close about the little cabin. The sunless day hardly gave evidence how it was wearing on, so imperceptibly did the shadows grow less gray, or the opaque vapors more definitely white. Some movement there was in the dense folds, for now even the vines on the porch were invisible, and anon all their leaves were abnormally definite on the blank white surface of the background. A continuous drip sounded from the eaves, but otherwise the world seemed strangely silent, until the mincing footfalls of a pacing nag sounded dull and muffled along the dank turn-row, and announced to Mrs. Strobe the approach of old Dr. Bryce.
“ Now, ain’t it a blessin’,” she observed to her granddaughters, “ ez that thar perverse old man never tuk it inter that head o’ his’n — an’ it’s full o’ notions— ter kem no earlier. He mought hev met the t’other feller, an’ thar’s nuthin’ in this worl’ one doctor hates like another one. An’ ef ’t warn’t fur the law ez keeps ’em off’n one another, thar’d be mo’ scatterin’ o’ brains, an’ hair, an’ bones round graveyards ’n thar be now. Ef ye want ter see one o’ ’em take a fit, jes’ let him know some other doctor hev been meddlin’ with his patient, ez he calls it, A mighty good word fur it, too. Patient he air, — the feller hev got ter learn patience, sure ! This hyar old man can’t abide it, ef he ain’t allowed ter pizen folks his own way ; an’ ef ye don’t foller his directions edzac’ly, he ’ll gin the case up. An’ then ye mought git well, stiddier dyin’ respectably, ’cordin’ ter the doctor’s prescriptions.”
She rose, with her speciously grave expression puckering her thin lips, and went to meet him on the porch, as he came up, with his saddle-bags over his arm. “ Good-mornin’, doctor,” she observed, with great suavity.
“ Good-morning, madam,” he said in a cheerful note. He was propitiated by a certain up-all-night aspect in the three feminine members of the household, which his discerning eye could well distinguish from the activity of the habitual early riser. It implied due anxiety and attention to any possible or probable want of his patient. He had scant interest in people whose lungs, liver, heart, and stomach were in a normal condition. They were merely unindividualized cumberers of the ground, except as they ministered to that genus whom he sought to exalt into a tyrant of absolute sway, his patient. He himself bowed before it with an unswerving devotion and an unchanging assiduity, despite its protean aspect, whether it were only two feet long, and writhing with the colic, or as big as Eli Strobe, with a dignified fracture of the skull; and he saw to it that every possible knee was also crooked in subservience. It was a favorite formula with him, “ If my patient can’t sleep, not a soul in the house shall bat an eye all night.” And thus there were always powders or drops to be administered with appalling frequency, if the sufferer should chance to awake.
Therefore he looked with approving eyes at Mrs. Strobe, and dismissed as gratuitous certain anxieties that had harassed him since parting from her yesterday, because of her earnest advocacy of “ yerb tea,” and her evident reluctance to defer to his judgment.
“ How’s my patient, madam ? ” he asked, as he lumbered up the steps.
He was not, properly speaking, a fat man ; he might better be described as merely ample. He was not muscular; he seemed flabbily large. His face had sundry deep dimples, visible even when not smiling, and he had a fair, fresh complexion, and was close-shaven. He was perhaps some sixty years old, and he was ostentatious in the use of his spectacles, after the manner of one who regards age as a sort of gradual promotion. He was quite bald, and wore a dark wig, or what is known as a “ scratch.” It hardly served any purpose of deception, for often he thrust it far back on his head, showing his broad, full-fronted brow; and sometimes, in his office, on a warm day, he hung it on the door-knob or the back of a chair, enjoying thereby many an influenza and neuralgia, which he would have considered of serious interest had it been the choice possession of one of his patients.
“ Not awake yet ? ” he said, glancing at the pillow as he entered. He sat down beside the bed, and, motioning to Marcella to open the shutter, he adjusted his spectacles, and bent forward to scrutinize the sleeping face.
Mrs. Strobe, secretly scornful as she watched him, was amazed to see him draw back, with a doubting surprise upon his face, and with his soft, deft fingers feel the pulse of the wounded man. His eyes sought hers with a suspicious gleam.
“ How did he spend the night?” he asked curtly.
“ Waal,” cautiously admitted Mrs. Strobe, “ the fust o’ the night he was sorter rampagious. Arter that he slept.”
The doctor rose slowly, looking very large and limp as he stood solemnly confronting the little dame. “ Mrs. Strobe,” he demanded, “ what was done to this man ? ”
“ Why, law, doctor, you-uns know ! ” she cried. “ Teck Jepson jes’ rid him down, an’ bust his head open, an’ ” ——
“ Woman,” he thundered, “ this man has been drugged ! ”
Mrs. Strobe quailed. She would not have believed the discovery possible to his vaunted science.
“ Jes’ a leetle yerb tea,” she faltered.
He stared at her, baffled, and doubting if it were possible to elicit the truth from her. He knitted his bare brows, for his wig was far back on his bald poll. The mystery of it all stemmed for the time the rising tide of his tumultuous indignation. “ Why did n’t you give him the powders I left, as directed ? ” he demanded.
“ Law, doctor, they could n’t make no diff’unce, — that thar leetle trash stuff.”
The doctor’s bald head flushed to the nape of his neck. Despite his scanty consideration of people who were in the enjoyment of full health, he could not strike Mrs. Strobe. She seemed all too small for his large vengeance. There was only one course open to him, professionally speaking.
“ I give up the case. I will not be responsible,” he sputtered, stooping down to pick up his saddle-bags. Suddenly he caught sight of the wan, haggard, sleeping face on the pillow, and the loyalty of a whole life flamed up anew toward its object. “ No, I won’t, — I won’t, neither! I won’t leave my patient to be murdered amongst you. Yes, murdered ! ” he vociferated ; “ for if my directions and my medicines are tampered with again, and my patient dies, I ’ll have you every one indicted for murder; you hear me, — for murder! Poisoning my patient! ” He wagged his half-draped head with a knowing look. He had not lived in this world so long as not to be aware of the terror that the ignorant have of that unknown, unmeasured force, the law. Even the doughty Mrs. Strobe seemed very small, and withered, and wizened, as she contemplated the prospect. He followed up his advantage : “ Come here ! ” — he turned to Marcella ; " you look like you have some sense. I ’ll leave my directions with you, and you see you carry them out. Do just as I say. Think I won’t know it if you don’t, as soon as I get here ? ”
“ Mighty apt, sure,” Mrs. Strobe conceded, in a conciliatory tone.
But the big doctor, who seemed, as he stood about, to occupy more than his share of the little space, only gave a snort of derisive rage at this overture, and prepared his medicines in stern and puffing silence. He was still breathless when he gathered up his saddle-bags and started toward the door. He came back, and looked in again to say, with a threatening air, when he would repeat his visit; and they presently heard the ambling hoof-beats of his horse that took him up the turn-row, and so away.
It might seem that one could not easily recover from the stress of this interview, but Mrs. Strobe’s elasticity was altogether unstrained, and she rebounded from her humiliating detection with the alert grace of one who, from goodnature, ignores a defiance, having ample resources at call.
“ Gin up the case ! ” she cried scornfully. “ An’ what do we-uns keer, with a doctor-man o’ our own, what Jake Baintree fotched ! I hed a great mind ter tell ’bout’n him, an’ how peart he war, but I war ’feard o’ hurtin’ the old man’s feelin’s. Murderin’ Eli, — I say ! I war so mad wunst I hed a great mind ter throttle him; ” which the doctor would have esteemed a terrible intention in a woman of Mrs. Strobe’s size, had he known she entertained it. “ But how did he find out Eli hed tuk the t’other doctor’s medicine ? I tell ye, now, Marcelly, that thar old man hev got eyes in the back o’ his head, an’ kin see fourteen mile off through a thunder-storm in the night-time ’thout strainin’ his sight.”
Mrs. Strobe affected to hope that he would continue angry, and fail to keep his engagement; but her relief was very patent when he reappeared with his saddle-bags the next day, and the next, and still again. He took little note of her at first, except to treat her remarks with a sedulous show of unconcern. Afterward he gave the members of the household little heed save to ask keen and searching questions as to his patient during his absence, and to strain to the utmost their every capacity and all the resources of the little cabin to subserve the invalid’s comfort. All was ungrudgingly and submissively accorded, but, nevertheless, he began to look very grave as the days wore on. and now and then he solemnly shook his bald head.
“ What makes him shake his head that-a-way, Marcelly ? ” the old woman demanded. “ Ter make sure thar’s nuthin’ in it? He need n’t look so disapp’inted. I could hev tole him ez much ez that, an’ kep’ him from expectin’ ter hear it rattle.”
Outside the world took its way, unheeding, down the oft-trodden course of the year. The dank mists clung long to range and valley. They lifted at last, and then the torrents of the recent storm seemed to have been charged with pigments, for bold dashes of color, of red, of a luminous yellow, accented yet tempered by intervals of purplish and bronze intimations, emblazoned the mountain-side, where a monotony of summer greenth had lately held sway. The sun, coming again with a fluctuating brilliancy, with far-reaching misty refractions, and anon diaphanous veilings, to displace the surly usurpations of the grimmer gray elements, found a responsive glow in the sudden enrichment of the world. The far-away ranges had acquired a new charm of azure, an exquisitely pure tone, but of a dull, unglossy softness, all unlike the enameled blue of the great crystalline sky. The air was pervaded by a fine aroma. The wind had wings : one could sometimes see the shadows of these subtle, swift invisibilities flutter in the cloudless sunshine, so vaguely that before a glance might seek to measure an airy pinion the fleet thing was gone. Enchantment boldly wandered forth into the broad daylight, and all lavish splendors were vagrant. In every fence corner, the lush grasses and weeds, heavy with seeds, were bepainted with a brush full of color, — amber, and brown, and red ; even the cobwebs, gossamer and silver in the sun, hung from rail to rail upon the old fences, and bedizened their gaunt homeliness with a delicate fibrous grace. Oh, gone was the summer, and it would come no more, however the recurrent season might wear its similitude. Marcella was living her life out; she was not the same that the spring had found her. She felt that she was older by many summers, and she did not need Andy Longwood to tell her so.
“Ye hev got ter be ez solemn ez — I dunno what all. An’ ye used ter laff, an’ laff, an’ laff! Now ye can’t crack a joke ter save yer life. An’ ef ennybody else gits ter funnin’, ye don’t pay no tention ter what they say.”
The young fellow sat, as was his wont in his frequent visits, on the step of the porch, his head, with its tousled curls and its big hat, leaning back against the post and the thinning yellow vines. His expression was slightly sullen, and implied a despondent appeal, although his muscles asserted a cheerful habit, altogether independent of his mind and heart ; and he mechanically laid a clasp knife upon one closed fist, and with a dextrous twist of the wrist it was flung to the ground, piercing the moist earth with its point, after the manner of the expert mumble-thepeg player. Now and then he looked up at Marcella, who sat spinning, spinning, ceaselessly at her little flax-wheel, until it seemed to him — the whir ringing in his ears, the sight of the wheel whirling until it was only a dazzling spokeless circle — that they were his heartstrings which she was thus drawing out into these attenuated threads, and there would not be enough hope, or courage, or any of the essential endowments left for him to live upon by the time she had wound these intimate fibres into balls. So forlorn was this " frequent visitor.”
“ You don’t never notice nobody nor nuthin’, nowadays,” he said, a trifle hampered in his complaint by the presence of the wiry Isabel, who sat at the other end of the step, and of his own dog, who looked, as he took up his position between the two, intelligent enough to understand the conversation, and independent enough to repeat it. “ Got nuthin’ ter say ter nobody, nor nuthin’.”
He meant himself by this negative description, and the sharp-eyed Isabel understood as much. Despite her precocity she had the lamentable lack of tact characteristic of her age, and her mind was a blank as to matters amatory. She intended to be very agreeable when she said, with a toss of her tousled hair, “ Marcelly air a-gittin’ too old fur ye an’ me, Andy ; she ’s jes’ gittin’ mighty settled an’ old.”
A quick expression of apprehension, even dismay, flitted across his face. “What air ye a-talkin’ ’bout, Is’bel?” he cried, in a loud, reprehensive voice. “I be four year older ’n Marcelly. ‘ Gittin’ too old fur ye an’ me ’! ” he mimicked ungraciously. “ Puttin’ weuns tergether, ez ef we-uns war of an age, whenst I be old enough ter be yer gran’dad, chile! ” He made another active throw with the knife, holding one ear with one hand, and flinging the blade from the other ear with a marked dexterity.
When he glanced up Isabel had risen, and waited to catch his eye. “ I’m goin’ in the house,” she remarked, with sour dignity. “ I be ’feard ye mought bite me.”
He would have been glad of the riddance had it been vouchsafed, but it was an empty threat, or rather promise, for the little girl still lingered, leaning against the post of the porch ; nevertheless, it served him for another ground of complaint.
“Ye hev all done got sot agin me hyar,” he said, “ even Is’bel. Ez ter Mis’ Strobe, she never war hurt with perliteness, nohow; leastways not ter me. An’ you-uns be all tuk up with Clem Sanders, I reckon, ain’t ye ? ” He looked up appealingly.
A smile rippled across Marcella’s face ; her red lips parted. Was she indeed grown so very old, after all? But the alert Isabel answered : —
“ I dunno what ye ’low we-uns be so admirin’ o’ Clem fur, ’thout we wanted him fur a ornamint, like that thar plaster rooster what dad brung granny from Colb’ry ter set on the mankle-shelf. Clem sets ez still an’ ’pears ez goodlookin’ ez he kin, jes’ like the rooster do. Both o’ ’em seem like they mought crow toler’ble loud ef they would, but nare one of ’em do.”
The “ frequent visitor ” was in a measure appeased. He laughed mightily at this ridicule of his rival, and then sighed deeply, partly for relief and partly for self-pity.
Isabel caught the approving expression in his eyes as they met hers, and she relented from her intention of leaving the young people together, and once more kindly sat down between them. She seemed, however, disposed to earn her welcome, for as she clasped her lithe brown hands over her knees, and turned her pointed chin reflectively upwards, and cast a glance toward the forge, the preternatural wisdom of her expression intensified by the two sharp eyes set so close together, she continued: “ Las’ time Clem kem a-visitin’,” — she made no doubt it was partly to see herself and partly her “ granny,” as well as Marcella, — “ he jes’ sot up ez mum ez ye ever see ennybody, like he war ’feard o’ we-uns,” — her lips curled in relish, — “an’ said ‘ Yes’m,’ an’ ‘Ma’am,’ an’ ‘No ’m,’ ter me, ez well ez ter granny; ez respec’ful, an’ humble, an’ ’feard o’ me ez ef I war eighty year old.”
“ Oh, ho ! ho ! ” laughed the merry “ frequent visitor.”
“Shet up, Is’bel,” the elder sister mechanically admonished her.
“ ’Feard o’ gals,” pursued Isabel, in the pleasing consciousness of making herself very agreeable. “ An’ he say nuthin’ ’ceptin’ ter agree with everybody, an’ look so mild an’ meek. An granny, she talked, an’ I talked; an Marcelly, she talked some, too. An’ Clem, he say ‘ Yes’m ’ an’ ‘ Naw m.’ An’ he stayed, an’ stayed, an’ stayed, mighty late ; till whenst he war a-goin’ away, granny, she say ter him, ‘Ye mus’ kem agin, Clem. Me an the gals hev mighty nigh ez interestin’ a time a-settin’ up with ye ez ef ye war a corpse. We ’ll watch with ye whenst ye air dead, Clem. Ye need n’t be ’feard. We will hev got so used ter settin’ alongside o’ ye an’ yer dumb ways ez we will be plumb trained ter it. Kem up agin soon, Clem, else we-uns will git our hands out.’ ”
It was pleasant to hear the “ frequent visitor’s ” laughter, so joyful a sound it was. And how his heart warmed to Mrs. Strobe!
“ Ain’t she smart, though ! My stars ! she’s ez smart ez enny man! ” he exclaimed, in the hyperbole of his enthusiasm. “ What did Clem say ?
“ He say ‘ Yes’m,’ ” cried Isabel, with a jocund outburst. She was in high feather because of her success. Andy Longwood was far more entertaining to her when he was in this hilarious humor, instead of the pathetic sentimental moods which he had of late affected. She was evidently going on to improve her advantage, when Marcella remonstrated.
“ I can’t abide,” she said, “ ter hear ennybody laffed at ahint thar backs. It don’t ’pear right ter me.”
Longwood’s hair was tossed backward, like the mane of an angry horse ; he looked up, with a flushing cheek. “ Ye mean ter say, Marcelly, ez I be ’feard ter laff at Clem Sanders ter his face? Now I ain’t, fur I hev done it a many a time.”
“ An’ me, too,” protested Isabel, with arrogant temerity, as if this were important. “ I laffed at him las’ time he war hyar.”
“ I ain’t sayin’ ye war afeard, Andy.” Marcella sought to soothe his wounded feelings. “ It jes’ ’pears ter me sorter mean an’ deceitful.”
“ Shucks ! ” cried the capable Isabel. “ Clem’s powerful deceitful hisse’f. So meally-mouthed hyar ye ’d think he war a lam’, or jes’ a mild deedie or suthin’; but pass by that thar forge, sir, an’ ye kin hear him hollerin’ a mile off, an’ talkin’ like a plumb coffee-mill, — elbowin’ an’ jostlin’ the men about, the headin’est one o’ the lot! Tuk Jube, the pa’son’s son, one day, sir, an’ put him in a sack, an’ with all them foolish fellers a-followin’ he kerried sack, Jube, an’ all down ter the shallow spread o’ the ruver, an’ flung him in. But Clem’s hollerin’ that time warn’t ekal ter Jube’s, ez he kem out the bag an’ waded ashore. Then Clem, he kems up hyar lookin’ like — like pie, he’s so good an’ desirable. Can’t tell me nuthin’ ’bout that thar gamesome Clem, an’ I ’ll laff at him all I’m a mind ter.”
Andy Longwood’s variable spirits had again declined. He was moodily appreciative of the fact that these robust pranks were not subject for ridicule in the same degree as the burly blacksmith’s quaking humility and tongue-tied meekness in the presence of his lady-love and her feminine relations. The bluff, blustery fun which he relished was not without its fascinations to the boy-lover, and induced an emulative grudging. He realized, too, the possibility that Clem’s bold freedom among men might contrast favorably, in Marcella’s estimation, with the solicitous cowardice that she alone could inspire in that doughty heart, and he looked with lowering antagonism at Isabel, as if she had recited some noble exploit of his rival’s, calculated to put him at a disadvantage and destroy his prospects.
“ Oh, yes, Is’bel, ye saw it, I reckon,” he sneered, with a sudden gust of temper. “ Ye kin see mos’ ennything, ef ye be jes’ willin’ ter take half on trest. I ’ll be bound he hed a dog or suthin’ in that sack, an’ ye saw Jube arterward. Clem couldn’t tote Jube. Ye jes’ saw Jube wadin’.”
“Naw, ’twar jes’ ez I say,” Isabel hastily insisted.
“ Waal, hev it so, — hev it so.” Longwood waved off the discussion. “ Look out right smart enny clear night, an’ ye ’ll see the man in the moon wadin’ down in them shallows.”
“ Shucks ! ” said Isabel, discarding the consideration, as it were, of the man in the moon, and thinking that Longwood was disposed to talk to her as if she were a very small child.
He sat quite silent then, the light wind blowing his long hair back amongst the sere and yellow hop-vines. There was no serenity, as of yore, in his large blue eyes ; he was listless and forlorn, and Marcella was moved to vaguely pity him. She glanced down at him once or twice as she spun, and then away to the purple mountains beyond the hazy valley, rich with golden drapings, tissues of the sunshine that seemed some splendid textile thing, so palpable was its effect. The lilac aster trembled in the stir of the wind. The wild turkey called from the woods. All the burrs of the great chestnut by the gate had opened to the summons of the frost, and now and again, as the branches shook, the glossy nuts fell from the cells to the roots of the tree. She saw ad own the moist, dank path a garter-snake, lying, half torpid, lured out by the treacherous sun and chilled by the autumn blast. Somewhere a cricket shrilled and shrilled.
“ Air the season for’ard over ter Chilhowee, Andy ? ” she asked.
“ Dunno. Don’t keer. Wisht Chilhowee war leveled with the ground.”
“ Dell-law! ” exclaimed Isabel, astonished by this ebullition of perversity, and disposed to comment profusely. Mrs. Strobe opportunely called her from within to some domestic duty, and the suffering Longwood felt it a release.
“ Marcelly,” he said earnestly, making the most of his opportunity, “ ye an’ me useter be powerful friendly, an’ I hed rather kem hyar a-visitin’ than in the courts o’ heaven. An’ ye useter laff an’ be glad ter see me. An’ me an’ ye, an’ sometimes Is’bel,” — alas, how often Isabel, for all he put it thus politely, — “ useter sit in the orcherd an’ eat apples, an’ go fishin’, an’ sometimes jes’ talk on the porch ; an’ now all them times air gone! ”
“ Ain’t we talkin’ on the porch now ? ” demanded Marcella.
“ Not like in them days : ye sca’cely notice now whether I kem or don’t kem ; ye pay jes’ ez much ’tention ter me ez ef I war that thar old dog o’ mine. G’way ! I ain’t talkin’ ter you-uns. I wisht yer head war cut off ! ” He held back with one stalwart hand his canine follower, who upon the mention of the word “ dog ” had come up and offered to lick his face. “ Ye air lookin’ over my head, Marcelly, an’ ye ’low I be sech a fool ez not ter know it. Yit we hev been raised tergether. An’ I remembers how I hev listened, a-comin’ down the turn-row, ter hear ye call out, sweeter ’n a mocking-bird’s singin’, ‘ Look, Is’bel, yander’s Andy.’ I ’d ruther hear it ’n the voice o’ the Lord! Ye need n’t look at me like that. I ’d jes’ ez soon go ter hell ez not — I hev done gone ter hell, ef ye ain’t goin’ ter keer nuthin’ ’bout’n me. Oh, Lord, I can’t learn nuthin’ mo’ ’bout brimstone an’ fire in the next worl’. I hev felt ’em in this.”
“ I ain’t goin’ ter keer nuthin’ ’bout onchristian folks,” remarked Marcella, “ an’ none ez use cuss words an’ talk ’bout ‘ hell.’ ”
She spoke stiffly and with an averted eye, but when he had turaed his head away she looked down kindly and leniently at him.
He suddenly glanced up. “ Air it this all-fired Christian, Teck Jepson, ez hev sot ye agin me ? ” he asked suspiciously.
“ Him ez flung my father down, an’ rid over him, an’ bruk his skull, an’ ” — She could say no more ; the sobs were in her throat, her eyes were full of tears.
“ Don’t cry, Marcelly,” he said sympathetically, and he was silent for a moment in respect for her grief. Then the selfish exactions of the passion that possessed him crowded out all thought of her woes, and he renewed his insistent pleas. “ Marcelly,” he demanded, “ air thar ennybody ez ye know ez I ain’t ’quainted with ? ” Who could say how Fate might play the trickster ? He felt his hands were feeble as he sought to control the possibilities.
It might have been that his words recalled the stranger who had brought such peace and ease to her father, that night of storm and trial. It might have been that he was already in her thoughts. His image in the vicissitudes of that night, now in the lurid and fluctuating illumination of the forge, now as he quelled the frenzy of the wounded man, distinct in the white gleams of the lighted cabin, became vividly present with her. She did not hesitate. She believed he was a fugitive from the law, and whether he had done ill, or whether he was falsely suspected, he should not be hurt by aught that she might say. She sought, however, to summon as innocent a duplicity as she might, for was she not a " perfessin’ member ” ?
“ What makes ye ask seek questions ez that, Andy? Ye ’pear bereft.”
“ I know,” cried the young fellow wildly, “ ez ye think ’bout somebody nowadays in the time whenst ye useter think ’bout’n me ! ”
“ Why, Andy ! ” exclaimed Marcella, at once laughing and blushing for the arrogations of his woe. “ I never did think ’bout you-uns, ef the truth war knowed.”
“ Ye did ! Ye did ! I useter know it ’way over yander ter Chilhowee, kase I’d feel so happy, so happy, whilst a-ploughin’, or choppin’, or a-pullin’ fodder. I would n’t hev swapped places with a ’nangel. Ye used ter think ’bout me then, an’ now ye think ’bout somebody else.”
She said nothing, and he leaned back against the post of the porch, looking up at the far crystalline sky, deeply blue and with one scant cloud visible, of a dazzling opaque whiteness in its central mass, and with tenuous trailing cirrus effects upon its verges. It pained his eyes, and he pulled his hat-brim over his brow as he lowered his head.
“ I tell you what, — I wisht I war a Injun.” He glanced up at her, in the hope that she would ask why. But her wheel still whirled, her little foot, with its low-cut shoe, visible on the treadle. Her bright, downcast eyes were fixed upon the thread that her deft fingers drew out in endless attenuations. “ I wisht I war a Injun,” he reiterated, “ so ez I would n’t know’t war murder an’ a scandalous sin ter kem down hyar from Chilhowee in the night-time an’ scalp every hearty single man in the Settlemint, — scalp ’em an’ stab ’em, I would. I wisht I did n’t know no better n that. I wisht I war a Injun.”
Her thread broke. The wheel ceased to revolve. She looked at him with reprehensive eyes.
“ Andy Longwood,” she remonstrated, “ ye air gittin’ ter be gredgin’ an’ mean, — an’ ye ain’t tellin’ the truth, nuther. Ye don’t wish no sech foolishness, an’ ye would n’t scalp nobody. Ye air jes’ gredgin’ an’ mean.”
“ I gredge you-uns ter enny o’ ’em,” he replied. Then, after a moment, “ Look-a-hyar, Marcelly Strobe,”—he adopted in turn the solemnity of the full name in addressing her, — " how often hev ye promised ter marry me ? ”
“ Not lately,” she declared.
“ No, not lately, an’ that’s jes’ what I’m a-talkin’ ’bout. Lord ! Lord ! I kin ’member jes’ ez well how ye useter look when ye fust tuk ter toddlin’ round, an’ folks useter tell me then ez how ye an’ me would marry some day; an’ I b’lieved ’em, pore fool! An’ so did youuns, though. Ye useter promise ez soon ez ye could talk ez ye would marry me. Ye useter promise even arter ye war ez old ez Is’bel, an’ arterward, too.”
“ Waal, Is’bel ain’t so very old,” observed her sister calmly.
“ An’ all of a suddint,” continued the young lover, “ ye got tongue-tied, an’ would n’t say it yerse’f, an’ would n’t let nobody say it ter you-uns.”
“ Waal, Andy, I hev fund out better sence then. Promisin’ ter marry air a mighty serious matter.”
“ ’T ain’t; promisin’ ter marry me air a mighty cheerful, safe thing ! Knowin’ me like ye do ! Ef ye war a-promisin’ ter marry some o’ these deceitful folks ez kem hyar in thar saaft comp’ny manners, an’ then go rippin’ round the Cove like a demented blacksmith; or folks ez hev got Christian talk fairly a-wobblin’ all ’round ’em, an’ yit all Brumsaidge air afeard ter say a word whilst they air ridin’ folks down, — offcers o’ the law an’ sech, — ’t would be a mighty serious matter, an’ a heap mo’ serious ter keep enny such promise.”
He looked at her triumphant in the fullness of his logic ; but alas ! what has love to do with logic ?
The futility of all his fine reasoning was borne in upon him with a dreary accession of heartache and a determination of energy to his temper.
“ But ye air in love with some o’ ’em, Marcelly, an’ ye air jes’ foolin’ me. Naw, ye won’t even take the trouble ter try ter fool me, — I ain’t wuth it. Ye air in love with some o’ ’em, else why air ye so solemn ? It’s enough ter make ye solemn, though, the Lord knows.”
She had not recommenced her spinning ; she was looking at him with a remonstrant, smiling expression, as if she might thus coax him from his boyish wrath, when suddenly her eyes filled, her lips trembled.
He rose, quivering at the sight of her agitation. “ Jes’ tell me which one of ’em ’t is, Marcelly, an’ I ’ll go down yander inter the Settlemint an’ scatter what he calls his brains all ’round his anvil. Air it Clem Sanders ? Air ye goin’ ter marry Clem ? ”
“I ain’t solemn fur Clem Sanders,” she sobbed, half laughing ; then, with a gush of tears, “ I hev got a heap besides ter make me solemn.”
“ Tell me who it is that ye air goin’ ter marry,” — he touched the trigger of his rifle, with a fierce elation in his eye ; “ it’s loaded fur him.”
Marcella suddenly lifted her head, as if listening. She rose precipitately. “Jes’ go ’long, now, Andy. Ye hev been hyar a long time. Go home, an’ I ’ll tell ye ennything ye want ter know nex’ time ye kem. Jes’ g’long, like a good boy.”
He stared, motionless, amazed at her pale face and agitated manner. Then he too heard a step within. “ He’s in the house,” he exclaimed, “ a-talkin’ ’long o’ Mis’ Strobe an’ Is’bel! An’ ye wanted me ter go ’way ’thout seein’ him. I know ye now, Marcelly, an’ I ’ll stay. I won’t be druv off ; I ’ll stay, an’ ” — His hand once more sought the trigger of his rifle, as his blazing eyes fixed upon the door whence the step proceeded. A hesitating step it was, and slow.
And then Eli Strobe appeared, and Longwood saw him for the first time since his illness. The young man recoiled from the shock, his fierce, insistent face palpably smitten with a sudden gravity, even awe. So forlorn and spectral a likeness was this of Eli Strobe, with his pallid, lantern-jawed face; his half-shaven head, still bandaged ; his clothes, his very skin, hanging loosely on his big bones, a world too wide. He cast his old familiar sidelong glance at the young fellow, freighted with evident but surly recognition, and he had the dumb, pathetic, shambling dignity that one sometimes discerns in a wounded animal, as with frequent halts he tottered up to an armchair on the porch, in which his deft-handed daughters made haste to prop him with pillows and wrap him with blankets. He muttered something vaguely about “ them leetle darters,” and then he lay quite still, looking off at the purple mountains, the golden sunshine on the red and amber woods hard by, — the aspect of the whole world changed since he saw it last.
The young fellow, still staring, had sunk down upon the porch in his former attitude, wondering if indeed there were no one else within ; why, then, had Marcella sought to hurry him away ? She had settled herself again at her spinning-wheel, watching with a tremulous smile the clumsy antics of Longwood’s dog, courtier enough to display great joy upon the reappearance of the master of the house, and leaping about his chair, now and then emitting a short, shrill bark.
“ Fust time I been out, Andy,” observed Eli Strobe.
Marcella stopped her wheel to listen. She seemed to hang with doubt and anxiety upon his every word. Longwood, summoning a show of self-possession and cordiality, remarked that the air was likely to do him good. “ Ye ’pear ter be gittin’ well now,” he added encouragingly.
“ Yes,” assented Eli Strobe good-humoredly. “Mam an’ Marcelly an’ Isbel, though, hev mighty near killed me with kindness. ’T war mighty hard fur me ter start out ter git well. I felt like I’d fairly enjye stayin’ sick fur a livin’. An’ that thar old doctor, — I actially b’lieves he hev gin me all the med’cine he hev got. The rest of ’em in the Cove hed better not git sick soon; no mo’ doctor-stuff whar that kem from.”
Andy Longwood laughed in an embarrassed fashion, by way of making an appropriate response. Some crows — they seemed very black — were cawing loudly from the top of a full-leaved hickory-tree, that blazed a resplendent, illuminated yellow down by the fence; all the breadth of the sere cornfield hard by was doubly pallid in tint, in contrast with this flaring ochreous splendor ; the sky was an intense blue where the foliage was imposed upon its expanse, the furthest mountains duskily purple, while below the branches of the tree, near to the great dark bole, the roofs of the Settlement showed, the glimmer of the frost on the eaves not altogether spent, albeit the sun was high ; the curling tendrils of smoke were blue, and misty, and timorous, as they crept out of the clayand-stick chimneys.
Eli Strobe’s eyes dwelt on the little hamlet for a moment. “ What’s the folks in the Settlemint a-sayin’ ’bout me, Andy?” he asked unexpectedly. “I ain’t seen nobody but the gals an’ mam, ez dunno nuthin’ ’bout folks, an’ politics, an’ sech things ez a body wants ter hear ’bout; ’n’ the old doctor, ez seems ter be a good, useful kind o’ consarn, but ’pears ter think a man oughter set still all day an’ study ’bout’n his liver, stiddier his bizness an’ his office what he hev done been ’lected ter hold, an’ will de-strac’ his mind ef he gits ter thinkin’ ’bout enny sech ez them. Actially, I b’lieve that old man would hev hed me darnin’ stockin’s, ef I hed n’t made a stall’ agin him. I tried ter spound a pint o’ law ter him t’other day, an’ he seemed ter take a fit till he got me ter talkin’ ’bout craps an’ gyardin truck, —turnips, an’ inguns, an’ sech, ez I don’t keer nuthin’ ’bout. I hain’t hearn nuthin’ ’bout the returns o’ the ’lection ’n nuthin’. What air they say in’ ’bout’n me in the Settlemint, Andy ? ”
The young man was about to respond, when Marcella precipitately forestalled him : —
“ They don’t say nuthin’ nor do nuthin’ in this Settlemint. Brumsaidge air the lonesomest place in these hyar mountings. Sech kerryin’s-on they hev, though, in Piomingo Cove! An’ t’other night they hed a danciu’-party over on Chilhowee.”
“ Whar’bouts ? ” cried Andy Longwood, with a poignant note of surprise, deprivation, and despair. “ I never hearn nuthin’ ’bout’n it. I dunno why they never invited me,” he added, with surly resentment. As he gazed up at her, he could not interpret the glance of scorn and reproach that she cast upon him. Then she did not lift her eyes again, but busied herself in her spinning, while Eli Strobe, catching at the subject, logically descanted upon the sin of dancing, and described with a fervid imagination the experiences which its votaries would encounter in the next world as retribution. The “ frequent visitor ” hardly listened, so mystified was he by the taunt of Marcella’s glance and the story of the airy pleasuring on Chilhowee, in his own neighborhood, in which he had been, for some unimagined reason, debarred from participating. If it were not so inexplicable, he might have believed that she had invented the circumstance, and relied upon his own tact to confirm her statement, and thus set Eli Strobe off on a theological hobby. He wondered, hearing vaguely of fiery furnaces and furious brimstone, if the doctor considered this a pleasing and wholesome subject of contemplation. It might have lasted longer had the polemic had a stronger opposition. Marcella sought to furnish this, but paternal tenderness rendered her effort of no avail.
“ Of course I ain’t talkin’ ’bout ye dancin’ at the party las’ Chiristmus, Marcelly. Did you think I meant that fur you-uns ? That war wunst in a while, — a leetle dancin’ an’ fun, jes’ wunst in a while.”
For there are exceptions to every zealot’s cherished theory of damnation, and the imminent terrors of hell must be abrogated in favor of one’s own.
And thus the discourse came to an end. “ Andy,” he said, breaking off abruptly, “ hev ye hearn ennybody in the Cove ’low ez I war ter blame ? ”
Once more Marcella looked at her youthful lover, her eyes large, dilated, pleading. He began to understand that there was more here than appeared upon the surface, and he wished that he had been guided by her monitions and had taken his leave. He gazed at her earnestly, desirous of saying what she wanted him to say; but he could read naught in her eyes save her remonstrance, fear, and reproach. And yet he must answer.
“ I hev hearn some,” he faltered, dolorously truthful.
“Waal, they hain’t got no right ter blame me,” retorted Eli Strobe. His color had risen ; his eyes flashed. “ I ’ll be bound, though, — cowardly curs ! — they don’t dare ter do nuthin’ but talk ; they ain’t got the grit ter try ter set the law onter me ! They jes’ set ’round at the store an’ the forge, an’ bob thar hats tergether, an’ whisper, an’ talk, an’ talk.” He grimaced with a mimicry of secrecy and malice, and bobbed his own head with an alacrity that made the young fellow wince, remembering the reports of how variously his skull was fractured, and seeing the way in which it was presumably bound together.
Marcella was spinning again with feverish industry ; the wheel whirled fast, — so fast. He could not even see its periphery as it revolved, and its whir was continuous and loud.
“Haw, sir; they don’t dare call me ter account ter the law fur killin’ Teck Jepson. Naw, sir ! ” Eli Strobe reiterated, with a deep, rotund voice. Suddenly, with an incidental manner and a clear, casual glance, “ Whar did they bury him, Andy ? ”
The young man sat mute and dumfounded. The blood rushed violently to his head, and the landscape reeled before him. He had scant time to realize the emergency, as the recognition of the state of affairs dawned slowly upon his bewildered intelligence, and to canvass within himself what answer he had best make.
“ I dunno,” he faltered. “ I be so constant over ter Chilhowee,” he added, gathering his faculties.
“ Ain’t ye never hearn, though, whar they buried him ? ” Eli persisted, in growing pertinacity. “ I did n’t low ez ’t war you-uns ez preached the fun’ral sermon,” with an angry sneer and his lowering side-glance of bovine surliness.
“ Why,” said Marcella, with a matterof-course manner, “ I’ll tell ye : they buried him up yander in that thar leetle buryin’-groun’ by his old cabin, whar his folkses’ graves be.”
Her father fixed a keen, suspicious eye on her.
“ Ye did n’t know yestiddy,” he commented severely.
Not even the crafty watchfulness of mania, not Andy Longwood’s sanity, could detect aught amiss or unnatural in her tones and manner as she drew out her thread, and once more set the wheel a-whirling before she replied.
“ Naw ; Clem Sanders ’t war ez told it ter me, when he kem ter inquire arter ye, las’ night. I axed him.”
Andy Longwood understood now that the family systematically agreed with Eli Strobe and humored his strange delusion, lest they might excite him to his detriment, and that these were the directions of the physician. He did not fail to note that it was with his rival’s name that she sought to aid her forlorn enterprise, and that she no longer turned to him for help. u I reckon Clem an’ nobody else would hev been sech a fool ez me,” he angrily reproached himself. He was eager enough to go now, but his liberty had fled. The invalid had fixed earnest eyes upon him, and showed a continuous desire to talk; he could only sit and listen, with the cruel consciousness how every distraught word grated upon the tender heart of Marcella. He realized now how she had sought to shield the calamity of her father’s loss of mind, and how he had thwarted her.
“ Waal — waal! buried him thar, did they ? Teck’s gone ! ” A shade — a symptom of fancied remorse — crossed his face. (l He’s whar he tried ter put me. Mighty narrer place, folks, mighty narrer, fur ennybody ez hev lived in the worl’ an’ got used ter seein’ the sky.” He drew a long sigh, and mournfully shook his head. “ An’ he war a good man in the main — Look-a-hyar, Marcelly,” he broke off abruptly, her halfrepressed sob catching his attention, “ what ye cryin’ fur ? It’s whar he tried ter put me ! An’ ye see, Andy, they can’t do nuthin’ ter me, kase I war a off’cer o’ the law in the discharge o’ my jewty. I war obligated ter arrest Teck, an’ I pulled him out’n his saddle an’ bruk his neck. Ye don’t b’lieve it, Marcelly ? ” He looked at her with a flashing, challenging eye, the red and angry blood rushing suddenly over his pale face. " Ye said ye did n’t, yestiddy.”
“ Waal, that war yestiddy,” the girl urged soothingly.
“ Ye see, Andy, ef Teck hed killed me whenst he rid me down, ’t would be murder, kase I war officer o’ the law, arrestin’ him whilst gamblin’. Hossracin’ on a public road air gamblin’, though ye might n’t think it, Andy. Ye young folks air so sodden in sin ye dunno right from wrong. Buried him up yander on the mounting-side, ’mongst his folkses’ graves. Waal — waal ! They need n’t try ter hold me ’sponsible, kase they can’t. Hev ye hearn ennythin’ ’bout his harnt bein’ viewed, an’ sech ? Fraish-buried folks walk sometimes, they say ; leastwise till they git used ter bein’ under the groun’, or wharever they hev gone ter. But I hev never hearn tell o’ none o’ them ez hev been dead a cornsider’ble time gittin’ a-goin’, — none o’ the old folks, dead fifty year ago an’ better, an’ none o’ them Injuns now out’n that thar Injun buryin’-groun’ way up on Sing-Song Creek. Whoever see a Injun harnt ? Shucks ! ’t would make me laff. I reckon them folks hed no souls, ef the truth war knowed. Ye ever see a Injun harnt ? ”
“ Naw, sir,” replied Andy. “ Them Injuns over ter Quallatown air plenty dead enough fur me ! ” He laughed constrainedly as he made the admission, for following close upon the shock of his discovery of Eli Strobe’s insanity, the sight of him, lean, and white, and grizzly, with his overgrown beard, and his tangled hair, and bandaged head, was not reassuring, as he sat and discussed his ghastly subject.
“ I jes’ study ’bout Teck Jepson all the time. I kin jes’ see how he looked whenst I got him down on the road under his horse’s hoofs. He bled a heap.” He said this with a certain relish. Then he looked curiously at a dark stain on his coat-sleeve, and was silent for a moment. “ I wisht I knowed what he said whenst he got ter Torment.” He winked feebly at Long wood, un noticing that the young man winced. " I wisht I knowed ef he walks.”
It was waxing close upon noon. The shadows had gradually dwindled. The world was so still. The sunshine lay on the splendid slopes in languorous reverie. Here and there some winged thing whisked about in the fine soft radiance, miraculously escaping the frost, or gallantly withstanding it, like certain human antiques, prolonging the sentiment and fervor of a summertide, albeit they cannot stay it.
Marcella’s attention pensively followed the airy zigzags of those unconquered wings; the little wheel was still; her hands had fallen passive at last in her lap. Andy was once more meditating departure. He straightened out his limbs as he sat, and he lifted his head and looked about him. The next moment he glanced up at Marcella with a startled, anxious inquiry. Her eyes were already riveted upon the turn-row, where amidst the bleached and pallid corn Teck Jepson was slowly coming toward the house.
Charles Egbert Craddock .