The Despot of Broomsedge Cove


WHILE hardly a tuft of the broom-sedge stirred on the red clay slopes of the hill, the fitful gusts were rioting in the valley, and Teck Jepson, standing in the midst of the tawny growth, absently watched the cloud of dust approaching in the air, and the dead leaves all set a-whirling in devious routes along the brown ground. He heard in the voice of the wind the first bated threatenings of the storm, and though but a murmur, full of latent strength, and with a steadily increasing volume that bespoke the prescient elation of the liberated element, free to come and go as it listed. There were occasionally black boughs — dead, doubtless, brittle, and easily wrenched from the tree, for the wind had not yet stretched its muscle — to be seen thrashing along clumsily for a little way, then falling to the earth, harried up again presently by the boisterous blast, and set a-going anew in their simulated flight.

Suddenly the broomsedge bowed down to the ground; he heard the forest quake ; the clouds were closing in, and, with an abrupt realization that the storm was upon them, he caught the small Bob up on his shoulder and ran for home. It was a swift, short dash over the broken ground against the buffeting wind, so uncertain of mood, now rollicking, now fierce. The little mountaineer’s gay laughter and shrieks of exhilaration from his lofty perch mingled with its sounds, as he clutched tight Jepson’s collar and looked back at the wild rout behind them : the clouds seeming to roll on the ground, and tossed by the turbulent wind; the erratic flight of leaves and sticks ; the disheveled woods, all their boughs turning from the blast as if holding out deprecating, quivering arms in plea for mercy. Even after they had reached the haven of the porch, they heard once and again a wild aerial hilarity echoing along the deep chasm, in which the river was locked as in the isolation of a lake, and anon a low, menacing roar. But the storm was definitely angry when it fairly burst, and they were housed none too soon. The thunder’s peal was augmented into even alien ferocity by the reverberations in the rocky abysses, above the deeply sunken channel of the river; the lightning flashed, tracing sinister characters across the black clouds, fading out before one might read this terrible script; the slopes below and the crags above had disappeared in the multiplicity of the interposing lines of rain ; the garden, sere and faded, save for a forlorn prince’s feather here and there clinging to the stalk, was gradually effaced from the world, and presently the mists were in the porch, and beginning to sift in at the open door. Jepson rose from before the fire which he had kindled, and shut them out, to stand shivering there, or to press pallid and white against the door, like some forlorn spectral outcasts, forbidden to haunt the place which that human love, which even death cannot kill, makes them fain to tread once more.

The white flames of the pine knots leaped with a glad alacrity, almost sentient, up the chimney; the shadows in the dark corners shifted continuously with the glancing shafts of light. The little house had many tokens of its previous occupants: a spinning-wheel, where now only the spiders drew out long, shining threads, stood in the corner ; sundry gowns, all of rich, gay colors, despite their homely material, garnet, or orange, or dark blue, hung on the wall, as if Jepson’s mother had but just placed them there. Her yarn, in dusty hanks, swung from the rafters, and the quilts she had “ pieced,” folded somewhat eccentrically, were piled high on the “ corner-shelf ” which they had burdened of yore. Against the jamb of the chimney, on a slight out-jutting of the clay and sticks, serving as shelf, was even her primitive “ catch-all,” a great brown gourd, half filled with bright-tinted scraps, and buttons, and the bulbs of plants that would never bloom now, but should lie idle and fall to dust, with all the further possibilities of life unfulfilled. In a splint basket at one side of the fire lay a boy’s rough jacket, worn and torn : her needle had rusted in the patch; the coarse waxed thread would never be drawn through and her last stitch completed.

It was for these vagaries, the preservation of the tokens of old home-life, that Mrs. Bowles esteemed Teck Jepson somewhat “ teched in the head.” Could she have had the privilege of remarking the dust which plentifully covered them all, the sentiment which she contemned would have impressed her as but a distraught trifle in comparison to the rank madness which she would have deemed his system of housekeeping. Bob, however, gazed about with undisturbed serenity, as he stood sturdily on his fat legs in the middle of the floor. Only when he turned about in search of a seat did his countenance fall.

“This air the bes’ ez I kin do fur ye, bubby,” Jepson remarked, tendering him a full-grown chair. “ I hev got no leetle cheers hyar.”

But when Bob’s plump bulk had scaled the heights of the chair, the soles of his feet reaching but little beyond its verge, and his aspect presenting a singular study of foreshortening as he sat and gazed at the fire, content descended upon him as before, and occasionally he glanced at Jepson with a lively little grin, all his snaggled teeth on parade, confident of sympathy in his satisfaction and unaffrighted freedom. But Jepson could not unreservedly share this placidity. As he sat opposite, smoking his pipe, his reflective face lighted by the fire, he observed : “Ye ’re cornsider’ble of a puzzle, Bob. I dunno what I oughter do with ye. I reckon, ef the truth war knowed, I oughter take ye up the mounting ter yer mam. Likely ez not they air sarchin’ fur ye now.”

“ No-o,” returned Bob, with a resolute rising inflection. “ I be a-goin’ ter live in de Cove ! Right hyar ! ” And he looked about him with a pleased, adoptive gaze. He had heard Mrs. Bowles bemoan her sad fate in being wrested away from the Cove, but the naturally high opinion of the locality which this fostered was hardly adequate to the reality, in his estimation, as for the first time in his memory he was within its charmed limits, resting in the security of Jepson’s coveted companionship.

The big man would not argue so unpleasing a subject with the little man; he still meditatively smoked, heedless of the discursive, juvenile babble, and answering only at random when a direct appeal was made to him. Presently these queries grew fewer; intervals of absolute silence ensued; a drowsy mutter, and Bob succumbed finally to the influences of warmth and quiet, and the fatigue of his long jaunt down the mountain before he had met Jepson in the road. He sat, or rather lay, in the armchair, his flushed round face with its happiness still upon it, as if the sweetness of security, of kindness, of the sense of being held of value, had pervaded his dreams. It would have been long, long, before the faces of Sim and A’minty could have learned those serene curves. But Bob’s adaptability had stood him in good stead hitherto, and one need hardly have wished him more retentively sensitive that his little life might have been still more dismal than it was.

The rain fell with a dull, monotonous iteration; only at long intervals a sudden acceleration betokened a down-pour in sheets, and the increased volume of the torrents washed with a heavy splashing from the eaves. The sound was melancholy, full of intimations of the waning year, of the killing frosts to come. Even the thunder, ceasing to roll, left an unwelcome void, having been as an incident to the dreary sameness of sounds and suggestion. The lightnings were quenched. The world was given over to the sobbing wind and the sadvoiced rain. Jepson had no cheerful thoughts to beguile the idle hour. His heart was heavy, and the further perspectives of the days gloomed full of shadows. He did not upbraid himself; he was spared that keenest edge of regret, so complete was his proud sense of rectitude, his unswerving faith in himself and his own motives. Nor did he resent Marcella’s anger. He admitted with a deep sigh its justification. He accepted it as a retribution, in some sort, not for his own sins, but for his unintentional contributive share, as he construed it, in the untoward circumstances that had resulted in Eli Strobe’s injuries. He rebelled against his fate, this shipwreck of his love, more, indeed, than he was definitely conscious of doing, for he often boasted to himself, in the illusions of his piety, that he meekly submitted to the Lord’s will, according to the example of the saints; then he would walk the floor all night in mental anguish, or wander forth in the dark, autumnal woods till dawn, in all the throes of despair. Of late, there had often come into his mind a bitterness with the thought of her which it had seldom before known. The image of the young stranger at the forge was continually associated with hers. His jealous eyes had been quick to note the changing expressions on her face, full of fear for Rathburn’s sake, when his strange absence had been mentioned. Oddly enough, Jepson was sensible of the glow of anger that the man she loved, if indeed she loved him, should fail in aught of homage; he took no satisfaction in the thought that it was a possibility — nay, a probability — that Rathburn did not love her. He deprecated the pangs she might feel, and still he sighed for his own.

So absorbed was he in these sombre meditations, as he sat, his elbow on the arm of the chair, his chin in his hand, his full, contemplative eyes upon the fire, that he took no heed of a step on the porch without, although he might have heard it, even through the longdrawn sighing of the wind and the fresh outburst of the tumultuous rain, for no caution restrained its demonstrations. The heavy stamping was obviously designed to free first one boot and then the other from the persistent clinging of the red clay mire. Only when the door was unceremoniously flung open from without did Jepson rouse himself with a start, and lift his head, seeing at first merely the white mist with the lines of rain all aslant across it, and imposed upon it the figure of a man at the threshold, the wind tossing the loose ends of his garments, and the water streaming from his bent old hat. For a moment his face was invisible, for the dull gray light of the beclouded landscape was behind him; but the draught from the opening door rekindled the coals of the dying fire, and sent the ashes scattering about the hearth, and as the flames flared up they revealed the familiar features of Jake Baintree. Jepson, rising slowly from his chair, experienced the odd doubting sensation that sometimes besets one in a dream, when the nocturnal vagaries so transcend the probabilities as to rouse a skeptical application of verisimilitude to these airy fantasies. The next moment a definite appreciation of the reality of his visitor asserted itself. Jake Baintree had evidently been drinking heavily. But for that, what he said in response to Jepson’s query might have seemed stranger than it did.

“ What did ye kem hyar fur ? ” sternly demanded the master of the house.

His manner evidently affected Baintree, who did not bear himself with the swaggering freedom with which he had flung open the door. He had looked threatening. He was cowed in an instant, — cowed, but very crafty.

“ A-beggin’,” he said, with a sudden light in his eyes. “ I want a hunk o’ bread.”

Jepson stood uncertain, reluctant, a frown knitting his brow, fairly coerced for once in his life. It was the only plea that could have restrained him from taking the intruder by the shoulders and turning him out of the door, — the only plea, and Baintree knew it. He could not accord his hospitality as ungraciously, perhaps, as he might have desired, and thus he was forced into more of a suave insincerity than had ever before been able to adjust itself to his face and manner. He turned toward a pine table, pushed aside in one corner, and indicated certain dishes beneath an inverted wooden bowl.

“Thar’s all in the house. He’p yerse’f, he’p yerse’f.” For his life he could not have hindered the heartiness of the intonation, or the unreserve of the invitation. The habits of a lifetime, the traditions of kith and kin and all the country-side, constrained him. He did not credit for an instant the sincerity of Baintree’s demand, but none could ask bread or shelter of him in vain. It was the first time that the unruly and absolute temper had been thus helplessly in the control of circumstances, and he was irked by a sense of feigning, as he turned about and threw a pile of pine knots on the fire, — for had he care for his guest’s cheer or warmth ?

Baintree had possessed himself of a corn-dodger, and as he sat down before the fire, the rain still trickling from his garments, Jepson read in his thin, clearcut face the elation because of the success of his clever ruse. He had not come with the intention to ask for bread, — his manner at first had betokened a far more formidable errand ; and as he sat there munching, with a mimetic show of hunger, Jepson was moved to marvel anew what had brought him into the house of a man whom he held his enemy, and who certainly was no friend.

“The fodder gins out wunst in a while up on the mounting,” Baintree observed presently, the whiskey that he had drunk imparting to him, despite his reticent habit, its characteristic loquacious glow. He cast a glance of thinly veiled antagonism upon his entertainer. Then he said, with a low chuckle of derision, in which he would hardly have ventured to indulge at a calmer moment, “ I s’pose things never git ter sech a pass as that in this house. Ye mus’ hev a bar’l o’ meal constant ez never gits empty, no matter how high ye feed, an’ a can o’ coal-ile ez hain’t got no bottom ez ye kin reach. Surely the Lord faviors a man ez views sech visions o’ yourn ez much ez he done ’Lijah.” He hesitated for a moment, staring with blood-shot eyes into the fire, then snapped his fingers. “ ’T warn’t ’Lijah ! ” he exclaimed, with an air of discovery, — “’t warn’t ’Lijah! ’T war the widder woman ez hed that mighty desirable brand o’ meal an’ ile. Now, Teck,” with mock persuasiveness, “ ye ain’t goin’ ter tell me that, survigrous ez ye be, plumb captain o’ all Brumsaidge Cove, ye hev let that thar widder woman git ahead o’ ye ? Whar’s yer everlastin’ meal an’ yer eternal coal-ile ? ”

He turned about, and affected to anxiously survey the culinary stores, scanty enough, arrayed on a hanging shelf suspended from the rafters, and, thus isolated, protected from the rats and the mice.

He enjoyed the immunity from retort or retaliation which men accord to the drunken, and which is incomprehensible to the more intolerant temperament of women. Jepson steadfastly regarded him in silence, and as Baintree turned again to the fire he seemed, in shifting his position, to have forgotten his jeer and the prospective joy with which he had thought to pursue it. A realization of the situation came upon him anew, and he made haste to gnaw at his corndodger with an affectation of great hunger.

“ I ’m mighty glad ter git it,” he mumbled.

Jepson had resumed his seat, and, with the white glow of the blazing pine knots irradiating his serious face, he demanded, “ Whar ’s the man ez war bidin’ with ye ? That corn-dodger ez ye air eatin’ ain’t goin’ ter holp him.”

“ He ’ll make out. He ain’t one o’ the lackin’ kind,” Baintree responded cavalierly.

The heat of the fire perhaps aided the heady effect of his potations, for he was presently more definitely intoxicated than before. Few people had ever seen him thus affected ; for though he drank deeply at times, the quantity that would set another man reeling hardly disturbed his equilibrium. The fiery courage distilled from the corn was in his veins now, and showed with a sturdy bravado.

“ I ’m leavin’ the kentry, Teck,” he exclaimed suddenly. “ I’m leavin’ this hyar twisted an’ turmoiled eend o’ the world ye call the mountings. I hope never ter see a mound o’ groun’ agin higher ’n this hat. I fund out what pore shakes the mountings air jes’ through goin’ ter — ter ” — his voice faltered ; his eyes were fixed intently on the empty space before them, as if he beheld something there invisible to others ; he made a detour around the word “ jail,” and went on with an air of triumphant inspiration in this obvious device— “ through visitin’ a sure-enough town. An’ I never want ter see a mound o’ groun’ more ’n two inches high agin — ’thout it air yer grave.”

He paused abruptly, turning his bloodshot eyes instantly upon Jepson to observe the effect of his words.

The acrid tone, the bitter hatred in his face, made a strong impression upon the man who had inspired them, now that he was constrained to be still and observe the demonstrations, which, for sheer humanity’s sake, he could not resent. He looked down meditatively into the fire. It was odd to him to think of his grave, — some scant measure of earth surely waiting for him somewhere, on which the weeds had grown apace this summer, and even now the autumn rains beat unrelenting, as the herbage would thrive and the torrents fall when he should lie unheeding below, — strange to think of these things, with the robust pulses a-throb in his blood, the light so clear in his eyes.

“When ye see it,” he said, with the steady courage and calm strength which seemed to him, half consciously measuring their power, an expression of piety and spiritual grace and Christian resignation, “ ef ever ye do, remember the man it kivers war mighty willin’ ter lie down thar whenst summoned.”

Baintree winced. Even when intoxicated he had not the faith in himself to vie with this hardihood. He resorted to recrimination, for still the whiskey made him bold.

“ Ye ain’t goin’ ter be so powerful comfortable thar. Ye ain’t goin’ ter rest so easy in yer grave. The devil ain’t goin’ ter let ye alone. Ye ’ll hev ter answer in the nex’ work fur all ye hev done ter me in this. Ye ’ll answer, — ye mark my words.”

Tears of maudlin grief stood in his eyes. Despite their source, Jepson melted to them in some sort.

“ I’m willin’. I hain’t shirked none in this worl’. I reckon I ain’t goin’ ter ketch the complaint of shirkin’ in the nex’. I ’ll answer. What ye want me ter answer fur ? ”

“ Fur my soul,” said Baintree solemnly. “ I’d hev saved my soul alive ef — ef ye hed n’t kem a-interferin’ ’twist me an’ pa’son, an’ kep’ me from washin’ my sins away.”

Jepson seemed to take meditative account of the charge.

“ I done accordin’ ter my conscience, ez the voice o’ the Lord ’peared ter lead. Ye hed no right in the fold, an’ arter I fund Sam’l Keale’s hat an’ coat I could not hold my peace. Jestice hed overlooked ye, but I spoke the word; not in malice, ef I know myse’f, — not in malice. But ef I hev done wrong,” he went on, knitting his brows and gazing into the fire, his arms folded across his breast, “ I pray the Lord will visit it on me. I pray he ’ll do sech unto me, an’ mo’.”

Baintree was stricken mute for a moment, vaguely impressed by his companion’s look and manner. Then his attention was concentrated anew upon his own grievance.

“ That ain’t goin’ ter do me no good ” — he began.

“ An’ no harm,” said Jepson. “ Nuthin’ kin hurt ye ’ceptin’ what ye do yerse’f.”

Baintree looked with dark suspicion over his shoulder.

“ What ails ye ter say that ? ” he demanded surlily.

Jepson did not reply directly.

“ Ef a man air persecuted, an’ air innereent o’ crime, his persecutors air jes’ harryin’ tharselves ter hell. An’ that’s the long an’ the short o’ it. Ef ye hev done no crime, sech steps ez I tuk agin ye hev hurt me, not you-uns, an’ I ’ll hev ter take ’em back’ards in hell.”

There was no arguing with a faith so very complete, so strongly grounded, as this.

Baintree said nothing for a time. Then he suddenly broke out as if the words were wrenched from him by some physical anguish which he could not resist: —

“ I never hed no han’ in Keale’s takin’ - off, but I mought ez well, — oh, my Lord, I mought ez well! ”

He clasped his hands and wrung them hard, the poor subterfuge of the corn-dodger falling unheeded on the floor.

The shrill tones did not rouse the plump Bob, still asleep in the chair at one side of the fire, but he was vaguely conscious of them, and stirred uneasily, and again relapsed into motionless slumber.

“ Look hyar ! ” exclaimed Jepson, agitated and excited. “ Don’t kem hyar an’ tell me yer crimes over my own h’a’thstone an’ a-eatin’ of my bread, fur I ’ll use ’em agin ye. I ’ll turn the sword on ye. I ain’t yer frien’, man. I never war.”

“Ye war the t’other night at the forge.” Baintree had hastily recovered himself. He spoke in his natural voice, a trifle more unctuous, perhaps, with its coaxing intonation. He even stooped down and picked up the bit of bread, carefully dusting the ashes from it as he turned it from side to side. “ Ye war the t’other night, whenst — whenst my partner seen ye at the forge. Ye kep’ them men off’n us.”

“ An’ ye ’low I done sech ez that fur you-uns, or him either, ye fool ? ” Jepson had risen. He had thrust his hand into his belt, and was looking down upon Baintree with scornful irritation. “ I done it fur right an’ jestice ! I see no harm in yer sarchin’ fur silver; an’ though’t warn’t right ter work on the sly in the forge, it air a leetle matter, not wuth harmin’ a man for. ’T war kase I fund no harm — no harm ’cordin’ ter my light — in them actions. These Brumsaidge critters ” — he broke off abruptly, addressing himself instead of Baintree, and speaking of Broomsedge as if he had a wide experience of men and life elsewhere, when he knew scarcely any creature beyond its limits — “ these Brumsaidge critters can’t sense right an’ jestice, nor nuthin’ done fur jestice’s sake. That’s jes’ what them men at the barn ’lowed, — frien’s ter the two, the stranger an’ Baintree ! But I tell ye,”—he turned suddenly upon the man sitting by the hearth, — “ I ain’t yer frien’, nor,” he added, with stronger emphasis, “his frien’, nuther.”

Baintree’s face had lightened; his eyes glittered. It was a forlorn thing that a man should have cause to rejoice at his enemy’s misfortune in being suspected of becoming his friend.

Jepson had not resumed his chair. He still stood on the hearth, one hand in his leather belt, which supported his hunting-knife, of which he had not yet divested himself, the other on the high mantelpiece. He looked down with scowling impatience at Baintree, evidently eager to be rid of him, and presently he addressed himself to accomplish this end without too flagrant a breach of the hospitality which he held dear.

He had offered him something else to eat, and when this had been declined he demanded suddenly, “ What ailed ye, ter kem hyar this evenin’ ? Ye know ye warn’t in no wise hongry.”

“ I war drunk. That air the only reason I know,” said Baintree gloomily. He was becoming in some sort sober now, and was strangely quiet, with a deep despondency of manner.

“ Air ye leavin’ the kentry fur true ? ” queried Jepson.

Baintree looked up craftily.

“ Naw ! ” he exclaimed contemptuously, as if the suggestion had been broached by another than himself. “ Whar would I go — an’ who would I go to — an’ what would I do thar? Naw! I’m goin’ ter stay hyar ter be treated like a dog, ez I always war. I hed a man ter kem nigh ter chokin’ me, not long ago ” — he bared his throat to show his bruises — “ look-a-hyar, — an’ he ’d hev ’lowed ez I war crazy ef I hed lifted a hand agin him.”

Jepson was silent, still meditating the feasibility of ridding himself of his unwelcome guest without violence to the canons of hospitality.

He had hardly noticed when the rain ceased its tumultuous beat on the roof ; a fresh relay of winds was speedingdown and down the valley ; he heard, but absently, the snorting and champing of these aerial chargers as they swept by at a tremendous pace; the clouds were fain to race with them, for presently he saw upon the wet floor of the room, where the rain had splashed in under the door, the reflection of the yellow glare of the unveiled sky throwing its light upon the brown walls, and, albeit faintly, even to the dusky rafters. Jepson strode to the door and flung it open. As he stood with his back toward Baintree, he had one of those sudden premonitions, so conclusive, yet so illogical, that fall upon us sometimes with the cogent force of truth and an unaccountable extension of merely human mental vision. He turned abruptly and looked back, seeing its confirmation in the lowering look of hatred that Baintree had bent upon him. As if in some sort conscious of self-betrayal, Baintree rose with a casual air and an incidental, empty glance, and followed to the door, where he lounged upon the porch, his hands in his pockets, looking aimlessly about the landscape. Yet Jepson knew now, as well as if Baintree had confessed it, that he had come there, with the courage of the corn-juice ” inflaming his blood, with some wild drunken scheme of violence and vengeance, which the presence or the words of his intended victim had somehow cowed and crushed. They were silent as they contemplated the great flaring west, all a splendid burnished golden glow, above the darkly purple mountain opposite, its summit imposed with a definite detail, in which every tufted, plumy pine top was distinct upon the vivid yellow blaze. About its slopes white mists were slowly creeping, and down in the chasm the waters of the river, with all the graces of reflection, ran in molten golden currents. Clouds were yet in the sky, but now and again the colors of the iris flashed out, with a swift elasticity as of a bow that is bent, and hovered above the valleys. The drops still fell slowly from the eaves of the house, and the flooring of the porch was sodden and sleek with the rain; in the hollow of a warped plank the water stood still as in a bowl, reflecting the clapboards above, and an empty nest in a niche between the roof and the post of the porch. All the colors of wood and hill were clarified and heightened ; the sere grasses, beaten down though they were, wore their brown and straw and amber tints more jauntily; the boles of the trees were black, and somehow the distances seemed clear and brought near. Jepson had not thought he could have seen so definitely, so far away, the figure of a man slowly strolling along the red clay road, — of a richer and deeper color it was, sodden with the rain. The presence of the figure intimated that the storm had subsided less recently than he had thought; the weight of the downpour had beaten the ground hard, and had added but little to the mud here and there in deep, tough masses in the centre of the road.

He made no move to turn back into the house, yet Baintree lingered, as if his mission were but half accomplished. It is difficult to conceive of a more indelible expression of gloom than had fixed upon his face. It indicated a misery and hopelessness past all human help, past all human endurance. Jepson spoke suddenly, upon an impulse which he hardly understood.

“ Enny time ye feel ez ef the devil war arter ye, Jake, ef ye ’ll kem hyar ter me, I ’ll holp stave him off,” he said. He hesitated for a moment, for Baintree’s bright, rat-like, furtive eye was glancing up at him, informed by a spirit so alien to that which animated his words that it almost silenced them. “ I hev been agin ye,” he went on presently ; “ ye know I hev. I always b’lieved mos’ faithful ez ye killed Sam’l Keale. But the jury say ye did n’t, an’ the kentry hev abided by the verdic’. An’ ef ye order yer walk aright an’ do no mo’ harm, I ’ll atari’ by ye an’ won’t see ye persecuted, — though I ain’t yer frien’, an’ I never will be.”

Baintree’s expression had shifted more than once during this speech: it had softened, become wistful, pathetic, and it hardened suddenly, as the last words fell on the air.

“ An’ who air ter be the jedge o’ what’s harm, an’ what ain’t ? ” he asked, with a sneer.

“ I am,” said Jepson, with his unswerving faith in his own methods. “ I dunno no way ter jedge o’ right an’ wrong ’cept by the light ez kems from within.”

“ An’ ye air the only one it’s shed on, eh ? ” demanded Baintree, still bitterly sneering,

“ Ye hev got good reason ter think so. The light lately shed on other folks, ’bout’n you-uns an’ yer pardner. would be a mighty scorchin’ light, sartain,” Jepson retorted significantly.

Baintree understood him to allude to the wrangling differences with the vigilantes in the barn. A prudential afterthought roused his suavity.

“ Waal,” he observed, after a pause, “ I never ’lowed ye war my frien’. I ’ll say one thing fur ye, — thar ain’t no room fur mistakes ez ter whar ye stand. But I be toler’ble glad ez ye hev a mind ter keep them painters an’ wild wolves off’n ray track. Will ye gimme yer han’ on it ? ”

He held out his own, bent on confirming the promise, as far as he might.

Once more a pang of pity stirred Jepson’s heart, albeit he looked down with a certain repulsion upon the long, trembling fingers awaiting his own. “ ’Cordin’ ter the conditions, — ef ye do no mo’ harm in my jedgmint.” And his strong, warm clasp closed upon Baintree’s cold, nerveless hand for an instant, in sanction of the promise.

The touch of that cold, nerveless hand remained strangely within Jepson’s palm after the two had separated, for Baintree’s perverse reluctance to be off had evaporated, somehow, in the open air, and he had slouched out of the inclosure, taking his way, strangely enough, Jepson thought, down to the banks of the river, instead of up the mountain to his lair there, which he could hardly hope to reach, as it was, before the night should enfold him. Jepson stood aimlessly watching him, feeling the touch of his hand still cold and clammy within his own. Even after the rock and the laurel of the steep mountain slope had interposed, and he saw him no more, he still motionlessly gazed at the spot where he had disappeared, a sense of discontent with himself to which he was a stranger, an irritated, angry regret for he hardly knew what in the interview, pervading all his consciousness.

“ I lack the sperit,” he said suddenly. “ I need ter be made strong. I gits sorry fur that wuthless trash, ez be held tergether ter look like a man, a-purpose, I reckon, for the devil ter beguile me. I gits ter feelin’ sorry an’ pitiful ter him. Now, David wouldn’t hev done that, — jes’ think o’ David shakin’ han’s with his enemies ! He hed thar heads cut off, — though it always pestered me some ez he tuk ’em up so all-fired sharp; but that’s kase I’m human yit, I reckon. An’ I knowed that man would hev stabbed me ef he could ’thout harmin’ hisse’f, — I knowed it whenst I turned my back, — an’ stiddier speakin’ out what war revealed ter me, an’ taxin’ him with the crime he would hev done, I gin him bread, an’ promised ter purtec’ him, an’ shuk han’s on it, ef he would walk right afore the law hyarafter. What ails me ter keer ? I need strengthenin’, — strengthenin’ from above.”

Despite his absorption he was moved to note, presently, with a pervasive sense of pleasure, how fresh, how soft, the air was. As he looked about, he noticed again the man whom he had observed some time ago walking along the red clay road. A slow pedestrian, certainly; it was almost inconceivable that he had been walking at all, since his progress had carried him but so short a distance. Jepson gazed at him with curiosity. He might have recognized him, the light was so clear, had not the man at that moment drawn his broad hat far down over his brow, and then he turned about and began to retrace his way.

Before he was out of sight the incident had passed from Jepson’s mind. The freshness of the air was alluring, revivifying. He hesitated as he glanced over his shoulder at the recumbent Bob, asleep in the chair before the smouldering fire ; then, without his hat, he strolled down the path, leaving the door open behind him.

He paused in the midst of the weedtangled garden, and looked casually about at the bent and beaten growths, forlorn for the desertion of the summer, and the sport of the ruder season. Then he went slowly down to the fence, and, standing with his elbow on the topmost rail, looked meditatively at the golden glamours of the rock-bound river. He had not intended to go further, but as he turned he came to a sudden halt, and gazed with keen, narrowing eyes up the slope of the hill.

The man whom he had seen walking along the red clay road was long ago gone, — a tall man and slight, as he remembered the figure, all unlike the one which he now saw threading his way slowly among the bowlders on the steep incline above the cabin. As the pedestrian emerged presently upon a comparatively open space, Jepson noted a certain burly dignity in his carriage, which even at the distance served to identify him.

Jepson started forward; then paused. He had not spoken to Eli Strobe since the day of the election, when they had conferred together in the interests of the constable’s candidacy, and his heart had beat with an intense partisan anxiety for Marcella’s sake. He began to appreciate definitely how much he had felt since then of love, and hope, and despair ; how hard they had all gone with him. He was ill-suited to relinquishment. His domineering, intolerant spirit had been scantily acquainted with denial. “ I ’m goin’ ter die powerful hard,” he said in gloomy forecast. It seemed to him that he had felt already prescient pangs. As his eyes followed Strobe’s progress, he protested inwardly against a sort of humiliation to realize that he scarcely cared to accost him, and hear from him the reproaches so bitter on his daughter’s lips. Jepson had not a keen self-discernment, but he knew that imperious entity too well to believe himself capable of receiving them from others with a like patience and acquiescence. That the injury to Eli Strobe was an accident, through no fault of his, was instantly worded in his consciousness with the vividness of a retort, as his imagination forecast the constable’s upbraidings. Still, as he gazed, he hesitated. Suddenly, with his swift, long stride, he started up the slope to meet him. He had hardly credited hitherto the report of Eli Strobe’s insanity, and he knew nothing of the character of his delusion. It was, perhaps, some fantastic vagary, however, he thought, that was luring him on amidst the bowlders, and the crags, and the mists of the dusk. Jepson had it in his mind to do a service. He suspected that Strobe had escaped from the careful guards of the fireside circle. As he approached, climbing among the crags, he wondered that he had not yet been observed, yet he forbore to hail his old friend. With the knowledge of the failure of his mental faculties was the vague, unreasoning impression of the impairment of the senses. He felt as if Eh Strobe might not hear his ringing halloo.

Thus it was that, as the earth grew darker and yet more shadowy, though still that sky flared above, albeit dulling from its burning golden hue to a deep copper tint with horizontal bars of red, while the river ran blood, Eli Strobe, turning a curve in the road about the base of a cliff, came abruptly upon Jepson standing in an open space, motionless, expectant, silent, bareheaded. The lurid flare of the skies flung its unnatural light upon Jepson’s face. He winced as he had never thought to do, for the doughty constable turned suddenly half round, and held up a quivering arm before his eyes, as if to shut out the sight or to ward off a blow.

Jepson spoke instantly, hurt and angry : —

“Ye hev got no call ter treat me that-a-way, Eli. Ye hev never hed no call ter be afeard o’ me.”

The constable had forgotten his threat of serving papers on “ a harnt.” He trembled violently. He could hardly stand. He tottered to a bowlder near by, and sat down. As he hesitatingly looked up at Jepson and cast his eyes down once more, there was visible in his expression a surprise that his old friend should still be standing there.

“ I hev always wished ye well,” Jepson declared, with a swelling heart.

“ Thanky, sir, thanky kindly,” said Eli Strobe, with a faltering tongue and uncharacteristic humility.

Jepson apprehended a tone which he did not understand. He east a sharp glance at his interlocutor as he demanded, “ Don’t ye know me ? ” fearing that Strobe’s mental derangement included a failure of recognition of familiar things and faces.

“ Oh, mighty well, mighty well indeed,” the constable hastened to assure him.

There was a momentary silence. Jepson hardly comprehended the restraint which irked him. Whatever of pain he had anticipated in the interview, he had never expected aught like this. He divined the thought in Strobe’s mind, as he cast his eyes down the long winding curves of the red clay road, stretching so far under the metallic lustre of that darkly yellow sky. The constable was too heavy a man to attempt flight, too far spent by the agitation that rent his breath and heaved in his broad chest. His judgment was still very excellent, and he adjusted himself anew on the bowlder.

44 Ef I ain’t wanted,” said Jepson, with a flare of his wonted arrogant spirit, “ say the word, an’ I ’ll jes’ make myse’f sca’ce. I jes’ ’lowed, though, ez mebbe ye mought hev a mind fur a few frien’ly words, bein’ ez ye an’ me war always frien’ly tergether. But I ain’t one ter want ter bide whar I hev no place.”

Eli Strobe’s face could hardly have expressed more definitely than it did his relief at this intimation that the termination of the interview was subject to his wishes. He was, however, bent on insuring this if civility might suffice. In all his political experience he had never shown more suavity than now, when he said, with tremulous haste, —

44 I’m obligated by yer comp’ny, sir.” Then he added, in a more natural tone, “ I hev been wonderin’ a heap ’bout’n ye lately,—I hev been studyin’ ’bout’n ye mighty nigh all the time.”

“ Nobody hev tole me that,” said Jepson, wondering to find him so friendly, and still struggling with that vague, undiscriminated restraint that hampered the conversation.

“ I reckon nobody else hev viewed ye,” Eli Strobe said quickly, not without a certain anxiety. Ambition was an elastic passion in his breast. He was already piquing himself upon his unique opportunity, forgetting Rathburn’s experience.

Jepson keenly felt the fact that Marcella never mentioned him at home. But it was only another pang, and he said doggedly to himself that he knew so many pangs, another might hardly matter. He did not answer directly. He said presently, —

“ What war ye a-wonderin’ ’bout ? ”

“ Ef — ef ”—said Eli Strobe, a keen curiosity glancing out from under the brim of his hat, contending with a fear of giving offense — “ ef ye ever ’sociate now with them folks ye useter be so tuk up with, G’liath, an’ David, an’ Sol’mon, an’ them.”

Jepson hesitated.

“ I would n’t call it ’sociatin’ ” — he paused — 44 not edzac’ly.”

“ They be sorter stuck up, eh ? ” said Eli Strobe, with a grin of relish. 44 I never did b’lieve ez worldly pride dies out ’fore ye git ter the nex’ worl’. It’s the main part o’ some folks. It s all the soul they hev got, thar pride, — the rest is body.”

Jepson, dazed somewhat by the queer turn the conversation had taken, stood silent, till he was suddenly interrogated anew.

“ Do ye set ez much store on Sol’mon ez ye useter ? ”

“ I hev hed no call ter change my mind,” Jepson replied wonderingly, for the eagerness of Strobe’s interest in gossiping of these antique worthies was very fresh and immediate.

“ Smart man?” Strobe nodded his own head as he asked the question, willing to be convinced.

44 That ain’t the word fur it,” said Jepson, the fascination of the subject reasserting itself even in this stress of anxiety. “I hev been studyin’ a heap lately ’bout the house he built ” —

“Thar, now, what did I tell ye ’bout pride ? ” Eli Strobe broke in. “ I ’ll be bound Sol’mon kerried the mem’ry o’ that thar house o’ his’n plumb ter the house not built with hands ; an’ he ain’t the fust ez clings ter worldly deeds, an’ I ’ll be bound he won’t be the las’.” He paused, with a sadden look of consciousness on his face. The parallel was too patent to escape the notice of so clever a man, ignorant though he was. He was realizing that the important pride incident to the office of constable of Broomsedge Cove was hardly meet equipment to bear to the golden shores. But he was sturdily hopeful. “ I ’ll cure myself o’ that ’fore I land on the further side o’ Jordan,” he muttered to himself with a chuckle, for the humorous suggestions of the prospect did not altogether escape him. “ I ain’t goin’ ter cut no comical figger 'mongst the saints through pride o’ bein’ constable o’ Brumsaidge. Naw, sir ! Pa’son an’ me hev got ter winnow me o’ that, sure.”

The parson might have esteemed it a more difficult task, but Eli Strobe, with a cheerfulness predicated on the possibility of securing a spiritual mind in good season for spiritual needs, began to expand into more personal curiosity; for Goliath and Solomon were, after all, far-away subjects to his contemplation. Politics, perhaps, had rendered him suspicious, and he had become inured to doubting on principle a man’s claims for himself. He cast his old distrustful sidelong glance at Jepson, freighted with a wish to say more than he dared, — to elicit protestations by insinuating that he had not been in case to know whether Solomon was as “ smart ” as he had been proclaimed to be, or to associate in any sense with the best of the Biblical worthies.

“ Do ye like yer new abidin’ place ez well ez yer old ? ” Strobe demanded.

“ A hunderd times better,” declared Jepson. “ I 'lowed at fust I could n’t bide thar” - Strobe pricked up his gossip-loving ears — “ through so many old thoughts o’ old times. But I be useter ’em agin now, an’ they’ don’t hender me none.”

There was a momentary silence. A star was shining in the yellow west beside a flake of purple cloud. Mists shivered about the crags. High amongst them a screech-owl shrilled, and was silent.

“ I wisht ye ’d kem an’ spen’ the night ” — Jepson began ; he paused abruptly, for Eli Strobe had sprung to his feet, with a white face, in which fear and resolution were oddly blended. He was wrestling with a frightful old superstition of the lures of a ghost to lead to hell; if he should follow the spectre for a step, he fancied himself lost — “or,” added Jepson, “ bide ter supper.”

“ Naw, naw ! ” Eli Strobe declined promptly. Then remembering his sedulous civility, he continued : “ They 'll be waitin’ fur me at home, — an’ mam an’ Marcelly air powerful partic’lar. I 'll meet up with ye agin somewhar, I reckon. Good-night.”

Jepson stood watching him in puzzled doubt, as the constable took his way with athletic swiftness down the homeward path. More than once Strobe looked backward, to see the motionless figure standing bareheaded amongst the crags and the shifting mists, and turned instantly and walked on more swiftly than before.

He was out of breath, and pale and chilly, when he reached home. Marcella and Isabel were awaiting him in the passage between the two rooms, and while the younger daughter ran in to announce his return to Mrs. Strobe, Marcella came down the steps to meet him.

“ Whar hev ye been, dad, so late ? ” she asked.

“ Marcelly,” he said in a mysterious, low tone, as they stood together on the porch, beneath the skeleton vines that flapped drearily in the wind, “ I dunno what got inter me this evenin’. I tuk ter misdoubtin’ ef — ef Teck Jepson ever war kilt ” — her heart gave a great joyous bound — “ ef he ever war dead. An’ I started out ter go ter that leetle graveyard o’ his folks whar ye tole me he war buried,” — she convulsively clutched his arm, — “ ter see fur myse’f ef thar war enny new grave thar.”

“ An’ — an’ — what did ye find ? ” she cried, elated.

He stared down at her in the closing dusk, bewildered by her voice and manner. His tones were more huskily mysterious still. “ I never got thar — fur I met his harnt ” — She gave a sharp exclamation, and then caught one hand to her lips, as if to restrain the scream that might otherwise escape.

“ Tell on,” she said.

“ Waal, I hed some words with the harnt; an’ ’t war comical how much ’t war like Teck, a-settin’ up ter ’sociate with Sol’mon an’ them, whenst from some words he let drap I know he war in the t’other place. I know Teck. He could hev been mighty interestin’ this evenin’, ef he would. He tried ter git me ter foller him, but I war too smart fur him, — tellin’ me how proud Sol’mon air o’ the house he built.”

“ Dad,” the girl gasped, mindful of the impending inquisition of lunacy, “ I ain’t axed ye fur nuthin’ fur a good while. Promise me one thing.”

“ Waal, Marcelly,” he replied expectantly, but cautious.

“ Promise me ye won’t tell nobody ’bout yer seein’ the harnt.”

His countenance fell. It was a sensation to retail, to make him the joyful cynosure of all the gossips, when he should be once more able to join his cronies at the forge or the store. But her pleading eyes were on his face ; his paternal heart stirred, and his affection could compass even such self-denial.

“ Waal. Marcelly, I promise — though ” —

She would not wait for argument. “ An’, dad, ef ennybody axes ye how ye know Teck Jepson air dead, say yer darter Marcelly tole ye whar he war buried.”

“Yes,” he interrupted, with his burly bass chuckle, “ an’ I ’ll say I ’lowed they would n’t hev buried him ’thout he war dead.”

The white light of the newly kindled tallow dip within the room streamed out amongst the dusky brown shadows, and he went cheerfully in to his supper.


The roistering blades who had been wont to congregate at the forge had latterly resumed that cheerful habit, for the more recent excitements touching the discovery of the identity of the mysterious smith, who busied himself about the anvil in the dead hour of the night, had quite crowded out all recollection of the previous sensation of the parson’s visions. Few, perhaps none but he himself, thought of the apparition that, accoutred with hoofs and equipped with wings “ bat-wise,” had sat upon the anvil, while the ghastly simulacrum of one of the jolly group had held the shutter ajar to look in upon his unconscious rollicking mortal self ; although often enough the sound of the uncouth hilarity, the scraping of the old fiddle, or the wild, barbaric choruses rang out in the solemn silence of the stricken wintry woods, and acquainted the Settlement with the fact that the “ boys were caperin’ like all possessed down thar at the forge.” The parson sighed, for all the ascetic convictions of his nature were wounded by the unthinking jocosity and revelry, the very laughter of which he, in his portentous gravity of creed, esteemed a sin. But even parsons can learn, and the good old man beheld no more visions thenceforward to the day of his death. Allegory and metaphor had departed, with all their attendant graces of rhetoric, from his discourse, and thereafter he urged upon his congregation the necessity of truth and the insidiousness of lying, until the subject seemed to grow personal, and each member ransacked the possibilities for the means whereby the pastor could have become acquainted with sundry individual feats of athletically drawing the long-bow.

The fluctuating shafts of red light, now flung across the landscape without, now suddenly withdrawn, as the breath of the bellows rose and fell, imparted a genial element to the gaunt and sere autumnal scene this afternoon, as Bassett approached the little low building under the beetling crags. The dusk had already fallen, the metallic lustre had tarnished in the sky, and only here and there a dimly burnished gleam gave evidences of how the sunset but now had flared. Those traces of the rain which its brilliancy had served to obliterate were reasserted under the drear influences of the closing night. Drops were ever and anon fitfully falling in the woods from their lodgment in the sere curled leaves still clinging to the trees, as the wind stirred them. Far away the shrill tones of an owl jarred the silence, and were still again. The mountains, dark and sinister, closed about the Cove, its spaces all narrowing in the hovering obscurity, only indicated, indeed, by the pallid stretches of crabgrass in the place of the harvested crops, and the tawny growth of the broomsedge, the curse of the abandoned land; for the last glimmers of the day revealed these lighter tones in the dull neutrality of the blending darkness. The dank breath of their sodden fibres came to him as he walked ; the river called aloud in a tumult of elation, as it dashed bold and wild over the rocks, reinforced by its tributaries from the ranges ; exhalations were rising from the ground, loitering in low places, and as the light flared out all red from the forge now and again, it cleft them in twain. The echoes waked still, despite the somnolent, night-shrouded aspect of mountain and valley, and were full of mirth, with snatches of lilting song, to repeat and con anew, till languorously, and syllable by syllable, they dropped to silence, or were overpowered by fresh outbursts of boisterous fun. It might have seemed even to these accurate mimics all as it was in the old days when the familiar group gathered here, before Rathburn had ever come to the Great Smoky to search in chasm and gorge and cave for its silver, — before they had been roused in the mystic midnight hour to keep a tally with the strokes of his hammer on the anvil, and murmur with bated breath his low-toned words, — all as it was. It did not seem thus to Bassett, coming nearer still. A preoccupation, a lack of zest in the jocularity, in the rallying sallies, he could detect in the very tones, too distant to be articulate ; and yet they were as bluffly loud as ever. Nevertheless, as he came in view of the interior, the figures of the young mountaineers, now distinct in the glow of the forge fire, now dull and almost indistinguishable in the shadow of the dusky brown walls, intimated but small thought save of the mirth of the moment. The violin’s tones were facetious under the bowing of so jovial a hand as Jube, the parson’s son, made shift to wield. The severe ascetic lines of his father’s profile were queerly imposed upon the rich red tint of the instrument, convulsed by a grin of a magnitude justified only by the phenomenal capers of the dancer, and distorted presently in sympathy with some very intricate harmonics, the production of which were somewhat beyond the performer’s capacity. The dancer was Andy Longwood, and his lithe conformation and light weight and latent agility were manifested to an extent which one would hardly have suspected from his habitual slow, slouching gait. He held either hand upon his hips ; his chin was uplifted ; he looked not at his feet, surprising as were their deft gyrations to the circle of men who, with their pipes in their mouths, stood about and gazed at him with an expression of slow and lenient amusement, but at the dark and cobwebbed rafters of the high-peaked roof. The white light flared out from the fire for one moment upon his face, with his long fair hair shaken back and tossing with his movements ; and as the dull red glow succeeded it, the surrounding spectators fell back laughing, their applause of an intricate double shuffle, with which he had concluded, audible to Bassett as he approached. When he reached the door and stood leaning against it, their comments had not yet shifted from the subject.

“ Git yer feet tangled up, Andy, fust thing ye know, so ez ye ’ll never git ’em loose no mo’,” observed Moses Hull, at whom Bassett glanced in surprise, for it was Hull’s ambition to do many things in the nature of feats of agility preeminently well, and commendation from him, therefore, usually was slack and scanty. “ Shucks ! ” He made one or two teetering movements forward on the tips of his toes, then desisted with a debonair wave of his hand. “ I can’t, — gin it up.”

“ Gin Andy su’thin’ ter drink; ’bleeged ter be dry arter all that hoppin’ an’ commotion,” said Dake, in a tone the essence of suavity. “ Hey, Clem? ” He appealed to the hospitalities of the blacksmith, who sat upon the anvil, all unmindful of the devil, and smoked his pipe, as he overlooked a game of cards which two young fellows were playing upon the head of a barrel.

“ Let him gin hisse’f suthin’ ter drink,” Clem said cavalierly, emitting a blue wreath of smoke from his lips. He had not forgiven the youthful rival his unintentionally misleading statement as to Marcella’s preference, and was nevertheless gruffly and illogically jealous. “ I reckon Andy hev got sense enough ter know the outside o’ a jug whenst he see it; ef not, let him go dry.”

He inserted his pipe once more between his lips, and bent his attention upon the game, solemnly and warily played by the light of the forge fire, the bellows accommodatingly worked by a youth who fancied he had a bent toward the smith’s vocation, and was happy to be allowed to meddle in any capacity with the paraphernalia of the forge.

“ I won’t die o’ thirst, I reckon, yit awhile,” panted Andy, who, still out of breath, was walking himself about after the manner in which a horse is exercised after running. He took his way behind the elevated hearth of the forge, for in the dusky retirement of this nook stood a modestly disposed brown jug, with a corn-cob stopper. Its presence here was well known, and the affectation of secrecy sprang, doubtless, from some mere sentiment of appropriateness, since the liquor was illegally distilled, and came few knew whence.

Bassett watched the dumb show, very dim in the corner, of the shadow of a man drinking from the shadow of a jug ; he was of an outspoken temperament, of which, however, censoriousness was more an element than candor.

“ What ails ye, Gid, ter be a-coddlin’ Andy so special ? ” He did not desist because of a significant glance from Dake, standing in the rear of the anvil. “An’ what’s Andy a-doin’ of over hyar, so fur from home, ennyhows ? His folks will ’low he be los’, — his mam will be out’n her head,” he sneered.

The bibulous shadow paused, with the jug at his lips. The pantomime was very expressive of scornful retort, as Longwood wagged his head silently, but with the fiery fluid in his throat he could not speak for a moment. “ I ’ll knock ye inter Kingdom Come, Joe Bassett, ef ye fool along o’ me. Talkin’ ez ef I war about five year old! I ain’t axin’ you-uns ’bout sech ez I do, nohow.” And once more he applied his lips to the jug.

“ Old or young, Andy hev been mighty important ter Brumsaidge,” said Hull seductively. “ Some things we-uns would never hev knowed ef ’t warn’t fur him.”

Bassett started in surprise; then gave a short, scornful laugh. “ Waal, I feel powerful sorry fur Brumsaidge ef Andy kin tell ’em ennything! ” he flouted.

The young fellow had come from behind the elevated hearth of the forge, wiping his lips on the back of his hand. He had suddenly grown conscious, and looked a trifle crestfallen. “ Waal, I dunno ez I oughter hev tole what I done, — I hev been sorry fur it sence. It jes’ sorter slipped out’n my mouth fore I knowed it. I hed drunk cornsider’ble apple-jack,” — he made this admission with a callow pride in being thus overtaken, — “ an’ I sca’cely knowed what I said. I war sorry arterward.”

“ ’Bout what ? ” demanded Bassett, choosing to disregard the telegraphic glances of Hull and Dake.

“ Shucks ! ” said Hull, answering for Longwood, “ jes’ ’bout tellin’ ez Eli Strobe hed gone deranged.”

Bassett said nothing, and Longwood, standing with his hands in his pockets, his head bare, — for he had not replaced his hat after dancing, and it now lay among the spokes of a broken wagonwheel at one side of the shop, — gazed absently down at the game, seeing nothing before his eyes, and raising them whenever the others spoke.

“ I dunno why ye air sorry ye tole,” said Hull craftily; and it occurred suddenly to Bassett that he was a halfbrother of the defeated candidate for constable, and that Longwood was in the process of being cleverly manipulated. “ Brumsaidge would hev been obleeged ter find it out, sooner or later. I s’pose,” he added, after a pause, “ ye war feared they would try ter take his office ’way from him ? ”

“ Edzac’ly ! ” said Longwood, lifting his large, wide eyes, “ an’ I did n’t want ter hev no part nor passel in sech.”

“ Waal, ye won’t! ” exclaimed Hull reassuringly. He was a dark-browed fellow, of a wooden-like countenance; it seemed specially devoid of expression as he chewed hard upon his quid of tobacco, and he had a casual manner as he continued : “ Folks would hev been bound ter hear it n’ised abroad ’fore long, an’ then, ef he air crazy, Brumsaidge can’t keep him constable. This air a mighty big deestric’, an’ arter ye wunst gits out’n the Settlemint houses air few fur true, an’ fur apart, an’ woods air thick. A crazy constable ain’t no constable at all.”

“Yes, sir! ” Dake broke in; “an’ folks out thar hev got ter hev some sort’ll purtection besides a gyard-dog, — got ter sorter depend on the law, now’days. We-uns ain’t got grit enough ter take keer o’ ourselves, like we useter do.”

But this last sentiment boded a digression. Hull hastily interposed, still incidentally : “ ’T ain’t yer fault, Andy, ef he did lose his office, — ye did n’t make him go deranged ; an’ it stands ter reason ez the law can’t be administered by a off’cer teched in the head. Naw, sir ! But then he mought not be crazy. What did he say, Andy, ter make ye ’low he hed gone deranged ? ”

The question was asked, and Hull gazed intently at the young fellow, fearing that at this significant moment some word, some movement, of the others might rob him of what he so zealously sought, — a clue for the guidance of those who were scheming to secure the inquisition of lunacy; for so close had been the race for constable that in the event of the office becoming vacant, and a consequent special election, Joshua Nevins could hardly fail to have a walkover, as against any other candidate than the disabled incumbent. Nevertheless, although Hull’s face had grown conscious, his manner carefully dissembled his interest, and Longwood’s glance discovered naught to inflame his anger or rouse his caution. It was only because of the twinge of his own conscience that he declared irritably, lifting his voice, “ I dunno what he said,—leastwise I hev no call ter tell, an’ I ain’t a-goin’ ter.” A sudden doubt, even suspicion, stirred within him. “ Somebody else war axin’ me that question jes’ ter-day.”

Hull, fresh at politics, lost his selfpossession. “ ’T warn’t me ! ” he protested, as if repudiating an accusation.

“ Did I say ’t war ? ” demanded Longwood, with a snarling accent. The whiskey which he had drunk and that goading sense of wrong-doing had blended in angry discomfort, which he was more disposed to wreak on others, if he might with impunity, than to suffer in silence.

“ Don’t quar’l boys,” eagerly objected Jube. His habit was not that of a peacemaker, but the prospect of a wrangle threatened to despoil the pleasure he experienced in twanging the old violin, for the loud voices overbore the vibrations of the strings as he experimented with some delicate flecking touches of the bow. “ Don’t quar’l, boys.”

“ I ain’t quar’lin ! ” Longwood defended himself with still a louder tone. “ Axin’ me — an’ I won’t stan’ it — ez ter what Eli Strobe said an’ did n’t say, ter make me ’low he hed gone deranged ! ”

His voice lifted to so high a pitch caused Clem Sanders to look up with scowling disfavor from the game of which he had been an absorbed spectator. His frown grew blacker as the final words fell upon the air. “ Gone deranged ! ” he sneered. “ Air you-uns a-spreadin’ that gossip yit, kase the man hed a fever, an’ war a leetle out’n his head ? I do declar’, ye make me laff.” His face seemed far from laughing, so indignant and flushed it was.

“ A man can’t stay out’n his head jes’ with fever from August — election day air fust Thursday in August — plumb till the middle o’ October, an’ past. That’s when Andy hearn Eli Strobe a-maunderin’,” Hull excitedly argued.

“ I never said he maundered,” Longwood protested vehemently. “ I ain’t a-goin’ ter tell what he said.”

Clem Sanders had worn a startled, troubled face as he hearkened to Hull’s exposition of these dates. He seemed overpowered, convinced against his will. Then his anxious hope for Marcella’s sake making him ingeniously sanguine, he turned fiercely toward Longwood.

“ An’ what sort’ll jedge be you-uns ? Gone deranged ! Nobody hev gone haffen ez fur deranged ez you-uns. Ye ain’t got two atoms o’ brains ter keep one another comp’ny in that thar great big lonesome head o’ yourn.”

Longwood winced palpably before this vigorous scorn. The consideration with which he had been treated earlier in the evening had served to foster his self-esteem. The blacksmith was a man of mark in the community and enjoyed great popularity, and Longwood deprecated a “backing down” from this source. He was prone to strut and swagger, and Hull’s pretended deference had made him adopt a still more assuming pose.

He forgot his pangs of conscience, Marcella, the consequence to Eli Strobe, — all, — in the tumult of his self-importance and the desire to assert himself.

“ Jedge o’ goin’ deranged ! I say a jedge ! Even you-uns, I reckon, would hev hed gumption enough ter sense what war the matter ef ye hed hearn him declarin’ — like I done — ez he hed killed Teck Jepson, bruk his neck, an’ kep’ axin’ whar Teck war buried, an’ who preached the fun’al sermon, an’ ef his harnt hed sot out ter walk ! I reckon ye ’d hev ’lowed he war deranged, ef ye hed hearn all that! ”

He hurled forth these words upon Clem Sanders, who sat as one petrified, a stony dismay on his face, and seeming scarcely to breathe. Hull was excited, laughing a little, half in triumph, half in ridicule of the aggressive adolescence thus foolishly revealing the secret that had been so carefully withheld from the inquiries hardly yet silent upon the air. The inconsequent Longwood, in the flush of his triumph over the blacksmith, did not even dimly appreciate what he had done, till, turning, he saw Hull’s face, wooden no longer, and the satirically laughing Dake. He wilted a trifle then; with an effort to regain his manly port, he demanded in an offended tone, “ What be ye fellers a-laffin’ at ? ”

Hull showed some aptitude for the affairs in which he intermeddled merely for reasons of consanguinity. “ So funny,” he replied evasively, — “so durned funny, the idee o’ Teck Jepson bein’ dead ! I wish he war! ”

“That wouldn’t do we-uns no good,” said Dake. “ We-uns can’t find whar Jake Baintree an’ his pardner air hidin’ in the mountings enny better ef Teck war dead than livin’.”

Jube Donnard ceased to scrape the old violin ; the other men gathered close about; the game of cards paused midway ; the very name of Baintree and his confederate seemed to supersede all other interests. Only Andy Longwood held apart, realizing with a sinking heart that he had given the clue — the subject of insanity — upon which the investigations would be pushed ; otherwise, so sane was Strobe on every other point, he might have escaped, even though the inquiry were prompted and prosecuted by his political enemies.

He sat down upon the shoeing-stool, leaning his head against the chimney, and tried to reflect on what he had done and what it might precipitate. Perhaps it was the heat of the fire, perhaps the effects of the whiskey he had drunk: his head drooped more and more, and presently he was asleep, all oblivious of the absorbed group and the topic that so engrossed them.

Even the enthusiast at the bellows had deserted the scene of his ambition, and joined the others. The tone of the conversation intimated that the subject was a recurrent one, and each speaker had the air of producing his remark rather from a long train of previous reflection than upon the impulse of the moment.

“ I dunno what ter think o’ Teck Jepson,” pursued Dake. “ Some o’ the boys ’lowed ez Baintree an’ that man ez purtends ter be a-sarchin’ fur silver hed been warned, else Rathburn never would hev kem down ter the forge so early in the night with sech a plain, harmless tale.”

“ Who would go a-hidin’ sech ez tryin’ ter git holt of a silver mine, ennyhow ? ” demanded Jube logically. “ I ’ll gin my cornsent ter his findin’ all the silver mines in the kentry. So would other folks, an’ he be ’bleeged ter know it.”

“ Teck never denied they war warned, whenst faced with the fac’,” said one of the card-players, the superseded pack in his hand.

“An’ Teck ’lowed,” said the other, “ ez he knowed who warned ’em. He hed ter ’low that whenst I taxed him with it. He said he would n’t lie.”

“ But he would n’t tell who done it,” interpolated Jube, the violin lying idle and silent on his knee.

“ Naw, sir ! ” exclaimed Dake. “ I jes’ argufied with him fur a good hour an’ better, tryin’ ter pint out his jewty ter the benighted critter, fairly sodden in the pride o’ his religion. I tole him ’t war his jewty ter his kentry. An’ he jes’ ’lowed ez he hed seen the face o’ jewty too often not ter know it, an’ that all the legions o’ hell an’ all the hosts o’ heaven could not make him reveal that name ter mortal ears.”

The blacksmith, his ponderous arms folded, his head bent as he sat on the anvil and listened, rose suddenly, with a deep sigh, and walked once or twice the length of the little shop. He had refrained from speaking, fearing his lawless tongue might betray his intimate knowledge of the mystery that so baffled them. His silence had not been noted, but his movement brought him to the minds of the others, and one of the card-players demanded : —

“ Did you-uns onderstan’, Clem, this hyar Rathburn ter say ez him an’ Jake war a-campin’ on the range ter the west o’ Brumsaidge ? Whenst we-uns went up on the mounting, las’ week, I do declar’ I b’lieve we sarched every squar’ mile fur ten mile, a-bushwhackin’ fur ’em.”

“That air what I onderstood him ter say,” replied the blacksmith cautiously, coming to a halt in the middle of the floor. “ On the mounting ter the west. But I never paid no partic’lar ’tention ter him. I war a-mendin’ of his tool, an’ Jepson done the talkin’. I ’lowed ye ’d be sati’fied with whatever Jepson done.”

“ But he never done nothin’! ” cried Dake angrily. “ Swaller a big tale ’bout’n sarchin’ fur silver ez easy ez skim milk, an’ then let the evil-doer slip through his fingers like pickin’ up water! ”

“ ’Thout even findin’ out whar ter git him agin ef we-uns wanted him! ” exclaimed Jube Donnard.

There was a silence. Each was conscious of a thought that he shared in the minds of the others, blit as yet none had put it into words. The dull red glow of the coals slowly smouldering under the sooty hood suffused the dusky place, and but dimly revealed the great slouching figures of the mountaineers, as they lounged about on the few seats that the shop afforded, or stood with their hands in their pockets and deliberated. Outside of the great widely opened doors the night gloomed. All was indistinguishable in the deep obscurity save that along the western horizon a dull copper hue glowed, and against it were visible the gnarled limbs of the old tree just without the forge, each bough and twig black and distinct as it moved slightly in the wind. Now and again drops fell in quick, convulsive patterings from the growth of evergreen laurel on the slope of the hill, and sometimes the eaves added a few monotonous drippings to the rivulets in the gullies below, running fast and loud in the silence.

“ Thar hev been a traitor ’mongst we-uns,” said Dake presently.

“ Ye say that ez ef it war news,” sneered Bassett, still standing in the door.

“ I reckon all o’ the boys hev sorter sensed who ’t war,” observed Dake.

“Ye ’member how keen Teck Jepson war fur appealin’ ter Jedge Lynch, ez he called it, whenst Baintree war fust let off from the court fur a-killin’ o’ Sam’l Keale, an’ whenst enny fool mought hev knowed the kentry would do nuthin’ agin the jury’s say-so ? ” Bassett remarked discursively.

The others stared at him through the red dusk, surprised by this reminiscent turn to the conversation.

“ Of course,” assented Jube, by way of giving him an impetus.

“ That war a blind. He never wanted nuthin’ done ter Baintree, — oh, ye need n’t tell me!” For there was an incredulous laugh here and there in his audience.

“ Shucks, Joe ! ” exclaimed Jube, turning aside and making as if he would once more lift the violin, then pausing and looking over his shoulder as Bassett resumed.

“ An’ t’other night, up at Clem’s barn, he war dead agin hangin’ or ennythin’ ’thout them men war diskivered in mo’ wrong-doin’ sence killin’ Sam’l Keale, — ez ef they’d up an’ tell ’bout thar wrong-doin’s with the vigilantes in a hunderd yards of ’em, an’ they hevin’ been warned, an’ Teck Jepson knowin’ who warned ’em ! ”

I’d like ter know who warned ’em. That busybody would be done with warnin’s,” declared one of the cardplayers. “ I’d strangle that tattle-tale with a mighty good will, ef I hed the chance! ”

“ Hesh up ! I ’ll lay ye low with that thar sledge o’ mine ! ” cried Clem peremptorily, the image of Marcella in his mind.

“ Laws-a-massy, Clem,” protested the card-player pacifically, surprised at his vehemence.

“ Then,” pursued Bassett, all unheeding, a logical end in contemplation, “we-uns hev let Teck Jepson git the upper hand o’ us, so ez he felt full bold ter let that Rathburn go, an’ stayed argufyin’ with we-uns in the barn jes’ ter purvent us from goin’ arter him an’ capturin’ him, so ez him an’ Baintree would git off scot-free.”

“ We-uns knowed all that afore,” said Hull placidly.

“Waal,” drawled Bassett, but his eyes gleamed with excitement and his pulse quickened, “ mebbe ye don’t know ez I viewed Jepson a-standin’ in his door this very evenin’, a-shakin’ hands with this very Baintree ez he always purtended ter despise so, an’ ez we-uns can’t find high or low, — shakin’ hands, sir, shakin’ hands frien’ly an’ perlite, ez ef Baintree war the pa’son ! ”

There were two or three sharp, inarticulate exclamations, and dead silence ensued.

“ We-uns hev been powerful deceived in this man ez hev fairly ruled over Brumsaidge Cove! ” said one of the mountaineers, smarting with the sense of being overreached.

“ His rule air over ! ” cried Bassett, “ else he hev stamped out every mite o’ pluck ’mongst us in his rule, ez ye call it.”

“ Why, now, look-a-hyar, Joe, how air ye a-countin’ fur his bein’ frien’ly with Baintree ? He ain’t a fool like this hyar Rathburn, hankerin’ arter silver ez Jake kin find,” urged Dake, dazed by the revelation, and seeking some adequate motive that might explain it.

Bassett had come forward into their midst. He stood with his hands in his pockets, his face grave but with suppressed excitement in every line of it, and now and then glancing over his shoulder at the broad open door, where a mist lurked shifting and shimmering, vaguely perceived in the dull red glow.

“ Why, what kin it mean, boys,” he said, “ ’ceptin’ we-uns hev been fooled from the beginnin’ ? Teck would n’t act so ef Baintree did n’t hev a hank over him somehows, — could put him inter mighty heap o’ trouble ef he did otherwise. Ez long ez Baintree hev been kep’ under our watch Teck hev b’friended him ; afore that he ’peared ez much agin him ez ennybody, jes’ ez a blind ter keep folks from s’picionin’ them.”

“ But what kin Teck hev done ez Baintree be in an’ knows about ? Thar ain’t no crime been c’mitted in these parts,” ruminated Dake, his mind rummaging the possibilities, “ ’ceptin’ — ’ceptin’ ” — he drawled on ; then he suddenly glanced up, his eyes alight — “ ’ceptin’ the mysterious takin’off o’ Sam’l Keale, five year ago an’ better.”

He had guessed Bassett’s suspicion ; he saw this in his crony’s eyes, and the strength of his own suggestion was increased by its duplication. The others stirred uneasily, but the crime was a mystery never solved, and what could be more inexplicable than the fact that Jepson was seen shaking hands with the man whom he had denounced and threatened again and again, a contemptible wretch, and the outcast of the mountains ?

“Ye ’low,” said Dake, “ ez Jepson hed some hand in that business what ain’t never been brought ter light ? ”

“ Elsewise what ails him ter purtect Baintree an’ his comical doctor-man, an’ ter swear he won’t tell who warned ’em, an’ ter be seen, when he thunk he war safe from view, a-shakin’ hands mighty frien’ly with the man he hev purtended ter run down ? ”

Bassett suddenly leaned forward, caught Dake’s hand, and went through the dumb show of a friendly parting, while the others looked on through the red glow of the fire. Then he flung himself back against the wall, laughing aloud, — a fleering falsetto laugh, that jarred the solemn silence beneath the bare trees, and echoed far along the road through the Settlement.


It is one of the incongruities of sentiment that the grief of an unworthy subject for a puny cause should have the poignant force and dignity of pain, and demonstrate that universality of human susceptibility to mental suffering with which the species is endowed. Mrs. Bowles might have seemed of altogether too flimsy a moral constitution to experience so adequately the surprise, the anger, the anguish, that consecutively possessed her upon the discovery of the little mountaineer’s disappearance. Bob’s own mother could hardly have shed more tears. As she forecast the gossip of the Cove, it might have appeared that only the repute heretofore of phenomenal graces of disposition could warrant the quivering shrinking she felt in coming at a disadvantage before the popular censor. All the conscious rectitude of a martyr was in her throbbing heart, as she realized how completely she was a victim of circumstantial evidence.

“ Folks will ’low ez how I hed treated him mean, — though ef he war my own child an’ hed runued away, they ’d ’low he war a mean brat, an’ would turn out a evil man. But bein’ I ’m a stepmother, I ’ll git the blame. An’ ter think how I hev slaved fur him, — patched an’ let out seams, an’ him a-growin’ out’n every gyarmint ez ef he’d grow out’n the roof; an’ kep’ him clean ez soap an’ water knowed how ! I ’ll be bound he’s tore his petticoats haffen off’n him in tatters, an’ got muddy an’ scratched with briers, afore he shows hisself — a mis’able mean shoat! — in the Cove, a object o’ pity, an’ everybody a - tattlin’ how M’ria Price, ez married a Bowles, like a fool, treats her step-chil’n, till they runs away from her, an’ dares the wild beast an’ the mountings ter be shet of her.”

And once more she burst into tears. She had her good qualities, which were chiefly housewifely, and she had not pretermitted her labors in washing the dishes and scouring the cooking utensils in order to indulge her grief. Perhaps it was the more effective as she held the plate aside to lean sobbing against the chimney jamb; then she wiped her eyes perfunctorily upon her apron, and went on with her work, while the tears streamed anew.

Her husband stood helplessly looking on, a pale, ashen hue upon his lank, indefinite countenance, a startled anxiety in his mild blue eyes, that seemed distended with abnormal faculties, as if they beheld a frightful possibility not within the actual field of vision. He had searched the immediate vicinity as thoroughly as might be for the infantile fugitive, and his heart sank within him as he reflected upon the measureless mountain wilds encompassing the little home on every hand, the hideous chasms and steeps, the lurking beasts of prey. He could not look upon the trundle-bed, the covering thrown off, and a deep indentation on the further side, where the fat little body had been cosily intrenched all night, with nobody knows what dreams in his head, or wakefully devising his callow schemes.

With the alert paternal despair, he felt that he would never again see there the rotund little fellow who was almost visible even now, so definitely present Bob was to his imagination. He had not his wife’s capacity for self-centred sorrow, and it was impossible for him to regard the incident personally except with keen and subtle spasms of remorse, his ingenuity fertile in devising more reasons for repentance than the bountiful reality afforded.

“ M’ria — M’ria,” he said tremulously, “ I feel obligated ter go down an’ roust up all the men in the Cove ter sarch. A b’ar or a painter mought — mought ” — He could not go on.

“ Shucks ! ” retorted his wife contemptuously. “ Ef he’s eat, he ’s eat, an’ the men in the Cove can’t hender.”

She slapped the dishes down upon the table as she successively wiped each piece, and there was temper very prominently apparent even in her tears.

“ They mought hev dragged him ter thar den, — I hev hearn o’ sech doin’s,” the luckless Bowles urged desperately.

“ I know what den he’s in : he 5s in the den o’ that painter or wolf ye call Teck Jepson, — that’s who hev ’ticed him off.”

She was sorry she had spoken when she noted how Bowles’s face cleared, how he clutched at this hope ; for it was one of the prime essentials of her grief that it should be shared, and if sympathy did not prompt her companions to make it their own, she presently gave them ample occasion to sorrow for their own sake. This bloodless elucidation of Bob’s disappearance had early occurred to her. He was trying to make his way to his uncle, and by reason of the dense undergrowth it would be difficult for him to do aught but follow the path which would certainly lead him to the Cove, where he would probably meet and electrify every important personage of Mrs. Bowles’s world before encountering the object of his search.

“ That’s a fac’! ” cried Bowles joyfully. “ I ’ll go straight down yander ter Teck’s an’ see.” A cloud overcast his face. “It’s a long way, — he’ll never git thar. He ’ll set down an’ go ter sleep on the side o’ the road — an’ su’thin’ wild mought ketch him thar. I ’ll go— I ’ll go, straight.”

“ Naw, I 'll go myse’f,” said Mrs. Bowles, with another gush of tears. “ I ain’t goin’ ter hev ye, an’ Teck Jepson, an’ Bob — yer great fine Bob ! — a-showin’ off yer mis’ries down in the Cove, an’ a-makin’ out ez I be tur’ble enough ter harry ye all out’n house an’ home. Naw, sir, I’m goin’ myse’f, an’ ye ’ll bide hyar an’ take keer o’ them t’other two chil’n, an’ purvent them from runnin’ away.”

Sim and A’minty had already been given reason to mourn on their own behalf, Mrs. Bowles fancying that she detected in their sullen little faces a relish of her lachrymose outbursts and protests against this untoward fate that had somehow got the upper hand of her. But despite the channels of tears drying on their cheeks, that spark of triumph still shone in their eyes, and she could not quench it. She saw it anew as they looked up on being mentioned, and she was once more moved to accuse them of complicity in Bob’s flight, which had been the pretext of the previous trouncings.

“ Ye A’minty, ye better tell me which way Bob went, an’ what he ’lowed he war goin’ ter do,” she said, stopping in her domestic duties, and standing with arms akimbo, gazing down at the tousled red head and tallowy freckled face of the little girl.

A’minty looked old and very cautious as she spoke; she held the yellow cat, with the green eyes, close up under her chin and against her neck, —what a comfort the soft, furry, purring thing was!

“ I dunno ! ” she declared. “ Bob don’t talk none sca’cely, — ’ceptin’ ’bout’n vittles.”

“ I ’ll be bound he talks ’bout vittles, — vittles what I cook fur him ! ” cried Mrs. Bowles, with a new cadence of despair. “ Ter think I lef’ my good home an’ a plenty o’ marryin’ chances down in the Cove, ter kem up hyar an’ weave an’ sew an’ spin an’ cook an’ slave from mornin’ till night, an’ fetch up another ’oman’s chil’n, an’ yit git n’ised about all round the Cove ez bein’ mean, an’ no-count, an’ neglec’ful. I jes’ know how dirty Bob will be afore he gits ter the Cove, dirty an’ tore up, an’ got on the wust dress he hev got ter save his life, — an’ folks will be ’lowin’ ez I hev repented o’ my bargain a-marryin’, an’ hev made a mighty pore match. The Lord knows I did, but I don’t want Peter Bryce a-swaggerin’ round, tickled ter death, an’ ’lowin’ I hed Letter hev tuk him whenst I could git him.”

“ Laws-a-massy, M’ria, Peter Bryce knows ye would n’t gin him two thoughts ter save his life,” said Bowles. “ Heaps o’ folks’s chil’n air fractious an’ gin ’em trouble, whether they air step-chil’n or no.” The temporizer’s art had become singularly facile and effective in the continuous exercise which had been given it. Mrs. Bowles’s countenance cleared for a moment; then — perhaps it was a definite perception of the truth, which was so palpable that she could not permit herself to believe that it would be less apparent to others than to herself — it was clouded anew, and she broke forth angrily : —

“ Now! I jes’ know what a name will be gin me by Peter Bryce, an’ Teck Jepson, an’ them sanctified women folks in the Cove, ’lowin’ ez I be cruel, an’ cut an’ slash the chil’n, I reckon. They ’ll take no notice o’ how fat Bob be! Teck Jepson sot the chil’n all agin me whenst he fust kem hyar ter live. Hain’t ye hearn Bob talk a heap ’bout his uncle Teck ? — tell me now, Sim.”

Sim twisted one bare foot over the other, as if intricacy in the intertwining of these members might attest alacrity of spirit to oblige. He had grown slow in being so doubtful of what might please, or rather least displease. He continued silent, with his look of stupid cogitation, until she observed threateningly, “ Now sulk, ef ye air so minded,” when he broke forth precipitately : —

“ Bob say uncle Teck air big an’ high, an’ hev kilt a heap o’ painters an’ b’ars — an’ — an’,” he faltered, “ ef ennybody tuk arter him, uncle Teck war a-goin’ ter settle ’em ; all he hed ter do war ter let uncle Teck know.”

Mrs. Bowles whirled round in triumph.

“ Thar, now ! ” she exclaimed to her husband. “ What did I tell ye ? I hearn Teck say them very words ter that thar chile the las’ night he war hyar. He’s gone ter Teck Jepson! Teck Jepson hev enticed him away! Teck Jepson air yer painter an’ yer wolf ! ”

Once more she burst into stormy tears. It is a hard thing to say of her, but the catastrophe that threatened the child lost in the savage wilderness seemed less terrible to her than the mental picture of Bob at large in the Cove, revealing to the gossips the secrets of the domestic administration at the cabin in the notch of the mountain.

She made her preparations somewhat swiftly after that, although she did not neglect to prepare and set aside a goodly amount of wholesome food for the consumption of the family during her absence, animated by the intention of allowing Bob as little time as possible to ventilate, consciously or unconsciously, the family discords. Curiously enough, it was not so much an evil conscience which made her sensitive to remark as the fear that all she had done and all that she had sacrificed, in the sense in which she chose to construe the word, for another woman’s children would not he adequately and justly considered. She wished very heartily, as she mounted the horse which Jepson had lent them, that she was leaving the door never to enter it again ; but as she looked about the little cabin, with the solemn purple mountains clustering in the background, and took note of the silence and solitude that possessed the world, save within those paltry inclosures where the pigs and the poultry fed, and the house with the sullen, browbeaten children in the porch, she reflected that she was likely to grow gray here, and she sighed deeply as she took up the reins. There is no sorrow nor sympathy so sincere as that which we feel for ourselves. She could not even be sure of Ben Bowles’s grief for her anxieties, indefinite and docile as he was. He stood, to be sure, with a long face and a hand shielding his much-grooved brow and his eyes from the glare rather than the sun, — for it lurked behind the clouds, and only from tenuous areas of vapor it sent forth this occasional tempered white suffusion, — and dutifully watched her out of sight; but one might well fancy that it was a day of more quiet and peace within doors than the cabin had known since the bride came home ; and even she, with all her personal arrogations, was aware that he relished it.

The day was gray. The heights wore a deep purple with a vague blue and blurring effect, as if some invisible, impalpable veil of mist had interposed a short distance from the wooded slopes. There was rain in the clouds, but they loitered; no downfall was threatened for some hours yet: nevertheless, mindful of the freshness of a crisp pink calico gown and bonnet, Mrs. Bowles doubted the reliability of her own resources as a weather-prophet. She drew up the horse where the road forked, and hesitated. It was not such weather as she would have chosen for a jaunt into the Cove, and she winced from the idea of presenting herself, all forlorn and bedraggled by the rain, among her old acquaintances. She needed all her fortitude and all the prestige of fresh and immaculate attire. She wished that she had let Bowles undertake the expedition in her stead, as he had proposed. She was on the point of turning back, when another of those white suffusions through the translucent clouds gave cheer to the landscape, lifted suddenly into definite color and hopeful augury for the rest of the day. “ An’ I ’ll take the short cut,” she muttered, as she turned the horse aside into the less traveled and weedgrown way. But for the thinning of the leaves on the bushes that grew close on either hand, and the sere, dried, wisplike estate of the grasses and weeds in its midst, it might have appeared more like a groove amongst the foliage than a path ; but here and there it emerged in rocky spaces, where it wound with definite curves, and she wondered that it should present this trodden and wellworn aspect. “ Cows take along it, I reckon,” she hazarded.

There was no moisture on the leaves nor on the withered grasses, and there seemed an incongruity in this, with the lowering, lead-tinted sky full of rain, and the dank smell of moisture in the air, for there had been “fallingweather” somewhere in the vicinity. She heard a rain-crow raucously call out in the silence, and then all was still, so still! The summer songs of weed and twig were hushed; the air was void, — no whirl of birds, no whisking gossamer cicada; the stir of the crisp dry grass under her horse’s hoofs and the creak of the saddle as it swayed slightly were loud and assertive in default of other sound. Now and again she observed how the mountains changed their aspect, viewed from a different point; but however the contour varied, that sombre purple tint filled the landscape, save when the distance dulled it to gray. A drear day, shut in by clouds and strangely without moral perspectives as well; all the outlook seemed limited by that gray, silent presence, that had an aspect of perpetuity like a doom, as if it would lift no more. She had been an hour or more in the saddle, and the valley appeared but little nearer than at the outset. She began to doubt if the little mountaineer could have reached the Cove. “ It’s a good piece, — a good piece,” she said meditatively. “ But then Bob mus’ walk a hunderd mile a day, I reckon, playin’ round like he do, an’ he be plumb survigrous.”

She had neared a depression in the range, through which was visible a section of the Carolina mountains. She turned her eyes mechanically toward them, hardly noting a little cabin that she had known to be deserted for many a year, and that stood on the slope of a great dome which towered far above. The distant ranges were still and gray as those nearer at hand; nowhere in the world was a brighter spot visible than the dull encompassing monotony. No movement, not even the slow shifting of the mountain mist, till suddenly a handsome gray mare trotted out from the rear of the cabin, where she now perceived was a flimsy shanty of a barn. A heap of ashes lay at one side of the yard. Her approach had frightened away a weasel that had been feeding on some broken bits of food by the doorstep, and now, made bold by her motionless silence, ventured to return. The cabin was evidently tenanted.

“Waal, sir!” she soliloquized. “I never knowed ez ennybody hed moved up ter this old house, ez be fairly failin’ ter pieces,” she added, her critical eye taking note of the dilapidated doorsteps, the rotten rail fence, broken down to the ground in many places, the strange lack of garden or field, all of which, in the first thrill of startled surprise, had escaped her attention. So lonely was her life on the mountain, so uncongenial the companionship to which she had doomed herself, that she had at first experienced a glow of gratulation to discover neighbors, even so distant as this ; now it was tempered by the fear that inmates so shiftless and uncaring as the external evidences would intimate could hardly prove a valuable acquisition. She had drawn rein, and sat motionless in the saddle, silently contemplating the scene, each new item of neglect or decay that presented itself to her observation adding to the reprobation expressed in the primly disapproving compression of the flexible lips and the quick glances of her bead-like eyes from under the brim of her pink sun-bonnet. Her code of morals, her stringent requisites for the government of other people, were very complete, and her record as a diligent and exacting censor had few instances of relaxation or clemency. She was on the point of turning away, taking a certain satisfaction in the thought that she would make no overtures to people with a doorstep like that, when it suddenly occurred to her that the vagrant Bob might have earlier discovered the dwellers in this secluded nook, and have established himself upon the footing of an occasional visitor. Her face changed. “ He mought be in that house this minit,” she reflected hopefully. “Likely ez not he hain’t gone down to the Cove at all.”

There was no sign of the usual guarddogs about the house, and as she slipped down from the saddle upon the ground her curiosity was all freshly aquiver, since it could be gratified at no cost of personal dignity; for she came not to offer her acquaintance, but upon her own important errand, the search for her step-child. There are few people who can feel so exclusive a joy in trimness and freshness as did Mrs. Bowles, for it was her belief that there had never been so crisp a pink calico since the Great Smoky Mountains were built; and indeed, a stranger who had no previous acquaintance with Mrs. Bowles and her methods could not have failed to consider the color of her attire singularly clear and fresh in the dark, gray day, and the glimpse of the smooth olive complexion and glancing dark eyes and shadowy dark hair eminently prepossessing. As she stood on the contemned doorstep and tapped lightly upon the door, she smoothed down a fold with a calm pleasure in anticipating the effect of her appearance on the inmates, and the depths of envy into which it would plunge them. Some moments were beguiled with these reflections before she became impatient because of no response. When she knocked again, the ensuing silence was so marked that her attention was diverted from the personal considerations that had absorbed her, and she began to look about with a keener curiosity, hampered, nevertheless, by a thrill of vague fear. She sent a glance that had all the incentive of prying toward the batten shutter, in which she had noted, with disparaging eyes, a long rift: it was not so high from the ground; she might have peered through had she dared. She did not dare; she only knocked again, and began to doubt whether any one were within. But for the ashes and the broken bits of food — and once more she heard the hoof-beats of the mare trotting back to her stall, satisfied by her sally for investigation — the place would have seemed as lonely, as deserted, as she had always known it hitherto. Perhaps it was the sense of solitude that emboldened her; perhaps the phenomenal opportunity of observing the domestic methods and rummaging the belongings of the absent dwellers that enticed her. The door, not well closed, had moved under her hand, as she knocked upon it; it was evidently unlatched. She pressed it a trifle further ajar. Then she was still for a moment, the dark red color mounting and suffusing her cheek, responsive to an imaginary rebuke to so unmannerly an intruder. But no word broke the silence. The door shifted a trifle, so ill-hung it was, and Mrs. Bowles advanced her foot on the threshold. The next moment she drew back with a sharp cry. A man was stretched at length on the floor, with a pallid, pinched face, — a face like death.

Charles Egbert Craddock.