The Despot of Broomsedge Cove


EUGENE RATHBURN could hardly be said to have awakened from his deep sleep, that stormy night in the Great Smoky Mountains, when Jake Baintree kept his strange vigil by the side of the dying fire. The alien scenes of his dream were suddenly possessed by a wild, unrealized tumult. His dormant consciousness became in some sort aware of a piercing sound, a fibrous, funnelshaped glare, fierce but fleeting, and then he saw no more, knew no more, not even thus vaguely. How long he lay there on the floor of the mountain hut, in a pool of his own blood, he never sought to compute. One morning, while the rain yet beat on the roof, and the gullies ran full beneath the eaves; while the mists still further secluded the solitary spot, practically as inaccessible as if it had been lifted amidst the clouds that closed about it, his memory came back to him, his identity renewed with his body its coexistence, and he realized who it was lying wounded, fevered, exhausted from the loss of blood, on the fireless hearth, where he had fallen asleep when it was all a-sparkle and aglow, his own pistol, smoke-blackened, albeit but freshly cleaned and oiled, on the floor beside him.

“When the corpse is found,” he said impersonally, “if it ever is found, it might suggest a suicide.”

He experienced a feeble surprise to gauge the interest with which he noted the relative position of his weapon and his helpless body, and vaguely presaged the deductions of the coroner’s jury.

The fallibility of the supposititious verdict recurring to his mind after the sense of a long and vacant interval made him aware that he had again been unconscious, and had but now revived anew. Somehow, he wondered that he had ever dwelt upon it. He no longer thought of himself as the lifeless shell that might lie here impassive till some chance — nay, the predestined urgency of retribution — should lead hitherward a stranger’s step to discover Jake Baintree’s crime. He felt the throb of a turbulent resentment. He thirsted for revenge. A frail tenement, to be sure, his shattered body afforded for these robust and full-pulsed passions. Professionally speaking, he presently recognized the symptom with a new hope, — he was stronger, far stronger, than he had thought. He had slept, he was sure, — slept despite his burning thirst, his gnawing pain. He had a dual series of impressions, the keenness of the one hardly mitigated by the poignancy of the other. He took note of his own sensations, both as physician and patient, and when he had lifted himself upon his elbow to examine the wounds, — there were two, the pistol-shots fired at such close range as to scorch his garments, — his face blanched to a yet more pallid tint as he looked ; but with a sort of mechanical professional reticence he said not a word — not even a groan escaped his lips — that might have roused the alarm of a patient in like case. As he replaced the folds and lay back upon the blood-soaked rug, he closed his eyes to wait, — to hope that it might not be long. His wounds were serious enough in any case, but here, without food, parched with thirst, without skilled care or the merest ignorant help, it was only a question of time. His mind canvassed the alternatives, — to die of his wounds and the exposure, or to starve. As he thought of the relative anguish of the two fates that impended, he felt that his wounds were not so hopeless ; he had doubtless exaggerated their menace ; he would starve to death, here in these lofty altitudes, very slowly very painfully; for although he was of no great stature or stalwart physique, his constitution was tough and promised resistance. “ I ’ll have an awful time before I get off,” he said to himself in a panic. He writhed slightly as he spoke, although he had sedulously sought to lie still, that the gaping wounds might not bleed afresh, and as he stirred his hand touched something cold, from which he recoiled. It was only the barrel of his pistol, sleek and shining, and with a ready suggestion lurking in its muzzle. The time might be no longer than he willed it, the pain no greater than he chose to bear. He had a definite technical knowledge wherewith to plant the ball in lieu of Baintree’s clumsy haphazard ignorance. He drew back his hand from the cold touch of the insensate metal that beguiled him with this sophistry from out its hollow jaws ; he shrank from the idea as if he definitely appreciated the crime to which he was tempted. “No,” he said aloud in a strong voice, — “ no, my good friend Jake, this is your job, and you shall swing for it. I’ll do nothing to hinder, if I lie here a year and a day in the pangs of hunger.”

Once more he recognized, with a start, the lapse of a vacant interval. His professional consciousness, first of all his mental faculties, took note of it. “ Sleep is the best thing, — quiet and sleep, — itself a curative agent,” he muttered feebly, drowsing off once more. He waked now, however, at frequent intervals. Once he noted that the rain had ceased its melancholy drone on the roof, and once he heard the wind. The mists fell away from the window, where he had dully marked their presence, close to the rift in the batten shutter, and feeble shafts of sunlight flickered across the melancholy, fireless hearth, and anon faded out. Suddenly a galvanic thrill jarred every pulse, as he lay motionless, his eyelids half closed. Delirium, surely. How hard it was, he thought, that he would have differentiated the symptoms so certainly were the hurt another man’s, and that even his own professional skill could avail him naught, could not serve as the one friend in the world he had earned, as he lay here dying and alone in this innermost seclusion of solitude! Deny it however his reason might, call it fever, or fantasy, or fear, his eyes were fastened on Baintree’s face peering in at the rifts of the shutter, — peering in, a pallid, drawn, distorted likeness of himself, such as might haunt the dying dreams of the man he had murdered. Fact or fiction, the sight petrified Rathburn. He did not stir a fibre; his half-closed eyes were fixed; his mind took eager cognizance of the probability that this should be the figure to loom in his fevered fancy: but he wondered that the delirium should so furnish forth the detail and circumstance of its delusion; that the face in the rift of the shutter should blanch, and shrink away, and come again, with a look of fascinated horror, to peer within ; that the figment of fever should put up a hand, so long, so thin, so well remembered, to hold the flapping shutter still; that the mere idea of crafty, furtive, terrified eyes should scan the lines of his motionless figure with an expression he could never have imagined, never dimly conceived, as if hoping to detect a movement, yet fearing, and then despairing. Suddenly, with a spasm of remorse that naught but the actuality of anguish could depict upon a human countenance, the face disappeared. Was it fancy, too, or did he hear the dead leaves rustle beneath a shambling step ? Other ears, hardly so keen, so expectant, as his own, took heed. There was the tramp of hoofs outside, trotting from the shanty of a stable and around the house, and his mare’s shrill whinny of recognition sounded cheerfully, as if the creature welcomed the sight of any familiar being, so long left lonely as she had been. Rathburn doubted no longer. An insidious chill crept along his nerves. He heard his feeble breath flutter, his faint heart beat, loud and obstructive in the silence; so did his ear yearn to follow the footsteps, hoping that they were bearing Jake Baintree away, satisfied that his work had been done thoroughly, and fearing lest he enter to reassure himself anew. It seemed long, long after he could detect no further intimation of Baintree’s progress that the mare, whom he fancied standing still without, gazing after the slouching, retreating figure, turned, and slowly, with a suggestion of disappointment in the very thud of her hoofs, ambled back to her stall. Even in the tumult of his agitation Rathburn reflected with satisfaction that she was at liberty, with food and running water at hand. “ Else I’d have to get out of this somehow,” he said, for he would have sacrificed much in the sacred cause of physical suffering ; even a brute’s pain might not appeal to him in vain. Had he been a man of sentiment, the hope that came to him with the thought for the creature’s welfare might have seemed in the nature of a requital. Could he but foster the strength to lift himself, to creep to the door, to make shift to mount the animal, he might still escape; he might reach some friendly hut, and, with food and nursing, save his life. With hope came a torturing fear, — a fear for that for which he had but now thanked his fate, — because the mare was at liberty. She would grow tired and lonely, and would wander away. She was used to being petted, to many strokings and words which she seemed to understand. She was fond of human companionship. She would wander away, vaguely seeking it, before he could lift his head from the floor. He heard already, again, the quick beat of her hoofs, as she came snorting forth once more, expectant of Baintree’s return. He forgot her the next moment, in the realization of what this possibility boded for him. Remorse, was it, on Baintree’s face, as he peered in at the rigid form, so still on the fireless hearth ? How long would it have lasted, Rathburn asked himself, with a sneer, had the rigid form moved, had the eyelids stirred, had Baintree possessed more expert knowledge of the signs of death ? A chance might bring him back, as a chance had brought him first to gaze, with a fascinated horror, on the deed he had done, and then he would do it, in self-defense, more surely. No sound, no stir without, listen as he might, but the wind and the scudding leaf, till presently, with a longdrawn breath, the mare trotted back once more to munch her corn.

Rathburn was all on the alert, although he strove to lie still and calm his nerves. “All this excitement is bad,” he rebuked himself, as if he were an unruly patient. And then relapsing into his other rôle, he strove to adjust his mind in obedience to the professional dictum. He could sleep no more, with the expectation, the fear, of Baintree’s return vigilant in every nerve. He watched the sunlight strike across the floor, reddening now, with vague motes bespangling the broad bars, so still, so silent, that when a rat, swift and lean and whiskered, sped through it, he gave a start of repulsion that sent a pain as of dislocation throughout his frame, and roused a new terror in his helplessness. But the rat fled as he lifted his hand, and his attention was called to the lure that had brought it from its hole, — the broken bits of bread fallen from the table when overturned last night—last night ? — he knew not how many nights ago, and never was the wiser. Some of the food was within his reach, — it had lain on the unswept floor, and the rats had perhaps fought over it; he had a strong loathing for it, but he felt better after eating a morsel of bread, and reflected that he was hardly likely to relish daintier food if he had had it. So much of vigor did it impart that he dragged himself, after a time, by slow and agonized degrees, across the floor to the shelf whereon was the little medicine-chest whose gratuitous services he had proffered to Baintree. He lay still for some time, exhausted by his exertions, when he had crawled back to his pallet. At last, mindful of the dulling light, he opened the lid of the chest, and his hand poised hovering above the rows of bottles.

“This opportunity,” he remarked satirically, “ of trying one’s remedies in propria persona is one which few young surgeons have the privilege of enjoying.”

And then he was reminded to glance up warily at the window, trembling anew at the thought of Baintree and the conclusive significance of his attitude should the crafty mountaineer once more peer through the window, lured again by some morbid fascination to the scene of his crime.

He was glad to watch the red light fade on the brown walls, to note the purpling spaces of the twilight through the rift in the batten shutter; for as the shadows mustered about him he felt indistinguishable in their midst, — indistinguishable even to eyes so keen, so furtive, as those he fancied forever at the window.

He thought of the caution, the vigilance, the skill, that, were he the poorest charity patient in the wards of a hospital, his wounds would command; and the contrast of his plight here, to die so far from help, and the prospect of the suffering of the dreary interval before his release, forced a groan from his lips that was not all from merely physical pain. He distrusted the treatment he had administered ; he had used perforce what he had, not what he would have chosen. His mind ran continually upon the remedies that he would have applied had the means been at hand. He kept thinking of himself as some impersonal patient. A gnawing trouble beset his mind because of the deficiency of his resources.

“ I ought to get somebody to look after that chap. He’s a goner, I reckon, but somebody ought to go through the motions of trying to save him.”

His fever was rising ; more than once he caught himself lifted upon his elbow, and searching with dilated eyes amongst the rows of bottles, in the dim glimmer of the twilight, for he knew not what. “ I ought n’t to be trusted with these things ! ” he cried in a sudden lucid panic, as the realization of the rift between his discriminating mind and his groping, foolish hands, free to follow their own vague impulses amongst the powerful drugs, forced itself into his thoughts. He closed the lid with a snap, and gathering his strength and setting his teeth hard, he flung the chest from him, he knew not where, in the darkness. He heard it crash against the wall and fall to the floor, with a fine, high, crystalline shiver, as of the breaking of the vials within ; then, as he lay still, with perverse ingenuity his uncontrollable thought began to canvass where it lay, deducing the locality from the sound. “ Oh, I could get it again, get it mighty easy, if I am delirious, and could take enough poison to establish a suicide and set Jake Baintree free.”

He dwelt upon the idea with irritable suspense, now and again starting violently, as if he truly harbored the fancied impulse that he sought to restrain. A stir without, the approach of a real danger, nullified this terror of the nerves. The dead leaves rustled. A step — the wind ? He lay motionless, hardly daring to breathe. It came again, and presently a crunching sound and a snarl. He experienced momentary relief : some wild thing was gnawing the bones and bits of meat flung out into the yard, for the prospectors had not been careful housekeepers. He had often heard this as he chanced to wake at night, but now he reflected that the door must be ajar, — a touch would open it; and with his wounds and fever and helplessness he was at the mercy of the wild beasts. He reached out his hand to make sure that the revolver was beside him. In touching it his confidence was restored in some sort, yet in this environment he could not sleep, despite the drowsy influences of weakness and fever. The repulsion of it even in a measure dominated delirium. Sometimes he would hear his voice break forth incoherently upon the air; then subdue himself to silence to listen to the jaws of the startled beast, once more at work upon the bones.

Toward midnight the moon rose. Through the rift in the batten shutter the melancholy golden bars struck across the floor. The scene within, so hateful to his eyes, revived from the encompassing gloom, — the few chairs, the overturned table, the great, wide, vacant hearth, his long figure stretched at length amongst the rigid, blood-stiffened folds of the rug, and the untouched pallet of the fugitive. And later, down the broad shaft of the stick-and-clay chimney the clear lustre burned amid the fireless gray ashes, all gleaming white. No sound from without now, and the wind was laid. Here all solitary, save for the moon. As the reminiscent, meditative mood that comes in her train drowsed down with quiescent influence upon his senses, he wondered vaguely that he should think of the great golden disk, waning and yellow, as it looked when it hung above the pines without, and silvered the frosted grasses of the great bare dome of the mountain, and made the vast spaces of the sky blue with that fine deep tint of the lunar nights; not as it had looked elsewhere, in foreign lands, or shimmering in deep sea waters, or in the grotesque incongruity of its melancholy and its poetry over the sordid streets of cities, — only here, where it seemed native. And it was not the faces of those that he had known in that wider life of his, conventional, comfortable, eventless, that came to him; he seemed discarded by the past, an alien to the future. He could only think of the days just at hand, and of those who had walked through them, and his heart was bitter against them all, — all except Marcella. And somehow, with her face in his mind, and her name forming itself on his lips, he fell asleep in the silence of the dull gray dawn and the fading glamours of the yellow moon.

Her name was on his lips when he woke. “ Marcella ! ” he cried aloud, with a vague idea that she was standingin the door. He lifted himself on his elbow, his heart throbbing with the thought that she had brought deliverance to him, and a fear that the image was but the distraught fantasy of his fevered brain. She seemed to change her identity before his very eyes. He had a vague sense that the walls were still resounding with a shrill cry ; was it he who had uttered it, or she ?

It was not repeated. Of all the possibilities to steady Mrs. Bowles’s nerves in this unlooked-for emergency, naught could have been as efficacious as the error of mistaking her for another woman.

“ ’T ain’t Marcelly ! ” she observed stiffly, while he still lay motionless, half lifted on his elbow, staring at her as if every faculty were merged in that of sight.

She made a motion as if to withdraw, albeit curiosity burned in every fibre ; then she bethought herself of her inexplicable intrusion, the breach of good manners on which she piqued herself, and thus of her errand.

“ I knocked, but nobody answered,” she observed primly and politely, although her bead-like eyes, glancing to and fro, were distended to a size which had no precedent of elasticity in their experience, as she noted the paucity of furniture, the dust, the fireless hearth. “ The door was on the jar, an’ I 'lowed I ’d push it open, an’ mebbe would see one o’ the wimmen-folks o’ the fambly.” She said this with a manner which implied that she did not preferably confer with the men-folks. She assumed a matronly air as she proceeded : “ I be a-sarchin’ fur my leetle boy ez strayed off from home. Mebbe some o’ the wimmenfolks hev seen him — ef they air up an’ doin’.” Thus she conveyed a reproof upon his seeming sloth and late hours. Once more her bead-like eyes quickly took an inventory of the belongings. “ Whar be the wimmen-folks ? A-washin’ of clothes at the spring — of a Wednesday ?

Perhaps it was a pity, for the sake of discipline in the abstract and the promulgation of correct housekeeping principles, that these were merely mythical women to whose methods Mrs. Bowles thus definitely made known her objections. A somewhat lively life she might have led them on the Great Smoky, despite the wide, unpopulous stretches of wilderness. She turned her head as she stood on the vantage-ground of the doorstep, which commanded the descent to the left of the cabin, where the path in sinuous vagaries led down among the bowlders to the spring. The growth about it was leafless now, and she could see the steely gleam of the water under the dull gray sky. It did not seem to move ; its margin was solitary; no whisking, spiral twirls of smoke climbed that unwilling gray sky; no flash of red and yellow flames made cheerful the dull, dun wintry day, merrily wreathing about the great wash-kettle, and singing a roundelay with the bubble of the boiling water, and the sharp crackling of the briery fuel, and the strokes of the paddles beating the clothes white as behooved them; no agents of all this domestic industry were visible, with skirts pinned back and sleeves rolled up from energetic arms. Some such picture Mrs. Bowles’s expectation had projected upon the gray background of wood and mountain; her eyes turned with a bewildered stare from the blank nullity of the prospect. Her flexible lips were more firmly compressed, the bead-like gleam of her eyes more definitely antagonistic, as she looked again at the recumbent figure. The tears had sprung to Rathburn’s eyes, — he was so weak, so full of pain, the deliverance she had brought near so sorely needed, so beyond all license of hope! He could hardly speak in answer to her query, and when he did a sob was in his throat.

“ Don’t you see what’s the matter ? ”

Once more her unfriendly eyes dilated.

“ Laziness,” she declared unequivocally. “ Though I reckon ye ’d ’low ye air ailin’ somehows.” There was a flush on her face other than that cast by the pink sun-bonnet, — the flush of conscious pride, “Waal, I hev got no time ter waste. I ’ll jes’ leave ” — She hesitated ; she was about to leave her respects for the “wimmen-folks,” then concluded to deprive of the honor any housekeepers who maintained a hearth like that.

A low cry escaped Rathburn’s lips ; he held out his hand. “ Don’t, you see I am dying—I am dying? ” he exclaimed. “ I have been murdered ! I have been shot and left for dead ! ” Mrs. Bowles stared speechless at him. “ Do you live near here ? Can you get me away from this accursed place ? ” he continued. — “ anywhere — anywhere to die but on this floor! ”

“ I live a good piece off,” she replied. “ Yander at the Notch. I be Mis’ Bowles.” Then with a sudden recollection of his ecstatic cry “Marcella ! ” she added, “ Ef ye air ’quainted in the Cove, ye mus’ hev hearn tell ’bout me. I war M’ria Price.” The name woke no responsive recognition in his face; he seemed agitated, exhausted, almost spent. “ I be kin ter Marcelly Strobe —ye hev hearn her talk ’bout’n me ? ” His tact was not prolonged beyond his other waning faculties. He forlornly shook his head, and Mrs. Bowles’s face suddenly hardened. He had something better, perchance, to talk of with Marcella Strobe ; and he evidently had never even heard her name. They had already forgotten her in those precincts of the Cove, —forgotten her as if she had been carried away to her lifeless grave in the little burying-ground instead of her living grave up on the mountain. A cynical sob rose into the throat of the exile. A forlorn yearning she experienced, very poignant, for all it was so pitiful a paradise from whose meagre joys she was excluded.

“ I reckon yer folks will be back presently. I mils’ be a-goin’,” she said stiffly.

“ I have no folks ! ” he exclaimed, his eyes once more wide with the terror of being deserted. “ I have been shot — Baintree, Jake Baintree, shot me, and has gone. Nobody lives here, — nobody ! He left me here to die.”

He could not account for the terror in Mrs. Bowles’s face. She turned very pale ; she had backed toward the door. “ I 'lowed ye talked sorter funny, — sorter like they say the valley folks do. I mought hev knowod ye warn’t from this kentry. I’m sorry fur ye, but I be ’feard o’ the moonshiners myself, an’ ” —

“ I’m not a revenue officer ! ” Rathburn almost screamed, divining her thoughts, so well had he come to know the country people and their state of mind toward the officials of the Revenue Department. “ I’m just a plain fool.”

She had hesitated. Somewhere in her limited spiritual capacity there was conscience enough to rebel against passing by on the other side. She wanted to believe him, and thus credulity was made easier. She looked at him more wistfully than might have seemed possible to those bright, soulless eyes. “ We have been trying to find silver, he gasped. “ Baintree killed Samuel Keale in this same business, and now he has tried to kill me.” The significant name, the mysterious tragedy, the bootless search for the precious metal, were all long familiar, and coerced belief in any subsequent development that might be predicated upon them. He noted the change in her face. “ I wonder you have heard nothing about my being here ; everybody in the Cove knows it now.”

Mrs. Bowles winced to be ignorant of what everybody knows. Nevertheless she was equal to the occasion. “ I be sech a stay-at-home,” she said, her red lips parting over her fine teeth in a pleasant smile. “ The mos’ o’ the news I know is what my chil’n air a-doin’ of, an’ how the pig-pen an’ the poultry air a-thrivin’.”

She is not the first woman of frustrated worldly ambitions who makes a boast of simple domesticity. But it was a sentiment eminently beguiling to the masculine mind.

She saw approval in his eyes; she saw, too, how handsome they were, albeit so hollow, — how intelligent. She relished an admiration calculated to be so discriminating. There was, however, nothing of the married coquette in Mrs. Bowles; she had far too much respect for herself. Her manner was all that a discreet matron’s might be, but she thought it just as well that this stranger should appreciate that Marcella Strobe was not the only admirable woman in Broomsedge Cove. The utterly dead and cold aspect of the fireplace struck her anew as she came forward into the room. She was not a logical reasoner, but the dislocation of the domestic situation was sufficiently marked to smite even her ill-developed appreciation of cause and effect. “Who gin ye yer breakfus’ ? ” she demanded, pausing to look down from under the roseate brim of her pink sun-bonnet.

He pointed at the broken fragments on the floor, beside the overturned table. “ The rats,” he said scornfully, but with tears in his eyes. “ They have had a high old time dragging these scraps about the floor, and they were good enough to leave some in my reach.”

Mrs. Bowles’s shallow, round, shiny eyes looked from him to the bits he indicated, as if with difficulty she grasped the idea that a day could be begun, the light dawn, the sun go through the ceremony of rising, without the equally natural and essential phenomena of the getting of breakfast and the subsequent washing of dishes. “ Waal, sir ! ” she exclaimed beneath her breath, coping at last with this revulsion of nature. “ I ’ll make some coffee fust thing,” she added aloud. “ Leastwise,” she continued, her eyes dwelling with disfavor on the array of cooking utensils, “ ef thar’s enny sech thing ez gittin’ some o’ the grime off’n that thar coffee-pot.”

A starving man lay on the floor, but the coffee-pot in question was scoured outside with ashes, as well as inside, before the coffee was ground and set to boil; even the coffee-mill came in for energetic discipline of this sort, Mrs. Bowles merely replying to Rathburn’s insistence that he did not care, and that she need not be so particular, by the tart inquiry, “ Don’t ye know dirt is pizen ? ” which choice axiom of toxicology he was at liberty to add to his store of scientific lore at his leisure. The reclaimed coffee-pot shone very cheerfully as it sat, somewhat battered as to shape, upright on a trivet over the live coals ; and it began almost straightway to gurgle and to sing, and to give out a most refreshing fragrance. The fire seemed lean, somehow, after all its beds of ashes had been removed, for Mrs. Bowles sharply announced that she “ warn’t used to no such slack-twisted ways of keepin’ a h’a’thstone,” and wondered that he was not worse off than he was, being evidently of the opinion that the surplus of ashes was as pernicious to the health as Jake Baintree’s bullet. The spare brightness of the flames illumined all the room; its radiance cheered him; its warmth was a luxury; and as he drank the coffee she brought him in a cup, also chastened with severe applications of soap and water, he looked at her with great gratitude, and declared that he could never thank her.

“Waal, now, don’t ye do it!” she said, flashing her bright dark eyes at him, and showing all her fine teeth. She sat in one of the rickety chairs beside the hearth, resting from her culinary exertions ; the tint of her crisp pink dress here and there deepened and paled as the glow of the fire rose and fell; her face, still shaded by the pink sun-bonnet, was a trifle flushed, and its plump curves were illumined by the glancing light. A placid content rested upon her features. A cultured criticism could never have deemed her beautiful, but she seemed a well-favored creature, pleasing to look upon, and of the kindliest expression. She had not at first impressed Rathburn thus, and he wondered at it as he lay comforted and tended, and enjoying the fire, and the cleanly aspect of things, and the good coffee, and the cheerful sight of her. In truth a change had been wrought in Mrs. Bowles’s outlook at life within the last hour. It is a truism that all is for the best, but we accept it in exactly the proportion in which the dispensation adjusts itself to the requirements of our scheme of things. Mrs. Bowles found it easier to acknowledge the utility in Rathburn’s misfortunes than the sufferer himself might have readily been brought to do. The fact that her benign ministrations to the wounded man, at the brink of starvation, in solitude, would be noised abroad throughout Broomsedge Cove, the excitement and sensation that so unusual an incident as her discovery of Baintree’s victim in the nick of time would necessarily rouse, must serve to mitigate any harsh criticism of her conduct to the fugitive Bob, if not altogether nullify it. Possibly her absence from home in the guise of good Samaritan would suffice to explain any commotion in the deserted domestic sphere, even Bob’s flight itself. No one need know which had first left the roof. Her eyes, full of forecast, were on the floor. Her lips were adjusted primly as the words were dumbly fashioned upon them. " I reckon Bob mus’ hev strayed off through sarchin’ fur me,” — she fancied herself thus accounting for the incident. What more natural to say and to credit? Rathburn’s self-esteem had been grievously cut down of late, but even in its reduced estate he could never have dreamed that the chief significance of Baintree’s crime and his own deep wounds could be to any one merely the means of innocuously accounting for the small Bob Bowles’s flight from his home. He had not yet finished his coffee. He was too feeble to drink more than a few swallows at long intervals. Mrs. Bowles fixed her eyes upon him from time to time, evidently expecting that he would hand back the cup, and waiting to wash it. In the mean while she renewed her canvass of the place. “I ’lowed Jake Baintree mought hev been sati’fied ’thout turnin’ the furniture topsy-turvy,” she commented upon the overturned table. She rose as she spoke and righted the article in question, gathering up the fragments of bread and the broken crockery, and going to the door to throw them out. “ I ’d like ter sweep this hyar floor. I reckon the dust would n’t choke ye much.” She spoke in a tone that curiously partook of a demand as of a right, and yet of a request as for a favor. She gazed searchingly into the corners. " Laws-a-massy! ” she cried, her voice striking the high key of mingled surprise and ridicule. “I don’t believe the man hev so much ez got a broom ! ”

Albeit this praiseworthy intention was thus frustrated, she still dwelt upon the incidents of the floor. Air that Baintree’s shootin’-iron ? ” she asked, with knitted brows, as she noted the revolver.

“ No, mine,” said Rathburn.

“ Did you-uns shoot back ? ” demanded Mrs. Bowles judicially, evidently not to be prejudiced against the absent Braintree.

“ I ? ” exclaimed Rathburn. “ I was asleep.”

Mrs. Bowles turned suddenly pale. “Ye warn’t a-fightin’ ? ” she asked, amazed.

“ I tell you I was asleep,” said Rathburn angrily, the blood rising to his face. “ We had had a quarrel ” —

“ What about ? ” interrupted Mrs. Bowles, eagerly relishing gossip so highly flavored, so fraught with danger, as this.

Rathburn was nothing loath. His attack upon Baintree seemed so small a matter in comparison with the dastardly crime which his enemy had committed that he had lost all the sense of humiliation, of repentance, that had so oppressed him. “ Why, I made him tell me where that man Samuel Keale lost his life. That ’s where I believe silver is to be found.”

Mrs. Bowles glanced over her shoulder with a gleam of scornful laughter. All unmindful, Rathburn went on : —

“ I choked him till he told me. He would n’t tell me till I had half choked the life out of him.”

“ They say they can’t try him no mo’ fur that nohow,” she said, becoming suddenly the partisan of her interlocutor. “ I dunno what ails him ter be so tongue-tied ’bout’n it now. Whar war the place ? ” she queried, in sheer curiosity. She evidently attached little importance to his answer. She cared naught for justice in the abstract, and she had no special enmity toward Baintree. She leaned forward after she had spoken, and mended the fire, which was beginning to show a tendency to smoke. “ That’s the queerest turn of all,” said Rathburn. A gleam of excitement shone in his eyes. “ He tracked this man Keale to a cave; he never saw him again. There were the prints of feet about the place, and the cave was on Teck Jepson’s land.”

The half-burned fagot fell from Mrs. Bowles s hand with a sharp crash upon the hearth; the smoke curled out into the room unheeded. Still bending over the fire, she turned her head and fixed upon him excited eyes, in which suspicion smouldered. “Teck Jepson! ” she cried. “ His bones hid in a cave on Jepson’s land! No wonder the jury floundered an’ the law failed! Jepson ! ah—h! " Her eyes narrowed and her lip curled. “ I ’ll be bound Teck Jepson hed a hand in Keale’s takin’-off; ennybody mought hev suspicioned it — ah—h ! ”

“I never said that,” stipulated Rathburn warily, animated by that reluctance felt by all civilized men to unnecessarily assume responsibility. “ I only know that I forced Baintree to tell where the place was, — fairly choked the words out of him; and because I declared that I would search that cave of Jepson’s he shot me while I was asleep, and left me for dead — with my own revolver. Why, this old thing,” he said, clasping its handle, “ I could n’t tell when it has been discharged. He had to clean it — rusty old ” —

“ Put it down, — put it down ! ” cried Mrs. Bowles, with an unwonted show of timidity, and shrinking back against the jamb of the chimney. " I can’t abide them bob-tailed shootin’-irons, — I can’t place no dependence in ’em, like rifles; they look ter me ez ef they’d ez soon go off ez not, an’ a leetle ruther.”

Rathburn had ceased to meddle with the " bob-tailed shootin’-iron,” and went on : " He not only shot me twice, so determined was he to have me silenced and dead and out of the way, but long afterward — the next day, or the next — he came there to that slit in the window, to look in and make sure that he had done his work thoroughly.”

Mrs. Bowles turned half-way round in her chair, and fixed her dilated, startled eyes upon the crevice, as if she expected to see the long, keen, narrow face, with its furtive, crafty glance, peering through. “ I lay as stiff and as rigid as a corpse could,” Rathburn went on. “ I 'll bet you there was a glaze on my eyes, half shut I held ’em — What’s the matter ? Where are you going ? ” he broke off suddenly.

For Mrs. Bowles had risen so precipitately, with so wild an aspect, that despite the stiff neatness of her starched pink skirts and sun-bonnet she seemed suddenly disheveled. Her face was blanched, her eyes moved restlessly about. “ Oh, my Lord ! ” she exclaimed, “ I mus’ be a-goin’ — I mus’ be a-gittin’ away from hyar — I — I — I’m ’feard o’ Jake Baintree.”

“ One minute, — wait one minute ! ” cried Rathburn, lifting himself upon his elbow, dismayed by the result of his graphic description of Baintree’s visit. “ He only came once, — that is, so far as I know ; he is n’t likely to come again; he has probably left the country.”

“ Shucks! ” Mrs. Bowles summarily and contemptuously disposed of his logic, her suave graces and benign ministering disposition dispersing in thin air before the approach of personal danger. “ Ef what he hev told ’bout that thar cave on Teck Jepson’s land be wuth killin’ youuns ’bout, it air wuth killin’ me too, an his comin’ back shows he air powerful partic’lar ’bout’n his job. Leastwise I ain’t goin’ ter resk his comin’ back agin an’ murderin’ me hyar.” As her roving eye fell upon him. seeing his pain, his terrible straits, all expressed in his face, she recoiled a trifle before their dumb, unconscious, pallid reproach. “ I have got a fambly dependin’ on me,” she said, justifying her care for personal safety. She spoke with flabby white lips, and her eyes still maintained their hasty, restless movements.

“ Oh, you ’re all right,” Rathburn made haste to stipulate ; the touch of satire in his voice was so light as to be almost unappreciable. “ Altogether a matter of choice. Each for one’s self, and devil take the hindmost.”

“ I ’ll put this bread an’ water whar ye kin git it, an’ pile up some wood hyar so ez ye kin make a fire.”

“ When I’m able,” he seemed to assent.

“AN’” — she turned upon him her disingenuous eyes — “ I ’ll tell the folks in the Cove whar ye be, an’ send some of ’em after ye.”

He could not have explained how he knew it so definitely, he pretended to no gift of forecast, but he was sure that her lips would be sealed so far as the tragedy in the deserted mountain hut was concerned ; that she would not dare to overtly frustrate Baintree’s vengeance, since he was at large and bent upon it, or to aid to fix his crime upon him. She would send no help. She would ostensibly hope that he might recover, but feel that it was the solution of a dangerous perplexity if he should die, realize how much she had done for his comfort, and reflect that in no event was it any affair of hers.

“ If it would take no more time, I’d thank you instead to buckle the girth of the saddle about that gray mare of mine, and hitch her bridle to the ring at the door. I may take a little ride to-day. Oh, I’m a great deal stronger than you think.” He smiled affably to meet her dismayed glance.

She stood motionless, pondering and deliberating. He looked like death; but he was a physician, — he had told her this, — and he was a better judge of his strength than she. She could not retrieve the fact that she had been here and become cognizant of Baintree’s crime, thereby incurring danger from him, and this Rathburn might detail whenever liberated. If perchance he should ride boldly down into the Cove, — it seemed impossible, — the story of her desertion of him in such a time of need would furnish a terrible supplement as well as convincing proof of any deductions of cruelty to the fugitive Bob. Without this incident, indeed, Bob’s flight could hardly be innocuously passed over.

He could not understand the change in her face; it brightened with sudden resolution.

“ Why, to be sure I kin,” she said cordially. “ An’ mebbe ye kin kem right along down the mounting arter me inter the Cove. I’d wait fur ye, ’ceptin’ I be ’bleeged ter look arter that leetle boy o’ mine ; it pesters me mightily ter hev ter leave ye, an’ ef ’t warn’t ez I be bound ter go down inter the Cove I’d ax ye ter kem an’ bide at my house.”

It assuaged her discontent in some sort to be able to go through this form of invitation and hospitality, meaningless as it was, for nothing could have induced her to harbor a man with a dangerous secret like this, and whose death Jake Baintree, already red-handed, sought.

“ Thank you very much,” Rathburn said civilly, but glad to show his independence. “ I reckon I had better go to the Cove, to some friends I have there, — the Strobe family. I know they will take me in.”

She once more remembered his ecstatic cry of “ Marcella ! ” when she first stood in the door. She grudged a guest of this quality to the Strobes, albeit she had no wish to open her own house. She supposed that they had made his acquaintance through Eli’s machinations with the strings of government. She had always believed that there was much social advantage in polities. Being so debarred, she was keener of perception in this regard, and quicker to appraise such opportunities, than most of the mountaineers. She carried these thoughts with her while she buckled the saddle-girth about the mare, glancing fearfully ever and anon over her shoulder at the gray solitudes glooming round. If he were strong enough to reach the Cove, he would compass this without her aid, and would have much of her dereliction to report. If he were not strong enough, he would die by the way, and thus would tell no secrets, either of the crime that Jake Baintree had committed, or of the knowledge of it that she reluctantly possessed. The mare was a tall beast, frisky and fat, and unused to being handled by women. She lowered her head and flung up her heels as the pink skirts swayed about her hoofs, but bridled and saddled she was at last, and the hitching-rein was slipped through the ring on the door.

Mrs. Bowles was a little hasty in her leave-taking. “ I ’ll tell the Strobes they mought ez well look out ter see ye, eh ? ” she called through the half-open door.

“ If you will oblige me,” he responded in turn.

There was naught of offense in the tone and the words, but her face was lowering beneath her jaunty pink headgear as she once more slipped her foot in the stirrup, glad enough to feel it there again, and mounted into her worn old side-saddle. “ Perliteness is on his lips, but not in his heart,” she said bitterly, for there are none who so resent insincerity as the insincere.

As she jogged off down the bridlepath, she noted the threatening aspect of the day. All above the circling sombre purple mountains, on every side, dark gray clouds hung in sinister abeyance. Below in the Cove, the stretches of the broomsedge flared, in its tawny ruddy tint the only suggestion of light in the landscape; for where the forests intervened, the thickly massed myriads of bare boughs, even the heavily draped boughs of the pines, were null as to color, and lurked darkling in the valleys, intensifying the great gloom of the scene. Only far away could she see lighter tints, albeit of a gray diffusiveness, and this was along the summit of a distant range, where the nebulosity of the cloud had been resolved into vague slanting lines betokening rainfall. The weather could hardly be more unpropitious for her journey to the Cove, but with the recent events in the forlorn little shanty in mind, with the terror of the possible propinquity of the murderous Baintree lurking in the wintry woods somewhere, she did not hesitate, she had no wish to linger. Only once she looked back: when she had progressed so far down the descent, at a thumping, lunging walk, — for her horse had a gait unique in its way, especially adapted to these precipitous descents and slippery verges of the Great Smoky, — that another turn amongst the leafless wands of the undergrowth would conceal the house from view, she halted for a moment, and glanced over her shoulder. The ragged, bare slope of the mountain stretched high above; amongst the leafless boughs of the gnarled old trees, imposed in definite lines against the slate-tinted sky, she saw the wreathing blue smoke of the fire she had made, and beneath the branches at the end of the vista, the little hut, its door still closed, the oblique line of the gray roof cut sharply against the sombre purple masses of a neighboring mountain, visible across the valley. The door was shut, and there rode down the path, mounted upon the gray mare, an emaciated figure, with a face all pallid and ghostly in the dim light of the day; and Mrs. Bowles, albeit unimaginative, received a terrible suggestion, as she looked upon it, of the Biblical Death upon the white horse, as the rider came swaying in the saddle between the slate-colored clouds and the purple black mountains in those forlorn altitudes, where solitude possessed the wilderness and the storm impended.

“ He can’t keep the saddle fur haffen the way,” she said speculatively to herself.

Then she turned, and urged her horse down and down the descent, losing as she went, being considerably in advance, the sound of the hoofs that followed.


The gilded squares of light that the windows of Eli Strobe’s cabin projected upon the outer darkness were hardly obstructed by the growth about them, so leafless had it all become. To be sure, here was the outline of the sweet-brier, sketched in a clear bronze in many-branched grace upon the yellow space, and at the other window a series of straight wands rose up above the sill, and betokened the withered estate of the “sweet Betty” bushes. Nevertheless, from afar off Mrs. Bowles could see the clear, illuminated chrome-tints, very distinct on the purplish blackness of the night, and they served beacon-wise to guide her along the dark reaches of the road, still reeking with the heavy rainfall, not long overpast, and intimated very definitely where she must turn aside to take the marshy turn-row in lieu of the red clay highway. She was glad enough to find herself at the familiar junction of the paths. She had shrunk away from the open doors of the forge, seeing in the red flare from within the figures of the blacksmith’s cronies and hearing their loud hilarious voices, for the consciousness of Rathburn following hard upon her steps induced an unwonted caution. If he had quarreled with Baintree, it was possible that he had other enemies as well; and remembering how wild of aim were the bullets in a free fight, and how a stray shot might be endowed with pernicious possibilities, she forbore, as far as she might, attracting the attention of those within. She passed as silently as a shadow in the multitudinous shadows of the night, the hoof-beats of her horse hardly audible in the deep mire on one side of the road. She was sure that a horseman whom she suddenly encountered, galloping down the road, was altogether unaware of her proximity, as he shot by in the gloom. He had come from the turnrow that led through the fields to Eli Strobe’s house, and she wondered a little wistfully at this. “ Some o’ thar everlastin’ visitors, through cousin Eli bein’ sech a busybody in politics,” she thought, remembering the social advantages of candidacy.

But they were not the cheerful faces which behoove an open house that came trooping out to the door when her incongruous feminine “ Halloo ! ” weakly quavering from its soprano shrillness to an abashed silence, roused all the surprised inmates.

“ Laws-a-massy, M’ria Bowles ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Strobe, with her hand over her eyes, peering intently into the long shafts of light fluctuating out into the darkness from the lantern that Eli Strobe carried in his hand. “ Mighty glad ter see ye, M’ria, enny time ye kem, though ye mighty nigh sheered me out’n seven years’ growth, an’ I never hed much growth ter be skeered out’n,” remarked the little dame at longrange, as Mrs. Bowles dismounted upon the horse-block and started up the path to the house, leaving the hitching-rein in the hands of her host. Even in the dim radiance of the shifting lantern and the gleam from the open door, her pink skirts rustled with much of their pristine stiffness, despite the dank atmosphere, the legacy of the storm.

“ Ef she war dead, she’d ’pear at the gates o’ heaven all fraish from the ironin’-board,” Mrs. Strobe commented in a low tone to Marcella. “ Her affection fur the sad-iron an’ the washboard air all that M’ria Bowles ever showed ter prove she hed a heart. Some wimmen, though, ain’t got so much ez that.”

“ Did ye kem down hyar ter git shet o’ the storm, M’ria ? ” she called aloud, for she could not allay her curiosity concerning so untimely a visit. " I see ye hain’t been in the rain.”

“ Naw, cousin J’rushy,” Mrs. Bowles replied, with an exceeding gravity, coming, out of breath, up the steps, her plump olive cheeks, her bead-like eyes, her flexible lips, all adjusted to an appreciation of importance. " I warn’t out in the storm,” she continued, mingling her account of herself with her greetings, which gave them a cavalier air, as of a preoccupied mind, which Marcella and Isabel visibly resented, their added pride of bearing perceptible even in their silence. “ I rid my beastis inter a sorter niche in the rocks whilst the rain war failin’, kase I did n’t want ter git wet myself, an’ I hed a man along o me ez war powerful ailin’ through bein’ shot.”

Eli Strobe paused, hearing the last statement as he came up the steps, and flashed the light of the lantern into her face. It revealed the pompous dignity of his own. He frowned down this affront to the law, caring far less for the victim than for its majesty. He cast his lowering side-glance upon her. “ Who done it ? ” he demanded gruffly.

“ Jake Baintree,” she said.

She did not note how Eli Strobe winced. He had sought to lend his personal strength and dignity to the feeble law which he was commissioned to administer, had upheld the justice of the verdict that had liberated Baintree, and had subsequently given him countenance. It seemed ill enough deserved, and for a man who piqued himself upon discrimination and consistency this was a blow.

“ Yes, sir; shot him an’ lef ’ him for dead in the old Pinnett cabin. An’ bein’ ez I passed by, I fund him starved an’ ’thout no fire, an’ the floor lookin’ like it hed never been swep’.” Mrs. Bowles set her lips primly. “ So I jes’ holped him on his mare an’ fetched him down the mounting with me.” The sound of a hoof smote her ear, and she turned suddenly. “ Thar he be now at the gate.”

Rathburn, his every faculty jaded, his bones sore from the jolting of the journey, his wound poignantly aching, as he drew rein at last, had only an indistinct impression of glowing stationary lights a-bloom in the utter blackness, seeming to shed presently, as a petal, a fluctuating golden flake, dandering down the currents of the wind blowing toward him. His dazed senses took heed of it at last as Eli Strobe’s prosaic lantern. He felt the mountaineer’s strong arms encircle him as he lay, bending forward on the mare’s neck, — for he could no longer sit upright, — and draw him out of the saddle, and carry him to the house almost as helpless as a child. He smelled, as he went, the dank mould of the autumnal borders, where all the flowers had gone to seed. He heard a detached pattering, a mere appoggiatura of musical drops falling from one of the stiff, sere, brown things, not recognizable in its wizened, wisp-like estate. The skeleton vines flapped about the porch; he saw the lights through them as they swayed, and then his consciousness failed for a time.

When he knew himself again he was stretched upon a lounge, drawn up at one side of a hearth upon which even Mrs. Bowles’s broom could find no field of action. He tasted the strong flavor of the unadulterated mountain whiskey; it brought the tears to his eyes, and feeling the glow kindling in every chilled member, he was moved to marvel how much of the potent liquid Mrs. Strobe had assumed the responsibility of administering. For they were all sitting in a circle about the hearth, except Marcella, who knelt, holding one hand before her face to shield her flushed cheek from the flames, while she turned, with a long fork, the broiling venison upon the coals, from which an appetizing odor rose. She did not look up, although a general exclamation of satisfaction greeted his opening eyes.

“ I thunk the reverend stuff would fetch ye,” observed Mrs. Strobe triumphantly, as if she had invented the remedy. “ I 'm goin’ ter gin ye some yerb-tea,” she added benignly.

And then it dawned upon Rathburn that he had fallen into the practice of this ambitious amateur.

“Oh, I don’t want any herb-tea,” he declared with decision.

“ Jes’ like Dr. Bryce, — pore old man, ez bald-headed ez a aig.” This ridicule seemed irrelevant, but the tone was of great power of depreciation. He don’t want no yerb-tea, nuther.”

Rathburn had lifted himself on his arm. “ Does he — this physician — live near here ? Could we send him word to-morrow to come and see me ? ”

“ Listen at him ! ” cried Mrs. Strobe, with an ebullition of laughter. “That jes’ shows how much ye know, —how much of a doctor-man ye be, sure enough. Mighty willin’ ter try yer ignorance a-dosin’ other folks, an’ chucka-luck — git well or die. But ef ye air a-ailin’ yerse’f, nare doctor-man ’mongst ye air willin’ ter take his own med’cine, — rank pizen,—what he administers so free ter other folks.” She cocked her head on one side and surveyed him speculatively. “I s’pose, now, ef Dr. Bryce war ailin’, he’d want some other doctor ter physic him ez knowed more ’n hisself. That man oughter be powerful easy fund ! I ‘ll bet ye a cow an’ calf he couldn’t be got ter swaller the illsmellin’ lotiums he gins other folks ’thout ye war ter hold his nose an’ tie his hands ahint his back.”

At this graphic account of the fraternal interdependence of the profession Rathburn could but smile.

“Now,” exclaimed Mrs. Strobe cheerily, “ ye look sorter like yerse’f, — some sorter like ye did that las’ night ye war down hyar. I reckon ye hev hed yer fill o’ consortin’ with sech ez Jake Baintree.”

“ I have indeed.”

“ Ef I hed n’t happened ter kem along he’d hev been dead,” said Mrs. Bowles plaintively, as she sat and sipped a cup of coffee ; for the regular supper being some time ago concluded, the refreshments were served to the travelers thus informally about the hearth.

“ I have no doubt of it. I have a great deal to thank Mrs. Bowles for.”

Mrs. Strobe’s little cynical squawk interrupted these amenities. “ Laws-amassy! Air Mis’ Bowles the nangel ez ye said delivered ye afore, whenst ye got inter a pickle with the mounting folks ? A nangel! I would never hev tuk ye fur sech, M’ria ! I ’low ye weigh more ’n a nangel ginerally do, though mebbe ye air a nangel ez hev been fattened up by high livin’.”

A certain smirking bewilderment was on Mrs. Bowles’s round face. She was at first not disposed to repudiate the compliment, losing sight, in her confusion, of the fact that Rathburn surely knew to whom he had paid it. Then her cheek mantled with a glow of resentment at Mrs. Strobe’s allusion to her avoirdupois, which was no more than might conveniently grace a plump angel ; and it was Mrs. Bowles’s firm conviction that heaven was not populated by slim divinities, — “ scraggy,” she called them, — like Marcella Strobe, who looked as if she might break in two.

“ I ’lowed, too,” said Mrs. Strobe, settling her feet on the rung of her chair, where she perched with an air as if she would flit away presently, and delighting in the confusion wrought by her sarcasm, — “I ’lowed, Eugene Rathburn, ez ye’d be too perlite ter call a married lady a nangel, even ef she did warn ye from the lynchers an’ save yer life.”

Mrs. Bowles changed color quickly. The word “ lynchers ” smote terror to her heart. Not for any consideration would she incur the suspicion of having interfered between the wild, lawless mountain vigilantes and their intended victim; no suave delights of hyperbolical praises could avail for an instant.

“ ’T warn’t me, cousin J’rushy. Naw 'm ! ” with emphasis. “I never seen that thar man till this very mornin’, — never set eyes on him. I war glad ter holp him ter kem away from whar he war bound ter starve, but I don’ want ter be called no nangel,” she added primly.

“ How would cherubim do, then, or seraphim ? ” demanded Mrs. Strobe seriously, despite the whimsical corrugations about the small drawn mouth. The quality of her wit was disconcerting, and as Mrs. Bowles turned her reddening face aside her eye fell on Marcella. The girl had risen, and was standing partly in the shadow of the mantel-shelf; the breath of the fire still fanned the soft masses of her curling hair, tossed backward on her shoulders ; her oval face was delicately flushed; her eyes, from under their long poetic lashes, shone like stars. The effect of this luminous head from out the soft nullity of the brown shadows about it, that canceled its more prosaic environment, might have impressed far less alert perceptions than Mrs. Bowles possessed. It never would have occurred to her to discriminate it as ethereal or unearthly, but the jealousy of her temperament was vigilant enough to recognize a possible applicability of the phrase and to grudge it. For Mrs. Bowles was jealous on principle; not that she coveted Rathburn’s devotion for herself, but it irked her that Marcella should receive this homage, or that indeed anything that was generally esteemed of worth, whether she herself truly accounted it of value or not, should be at her option. The girl represented in some sort to her the estate which she had renounced for her life in Ben Bowles’s household, of which she had tired. She had looked upon herself so long as a sacrifice in some inexplicable sort to duty that she was prone to account each grace of person, each opportunity of position, as an advantage wrested from her and her inalienable right. To be sure, Mrs. Bowles could not have logically defended this position of holding a patent upon beauty and charm, and she had no desire to do so. It was enough that she chose to maintain it. Her bead-like eyes suddenly glowed, as she looked askance at the girl. Marcella would find it an expensive “ beau-catchin’,” had she indeed risked the wrath of the mountain lynchers and betrayed their secrets to commend herself to this dapper, yellowheaded young fool, who seemed only fit for the target for the pistol practice of the mountain desperado. Her eyes still followed the girl, growing hardly less attractively human in leaving the angelic mistiness of the shadows, and coming out into the full light, bearing the little blue bowl full of broth.

Rathburn looked up at her with his own eyes alight, as he lifted himself to a half-sitting posture amongst the pillows. His glance met with slight response ; the expression seemed suddenly expunged from her eyes as they encountered his. They were bright as ever, it is true, but blankly indifferent, and presently averted. Mrs. Bowles, watching, deduced a new theme for poignant regret : it seemed hard that Marcella Strobe could so afford indifference to a handsome young swain like this, while she was yoked for life to an elderly, forlorn entity which met her ideal in no wise, like Ben Bowles. The only comfort in the desolating spectacle of the girl’s independence was the reflection that such pride was apt to go through the woods and pick up a crooked stick at last; perhaps none, — not even such a broken reed as Ben Bowles.

The light faded out of Rathburn’s eyes ; he gazed questioningly, pleadingly, at Marcella, but she did not look at him again, and after he had drunk the broth he sank back amongst the pillows, more definitely aware than before of his pain, the jeopardy of his wound, and his reduced estate.

“ An’ how do you-uns kem on, cousin Eli ? " asked Mrs. Bowles, shifting her chair slightly, and turning to her host, who sat, with his hat on his head, his hands on either knee, his eyes on the glowing coals.

Mrs. Strobe looked keenly watchful. Marcella paused as she was going out of the door with the emptied bowl in her hand, and turned back. Quick as they were, they could not forestall a deep groan that suddenly burst from his lips as from a surcharged heart.

“Oh, powerful bad off, cousin M’ria. I be mightily troubled, — mightily troubled.”

Mrs. Strobe broke into a laugh, seemingly the essence of light-hearted gayety, albeit her small, keen eyes burned like coals of fire. Marcella came back to the hearth, showing her face in the radiance with a gallant smile upon her trembling lips.

“ Law, dad,” she exclaimed in a tone of rallying mirth, “'ye would n’t think nuthin’ o’ the tricks an’ wiles o’ yer p’litical enemies ef ye hed yer health right good. They know they can’t beat ye at the polls, — ye jes’ stan’ solid with the people, — so they hev ter try ter yank ye out’n yer office some other way.”

“ Laws-a-massy, what air they a-tryin’ ter do ? ” demanded Mrs. Bowles, with a lively curiosity. Trouble was evidently a-stalk in the Cove, and gave its denizens many a twinge of anguish, although she had latterly felt as if the wellnigh inaccessible slopes of the mountain were exclusively its bailiwick. She experienced a certain reconciliation with her own lot in the knowledge that others were unhappy too.

“ That’s jes’ like Eli, — he always war slow, sence he war knee-high ter a duck,” said his small mother, with an affectation of contempt. “ Time he hev hed a day or so ter study ’bout it, an’ turn it this-a-way an’ that-a-way, he’ll git ter the p’int o’ view whar Marcella an’ me jumped in one second. Men air pitiful critters, — so slow-minded ! ”

Eli Strobe looked wistfully from one to the other of his feminine supporters, eager to adopt their sanguine views, and yet unable to repudiate his own conviction and to shake off the palsy of his fears.

“Now, M’ria, ye mark my words,— an’ ye too, Eugene,” the little dame proceeded with unwonted jocularity, as if the whole matter were a subject for mirth,— “ef by ter-morrer Eli won’t be a-struttin’ ’bout hyar, a-laffin’ an’ a-chucklin’ at Joshua Nevins’s friends ez could n’t keep him from bein’ elected constable o’ Brumsaidge Cove, but think they kin make out ez Eli ain’t fit ter hold office, bein’ insane ! Ha ! ha ! ha! ”

Even Mrs. Bowles, after a moment of stupefied surprise, burst into a laugh of derision. Strobe turned and eagerly gazed at her, as if to assure himself of her opinion of his sanity, taking testimony, as it were, in his own trial of himself.

“Yes, sir! ” said Mrs. Strobe, wiping from her eyes the tears of this laughter on the corner of her apron. “ The off’cer o’ the law hev jes’ been hyar, a-gallopin’ ter sarve a notice ez in five days they hev a ‘ inquisition o’ lunacy,’ the fool called it. He looked like a maniac, so foolish, an’ cast down, an’ bashful; hed n’t the face ter take a drink with Eli, though I fetched out the jimmy-john expressly.”

“ Air it Nevins hisself a-suin’, or what he air a-aimin’ ter do. — a brazenfaced buzzard ? ” demanded Mrs. Bowles in eager accents.

“Naw, — naw!” The old woman shook her head warily to intimate Nevins’s crafty mode of procedure. “ The man ez applied for the inquisition air some sorter kin ter Eli. Ye ’member hearin’ o’ Pete Minton, ez old Squair Denly lef’ some county bonds ter ? Waal, ’cordin’ ter the will, Eli, bein’ named arter him, war ter hev the interus’ through life ; then afterward the bonds war ter go ter Pete, the Squair’s nevy, an Eli war Pete’s guardeen. Now Minton, ez air twenty year old, purtends ter be mighty oneasy ’bout them bonds, an’ wants the court ter ’quire inter Eli’s bein’ able ter manage this prawperty. Course he hev been put up ter sech by Nevins, kase ef the inquisition war ter ’low ez Eli be insane they mought git up a new ’lection, an’ ef Eli war out’n the way Nevins would hev a walk-over an’ strut around, an’ be constable of Brumsaidge! ”

“ That he never shell ! ” cried the incumbent, springing to his feet. “I hev been man enough ter git the office, — I reckon I be man enough ter hold it. M’ria,” — his voice suddenly dropped from its rotund resonance to an appealing quaver, — “ did you-uns ever hear ez Teck Jepson war dead, — ez I hed killed him ? ”

“ Laws-a-massy, naw ! ” cried Mrs. Bowles, her face flabby and white. “ When ?

Rathburn’s heart ached as he looked at Marcella. He saw the pain in her eyes ; the suffusing flush mounted to her white brow, but she tossed back her bright hair, and her red lips parted in a cheery half smile over her white teeth as she explained : —

“ Dad say somebody tole him — he disremembers now who ’t war — ez Teck Jepson war killed in that scuffle at the horse-race, ez dad killed Teck. An’ I fooled dad some, too.” Her eyes danced, her laughter rang out. “ I tole him whar Teck war buried. An’ ef ye ’ll b’lieve me, dad b’lieved it, an’ I hearn him ’quirin’ roun’ one day ez ter who hed preached the fun’el sermon. Granny say that’s what the folks purtend he air crazy ’bout.”

Once more her laughter rang out clear and metallic. It had a natural enough sound to Mrs. Bowles, who joined in, while Mrs. Strobe, with her birdlike head askew, remarked, " Eli air so sobersided he ’ll b’lieve mos’ ennything ennybody tells him with a straight face. He mus’ be a leetle teched in the head fur that, kase long ez I hev been livin’ I hain’t hearn the truth tole in Brumsaidge Cove but wunst or twict, an’ then’t war ’bout the weather.”

Strobe listened with an eagerness to be convinced pathetic in its intensity. Rathburn watched the symptoms of his mania vacillating with his ambition, his sense of the jeopardy of his precious office, with an appreciation of the pathological significance of the scene which even sympathy with the actors could not altogether dull. Perhaps something of this showed in his face, turned fixedly upon Eli Strobe, as the burly constable, moody and meditative, evidently puzzling out the distraught contradictions of his convictions, relapsed into silently gazing into the fire.

Marcella was sitting in a low chair beside the lounge, stringing red peppers, her evening task, when Mrs. Bowles began to explain to Mrs. Strobe how Bob had chanced to disappear from his home, — the exposition somewhat complicated and lengthened by the perception that her craft availed little, and that behind Mrs. Strobe’s specious politeness lurked an accurate divination of the true state of the case. Twice while it was in progress Rathburn fell under the impression that Marcella was about to speak to him ; but when he turned his head suddenly toward her, her eyes were downcast upon the work in her hands, her long lashes seemed to touch her flushed cheek, the firelight dancing over the masses of her waving hair, and giving an added gloss and an intenser glow to the vivid scarlet of the string of red-pepper pods trailing over her dark, brownish-green dress. And again his attention reverted to Eli Strobe, sitting ponderously thoughtful before the fire. When he next started with the idea that she was about to speak, he encountered her lustrous brown eyes fixed upon him ; the delicate red lips were a-quiver; her straight brows were knitted sternly. “ Ain’t ye sati’fied yit,” she demanded in a low voice, that, albeit tense with satire, was inaudible to the gabbling Mrs. Bowles, still explaining Bob’s flight, “ but ye mus’ stare-gaze him ter find out suthin’ else ter tell ? ”

He was feeble, and had had much to endure. His courage failed on the instant before the idea of her antagonism.

“ Why, Marcella ! ’he cried, amazed.

She reached down for another pepperpod, not lowering her gleaming eyes. “ Would n’t ye like ter feel his pulse ? Mebbe ye could gin the inquisition folks another p’int or two ! ”

” What do you mean ? ” he demanded, forced to assume the defensive. “ I never gave any points for the inquisition.”

“ Who tole on him, then ? Who but ye hed larnin’ enough ter sense how his mind air catawampus jes’ on that idee, an’ no other ? ”

“ I ? Never — never ! ” he exclaimed, so visibly shocked that his face constrained credence as well as his words.

She sat looking at him, the angry fire dying out of her face and eyes, holding the vivid coils of the peppers in her idle hands.

“ Then,” she said, darkly frowning, “’t war Andy Longwood. I always knowed he war silly ez a sheep, but I thunk ez harmless ez a sheep.”

After a little she raised her eyes and smiled brilliantly at him, as if to make amends. She said no more, but as she strung the peppers silently listened to Mrs. Bowles, who now and then called on Rathburn to confirm her statements as to the plight in which she had found him. She met with a spirited response. Comfort and security did not annul in any degree his appreciation of his injuries or his suffering. The detail of all that he had recounted to Mrs. Bowles elicited from time to time exclamations of surprise and horror, often but half articulate, from Mrs. Strobe and Eli. Marcella once or twice commented more at length. “ Did ye choke Baintree — hard, sure enough — jes’ kase he would n’t tell ye whar the silver war ? ” she asked, her brilliant, dilated eyes dreamily fastened on space, evidently witnessing the scene reënacted before her in imagination. Her hands had fallen idly in her lap; the scarlet coil of the red peppers hung from her listless grasp, and trailed upon the floor.

“ Indeed I did,” asseverated Rathburn. “ He had no right to fool me as he did all the summer.”

“ ’T war his secret,” Marcella suggested in a vague, preoccupied tone, still doubtfully staring into scenes that her own fancy painted. “He had a right ter keep it.”

“ And such a secret! ” cried Rathburn, with a curling lip. “ He never found the float, Samuel Keale found the float.”

“ An’,”said Mrs. Bowles, lowering her voice mysteriously, “ whar d’ ye reckon he fund it, an’ whar d’ ye reckon his bones be hid now ? In a cave on Teck Jepson’s land, an’ — ye mark my words — Teck Jepson hed some hand in puttin’ him thar.”

A galvanic shock seemed to pervade the circle. Then Marcella’s laughter rang upon the air. “Never in this worl’,” she cried gayly, composedly gathering up the long red cables of the peppers. “ Teek Jepson never hid nuthin’ he done. He’d hev been struttin’ ’roun’ hyar, callin’ on folks ter admire how much his actions war like David, or Sol’mon, or G’liath, or somebody ez the law ain’t ’quainted with, an’ he’d hev been powerful s’prised when the sher’ff did n’t ’gree with him.” Once more the incongruity of the idea elicited a peal of laughter. “ Naw, Teck Jepson air too sodden in pride ter hide what he do.” Mrs. Bowles began to eagerly set forth further reasons, reminding them of Jepson’s antagonism to Keale, and under cover of the sound of her voice Rathburn spoke in a low tone to Marcella.

“ You were quick enough to believe something mean of me,” he said reproachfully, “ but you scout the idea of Jepson’s doing anything underhand.”

He expected her to protest. She only stared at him for a moment, startled, with wide, questioning eyes and a convicted mien. Then she fell to dreamily studying the vermilion coals and the gathering gray ash, and said little more, while the group of gossips drew nearer and nearer the dying fire.

She was silent during the days that followed, meditative and absent, save in the intervals when she intently marked her father’s manner and took heedful note of his words. For Mrs. Strobe’s prophecy was in some sort verified. With greater familiarity with the idea that his cherished office was threatened came the resolution of resistance. Strobe had rallied his courage. He bore himself once more with his former burly dignity.

“ ’Tain’t nuthin’ ter me whether Teck Jepson air dead or no. I ain’t gravedigger, nor doctor, nor chief mourner. I ’m constable o’ Brumsaidge. I hearn fur news ez he war dead. Ef 't ain’t true, I ain’t keerin’.”

Thus, imagining that he spoke of his independent convictions, he conned again and again the lesson his mother and daughter had set him to learn. Rathburn, still on the lounge drawn up to the side of the fire, in the midst of the domestic life, and thus suffering none of the dreary isolation of an invalid, felt his heart go out to the two women in troubled forebodings concerning the inquisition. They said little, but he noted an urgent anxiety as to the weather, and when the day broke chill and lowering their spirits visibly rose ; in the afternoon, as the first snow of the season began to sift down on the wintry mountain wildernesses, they became absolutely cheerful.

“ Thar, now ! failin’ weather ! " exclaimed Mrs. Strobe, with the accents of vexation and a triumphant eye. “ Eli,

I ain’t goin’ ter let ye go over yander ter the store whar the sher’ff’s app’inted ter hold the inquisition ; a man ailin’ in health hev ter be housed in failin’ weather. Let him bring his able-bodied jury over hyar an’ examinate ye, an’ hear mine an’ Marcelly’s testimony, ’cordin’ ter the subpeeny. I’m goin’ ter send him that identical word, an’ see ef he won’t.”

And thus it chanced that it was under no new conditions, surrounded by no scenes to which he was long unaccustomed, that Eli Strobe made his fight anew for the office he had already won, and the ambition dearer to him than his life.


The snow was deep upon the ground, drifts filled many a red clay gully, the dark boughs of the trees all bore a thick white line, the mountains were ghastly under a gray sky, and still the myriad flakes were falling, when the noiseless horsemen rode up to the door, and the jury of the inquisition came filing in. They met upon the threshold the subject of their deliberations, bluff, burly, with that genial political jocularity that discounts all other bids for popularity, his heavy bass laughter mingling with his gay greetings.

“ Howdy, boys ! Kem in, kem in ! That’s right, — stomp the snow off ! Ye know mam’s mighty partic’lar ’bout that thar new rag kyarpet o’ hern. Kem ter see ef I hev got a bee in my bonnet, hev ye? Waal, waal; we’ll listen ter hear that same bee buzz ! ”

More than one of the heavy mountaineers looked in blank surprise at each other at this address. The discourse seemed to them lucid as reason itself. They had expected mere incoherent babbling, from the reports set a-flying about Broomsedge Cove. Marcella’s face, smiling yet with a certain proud defiance, and Mrs. Strobe’s jaunty, debonair salutation betokened scant anxiety, and did much to annul the effect of what they had heard. There were others besides the impaneled twelve, — witnesses, one or two lawyers, and a number of mountaineers who were merely spectators of the proceeding; some of them wore a sheepish, hang-dog air, notably Andy Longwood and Pete Minton, at whose instance the investigation was had. Clem Sanders was one of the jury, as reluctant a freeholder as could be found in Broomsedge Cove, or, for the matter of that, in the Great Smoky Mountains. He carried his shoulders slouched forward, in the heavy, aged manner which he sometimes affected, and he shambled along as if shackled by chains of his own forging; he looked with humble, beseeching eyes at Marcella, as if conjuring her to observe that he was not there in any sense of his own motion.

“ kem up close by the fire, gentlemen,” said Eli. “Airish out’n doors, ain’t it ? ”

As they ranged themselves about the broad hearth, they were all staring hard at Rathburn, who lay quite silent, since his host did not explain his presence, wondering a trifle within himself to feel so agitated, so partisan, so eager as to the result of the investigations.

Sundry questions were put to Strobe, to which he listened with his head a trifle askew, his legs crossed, one hand on his knee, the other arm akimbo, his eyes quizzically glancing from under his hatbrim. His whole air was that of gay good-humor, falling in naturally with the current of events, and in no wise resentful of the course they had taken. The queries, chiefly relating to matters of business usage and of certain processes of the law, the functions of his office, were promptly and decisively answered. Once, Marcella, feigning to misunderstand their drift, handed him an open book, and the company enjoyed an exhibition of “ dad’s ” rare accomplishment of reading, which he did in a full, rotund drone and with much vigor of emphasis. The girl’s smile of triumph as she closed the volume and laid it on the high mantel-shelf roused a certain antagonism in the breasts of several of the diligent inquirers. There was a momentary pause; the batten shutter was open, the great glowing fire sufficiently warming the room although thus generously ventilated, and from where Marcella stood, her hand still on the high mantel-piece, she could see the silent flakes falling, falling, limiting the world, for hardly the nearest mountain was visible, — a mere dull, dun suggestion of wood and range and river, like the first faint washings of a scene in sepia. No sound came from without, albeit near a score of horses stamped the snow in the shed behind the house. The dog of the “frequent visitor,” a hospitable animal, stood in the doorway suavely wagging his tail, pleased to see so many guests at once. They were all looking with expectant interest at Marcellas face as the next question was asked ; so fixedly that perhaps it was not unnatural that Eli Strobe should turn and follow the general glance. A smile dawned in her eyes as they met his, so replete with an exquisite light, and hope, and love, that had a sudden sun-burst illumined that white, dead day it could hardly have seemed brighter. It was a fine display of nerve, of willpower, Rathburn thought, knowing her as he did.

“ How did ye git hurt, Mr. Strobe ? ” was the significant demand.

“ Teck Jepson rid me down,” said the constable, his eyes fixed on his daughter.

The circle of mountaineers slowly shifted their chairs, and one or two spit profusely into the fire, aiming carefully at long range. " Did you-uns hurt him ? ”

Strobe fixed his gaze on the talismanic brightness of his daughter’s eyes.

“ Bein’ ez I war knocked senseless, sir, I couldn’t undertake ter say.’

Another pause, so silent that naught could be heard save the roar of the flames in the wide chimney, and the footfalls of the dog turning away and trotting along to the end of the porch, where he presently found entertainment, peculiarly pleasing to his kind, in barking in a frenzy of affectation at the horses of the visitors.

“ Did n’t ye tell Andy Longwood one day ez ye hed killed Teck Jepson in that scuffle ? ”

“ Sartainly I said so ! Somebody tole me that fur news, an’ bein’ ez I war knocked senseless I disremembered what happened. An’ this hyar mischievious gal o’ mine, fur a joke on her ole dad, tole me whar they hed buried him. I ’lowed they would n’t hev buried him ’thout he war dead. Ha ! ha ! ha ' ” his burly bass laugh rang out.

Clem Sanders had plucked up his spirits. He looked about amongst his confrères with a curling lip of scorn. Andy Longwood hung his abashed head. The political antagonists of Eli Strobe were visibly disconcerted.

“ Only one more question now: Hev ye seen Teck lately ? ”

Eli Strobe nodded.

“ How did he look, an’ what did he talk ’bout ? ”

“ Toler’ble nat’ral, cornsiderin’.” The long strain was beginning to tell on the constable’s nerves. His glance had wandered from Marcella’s face, out of which the light died suddenly, leaving it livid, with wild, dilated eyes. “Ye never would hev tuk him fur a harnt! He talked same ez ever, ’bout G’liath an’ Sol’mon an’ them, ez he used ter set sech store by.”

There was a moment of terrible suspense to his mother and his daughter. Then the querist, evidently accepting the reply as partly jocose, and taken in connection with his previous denials and declarations as satisfactory, said, " That will do for you! ”

Mrs. Strobe’s admirable elasticity was amply demonstrated by her rebound from this ordeal. She furnished the jury with a test for sanity which they all declined to apply. When asked if she considered her son sane, she declared he was as sane as any man could be, but in her opinion no men were sane.

“ I never seen one ez could thread a needle,” she declared, with her specious gravity. " An’ yit enny female woman kin do that, an’ kin do men’s work too, — plough, an’ drive, an’ ride, an’ shoot a gun. Nare one o’ ye kin thread a needle. I ’ll try ye, sher’ff; I’ll favor ye with a big-eyed needle an’ a small, thin thread. I ’ll wax it,’ she conceded alluringly, reaching out for the big brown gourd that served as work-basket.

But the officer precipitately declined, and the examination broke up in a general laugh. After the jury had consulted apart and agreed upon their verdict, there was a more genial closing up of the circle about the fire. Mrs. Strobe and Marcella sat among the guests, indifferent to the conversation for a time and mentally exhausted. They perceived how signal a victory they had won against the facts and in defiance of the law,— hardly so potent a force as the crafty affection of a mother and a daughter, — and they experienced a glow of deep gratulation. But it was necessary to keep a guard upon Eli Strobe’s words, and Marcella roused herself to listen as he made known to the coterie how Rathburn had fared at the hands of Jake Baintree, and the fact that the criminal had fled the country.

“Yestiddy I rid up ter his folkses’ house, countin’ on arrestin’ him, bein’ constable o’ Brumsaidge,” — he rolled the fine phrase under his tongue, — " an’ his folks declared out they hed n’t seen nor hearn o’ him fur weeks an’ weeks. He done this crime jes’ ’count o’ Eugene Rathburn’s makin’ him tell whar Sam’l Keale los’ his life, kase Eugene air mighty sharp set fur riches, an’ he b’lieves the silver air thar in that cave on Jepson’s land.”

“ I ’ll tell ye who hain’t lef’ the kentry,” said Bassett, with a grim nod and a fiery eye, — “ Teck Jepson. Air one o’ you off’cers o’ the law hev got my cornsent ter arrest Teck Jepson ! ”

Eli Strobe’s eyebrows were lifted in surprise ; his lips had parted, but the quick little mother struck in first: —

“ Arrest Teck Jepson for what ? ”

“ Let the sher’ff say.” Bassett evaded a direct reply. “ I seen him ’bout five days ago a-standin’ in his porch, — ’t war arter a heavy rain, — a-shakin’ hands with this same man what he purtended wunst ter b’lieve so guilty, an’ then purtected agin the lynchers, — they say so,” he interpolated, becoming suddenly mindful of the significance of the presence of the sheriff, —“ this man ez war tried fur killin’ Sam’l Keale ez be dead, an’ his body hid all these years in a cave on Jepson’s land. Shakin’ hands with him, sir, ez ef they war partners, — an’ I say they war partners ! ”

The officer turned a serious face. “ This must be investigated. I ’ll go thar ter-night.”

“Jepson oughter be ’rested, or he’ll foller Baintree, an’ git away too. An’ he mought be warned. Ye know ” — Bassett turned to Rathburn’s couch — “ ye war warned yerse’f.”

Rathburn shifted his position a trifle. He was flushed and conscious. He hardly dared to glance at Marcella; and when the firelight leaped up presently he saw that she had silently left the room. He was glad of that. In her presence he felt that he was not sure of keeping the secret under the lynx-eyed vigilance of these savage men, more than one of whom he suspected of belonging to the band of lynchers.

The night had come, — hardly to be called darkness, for the white earth seemed possessed of a pallid persistence that asserted itself against the gloom of the sky. And the sky was not all gloom. Behind the clouds a moon lurked ; now and then in thin folds of vapor showing a spectral, half-veiled face, and anon shifting along the highways of the skies, its presence barely suggested behind the denser mediums. A dreary night it seemed to Marcella. Never had she so revolted from the world. The great chestnut-oak tree at the gate was laden with snow; every gnarled, twisted bough how gaunt against the gray sky! The zigzag rail fence was all made definite, too, by its alternations of white and black lines. Why should her hands be cold — so cold ? Had she not just come from the fire ? She felt its warmth still in the folds of her dress. And why should she shiver so ? She was choking, — a cord was stretched across her throat; her heart was beating fast and loud. She presently recognized her intention in astonishment, as if it were projected by another entity than herself. She was out among the horses. A score, at least, stood in her father’s shed. One, a cleanbuilt black mare, turned a shapely head, and gazed at her in surprise with luminous, moonlit eyes, for the moon was suddenly shining, and many a shadow was on the snow. She slipped under the neck of a raw-boned bay, who snorted and tossed up his head in fright. The fleetest, — the fleetest she must have, and her eyes dilated as she stood next a powerful iron-gray, full of spirit, that shied away as she caught his mane with one hand and pulled herself upon his unsaddled back. His bridle had not been removed; she slipped the hitchingrein, and the next moment the creature was speeding away upon the hardening snow with a snort of delight in the keen frosty air. The sound roused the men brooding over the fire within.

“ Who’s that gone ? ” said the sheriff, suddenly lifting his head. Not a man had left the room. In vague agitation the group arose uncertainly.

“ Somebody ’s after them horses,” suggested one.

There was a pell-mell rush to the door. A wild excitement of horses kicking and pawing at close quarters ensued in the shed. Then a sharp cry, " My horse! My horse is gone ! ” exclaimed the sheriff. “ Some man has got my good gray horse! ”

The moon was out again, — a chill glitter, and the earth very white ; and on the brow of the hill, speeding toward Jepson’s cabin, was visible a swift equestrian figure. A score of men, save one, were in the saddle. A wild halloo rang through the air, and then, with all the fervor of the chase kindling in their blood, they were in pursuit. When the moon was out it showed rank after rank of the wild mountain men of the region ; when the moon was in, a mystic company of mounted shadows slipping noiselessly over the snow. Swift as they were, their speed would not avail. They did not gain on the fugitive. The long lengths of glittering, moonlit snow or shadowy whiteness still remained the same between them and the sheriff’s horse. It behooves an officer of the law in that country to be well mounted, and the iron-gray had no equal for speed or spirit. Only a bullet could be swifter, and presently one whizzed past. The gray horse had heard the like before, and plunged and snorted in fright. Another, — so close that it seemed to Marcella that it must have grazed her flying hair, all streaming backward in the wind of her flight, for she was bareheaded as she clung to the reins with one hand, with the other beating the horse with her sun-bonnet. The bullets served to accelerate his pace. The distance from the pursuers was widening. She came over the hill at a tremendous rush, and saw, to her joy, a light in Jepson’s cabin. It seemed to him at the time as if he were dreaming. He heard the thud of hoofs; he saw, as he opened the door, the equestrian figure reining up on the snow; he heard Marcella’s voice beseeching him to fly, fly at once, for his enemies were upon his track; and then, straggling over the hill, came, one by one, the distanced pursuers. They had lost the fugitive long ago, but they noted, as she had done, the light in the cabin. As they approached, they saw Jepson advancing to meet them, — advancing boldly. his figure was very distinct in the light of the moon, which had shaken off its besetting clouds, and was crystal-clear in the sky, while the snowy earth responded with an opaque white lustre. His pose suggested all his arrogance. His arms were folded on his breast; his head was held very erect.

It was a frenzied impulse which animated them, for they did not connect him in any sense with the fugitive on the sheriff’s horse. Perhaps it arose from the lack of a recognized head of the expedition, for the dismounted officer was still far behind, at Strobe’s house. They were wild, fevered, riotous, their minds still full of the suspicions bruited about the hearth this evening. Most of all, it may be, they felt that fierce, chafing wish to break away from control which they shared with many a mob turning against its erstwhile leader. Jepson did not realize that he was reënacting the history of many a despot, when a sharp, whizzing sound split the night air, and he felt, in amazement, a keen tingle in his folded right arm, — another, striking above the elbow. Their aim was good for men who rode at full gallop.

He did not flee. He walked on, silent, proud, erect, toward them. They were upon him now, the smoking horses snorting and curveting as they closed about him, the earth seeming to shake beneath their hoofs ; and suddenly this Cæsar of the Great Smoky Mountains sank down in the reddening snow.

No one knew afterward quite accurately who fired the shots. There were many mutual criminations and recriminations amongst the little mob, but the pistols were not available in evidence because of the frequent discharges at the fugitive on the sheriff’s horse. These were considered justifiable, and thus the responsibility was never placed. Marcella was much reproved for her unwomanly interference in matters with which she had no concern. “ Ef I hed known ’t war you-uns, Marcelly, I ’d hev loant ye my horse an’ welcome,” the sheriff declared gallantly. And more than one of the mountain desperadoes averred that it was frightful to think of having had to fire off pistols at “ leetle Marcelly Strobe by mistake, whilst she war a-skitterin’ along on that wild-goose chase through the snow on the sher’ff’s horse.”

Jepson felt that it was a forlorn and maimed existence that stretched out before him after Dr. Bryce came and took off his arm. Physical prowess was a sort of religion with him, and he could not call to mind any Biblical worthy thus afflicted. It was well that he had so much pride and so much courage, or he might have been more white-faced and cast down than he was, one afternoon, when Mrs. Strobe and Marcella went to his cabin to inquire concerning his well-being. The girl persisted in sitting on the doorstep, for the door stood open, the snow having melted and the air being fine and dry, and from his chair within, by the fireside, he could not see her face, — only the lustrous waves of her long curling hair tossing on her shoulders.

When Mrs. Strobe, interested in a matter of horticulture, stepped out into the back porch to cull sundry seed-pods from a vine sheltered by the eaves, he boldly offered his advice on a point on which he considered it sorely needed. “Ye mus’ quit these hyar dangerous ways, Marcelly,” he said, in his domineering tone. “ Leave the men’s affairs alone, ye 'll git kilt some time. Ye mought hev been kilt kemin’ ter warn me, an’ ’t war powerful dangerous warnin’ Rathburn.”

” I reckon ’t warn’t none too much ter do fur a man I’m goin’ ter marry,” she retorted tartly, her back toward him, her elbow on her knee, her chin in her hand.

He had grown used to the idea that she would marry Rathburn. “ I wish he war a better man! ” he said bitterly.

“ He ain’t got no religion, sca’cely, I know,” she resumed presently, “but he don’t feel no lack.”

“ He ain’t a hypercrite, then, — like ye called me wunst ? ” he said desolately.

“Oh, yes,” she declared lightly, “jes’ about yer size of a hypercrite.”

“Waal — I hope he’ll be good ter ye,” he sighed.

“ Dunno ’bout that, — he gits mad mighty easy,” she responded cavalierly. “ Tole me wunst ez he would never furgive me ez long ez he lived.”

“Fur what?” Jepson demanded angrily.

She had risen from the doorstep. She was looking casually around, as if she were about to go. Her voice had sunk unaccountably. “Jes’ kase I ’lowed it mought hev been him ez treated leetle Bob Bowles mean.”

There was a pause. “ Marcelly,” he cried at last, “who be ye a-talkin’ ’bout ? ”

“ You-uns ! ” She turned away her scarlet cheek, then flashed a bright glance over her shoulder. “ But I ’m mos’ wore out tryin’ ter git it inter yer head, — ye ’pear so sodden in folly.”

And then she was off.

Rathburn had bitter reproaches for her. “ I thought you would marry me — not Jepson. I thought you cared for me.”

“ I never knowed my mind,” she admitted, “ till that night whenst I hearn ’em plottin’ agin him, an’ seen he war in danger. Then I fund out mighty quick who I keered fur.”

“ I believe it will kill me,” he declared.

“ Oh, no, ’t won’t! ” she reassured him. “ I hev hearn fower or five young men say that very thing, an’ they air walkin’ round in Brumsaidge now, well an’ hearty, an’ likely ter last a good while yit.”

Mrs. Strobe was not surprised. “ Whenst young gals gits ter talkin’ 'bout ‘ despisin’ handsome sinners with eyes blue an’ deep ez a well,’ thar’s apt ter be a heap o’ foolishness in the wind.” She earnestly counseled her granddaughter to wait until after an investigation of the cave was had, lest Jepson should be in some sort inculpated by the testimony which the dark and gruesome caverns might yield at last. “ Ye could turn him off then,” she argued, “ef ye ain’t married ter him.”

Her remonstrances had the unexpected effect of hastening the wedding. “ I don’t b’lieve he hev done nuthin’ underhand an’ mean. An’ I’m willin’ ter share ennythin’ they kin prove agin him,” Marcella declared.

The first superficial investigation of those unexplored underground recesses resulted in naught. There was some delay while the sheriff secured and had brought from Colbury the requisite means for an extensive, safe, and efficient search,—lamps, ropes, etc.; and by the time they were in readiness Rathburn was sufficiently recovered to be with the party. He was in high hopes of realizing his dreams of rich deposits of ore, and eagerly examined the rock about the opening of the cave and within its passages. The only " find ” was a ghastly spectacle. Not so far down the gloomy aisles of the cave, half hidden by a great fragment of rock, and by it supported in an upright posture, was the skeleton of a young man, clad in tatters and shreds of brown jeans, his grasp still upon the handle of a huntingknife held out straight before him, kept in position since its strong blade had pierced the heart of a great panther, now but a skeleton too, rampant, its claws and fangs fixed in the ribs where its savagery had dealt death. It was the simplest explanation of the mystery: the interlocked antagonists in this primitive duel — the hunter and the beast — had each perished because of the other. Keale had doubtless tracked the creature to the cave, and rashly venturing within her den, she had fought with the courage of desperation. There were the skeletons of the panther kittens, having died, perhaps, of starvation, scattered about on the floor, but no indications of precious metal, no sign that this gaunt thing that once was the adventurous mountaineer had ever sought it, save that in his pocket was a bit of float identical with the specimen which had so long proved a lure to Rathburn. The secret where he had found it perished with him.

Its influences were hardly so fleeting. Many a long and thoughtful hour Rathburn pondered on Baintree’s fate : innocent of the crime of which he was accused ; tempted by his cowardly terror of it to commit its counterpart, which though failing had left him its legacy of remorse, its brand of Cain to bear as long as he should live. For never again came news of him to Broomsedge Cove, although Rathburn, with a condoning compassion, a certain sense of responsibility, remembering his own sordid motives and their pitiless pursuit, which provoked Baintree’s crime, a wish to lift the weight which must oppress him, sougnt him far and wide.

Rathburn lost his desire for wealth ; somehow that bit of float, with all its unfulfilled promises, with all its inchoate curses, was a talisman to reconcile him to poverty. No one might know in after years, when he was notably one of the “ poor collectors ” of his profession, how strong a proclivity for gains at all hazards he had conquered. He never became altogether unworldly, however, and when he had returned to his appropriate place in the heart of a city he was easily consoled for Marcella’s choice, and esteemed it in the nature of an escape ; for none could realize so well as he how the charming mountain flower would have lost grace and beauty, all its fascinations wilting, in the transplantation to an incongruous sphere. Nevertheless he suffers a pang occasionally — the finer æsthetic function of the heart — when he hears from Broomsedge Cove. Latterly it has been reported that Eli Strobe, whose mental malady has quite disappeared, has been elected justice of the peace, and that the “ dad ” formerly so frequent a word on Marcella’s lips has become a stranger to her vocabulary ; for ever since she has solemnly spoken of him by the ambitious title of his office, as “ the squair.” Even while Rathburn laughed at this, he saw, with a sinking of the heart like homesickness, the stretches of the tawny broomsedge waving over all the abandoned land; the high encircling purple mountains touching the lofty sky ; the trees bowing in homage to the passing of the royal wind; the river’s silver gleam; the smoke curling up from the stick, and, clay chimneys of the little hamlet, so still, so still, while above the white clouds set sail.

Charles Egbert Craddock .