His Vanished Star
THE gloom of the place had a unique underground quality which could hardly be compassed elsewhere by the mere exclusion of daylight. The yellow flare from the open door of the furnace seemed chiefly to serve to render visible the surrounding darkness. The masses of shadow were densely black. Where the firelight smote them they merged reluctantly into expositions of the darkest possibilities of umber and burnt sienna and dismal gradations of duskier brown. The clay wall facing the furnace door at one side, however, glowed with the reddest of terra-cotta hues. Against this the group was outlined, motionless, all eyes turning upon the black aperture of the tunnel along which the faint, wan gleams of Taft’s lantern had preceded him. The moonshiners had an air of pretermitting work, and the expectant, receptive attention which characterizes the secluded in colloquy with him from the world without.
There is a certain rapacity in this demand for developments. Withdrawn from the scene of action, it seems as if anything definite and decisive might have happened in the interval of time, when perhaps only combinations of causes are slowly and imperceptibly tending toward the precipitation of the event. When the full-voiced greetings were supplemented by the inquiry for the news, Lorenzo Taft stood for a moment at a loss, conscious of a need of caution in the recital of his suspicions and doubts and indeterminate fears. He sat down on the side of a barrel, looking, in the flickering dusk and the vivid gleams from the furnace, like some able-bodied, overgrown Bacchus, with his flowing yellow hair and beard definite against the terracotta wall behind him, his reckless, jovial blue eyes full of life and vigor, and his fair and florid complexion wearing already the deeper flush painted by brush whiskey.
“ I dunno ’bout news, edzac’ly.” He hesitated, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, as if he could hardly summarize so few experiences and impressions for the benefit of the debarred.
“ That’s always the way,” sarcastically exclaimed Jack Espey, a slight, eagereyed young man, the impersonation of impatience. “ ’Renzo don’t never hear no news in the Cove; leastwise” — he cast a keen, significant glance at the others — “ none ez he air aimin’ ter tell agin.”
The facial expression of the other men changed subtly, unmistakably. Some strong sentiment of disaffection had evidently been set astir in Taft’s absence. As he slowly recognized it, a deep, dismayed gravity fell upon his features, which were as incongruous with his expression for the moment as if they were merely component parts of some jovial mask. It was a petrified look, as if he had suddenly beheld the Gorgon Head of Trouble.
The other men said nothing, maintaining a sort of wary attention inimical in its close receptivity. The suggestion had communicated instant fire to certain inflammable suspicions and antagonisms. All the work about the still was given over for the nonce, and Lorenzo Taft had a certain overpowering realization of being brought suddenly to judgment, without a moment in which to take account with himself and his agile duplicities and perfect his defense.
There were four of the moonshiners besides Lorenzo Taft. Their aspect had so little in common that one might wonder at the cohesive property of the enterprise to hold them together, were it not for the opportunity of profit so rare in these mountain communities, and the great and ever-present dangers of the law that served to cement their association when once they had fallen into the toils of the illicit worm. One, in his shirt-sleeves, was beyond middle age, bearded and grizzled and grave, with a sedate eye, hard, callous hands, and a steady look as if he might be trusted to do a good deal of hard work by sheer force of industrial momentum when once about it. He had distilled much liquor against the law in his time, and even had an experience in such matters antedating the obnoxious whiskey tax. His was a sober, trusted judgment in questions of pomace and mash, singlings and doublings, and the successes of the manufacture were his. Another had a downy lip, full, petulant, passionate; a large blue eye, deeply bloodshot ; a tousle of light curling hair ; an overgrown, large-jointed look, — a mere boy, despite his thickened utterance, his shaking hand, and his frequent reference to a jug down amongst the shadows which the others left almost untouched. A far more dangerous personality was exemplified in the keen-eyed man, of about twenty-five, called Jack Espey. He had a wild, alert, aggressive look, widely opened bluish-gray eyes, full of reflections of the world without, straight black hair, a drooping mustache, a fair complexion, a square jaw, and about him was the unmistakable presage of dying with his boots on. He wore a white wool hat set far back on his head, a blue shirt, and blue jeans trousers, and he clasped both his hands across one knee above his long spurred boot, while he sat on a shelf of the rock, half in the shadow and half in the light. The gleam fell on the handle of the knife in his belt and his pistols, which he did not lay aside to assist in the work. Yet it was not toward him that Taft, surprised and overtaken, cast the first covert glance of anxiety and deprecation. A smiling, dark-eyed gaze fixed upon his face shook his confidence, in that moment of detection. The smile was not one of pleasure, but Larrabee’s eyes were seldom without it. It was tinged with a suggestion of contempt; it was habitually slow ; it seemed rather an unintentional emanation from the spirit within than a means of communication with others of his kind. He smiled, as it were, to himself. He had a pale, clear-cut, intelligent face, with fine straight features, dark eyes, and short auburn hair. He was about twenty three or four years of age, lean but strongly built, and tall, and was dressed in brown jeans, with great rough boots. He had a certain inactive, lounging aspect, and laid aside with a reluctant gesture the worn New Testament which he had been laboriously reading as he sat close to the door of the furnace and caught its glimmers.
“ Naw,” reiterated the keen, eager Espey, with what he intended to be a sneer, but which was instead a snort of indignation, “ ef 'Renzo hears enny news, he ain’t rememberin’ ter sheer it with we-uns; he keeps it from us, moles o’ the yearth that we be ! ”
He dropped his voice dramatically. The others, with a hot sense of injury, gazed with glowing eyes upon Taft.
“ Why, look-a-hyar,” Taft felt impelled to defend himself, “ what is it I ain’t told ez ye want ter know ? ”
There was a close understanding among the “ moles o’ the yearth,” for the united accusation about to be voiced was withheld as Larrabee fixed his eversmiling eyes upon him and held up his warning hand.
“ Waal, ’Renzo, what is the news ye hev tole hyar ? ”
It was the pride of intellect which illumined his face, that ineffable sense of power which a conscious mental superiority bestows. The smile in his eyes extended to his lips ; he laughed a little, showing his strong white teeth, and there was something craftily brilliant in his expression as he looked down and turned the Testament in his hands, and looked up and laughed again.
“ Yes,” exclaimed Espey rancorously, “ye purtend ter go out an’ see nuthin’ an’ hear nuthin’. I reckon ye air ’feared we ’ll git skeered too easy, an’ light out an’ leave the still, an’ sech ; so ye tell weuns nuthin’ ’bout sech ez ye meet up with. Jes’ ondertake ter jedge fur us an’ gin us no warnin’ nor nuthin’ ” —
Larrabee broke in suddenly : “ We ’ll ondertake ter tell you-uns the news, ’Renzo Taft, though we do be ' moles o’ the yearth ’! Thar ’s a stranger in the Cove!”
A large, imposing personality is at a peculiar disadvantage when overtaken by disaster. Lorenzo Taft felt detected in every fibre, and he was conscious of comprising a good many pounds avoirdupois of culprit as he sat arraigned before them all. He could only look from one to the other in flushed doubt and anxiety as to how much they knew of what he had his own reasons to conceal.
“He air ’bidin’ down at old Lucy Tems’s house; an’ ez ye sot out ter go thar this evenin’, ye air ’bleeged ter hev viewed him,” persisted Larrabee.
“ Oh, I viewed him,” said Lorenzo Taft, the steadiness of his fixed gaze beginning to waver somewhat as he sought to assume a more incidental manner, in the midst of his amazement to hear the details of his visit to the Tems cabin from these “ moles o’ the yearth,” miles away in the rain and the mist and the darkness, arid locked up in the denser medium of the depths of the solid ground.
“ I ’ll tell ye his name,” continued Larrabee, his eyes still smiling, but the curves of his mouth fierce, and his breath coming fast. “ His name is Kenn’ston, or sech.”
A wild, confusing fear of supernatural agency in this knowledge had begun to pervade Taft’s consciousness. Then he caught himself suddenly.
“ Ye mus’ hev hearn on him whenst he war hyar afore,” he said.
“ Hyar afore ! ” exclaimed the anxious-eyed men in concert.
“ He be the man ez ’lows ter build some sort’n tavern in the Cove, or sech like. Ye mus’ hev hearn ’bout him.”
A silence ensued. “ That war ’way las’ year,” the elder moonshiner said at last.
“ He ’pears ter go powerful slow,” said the boy, disaffected and incredulous.
As the grizzled old distiller pondered on the matter, the perplexed wrinkles and lines of his worn face were painful to see. “ Ye be right sure he ain’t no revenuer nor nuthin’ ? ” he asked anxiously, subordinating his own judgment.
“ Great Gosh, naw ! ” exclaimed Taft with a resonant, confident note. This idea, so at variance with his knowledge of Kenniston’s plans, had not occurred to him. He broke out into a sonorous laugh at the fears which for the first time he comprehended. “Revenuer!” he cried contemptuously. “ Moonshining would be a powerful slick bizness ef revenuers war sech ez him ! ”
The sense of relief induced a slackening of the tension among the others. They too laughed, albeit a trifle constrainedly, and glanced consciously from one to the other. But Larrabee turned the Testament back and forth doubtfully in his hands, and asked suddenly, without looking up, “ Then, why n’t ye tell ’bout him a-fust, ef ye did n’t want us not ter know ’bout him, — jes’ ez news ? ”
Taft was silent for an instant. But the sense of partial success is a prophetic element in the completion of triumph, and, with an irreflective dash at the nearest means of exculpation without full disclosure, he replied precipitately : —
“ News ! I did n’t count him no news. Sech ez him don’t count much whenst a man’s a-goin’ a-courtin’.”
The silence with which this was received was expressive of extreme surprise. The crackle of the furnace fuel, the roar of the flames, the rush of the air along one of the unseen shafts near by that had some immediate communication with the outer atmosphere, and sustained a strong current through the connecting drift, even the continuous dripping from the worm, each made itself conspicuous in the absence of other sound.
Jack Espey had suddenly lifted one spurred boot to his knee, and was affecting to examine the rowel. “ Who be ye a-courtin’ thar at old Cap’ll Lucy’s ? ” he gruffly demanded, but with an offhand manner.
The steady look which Larrabee fixed upon Taft was, however, not incidental. The blood rushed to Taft’s head. He had not dreamed of this complication. He saw that his answer meant far more to each of them than to him. And yet it was a difficult answer to give. He could not even seem to hesitate, and he must needs decide his fate at chance medley.
“ Ad’licia ! ” he blurted out at a venture. Then, as the recollection of the handsome, silent Julia came over him with the inevitable sense of comparison, a pang seized his utilitarian heart; for since an excuse for his silence as to the details of his visit must needs be framed, and a stepmother be chosen in such haste, why could he not have bethought himself of the beauty ? The fact that others were touched by this matter, of which he had so suddenly a subtle perception, rendered his decision extra hazardous. His own natural interest, his swift regret for his choice, which was likely to ensue in any event since his feelings were not involved, dulled his observation for the moment. It was the least fraction of time which he had failed to improve, but when his discerning, covert gaze sought the faces of the other two men it could tell him naught of what he wished to know. Jack Espey still sedulously examined the rowel of his spur lifted to his knee, and Larrabee’s eyes were fastened upon the worn book which he turned in his hands.
“ I reckon I’m mighty welcome ter my ch’ice of Ad’licia,” Taft said ruefully to himself. “Ad’licia ’d stand no sort’n chance with young fellers sech ez them, alongside o’ sech a lookin’ gal ez Julia.’
The instinct strong in ambitious human nature to enter the lists for a prize stirred within him, albeit it was merely his own fancy that rated Julia at this phenomenal value. Fictitious though it was, it belittled Adelicia in his estimation. However, the die was cast. He had openly avowed his preference, and it was hardly to be presumed that the arrogant Julia would suffer herself to be second choice to one of her own household. The possibility of defeat from any objection to him on the part of the lady never occurs to a man of that type. In his bluff vanity, a concomitant of his other hardy attributes, he thought he had only to choose. And he had chosen. He began to seek to reconcile himself to his selection. It would not be judicious to have a rivalry in a matter of this sort — of which young men are apt to make so much — between himself and members of his gang ; more especially Espey, who was dangerous because of his hot head, and Larrabee, who was dangerous because of his cool head. And then Adelicia was of an easy, acquiescent, optimistic temperament, and was likely to put up more readily with the two children, Joe and Cornelia. He astutely reflected that it would probably require all the optimism attainable in the Cove to put up with “ Sis.” He began to feel that he was very lucky, or rather instinctively and intuitively sagacious, to have made such a choice at a snap shot. A troublous household would the determined and doubtless exacting beauty make of it. “ Sp’iled ter death, I expec’, by Luther an’ old Lucy ; nare one of ’em dunno how ter say ‘ no ’ ter nuthin’ she sets her head ter, I reckon. An’ I ain’t no young feller, nohow, ter go danglin’ arter the purtiest gal in the kentry, pickin’ out a second ch’ice fur a wife. Ad’licia hain’t got no home, bein’ jes’ Cap’n Lucy’s niece, an’ I reckon she 'd be glad an’ pleased ter hev a house o’ her own, with nuthin’ ter do but ter keep blinders on Sis ’bout’n the still an’ sech, an’ set her a-sewin’ or a-hoein’ till she gits some growth an’ jedgmint.” He began to pluck up. “ Purty is ez purty does. Air one o’ them boys is welcome to Julia! ”
Then a sudden thought smote him.
“ ’Pears ter me I oughter hev a cornsider’ble gredge agin you-uns,” his big voice boomed out with all its sonorous confidence once more. “ I kem hyar arter goin’, ez ye knowed, ter Tems’s, an’ durned ef ye don’t haul me over the coals like ez ef I hed hearn suthin’ ez I did n’t want you-uns ter know.”
“ So ye did, so ye did ! ” said Espey eagerly. “ Ye did n’t ’low fur we-uns ter know ez that man war hyar agin surely settin’ out ter build his tavern or sech. ’Kase ef sech a many folks war stirrin’ in the Cove, we-uns would be ’feared they’d nose us out ’fore long, an’ quit the still.”
Lorenzo Taft’s face once more grew stony, as if he beheld some petrifying prospect not included in the range of vision of the natural eye.
“ I reckon I hev got ez much call ter be ’feared ez you-uns,” he protested. “ I dunno ez enny o’ you-uns hev served out a prison term fur illicit distillin’ but me.”
The others stirred uneasily at the mere mention of the possibility, their faces, stricken with a deep gravity, all illumined by the brilliant flare of the flames springing up anew ; for the grizzled elderly man was busying himself in replenishing the fire. The wall of red earth on one side, on the other the wall of dark gray rock, alternating with lighter tints where the blastings had riven its close texture ; the heavy supporting timbers made of great tree boles (what sordid translation from the noble forests without, where the unstricken of their kindred still towered toward the stars, and sang with the winds, and received glad gifts from the seasons in springing sap and spreading leaf, in acorn and cone, and kept a covenant with time registering the years in mystic rings in their inmost hearts !) ; the black aperture of the tunnel on one hand, and opposite a mysterious recess leading beyond ; even a rat, and his elongated shadow, which, augmented into frightful proportions, sped after him in a mimic chase across the trampled red clay floor, — all became visible in detail. The disorder of the immediate surroundings, the barrels, the tubs, the sacks full of meal, the great wood pile, the rotting refuse of the pomace in heaps waiting to be cast down into the half-submerged shaft close at hand, the copper still itself, and the spiral worm and its adjuncts made a definite impression hitherto lost in the gloom. The shadows of the mountaineers doubled their number, as they sat, grave and absorbed, and gazed at the deep red and yellow and vivid white flare within the furnace. They seemed to wait in silence until the ill-fitting door clanged again, as if their senses recognized an added safety in the gloom which was not approved by their judgment.
As the door closed the elder distiller spoke.
“ I dunno ez I hanker ter sarve no prison term,” he said lugubriously. “ An’ I kin see full plain ez this hyar still will hev ter quit ef the Cove gits full o’ valley folks. We-uns will hev ter move, sure ! ”
“ Move whar ? ” demanded Taft. “ I been a-movin’ afore. That ’s how kem I lef’ Piomingo Cove, whar the revenue folks knowed me better.”
There was another long silence.
“ Burn him out!” exclaimed Jack Espey violently, bringing the foot which he had held on his knee down to the ground with a vehemence that made the spurs jingle. “Let him move! Burn his shanty every time he gits it started.”
Lorenzo Taft recoiled. The glimmer from the crevices of the furnace door made a dull red twilight about him, as he sat on the barrel against the red wall. The suggestion was not new to his mind. He had not intended, however, that it should take root amongst the moonshiners and augment their jeopardy. He thought that, if he were any judge of character, Kenniston would soon have enemies enough here. The stranger was already busy in antagonizing Captain Lucy, — an early collision was inevitable. This catastrophe to the building might be presumed to be the natural outcome of their wrangles, and he would fain have silently awaited this interpretation of the event. As to the old mountaineer he felt no qualms of conscience ; Captain Lucy was amply able to take care of himself.
This was the trend of Lorenzo Taft’s plan, — the reason of his avoidance of the subject of the stranger. How or why his expectation should have miscarried he could not for the life of him see. The man had before been in the Cove. His presence would soon be an ordinary accepted fact. Fate merely would seem to harass Kenniston and his plans. Fire is a dangerous element in building, nevertheless requisite, in the tinner’s, the plumber’s, even the paper-hanger’s art, and a conflagration in remote places is a terrible thing. Kenniston would become discouraged after a time, and desist.
But Lorenzo Taft had never intended that this work should be through the united means of moonshiners. Five men were too many to keep the secrets of arson. The art of moonshining is necessarily worked with numbers, but the fire-bug’s must needs be a solitary trade. He could not see the rift in his logic. How had they taken the alarm ?
He marked with secret fear how the suggestion fared. Larrabee, who had begun again to read by the sharp, knifelike gleam from the furnace door, caught upon the page on his knee, as he sat close beside it, looked up with a keen, pondering face, his finger still on the line along which it was wont to guide his wavering comprehension. Surely he found no thoughts in its wake responsive to the idea now astir in his active, untaught brain. Law-breaking is a progressive evil. If he had not been engaged in the crime of illicit distilling,—which lias, however, its apologists from the mere standpoint of economics, who plead the inherent right of a man to use his own corn and fruit to serve his own advantage, — this further iniquity of the destruction of the property of another could not have found lodgment in his consideration, for he was not naturally a cruel man, nor wicked. But in the depths of the earth, working at an unlawful vocation, in jeopardy of his liberty and in fear of his life, viewing the world only in transient glimpses in the midst of a backwoods community, and sustaining in effect an assumed character, that of a slothful farmer, an ignorant man’s mind, however good the native essence, is not likely to develop fairly ; and he may read the New Testament, as indeed those wiser and better than he have done, as a matter of literary interest and excitement, with not a thought of personal application.
The half-drunken boy pulled himself out of his semi-recumbent position on the floor.
“ That’s the dinctum, by Gawd !" he exclaimed, his solemn red face swollen and somnolent of expression. “ Burn him out! Burn him out! Make him move ! Kindle up a leetle hell around him ! ”
He broke out with a wild, hiccoughing laugh, singing in a queer falsetto,—
Your house is on fire ' "—
ending in a shrill cackle of derision and a quavering whoop.
“ Shet up, sonny! ” said the veteran moonshiner, who seldom interfered save upon a question of work. Even he turned from the examination of the fermentation of a tub of mash which had been in question, his lantern in his hand, and a slow smile of discovery in the perplexed, anxious wrinkles of his wooden face. “ I reckon our fire would last ez long ez his buildin’ timber.”
There was not a protest amongst them. Lorenzo Taft, more dismayed than he could at once realize, again marveled how they had taken the sudden alarm.
“ Ye ain’t never tole me yit how it air ez you-uns fund out, sence I been gone this evenin’, ez thar war a stranger in the Cove, an’ how ye knowed ’t war this hyar Kenn’ston down at Tems’s.”
There was a sudden volley of laughter, and Larrabee closed his book with a bang of triumph.
“ Our turn now ! Jack, he wants ter hear the news ! ” he called out to Espey.
“ Ye mought ez well s’arch the henhouse fur teeth ez ter kem hyar ter weuns, ’way down in the ground, axin’ fur news ! ” protested Jack sarcastically.
A frown was gathering on Taft’s face. He no longer had the incentive to selfcommand which the welfare of a plot requires. His plot was shattered; the event was out of his control, at the uncovenanted mercy of the future. It was almost sheerly from the force of curiosity that he pressed the question : —
“ How did ye know, ennyhow ? ”
Perhaps he might not have been enlightened save for Larrabee’s relish for detailing the circumstances, in the paucity of incident and interest in their underground career.
“ Waal,” he began in a narrative tone, and they all composed themselves to listen. Even the old drudge decanted a jug of doublings into a keg with marked speed of manner, and shuffled up into the circle, where he seated himself on a broken-backed chair, which, since he could not lean backward, rendered him fain to lean forward, his elbows on his knees, — “ waal, this evenin’, it bein’ sorter lonesome down hyar, — I knowed ’t war goin’ ter rain, — I felt sorter like ’t would be toler’ble pleasant ter read in my book.”
He paused in pride; the respect of the others for this accomplishment was visible on their faces ; it might be said to be almost tangible.
“I could n’t find it, though, nowhar; an’ I s’arched an’ s’arched. An’ suddint I ’membered I hed lef’ it on the counter in the store. So knowin’ 't war nigh dark, an’ nobody likely ter be stirrin’, I went up inter the suller an’ listened ; an’ ez I hearn nuthin’, I went up the ladder inter the room. Ye know I felt plumb safe, fur I thunk the door war locked on the outside.”
“ Waal, war n’t it ? ” asked Taft, with a swift look of alarm.
“It war n’t locked at all; fur, ez I stood thar, — I hed jes’ by accident shet the door o’ the counter up an’ the suller, — the door of the room opened.”
Taft’s breath was fast. He had himself unlocked the door before he came down to the still. He could have sworn it.
“ The door opened, an’ a leetle gal kem in,” Larrabee went on.
Taft’s dismayed eyes were fixed unblinkingly upon him.
“Ye didn’t tell her nuthin’!” he exclaimed, for he recognized the avenging “ Sis ” without description.
Larrabee laughed at the reminiscence of the humors of the situation.
“ I war fit ter drap down dead with pure skeer at the sight o’ her ! But I sorter held up by the counter, an’ I say, ‘ I kem ter see ’Renzo Taft, — yer dad, I reckon.’ An’ she owned up ter it. An’ I say, ‘ I ’lowed he kep’ the door o’ the sto’ locked.’ An’ she say, ' He do. I thunk ’t war locked.’ ' I reckon not,’ I say, ‘ fur I could n’t hev walked in ef he hed locked it.’ An’ she say, ‘ I could n’t hev locked it good, agin. I onlocked it this evenin’ with my grandmam’s key what I brung from her house.”
Lorenzo Taft gasped. The idea of old Mrs. Jiniway’s keys unlocking his helpless doors gave him a sense of the futility of concealment from the prying feminine eye which nothing else could so adequately compass.
“ An’ then,” continued Larrabee, with another burst of laughter, — Taft did not think “ Sis ” half so funny, — “ I axed her what ailed her ter open the door of her dad’s store whilst he war gone. She looked like she hed a mind not to say another word. But she tuk another notion, — I reckon she did n’t like ter be faulted, — an’ ’lowed ez a strange man hed rid by ; an’ his horse bein’ turrible fractious and hard-mouthed, the bit hed bruk in the critter’s mouth, an’ he wanted ter buy another. So Sis tried ter open the door, and done it, with her granny’s key. An’ she sold him a bit. She said he war powerful saaft-spoken an’ perlite, ez ef she ’lowed I war n’t ! An’ that gin me a chance ter ax her what he said. An’ she tole his name, an’ the word ez he war ’bidin’ at Tems’s, — fur Sis axed him. He got away with mighty leetle that Sis hed enny cur’osity ’bout.”
Lorenzo Taft listened in silent despair. Disaster seemed closing about him. Certainly this was a field for a stepmother. Adelicia could not take the enterprising “ Sis ” in hand a moment too soon.
“ How much did she want to know ’bout you-uns that ye didn’t tell ? ” demanded Taft.
“ Waal, I fell in line, an’ wanted ter buy suthin’, too. I purtended I wanted ter buy a pound o’ nails. Sis weighed ’em out fur me, — gin me mighty scant measure, — an’ then I ’lowed I would wait ter see you-uns, an’ I sot down in a cheer. An’ she sent Joe ter set with me, — ter see I never stole nuthin’ o’ the gear, I reckon, — an’ went off in the t’other room ter spinnin’, ter jedge by the sound o’ the wheel. An’ Joe drapped off ter sleep, an’ arter a while I croped down hyar agin. I reckon she 'lowed, when she missed me, ez I got tired an’ went away.”
Taft, anxiously canvassing the probabilities, could but deem this more than likely. He began to breathe freely. The girl was too young to critically observe any departure from the usual routine, or to reason about the matter. He doubted if she would know what moonshining was, or could draw any inference from the fact of concealment should their precautions chance to fall under her notice. Not that he intended, however, to submit them to this jeopardy. The finding and fitting of old Mrs. Jiniway’s key to the door, in order that the sale of the bit might not be lost, savored too much of a precocious intelligence to be needlessly trusted. “ Sis will bear watchin’,” he said to himself, unaware that this was a mutual conclusion.
For early rising was one of the virtues inculcated in old Mrs. Jiniway’s rule of life. Cornelia Taft was awake betimes the following morning, — a dawn full of rain, of gray mist veiling the mountains, of low clouds, of heavy, windless air. She saw its melancholy gleams through the crevices of the clapboards of the roof above her head and the batten shutter close by her bed. She knew that these fugitive glimmers were brighter than the dull day slowly breaking without, from the contrast with the deep tones of intervenient shadow. She lay looking at them for a time with this thought in her mind, and then she leaned forward and opened the shutter. It was as she had fancied : the dusk was almost visible, like a brown mist that seemed subtle and elusive, and always vaguely withdrew whenever the eye would fain dwell upon it. A great elm grew just without the window and hung high above the roof. Its leaves were all lustrous and deeply green with the moisture ; the graceful bole and branches were darker and more definite than their wont. A bird’s-nest was in a crotch. She turned her head to hear the sleepy chirp of nestlings. She wondered that Joe had not rifled it, — only because he had not observed it, she felt sure. “ That boy don’t take notice o’ nuthin’,” she commented acridly upon her senior. The next moment her own powers of observation were brought into play. She heard steps, voices, a loud laugh, and before she could experience either fear or surprise very definitely two or three men passed out of the house, under the elm-tree, and down the road, vanishing in the mist. She recognized one of them as the man who had so suddenly appeared in the store the day before ; another she had never seen ; the third was very young and very drunk.
Despite the sanctimonious atmosphere that had characterized Mrs. Jiniway’s domicile, the doings of the derelict had always been commented upon with the freedom affected by those who are subject neither to the temptation nor the transgression. Few gossips were better informed upon current affairs than she and her youthful charge ; and it might be safe to say that, to all intents and purposes, a United States marshal knew no more about the revenue laws as applied to illicit distilling than did Miss Cornelia Taft.
Her small mind received a great enlightenment as she watched the young moonshiner reel down the road with his two companions, and then she leaned forward and softly and deftly closed the shutter as before.
The day proved of variable mood. The mists clung sullenly to slope and ravine for a time; the clouds hung low, full of menace ; even a muttering of thunder afar off now and again stirred their dense gray masses. The veiled mountains were withdrawn into invisibility. Below, the earth lay as if it consisted only of dull levels, limited, silent, comatose, for the dank, drowsy influence pervaded all energies alike of the animate and the inanimate ; there was no sound of beast or bird, no stir of wind or rustle of leaf, and a lethargy dulled pulse and muscle and brain.
The sunburst came with the effect of revelation. A vague tremor pervaded the tissues of the gray mists, and all at once a great white glory was on the green mountain sides. The vast spaces to the blue zenith were filled with radiant flyingfleecy forms as the transfigured vapor took wing. Far in the south the gray cloudage still held its consistency, and trembled with thunder and sudden elusive palpitating veins of yellow lightning. But the lithe arc of a rainbow presently sprang athwart it, and the wind came gayly piping down the gorge. In the actual perceptible jubilance of the earth, it might seem that the miracles of the goodness and the gladness of the sun were no common thing. There was a visible joy among the leaves as they fluttered together, and lifted up their dank fibres, and lustrously reflected the pervasive sheen, and tremulously murmured and chanted in elfin wise beneath the breath. How was it that the plaining river should suddenly find its melodies again, as if light and song were interdependent ? A tumultuous, rollicking stave it flung upon the air; and so, faster to the valley! The benignant revivification was on the very flocks; the dull, submissive sheep, huddled drowsily together in the gray menace of the morning, were astir once more, and scattered here and there as they browsed. Even Luther was singing in the barn as he mended his ploughgear. All day the swift upward flights of the sheeny white figures continued at intervals, and when Adelicia set forth to drive the cows home, in the afternoon, only the more radiant aspects of the world gave token of the storm of the night. She hardly left the print of her shoe in the wild woodland ways through which she wandered, so had the warmth and the light dried the dank herbage. She was out betimes. There was something in the long, meditative strolls that harmonized with certain moods, and Captain Lucy sometimes sourly commented, “ Ad’licia gone ter fotch home the cows ? Waal, who be a-goin’ ter fotch home Ad’licia ? ”
It might be an hour before Spot would think of turning her crumpled horns homeward. The sun shone aslant through the vast forests, but still hung well up in the western sky. Through the deeper gloom amongst the gigantic trees the rays hardly penetrated. She stopped once to gaze from the midst of the dark green shade of the umbrageous tangle at the strange effects of the light where it fell into an open space cleared long ago by “ girdling ” the trees, which betokened collapsed agricultural intentions, for the ground had never been broken by ploughshare. The enormous dead trees were still standing, and time and rain and wind had worn them to a pallid whiteness. She could see the successive clusters of columns, one after another, rising in the sunlight, until the roofing foliage nearer at hand cut off the view. To Kenniston’s cultured experience they were reminiscent of the colonnades of some great cathedral, when he had observed the place and the same effect. She had naught in mind to which she could compare them, but those white, silent, columnated aisles in the midst of the savage fastnesses of the great wilderness always impressed her with a certain solemnity, as she passed, and she was wont to pause to gaze at the spot in awe and with a vague sinking of the heart; for, despite her optimism, Adelicia’s heart was not always light. She was sensible of its weight this evening, as she wandered on, leaving the still, white sanctuary in the midst of the forest glooms. Her face was wistful and pale. Her dark gray lustrous eyes were dreamy. She walked slowly and aimlessly, her brown dress brushing the undergrowth aside with a gentle murmur, her yellow calico sunbonnet hanging on her shoulders and leaving her auburn head bare. Her errand was far from her mind. She did not even bethink herself to call the cow, until suddenly she noticed how high upon the great boles of the trees the slanting sunlight registered the waning of the day. Then, as she set the echoes vibrating with the long-drawn cry of “ Soo, cow ! soo ! ” she turned at right angles, following the trend of the mountain stream, invisible in the labyrinth of the woods, but not far distant she knew by the vague murmur of waters borne by the wind. She had looked for no other listener than the somewhat arbitrary Spot, who would heed or not as she listed, and who might now be standing knee-deep in the limpid ripples near at hand, hearkening, but making no response, intending to fare home at her own good pleasure. But the long, musical, mellow call, with its trailing echoes, attracted other and more receptive attention, and as Adelicia turned suddenly into a straighter section of the path she saw at the end of the vista, before it curved again, standing beneath a tree and with his face toward her, a man apparently listening and waiting for her.
He had dismounted from his horse, a light-tinted yellow roan, who stood as still as if he were of bronze, while his master leaned against the saddle, with his hand on the bridle. He held the other arm akimbo, with his hand on the belt which supported a knife and a pair of pistols. They were unconcealed by a coat, for he wore only a blue shirt and blue jeans trousers, with heavy boots drawn to the knees; and she recognized him rather by his accoutrements than his face, for his wide white wool hat was pulled far over it. From under the broad brim he gazed at her with sullen, lowering eyes.
“ I hearn ye callin’ the cow, an’ I knowed yer voice,” he said. “ I been waitin’ fur ye.”
She faltered for a moment; then, with an evident effort, quickened her step and went forward to meet him. She apprehended the anger in his face, apparently, for there was a disarming, deprecating look in her clear dark eyes as she cast them up at him. Her yellow sunbonnet hardly served more for shelter than an aureola might have done, — a background for her auburn head ; her dark brown dress and the green shadows of the trees added a pallor to her white oval face with its small delicate chin. He did not heed her appealing gaze. It was with a stern, hard voice that he spoke, and a fiery eye.
“ I hev got a word ter say ter ye, Ad’licia,” he began, walking slowly by her side and leading his horse, the reins thrown over his arm and his uplifted hand near the bit.
The animal’s head was close above his shoulder, and as Adelicia met the creature’s large-eyed and liquid gaze it seemed to her as if she were doubly arraigned before them both.
“ Ye need n’t ter try ter fool me,”said Jack Espey between his teeth.
“ I ain’t tryin’ ter fool ye,” protested Adelicia.
He looked at her narrowly, taking note of her evident discomposure, and placing disastrous construction upon it.
“ Ye ’low ye kin fool me ’thout tryin’, I reckon,” he said, with a sarcastic smile.
“ I ain’t a-foolin’ ye,” gasped Adelicia. “ Ye know — why, ye know I ain’t !”
He hesitated, half constrained to believe her. He still gazed searchingly at her from under the broad brim of his hat. Her wild, agitated look made him doubtful.
“ Now, ye jes’ ondertake ter fool me,” he continued, with an accession of angry jealousy, “ an’ ” — he laid his hand on the pistol in his belt — “ I ’ll ondertake ter shoot ye dead on the spot.”
The color surged to her face. The tears rushed to her eyes. A sharp conflict waged in her heart for a moment, and then she walked on beside him, pale, composed, silent, as if she were alone in the depths of the primeval wilderness.
Only the sound of the stir of the saddle with the breathing of the horse ns the animal tramped on behind them, their muffled footfalls barely perceptible on the thick herbage of the cattle path, the light whisper of the wind in the leaves, broke the pause, while Jack Espey’s touch trembled on the handle of the pistol as he walked beside her.
Her calmness shook his own composure.
“Ad’licia!” he exclaimed petulantly, but with an evident softening of his fierce mood, “ why n’t ye say suthin’ ? Why n’t ye say suthin’ ter me ? ”
“ I dunno what ter say,” she responded coolly.
“ Ye know what I want ter hear,” he declared passionately.
“ ’T ain’t no use ter say it agin.” She turned upon him her eyes, soft and lustrous, like some brownish-greenish moss in the depths of a crystal spring. “ I done said it an’ said it.”
His hand released the pistol, and pushed his hat far back on his dark hair with a hasty gesture of impatience. Then, with a sudden calmness, “ Ad’licia, ye ought n’t ter git mad with me ! Ye ought n’t ter git mad so dad-burned easy ! ”
“ Mebbe I ought n’t,” she said, with a note of sarcasm in her vibrant voice. Her eyes were bright, her cheek flushed.
“ ’T ain’t right,” he continued didactically. “ 'T ain’t religious.” He looked at her with grave, admonitory eyes.
“ Mebbe ’t ain’t,” she responded. She laughed a little, unmirthfully, and her lip quivered.
He strode on a few steps in silence, at a loss for words of explanation. He dreaded and deferred it, and yet he longed for its possible reassurance. As his thoughts canvassed its probabilities, he broke out tumultuously once more :
“ I hev got good reason ter b’lieve ye air foolin’ me, — good reason, I tell ye, now, Ad’licia!”
“ Good reason agin my word ? ” she demanded, her pride in her eyes.
He stared at her. “ A gal’s word ! ” he said lightly, and then he laughed. As a guaranty it struck him humorously. “ I reckon thar ain’t many men ez would be willin’ ter stand or fall by sech.”
“Ye set store by it wunst,” she said humbly.
“ ’T war when ye promised ter marry me,” he declared precipitately, unconsciously showing that it was the prospect which he had valued without trusting the promise. “ An’ I want ye ter ’bide by it, too,” he sternly added, suddenly perceiving that it was not policy to adduce too freely precedents as to the friability of feminine promises.
She shook her head, regardless of his keen, fiery eye. “ I ain’t goin’ ter marry nobody, I reckon,” she said slowly. “ Ye’ll shoot me dead fust, some day, in one o’ yer tantrums.”
“Ye ain’t a-goin’ ter marry ’Renzo Taft, an’ that I tell ye, now. I ’ll shoot ye fust, sure! ” he cried furiously, his eyes blazing upon her.
The look in her face checked his passionate rage. An utter wonderment, a deep bewilderment, overspread it as she echoed, “ ’Renzo Taft ! The man over yander at Lost Time mine ? War ye a-talkin’ ’bout him ? ”
He controlled himself instantly, although his eyes were all ashine and alertly restless.
“ Who war you-uns a-thinkin’ ’bout, Ad’licia ? ” he asked gently and incidentally.
“Jasper Larrabee, o’ course,” she answered innocently.
He could only grind a curse between his teeth, and then he was speechless for a moment.
“ I dunno nare nuther good-lookin’ young man in the Cove,” continued Adelicia, girlishly talking on, oblivious of the significance of her disclosures. “ Though I b’lieve Jasper ain’t studyin’ ’bout sech ez marryin’. He jes’ kems thar toler’ble frequent ter read out’n his book ter Cap’n Lucy. He kin read powerful well. Cap’n Lucy 'lows he senses the Gorspel better from Jasper’s readin’ ’n the rider’s, ’kase whenst he don’t onderstan’ he kin make Jasper stop an’ spell it out an’ read it over. An’ sometimes " — she broke into a little dimpling laugh — " whenst the Gorspel goes agin Cap’n Lucy’s policy an’ practice, he makes Jasper spell an’ spell, an’ yit them times he can’t spell it out to suit Cap’n Lucy. But it’s plumb heartsome ter hear Jasper read of a stormy night,” she added, recalling the one spiritual pleasure of her stunted, starveling spiritual life.
As she glanced at his face, there was something so gruesome, so strange, in its expression that she was fain to remonstrate. “ Ye ’pear powerful techy, Jack,” she said. “Ez ter ’Renzo Taft, it’s jes’ old uncle Lucy’s foolishness ; an’ I wish he ’d quit it, too ! Though ’t ain’t no harm, nuther. Uncle Lucy jes’ makes out ez ’Renzo Taft air arter me or Julia fur a stepmammy fur his leetle gal, an’ it tickles him ter talk 'bout’n it, — it’s so foolish! Why, Jack, 'Renzo Taft is old enough purty nigh ter be my dad ; an’ — he ain’t ugly, edzac’ly — but, but — no wise desirable. Cap’n Lucy air always peckin’ at me fur puttin’ myself out ter obligate other folks, but I ain’t so powerful meek-tempered ez ter marry ’Renzo Taft ter be a stepmammy. Though he ain’t axed me, nor nobody else ez I knows on. An’ I ain’t got nuthin’ agin him.”
He walked on beside her, hardly listening, and scarcely caring what she said or thought of Taft. For him, at the moment, Jasper Larrabee, and his gift of reading the Scriptures and interpreting them to Captain Lucy’s satisfaction and her humble and incidental pleasure, filled all the horizon. His jealousy had taken a new lease on life with this more promising object, and with the surer foundation of what she said of Larrabee rather than of what Taft said of her. He hardly heeded her presence as he sought to gather together his faculties. He did not even feel the clumsy caress of the horse now and again rubbing his head against his master’s shoulder, as he minced along behind him, accommodating his long stride to the shorter compass of the human step. The young man’s eyes were hot; they seemed to burn the dry lids, as he gazed down through the cool leafy vistas of the forest ; but his voice was calm enough when he suddenly said to her: —
“ Ad’licia, ef ye keered ennything ’bout me wuth talkin’ 'bout, ye ’d marry me now.”
The placidity which her face had resumed as she had talked disappeared abruptly. She was once more anxious, disquieted, on the brink of tears.
“ Ye know, Jack,” she expostulated, " I can’t marry agin Cap’n Lucy’s word.”
“ Ye would ef ye keered a straw, a bare straw.”
“ Cap’n Lucy jes’ say, ' Wait awhile.' It’s jes’ ' awhile,’ else I would go agin his cornsent.”
“ Ye don’t keer,” he reiterated dolorously, for her protest was welcome to him.
“ Cap’n Lucy jes’ say,” she went on very fast, “ jes’ wait till that man ez youuns shot in Tanglefoot Cove gits well. He ’ll git well, I reckon. Ye said he war powerful hearty an’ big. Cap’n Lucy say he ain’t goin’ ter lemme marry a man ez mought be tried fur his life, ef he kin holp it.”
“ Ef ye keered fur me, ye would n’t gin that fur Cap’n Lucy’s word ! ” he asseverated, as he lifted his arm high in the air and snapped his fingers resonantly.
The horse shied suddenly at the sound, and pulled heavily on the hand that held the bit.
Her eyes were full of tears.
“ Jack,” she said in deep humiliation, " I can’t ’low at this time o’ day ez I don’t keer fur uncle Lucy’s word. I never eat none o’ my own bread in my life.”
She knew that he had turned and was staring at her, although she could not distinguish him through her tears. If she had never loved him, her heart might have warmed to him now, for the vehemence, the partisanship, with which he protested her independence.
“ Eat yer own bread! ” he cried in a ringing voice that made her shrink. " Ye never eat nuthin’ else ! Who churns, an’ sweeps, an’ mends, an’ cooks, an milks cows, this many an’ many a day ? That thar dough-faced Julia ?”
To his amazement she burst out laughing, but the next moment she was sobbing in good earnest, and he hardly knew whether she was glad or sorry.
He scarcely paused to wonder. He went tumultuously on to repudiate the obligations that so lowered her pride and her title to self-respect. " Who hoes, an’ sews, an’ weaves, an’ spins, an raises the chickens an’ tur-rkeys an’ sech, an’ answers old Cap’n Lucy’s call ' Ad’licia! Ad’licia ! ’ all day long ? That thar long, lank, limp Julia ? Ef I war ter marry ye an’ take ye away from thar, that house would fall down, I reckon, an’ old Cap’n Lucy knows it.”
His well-set bluish-gray eyes had brightened as he spoke; he smiled genially ; his face was handsome and intelligent with this expression. The next moment it clouded heavily. He could not do this as almost any other man might, — marry a wife and take her home. He was a fugitive and an exile by reason of the jeopardy of the man whom he had shot in Tanglefoot Cove, and who still hung between life and death, his own fate involving that of his enemy. Jack Espey felt sure that he could have proven self-defense, had he permitted himself to be apprehended at the time. But from the circumstance of his hasty flight, uncertain what he had done and animated by ignorant terrors of the law, the lapse of time, the dispersion of witnesses, he feared to submit his action to a legal arbitrament now.
The suspense was in itself a terrible retribution, but it is safe to say that Espey had hardly appreciated its rigors till now, when it hampered his every prospect in life. He had been a man of some substance in his native place, according to the humble rating of the mountaineers, and the lowering of pride involved in his present situation was very bitter to him. He could not ask to be received under Captain Lucy’s roof, and its hospitalities certainly would not be offered. He repented of his candor in making known his circumstances when he had “asked for” Adelicia, for in the probation on which he had been placed he recognized the crafty hope of the elder man that the affair would soon blow over. He felt it a poor reward for his frankness, and he determined that it should not go without requital in turn. “ Jes’ lemme fix up that cussed bother in Tanglefoot, an’ durned ef Cap’n Lucy ever shell see Ad’licia’s face agin ! ” he often said to himself.
Meanwhile he hung around as best he might, fraternizing secretly with the moonshiners ; for here was the best opportunity of earning enough to provide for his simple wants, and to keep him out of the observation of the law, while awaiting the result in Tanglefoot, whence the news had lately become more hopeful.
He had fallen in with Jasper Larrabee at the blacksmith’s shop at the crossroads, where he had paused in his flight for his horse to be shod ; the two had “ struck up ”a mutual liking, and Espey had come with Larrabee to the Cove, where he divided his time pretty equally between his new friend’s home and the Lost Time mine. His frankness had not extended to his recent acquaintances, who knew no reason why he should shun observation except that which they shared with him concerning the still. His utility there and its financial advantages were ample to justify the continuation of his stay in the Cove; and thus, but for his own attack of conscientiousness in revealing his true circumstances to Adelicia and Captain Lucy, he might have seemed as advantageously placed as any of his compeers.
“ Waal,” said Adelicia, unaccountably brightened, “ we-uns hev ter ’bide by Cap’n Lucy’s word an’ wait awhile, bein’ ez he hev tuk keer o’ me all my days, mighty nigh. An’ ye better be toler’ble perlite ter Julia, too,” she added, with a radiant smile. “ Julia ’s cornsider’ble apt ter take notice o’ slights.”
He promised humbly, swallowing his pride with a mighty gulp ; and as they came out from the woods into the more open spaces shelving to the great crags they encountered Kenniston, a cigar in his mouth, a memorandum in his hand of the boundaries of his land, taken from the calls of his title-deed, a good-humored triumph on his face, and a gay, kind voice as he instantly recognized and greeted Adelicia.
He called her to come and observe the splendor of the view from a certain craggy point where there would be an observatory, and his enthusiasm was not dashed even when she gazed off wonderingly into space, seeing nothing to which she was unaccustomed, and evidently apprehending naught of what he said. He wondered a trifle, subacutely, how much the perception of beauty may be promoted by the sense of contrast. Since she knew no dull levels or discordant scenes, the sublime was merely the natural daily presentment of creation, no more a marvel than the rising of the sun, and thus she was bereft of its appreciation. He wondered, too, if the converse of the proposition were true, — if those to whom nature is expressed in a meadow, or a series of knobs, or a pond can have no mental conception of the austere splendors of the craggy heights or the stupendous area of infinite detail spread before the eye within a wide horizon piled with mountains. He showed her, too, a small drawing of the projected hotel, which she turned awry and almost reversed to gaze upon it. His good humor extended to her companion, whom he had never before seen. Although usually aloof and averse to strangers, Espey found the suave words a salve to his sore heart. He did not know how much less pleasant Kenniston could be when not pleased. Just now even this new acquaintance harmonized most aptly with his gracious mood. Artistically viewed, poor Espey might have graced the romantic stage, as he stood, in his dark blue shirt and trousers and great spurred boots, defined against the yellow-bronze horse which he held by the bit, his belt full of weapons, his broad white hat far back on his black hair, and his defiant face at once wild and eager and wistful. The man of the alert pencil was moved to wish that he had the art to do him justice.
Kenniston’s kind and ingratiating manner as he explained his plans and expectations, which could not interest the mountaineer, who was as foreign to such considerations as deer or bear, secured nevertheless Espey’s attention and respectful silence. He looked now and again with a sort of reluctant liking at Kenniston’s face as he talked, regretting that, since he attached so much hope and consequence to the project, it would be necessary to burn the buildings down as fast as they were erected.
In the plenitude of his access of amiability, Kenniston lagged behind and let them stroll away homeward together, — as pretty a pair of rustic lovers, he thought, as one could wish to see.
The sun was well down ; the sky was red; the evening star was in a saffron haze ; the nearest mountains had turned a deep purple, with a vague, translucent, overlaying gray hue like the bloom on a ripe grape; the distant ranges had vanished in the mystery of night. It was not dark, but the flare of the fire within the door of Captain Lucy’s cabin was visible as it rose and fell on the puncheon floor in transitory flickers. It was a poor place, but it was home, and to the exile it looked like paradise. Julia had come to the door, and stood there half in the soft outer light, and half in the firelight within. Schooled and docile, Espey remembered his monitor’s bidding, and roused his unwilling, flagging energies and his tired, sad heart to evolve some pleasantry as he called out a greeting from the bars. She turned her sleek head and smiled at him. There had never been such eyes in the Cove, except perhaps those which Captain Lucy had opened there first some sixty years before, nor such long, dark, curling lashes. She might, however, have been no more comely, for all Jack Espey cared, than old “T’bithy,” Adelicia’s cat, who arched her plebeian scantily furred back in the door, and surveyed the landscape with her yellow eyes, and yawned from sheer mental vacuity. He got through the interview with what poor grace he could and from a sense of duty ; and as he was about to mount, he, unobserved by the others, offered to take Adelicia’s hand. To his amazement, she looked him full in the face with hard, angry eyes, struck down his hand with a petulant gesture, passed him like a flash, and disappeared within the door.
Jack Espey, who had no more recognition of the aspect of jealousy than if he had never felt its power, could but mount and ride away in angry bewilderment ; and Kenniston, hearing the furious speed of his horse’s hoofs as he went headlong down the dark, rocky road, looked wonderingly after him.
“ He ’ll break his neck, at that rate,” he said.
Charles Egbert Craddock.