His Vanished Star


THE season seemed full of menace to the troglodytes of the Lost Time mine. The work went on about the still as hitherto, but with added precaution — various and vain, for the limits of their ingenuity had already been reached — and with a heavy sense of presage. The old moods that had prevailed here were gone, whether of brag and bluster, or wild hilarity, or jocose horse-play, or the leisurely and languid spinning of yarns to help the hour to pass. Even the industry of old Zeb Copley, the veteran of the force, was mitigated by sudden long pauses and a disposition to hearken fearfully for unaccustomed noises, and by eager and earnest urgency that the work should be pretermitted for a time. The youngest moonshiner of all felt it a dreary world to look at with sober eyes, and, despite his morose abstinence and surly staidness, a less discerning judgment than Taft’s might have foreseen the brevity of this enforced drought, and the danger of a relapse, with all his reminiscences at his thick tongue’s end, were he free to fare about the world without. Espey’s vacant place was ever significant of the reason for it, and Larrabee would sit for hours brooding over the untoward chances of his own fortunes ; his gloomy eyes on the ever-glinting line of light playing through the furnace door, his motionless pipe full only of dead ashes in his heedless hand.

“ Ye air a toler’ble dangersome neighbor,” Taft remarked one day; for the complication of the mistaken identity had come to his ears during a sortie from his stronghold, and the threats of the deputy sheriff against the supposed Jasper Larrabee coupled with his suspicions as to moonshining.

Larrabee looked up fiercely. " Move, then, ef ye don’t like yer neighbor.”

He was like a fox run to earth ; he had no further resource. His one idea of dealing with the law was by evasion and subterfuge and concealment. He had no remote expectation of justification. By a series of deceits he had persuaded his mother to go on an immediate visit to a bedridden great-aunt who lived in an adjoining county. The horse she rode belonged to a neighbor of the aged relative, who chanced to be in this locality, and who was taking home with him a led horse, a recent purchase. Jasper himself was to go after her in the indefinite period when the corn should be laid by and her own horse at leisure. The infant conqueror of the rickets went with her, mounted behind her, his chubby arms stretched at their utmost length clasping her gaunt waist, and with as unchastened a vainglory and pride in the earnest of this great journey and the envious wonderment of the other children as if his bourn were the north pole. Thus Mrs. Larrabee set out, with the grim-visaged neighbor of the aunt in advance, and with a frisky, dapper colt — already en rapport with the pilgrim youth by reason of mutual juvenility, irresponsibility, and frivolity — kicking up his admired heels in the rear. And Henrietta Timson reigned in her stead under the queer little sylvan roof that seemed no more made with hands than the cups of a triple acorn.

Thus it was that Jasper Larrabee was roofless for the nonce, save for the strata of the Lost Time mine.

That Lorenzo Taft would fain be rid of him he saw grimly enough, and this he grimly refused to heed. He had incurred the suspicion of moonshining by reason of Espey’s choosing to wear his name for an hour or so. He had incurred it through no fault of his own. The infringement of the law was common to them all, and involved a danger which they should share.

At all events, there would be nobody to answer for harboring the fugitive, should Espey’s true identity become known to the law, and Rodolphus Ross find his way again to the little house on its airy perch. Taft had thought it wise that Larrabee. already tainted with suspicion in the mind of the officer of the law, and so a source of great danger, should follow Espey to parts unknown. But the world, to the unlodged of earth, is doubtless of aspect like the face of the waters to the dove when first loosed from the ark, without foothold or friendly sign.

Larrabee replied even to the innuendo : —

“ Go whar ? An’ leave you-uns a-cuddled down hyar so snug in the groun’ that the devil hisse’f will sca’cely nose ye out on the Jedgmint Day? Naw, sir. I see nuthin’ but resk fur me on all sides, but less hyar ’n ennywhars. I hev stood in ez much danger ez enny of ye. I hev tuk my sheer o’ the resk ’thout wingin’, but I won’t be kicked out like a stray dog an’ gin up ter the law ’kase you-uns air ’feared ’Dolphus Ross ’lows I be a moonshiner. He can’t find or hear o’ me hyar. I got ez much right hyar ez you-uns, ’Renzo Taft. I own my sheer in the business, an’ hyar I be goin’ ter bide.”

The other two moonshiners, Copley and young Dan Sykes, regarded him askance and with sullen eyes. This minority might seem to be fraught with no small danger. His chief fear lest Espey should be overtaken, and the details of his refuge with the Larrabees be elicited, involving himself and his mother as accessories to the crime, he never mentioned. It so absorbed his thoughts, however, that for a time he did not observe a symptom of the serious antagonism of his confrères.

A shaft hard by the still-room, if such the nook where the apparatus was worked might be called, which was sunk into the very deepest limits of the mine, came near relieving them of their perplexity on this score, one day. Larrabee’s foot slipped in the rotting refuse of pomace on the verge while he was handling the bags of grain, and as he came heavily to the floor, barely saving himself, he saw like a flash a sudden irradiation of hope on the flushed, foolish face of the boy, a keen expectation in Taft’s eyes, and even in the old drudge’s wooden wrinkles a sort of disappointed resignation as he scrambled to his feet, that daunted him more than the immediate danger.

His precious book he read no more by the light of the furnace flicker, after this. Not that he now brooded over his cares, but his watchfulness never flagged. Whether the accident suggested the idea to Taft, or whether it were the flimsy fiction of the inimical atmosphere and his own alert apprehensiveness, Larrabee thought that he was given several opportunities to take leave inadvertently of the world. Once, in cleaning a pistol said to be unloaded, the ball in the last chamber whizzed sharply by his head. Again and again he was set to handle the heavy bags of grain on the slippery verge of the shaft. After a time a new cause of alarm was developed. Despite his crafty vigilance in his determination to remain at all hazards, he did not notice, until it became very marked, their unwillingness that he should leave the still at all, and Taft’s expertness in disallowing every pretext. The truth dawned upon him at last, with its most valid reason. Although they would be glad were he to quit the country, yet, since his permanent absence could not be compassed, any chance excursion into the Cove or neighborhood was fraught with danger, as he might be seen, identified as Larrabee, and followed by the man who had spotted him as a moonshiner to Taft’s house, where, spending days and nights, the mystery would soon be unfolded.

Larrabee came upon this discovery with a suffocating sense as of a prisoner. Instantly he was possessed by a wild urgency for the outer air and the freedom beyond that seemed as if its own impetus might break through the barriers of a thousand feet of the solid ground. He almost felt the wind blow in the strength of his keen desire ; and when he set himself instantly to compass his deliverance, eagerness outran tact in his first demonstration,

“ Hello, ’Renzo,” he said in a cheerful, incidental voice, strikingly at variance with the gruff tones that had of late served him in the absolutely essential colloquies between them touching the work.

Taft’s keen senses instantaneously apprehended the difference. He glanced around with a quick eye, lit by the feeble white gleam of the lantern in his hand, for he had but just emerged from the tunnel. He did not simulate. He looked as he felt, interrogative, expectant, as he sat down on the side of a barrel without pausing to extinguish the lantern. Its pallid glow suffused his florid face and yellow beard, and brought out the tint and effect of translucency in his blue eyes. They were fixed steadily on Larrabee, who was suddenly out of countenance. He had intended a more casual disclosure of his project than the impending interview permitted, — a sort of unpremeditated announcement of his determination, as of being free to do as he would. He felt that his face had changed, and he knew that the change was noted. A new rush of alarm seemed to surge through his nerves. For, guarded as Taft evidently was, he too had betrayed somewhat the importance which he attached to the plans, even the words, of his employee, or his partner, or his prisoner, as Larrabee might be variously regarded. It daunted Larrabee : the latent ferocity that lurked in Taft’s character, repudiated in his burly good comradeship of manner and in his florid face, — save for a certain beaklike outline of the nose that gave a rapacious, cruel intimation, — was instinctively known to the young mountaineer, who was not skilled in the craft of a knowledge of his kind, and had no habit of analysis. He somehow flinched to be made anew so definitely aware that he was a factor, and a troublous one, in Taft’s schemes. He felt no match for the elder tactician. He wished he had gone long before, when the moonshiner sought so openly to be rid of him. At all events, he would go now, and without chicanery or subterfuge. He blurted out his plan, which he had intended to trench upon with great care and circumspection, and which should have appeared a natural evolution and outcome of the conversation.

“ ’Renzo,” he said, with a distinct abatement of his former genial inflections, but still with a pliable, amiable tone, — and for his life he could not suppress an intonation of appeal, — “‘Renzo, I’m a-studyin’ ’bout takin yer advice. Ye air old’n me an’ hev got mo’ ’speriunce an’" —

“What advice?” Taft interrupted succinctly. The sentence seemed very short in his big, mellow, sonorous voice; it was like a key struck inadvertently on some great organ ; the heavy vibrations in themselves seemed to promise continuity.

“ ’Bout goin’ out’n the Cove. I been studyin’ it all out, an’ I ’low ’t would be safer fur all consarned ef I war ter cut an’ run.”

Taft remained silent. His illumined eyes were glassy and fixed ; somehow, the absorbed, introspective thought seemed to eliminate their expression.

“ Jes’ cl’ar out,” said Larrabee, as if in explanation ; he could not repress the manner of asking a permission, although he raged inwardly at himself.

“ Whar’bouts ? ” Taft’s great voice boomed out once more as it were inadvertently.

“ Ter Buncombe County in ole Car’liny, whar I got some kinfolks a-livin’,” said Larrabee. “ That’s what I war a-studyin’ ’bout,” he added, still striving for a more incidental effect.

The furnace door was open, for the fire was low, the still but just emptied, and the work intermitted for the nonce. The bed of red coals filled the place with a dull glow. In its dreamy light he saw suddenly the broad, flabby face of Dan Sykes, the youngest of the moonshiners, distorted with silent mirth, like the face of a caricature. He sat upon a billet of wood in a lowly attitude, froglike with his upturned head which was supported by his two hands, his elbows resting on his knees drawn high under his chin. His distended grin of evident delight in Taft’s answer showed that it was not unexpected.

“ Why, law, Jasper,” exclaimed Taft, — but the unctuous tone would not mix with the lie of the intent, and floated in its midst like oil on water, — “I could n’t make out now, jes’ now, ’thout youuns. I be short-handed now, ’count o’ Espey, an’ I got word ter-day from the eross-roads fur two barrels o’ corn juice quick ez it kin be got thar. Yer kin in Buncombe,”—his eye twinkled, for he suspected the kin in Buncombe to be of that airy folk known only to dreams and deceits, — “ they ’ll keep. Ye ’ll hev jes’ ter put off goin’ fur a leetle spell, — bein’ so short-handed, ye know.”

“ What air they aimin’ ter pay fur them bar’ls ? ” demanded Larrabee calmly.

Thus he drew the conversation aside to the commercial aspects of the situation, as if he acquiesced in Taft’s view, and recurred to his proposition no more. He controlled his voice, but his heart sunk like lead. He had not dreamed but that they would be glad to let him go if he quitted the region. He had not even feared that this resource was in jeopardy. He could not imagine the turn of events which must needs preclude his flight abroad, as well as his familiar appearance in his wonted haunts about the Cove. He cursed his fatuity again and again that he had not escaped when he could. What were the dangers of the world at large in comparison with the mysterious menace that environed him here? He dwelt continuously on these thoughts for a time, and it was only gradually, and chiefly by reason of Sykes’s leering grin and secretly gleeful eye, that he became aware that this Benjamin amongst them had been specially deputed to watch him. In the days of his own terrors of the world without he had ceased to go out for his meals or to sleep. He subsisted on “ snacks ” which Taft fetched down from his own table, — which abstraction caused no surprise to his small housekeeper, for Miss Cornelia Taft had long since exhausted her capacities for astonishment at any prodigies of food consumption on the part of her father, who took such big bites in comparison with old Mrs. Jiniway’s custom, — and he slept at broken intervals, as his uneasy thoughts permitted, on the empty meal sacks in the shadow of the piles of barrels. This life continued now of necessity as formerly of choice. Larrabee’s apparent acquiescence, he had a vague idea, surprised and perturbed the others. They were evidently prepared for resistance and harsh measures. They had lost their balance in some sort; their attitude was like that of one who makes ready for a running leap, and stops short of the jump. Thus, their unsteady, balked surprise bore scant relation to their persistent, unchanged purpose, for their watch upon him was not for one moment relaxed. Even in the network of wrinkles about the sunken eyes of the elder distiller a sort of staggered, dumfounded suspicion expressed itself, in conjunction with an observant heed of Larrabee’s every movement which hitherto would not have been allowed to absorb so much of the attention he was wont to bestow on the still.

At first the discovery came near to breaking down Larrabee’s reserve of endurance. His heart thumped so loudly, so heavily, that he sometimes thought they must hear its treacherous clamors as he sat and smoked in the dull red glow, assuming a calm and somnolent, satisfied aspect. Occasionally, with that terrible sense of the key turned, the door closed, the realization of restricted liberty, so overwhelming to the free habit of the mountaineer and the woodsman, with a charter to wander as wide as the wilderness, the blood would surge to his head, the copper boilers spin round and round, his companions slowly wheel about in that dim space of shadow and light; and he thought he lost consciousness at these times. But always when he came to himself he was sitting as before, calmly smoking in his wonted place, seeming a trifle disposed to shirk his work, perchance ; and latterly he had begun to drink heavily, as it were upon the sly. He could not have said how the idea had come to him : it was not gradual; the scheme was full fledged in an instant. He knew that his every movement was under surveillance, and that he was under the special guard of the young drunkard, who had been longer sober now, perhaps, than for many a month. Dan Sykes watched with glistening eyes Larrabee’s furtive hand reaching for the jug of whiskey, the trick of the hasty swallow aside, and presently Larrabee had a companion in his covert potations. He trembled lest the young fellow’s scanty powers of self-restraint should not be adequate to conceal long enough to serve his plan the swift ravages of drink in his recent abstinence. He seemed insatiable and frantically keen of thirst, and the necessity of concealing his indulgence from Taft, who had evidently sent forth some fiat against it, developed an almost incredible deftness of craft. On the day that the liquor was barreled and removed, he had been drinking almost without cessation. His share in the work was scant, his duties as guard serving in substitution. Perhaps for this reason, perhaps because of the absorption in the enterprise, neither of the two elder moonshiners noticed his condition; and indeed he had become singularly skilled in assuming a sort of veneer of sobriety. It passed muster in this instance.

Taft got away early in the night with his load, taking note, apparently, of nothing beyond some extra hazard of the enterprise, as Larrabee gathered from the caution with which he loaded his revolvers and his frequent conferences aside with Copley, who enjoyed his special confidence, being his near kinsman as well as coadjutor. The barrels were to be concealed in the wagon under bags of feathers, dried fruit, ginseng, and other strictly rural commodities of barter. Two barrels of innocent and Saccharine sorghum found themselves, too, in the unholy company of those barrels that the still had furnished forth. It was somewhat difficult to make out the load. Copley was eager for it to be off, notwithstanding, but Taft persisted until all the probabilities had been satisfied. There was much passing back and forth in the tunnel; through its long lengths Larrabee could hear the commotion in the room beneath the store. When the preparations were completed at last, he knew as well as if he had seen it how the great white canvas-covered wagon looked, standing with its two stanch mules before the door of the store, under the early dusky night sky and the burly overhanging purple heights ; the yellow light streaming out from the open door upon it, and all the cheerful bustle of departure rife as it were in the very air. Taft came back at the last moment for his coat. As he swung himself alertly into it, and crushed his big hat down on his big yellow head, he had all the breezy impetus of one who is about to start on a pleasant and successful journey.

“All loaded!” he cried cheerfully. “ A kentry merchant a-goin’ ter buy goods can’t be too keerful — oughter take along all the gear he kin ter trade — ha! ha! ha! Good-by! Be good!”

And thus he strode out with his light, elastic tread. Larrabee listened as it beat on the dirt path, and then to the echoes that duplicated its progress, till it ceased to sound.

Somehow the void about the circle was not without melancholy intimations, the normal incident of departure, whether it be regretted or cause for gratulation. Perhaps because of the sudden disordered quiet and loneliness in the quitted scene, the unoccupied mind must always needs reach forward into the unknown journeyings, meeting in speculation the varied events denied to the home-abiding. Larrabee sat still for a time in the low red glow of the furnace fire, exchanging now and again an incidental comment with his companions on the subject of the journey and its chances. The intervals of silence grew longer; the shadows gathered and deepened ; the younger man’s head occasionally nodded grotesquely in sleep, but more than once, as Larrabee was about to rise to his feet, he saw in the obscurity the large bloodshot eyes open and fixed soberly upon him. He had waited long: long for the certainty that Taft would not return on some forgotten errand ; long for the drunken sleep that must needs overcome the inimical vigilance of the young moonshiner. He could wait no longer. With an abrupt, shrill cry like that of a savage panther, he flung himself upon his elder companion. Copley was a man of powerful physique, and his every muscle was developed by the heavy labor in which it was exercised. In his undiminished strength his age gave no advantage to his adversary, whose slight bulk he might have flung from him with a single arm but for the surprise and suddenness of the attack in which he was borne to the ground. All Larrabee’s strength hardly sufficed to hold him there for a moment. There was a fierce struggle; a pistol ball whizzed by Larrabee’s head, and the narrow precincts were filled with the echoes and with Copley’s hoarse calls upon Sykes for help. The young fellow rose in response, stupidly echoing the cries of his own name, took one tottering step forward, and fell like a log, flabby, nerveless, helpless, on the floor. Larrabee wondered afterward that it could all be so quickly done. It was by virtue of surprise, desperation, sleight of hand, deftness, and quickness rather than by strength or courage. A meal bag served as a gag, and a rope, used in transporting the heavy barrels up the steep incline to the store, to pinion the arms and shackle the feet. Larrabee was almost exhausted by the capture of the first prisoner, and it was perhaps auspicious for his freedom that the young drunkard, beyond an ill-directed blow or two, could make no resistance. The rope was made fast around the solid masonry of the furnace ; and as Larrabee contemplated his work he felt sure that the two prisoners, one yet vainly struggling, the other already sleeping the sleep of the very drunk, would find no means of deliverance till Taft’s return the next day.

Again and again in his durance Larrabee had prefigured how swift would be his flight along the tunnel to the free outer air. Now he feebly plodded, and trembled, and faltered, and again went groping along the densely black way, essaying to keep a straight line, but feeling himself continually touching the wall, now on the right, and again on the left, in his zigzag course. Once he paused with an alert start. A sound of human voices had struck his ear, and at the merest possibility that his escape was not complete, certain, every flaccid, exhausted muscle was tense again. He lifted up his head, hardly breathing, that he might listen, but heard only the uncontrolled motion of his own heart plunging like an unruly horse. All else was silent in the black stillness of the deeps of the earth, save for the slight purling of the thread of a stream which farther on intersected the tunnel. No stir, no sound from the still-room, his late prisonhouse, where his jailers lay bound hand and foot; and yet he had thought he heard voices — human voices — words — he could almost have sworn it. And suddenly the sound came again. This time he recognized it, — louder than its custom, more distinct, for he had heard it before, — the sound of the strange, unexplained voices that at long intervals were wont to reverberate along the tunnel of the Lost Time mine, and that were accounted by the moonshiners echoes from their own wrangles or mirth or talk as they toiled. He was certain that it did not come now from the still; his fear that his work had been slack, and that his comrades were liberated, was without foundation, but an earthly rational fear is a wonderful exorcist of a ghostly terror. Otherwise, when he thought of it afterward, he felt that he must have been struck dead with the horror of it, when he suddenly heard, close at hand, the sound dulled by the dense medium of the earth, a word of command, as it were, in a queer, strained, false-ringing voice, and then the regular strokes of a pick cleaving the earth with a workmanlike steadiness and precision. His blood ran cold ; for his credulity harbored no doubts. It was the sound of the drowned miners, lost in the flooded shafts, still vainly digging the graves that the niggard earth denied them. The thought mended his speed ; he flew like a shuttlecock from side to side of the narrow passage, where he could but grope, for the lack of a lantern ; and although he often put forth his hands expecting to touch the boards of the partition at the further end, he thrust into his palms a score of the hairy splinters of the reverse side of the rude puncheons long before he could have reasonably expected to reach his goal. He observed none of the precautions and silence common to the moonshiners in their exits from the still ; and indeed the feat was hardly expected to be attempted in the dense darkness. He dropped one of the boards, and the deep, cavernous, clamorous echo coming up from the hollow vaults below almost unnerved him, as it resounded again and again. He had lost control of his nerves. He stumbled over the empty boxes and barrels in the room beneath the store, tumbled up the ladder, and as he clambered from the door beneath the counter he realized for the first time that the room was built, as were many in the meaner cabins of the region, without a window, depending on the door for ventilation and light. This was a matter of precaution with Taft, and being a not uncommon feature in the district occasioned no surprise ; but Larrabee’s heart sunk as he remembered that it was Taft’s cautious habit to lock the door when he himself was not in the store. Feeling that the bars were in place against the battens, he was apprised that it had been thus secured by the worthies down at the still, and perchance the key was now in Copley’s pocket. His only resource would be to retrace his way, all the toil and risk of his escape to be repeated. But no, the bolt turned in his hand, and as he stepped into the passage without his eyes were dazzled almost to blindness by a tallow dip blazing in the hand of little Cornelia Taft, summoned by the noise to investigate its source. Behind her, looking over her head, was Joe’s round, careless, plump face. Larrabee was little less staggered by the monition that there might be other persons at hand in the house than by the expression of Cornelia’s prim, disapproving, unfriendly, intelligent little countenance. The next instant he cared for neither ; a salient change in the aspect of the house claimed his attention. The open passage between the two rooms had been boarded up, and a stout door fitted in, barred and bolted, on which gleamed a strong new lock. There was no key visible. He gazed at the lock with greedy eyes, silent, till the girl’s question had been twice repeated.

“Me—doin’ hyar? Oh, I been doin’ some work fur yer dad,” he said, more at ease, for he had seen her occasionally as he came and went, presumably in the character of customer, and he detected recognition in her calm and non-committal countenance. “ I got shut up in thar, — mought hev been noddin’,— an’ I war feared the door war locked.”He advanced upon the outer door.

“Ye can’t git out’n that one,” said the little girl coolly ; “ hit’s locked on the outside, an’ dad hev goned away ter the cross-roads with the key in his pocket.”

Larrabee’s first impulse was to try his strength to burst it open, and onee more that salutary monition of the probable presence of others in the house controlled him. He turned toward the door of the opposite room, partly to settle this doubt, and partly to discover — it had never before occurred to him to notice—whether it had a window. The room was vacant, and his eager eyes ranged the walls in vain for an aperture.

“It’s like a trap,” he muttered, as he sunk exhausted into a chair. “ What ails ’Renzo ter lock up the house an’ make off with the key, an’ leave you-uns inside by yerse’fs ? ” he demanded.

The two children had followed him into the room. Joe stood by the door, holding by the frame, swaying back and forth, attempting some distortion of attitude impossible to the human configuration ; but the little girl had seated herself staidly in a chair opposite, and showed herself not averse to conversation.

“ ‘Kase thar be sech a lot o’ strange, idle folks in the Cove,” said the prim Miss Cornelia, with an expression of strong disapprobation.

Larrabee could not restrain an exclamation of surprise. It was indeed like a new world, the familiar Cove, so long he had been shut out of it.

“ What folks ? ” he asked succinctly.

“Them ez hev been building the new hotel,” said Sis. “Them, in course.”

“ What they doin’ now ? Ain’t they buildin’ ? ” he hazarded tentatively.

“ Naw,” — the small Cornelia Taft pursed up her lips contemptuously, — “ jes’ a-roamin’ round the Cove in gangs, a-foolin’ an’ a-idlin’, an’, my sakes, a-drinkin’ whiskey, thick ez bees ! ”

A new light was breaking in on Larrabee. Taft had at first desired that he should leave the Cove,— slip away quietly ; now, since it was infested with a troop of scattered workmen, apparently out of a job, all of whom had doubtless spent an idle hour agape over the story of the supposed Jasper Larrabee, the last nine days’ wonder of the Cove, — the facetious freak of the pretended arrest, the miraculous escape of the fall from the cliffs, the mysterious disappearance, the suspicion of moonshining, and the threatened vengeance of the deputy sheriff, — it was scarcely probable that he could get away without exciting notice which might lead to recognition, pursuit, and arrest. He was safer at the still, — this he himself admitted now, — far safer in the depths of the earth; except, indeed, for Taft and his fellows.

“ Did you-uns see the fire? ” demanded Joe suddenly, still writhing and twisting against the door frame. “ I did ! ” in triumph.

“Ye would n’t ef I hed n’t a-woke ye up,” said Sis, with acerbity. “ I ’low ye didn’t see much nohows, bein’so sleepyheaded.”

Larrabee sat looking in surprise from one to the other, his questions anticipated by their eager relish of the subject.

“ Dad never seen nuthin’! ” cried the boy triumphantly.

“ Dad would n’t b’lieve thar war a fire till he went an’ viewed the cinders of the hotel,” said the girl.

The hotel! A sudden suspicion smote Larrabee, a recollection of the threat to burn the building which had originated amongst the moonshiners before a stone was laid in mortar or a timber lifted. He did the craft injustice in this instance ; Taft and his confrères had no part in the conflagration. But with Espey out of control, and Larrabee touched with the suspicion of moonshining, a chance word might fix upon the distillers this far more serious crime known to them both to have already been broached here. There was much reason for his detention, — too much. He must be going, and that shortly.

“ I wonder ye all ain’t feared o’ burnin’ up in hyar, locked up,” he said suddenly, the catastrophe seeming to render the danger of fire more imminent, although he knew it to be the habit of the country folk to lock small children in when convenient to leave home without them.

The little girl’s thin lip curled.

“ Ef we-uns hain’t got no mo’ sense ’n ter set the house or ourse’fs afire, I reckon we’d be wuth ez much roasted ez raw,” she replied.

“ Dad, he locked the door so we-uns kin tell them stragglers ez he be gone, an’ they can’t git in ter trade fur drink,” put in Joe.

Larrabee said nothing more. He knew full well that the children were not so alone as they seemed, since old Copley was wont to be back and forth to the store, in Taft’s absence, often enough to be at hand should he be required to suppress any disturbance ; and being a near relative, he had a personal interest in their safety. Miss Cornelia Taft was a fine combination of her father’s shrewdness and her grandmother’s preciseness. As Larrabee felt her small discerning eyes studying him, he became conscious that he was looking about wildly and with manifest anxiety as to his next step. He made an effort to allay her dawning curiosity.

“Things look powerful nice an’ cle’n up in hyar,” he remarked casually.

He was unprepared for the effect of his words. If Miss Cornelia Taft had a soul, it was expressed in her housewifely instincts. In a dozen frantic and funny juvenile misconceptions the precepts brought from Mrs. Jiniway’s domicile were put into practice here. The basis of them all, cleanliness and an effort for order, was plainly apparent, and Sis spent the better part of her days in seeking to impress upon Joe’s unwilling mind the value of an occasional dishwashing, and the utility of wood ashes in scouring. An evil day, Joe considered it, when she came into his ragged, soapless, happy-go-lucky life; but Taft connived at their wranglings over their primitive housekeeping and Joe’s subjection. “ Keeps Sis busy, an’ lets me git on her blind side, — ef she hev got enny blind side,” he added grimly.

Her pallid face flushed, her eye sparkled ; she cast a glance of triumph at Joe, who had seated himself in a chair, and was twisting his bare feet in and out of the rungs in a way painful to witness, if not to experience, writhing his body to and fro, and rolling his head from side to side over the high back of the chair in a restless frivolity of motion that certainly had no family resemblance to the staid “manners” which Mrs. Jiniway’s disciple exhibited.

She had entered volubly upon a detail of her exploits here in reforming Joe’s misrule amongst the pots and pans and kettles.

“ Dad’s so ’way from home, an’ Joe’s so tur’ble shif’less,” she complained.

The task of redding up the Augean stables was slight in comparison, one might believe, to judge from her show of horror now and then, and there was considerable difference between the size of Sis and of Hercules. She had succeeded in reaching some sense of culinary propriety in Joe, or pride, for he now and again became sufficiently still to look poutingly sullen, and to ejaculate, “ ’T ain’t true ! ” “ ’T war n’t! ” and similar disaffected negations.

“I l’arnt all that whenst I lived with my granny,” she concluded her exposition of the true methods of dealing with the trivet and the skillet and setting the house in order. “ An’ when we war done, we ‘d knit stockings an’ tell tales.”

“Tales ’bout what?” asked Larrabee, seeking to conciliate her, for he began to have a shrewd suspicion that she could aid him if she would. His interest was the more easily simulated, for he had a literary taste himself.

“ Oh,” she cried, with a little bounce forward, not unlike Joe’s elasticity, “ them in gineral we-uns hearn the rider read, — ’bout Sam’l.”

“ I hev read ’bout Sam’l,” said Larrabee quickly, with an air of playing willingly to her lead ; and indeed she had struck him on his strong suit. “ An’ old Eli. Eli war an able man, but he never ’peared ter me ter hev much jedgmint.”

“ I jes’ lo-o-oved ter hear ’bout leetle Sam’l an’ his mother, an’ her a-bringin’ him of new clothes. He wore a white shut, an’ she brung him a leetle coat every year,” continued Sis, with placid eyes shining with the delighted reminiscence of the little prophet’s fine gear.

“ Eli never could hev led the childern of Isrul through the wilderness like Moses done,” said Larrabee meditatively, reverting naturally to the elder character ; whereas with Sis the personnel of the Bible was chiefly juvenile, rarely attaining a greater height than four feet.

“ Jes’ ter think,” she cried, “they put Moses whenst a baby in a leetle dugout, an’ anchored him ’mongst the willows under the ruver bank, an’ lef’ him by hisself! Don’t ye know, he hollered an’ hollered! An’ he wondered whar all the folks war gone.”

“ An’ Dan’l I hev read about,” continued Larrabee.

“ In the painters’ den ! Oo — oo ! ” The little girl shivered with a sort of enjoyment of the terror of the situation, drawing up her shoulders, and holding both hands over her mouth.

“ He war n’t feared. I reckon he mas’ hev been a powerful hunter whenst young. I wonder ef he ever hed enny ’speriunce with wolf an’ bar, an’ sech ? ” Larrabee speculated.

“ Them bars ! War n’t that awful, — plumb turrible ! ” exclaimed Sis suddenly, her scanty brows knitted as she frowningly recoiled into the back of her chair, and her small eyes grew large. “ Them two bars what eat them forty childern, — though ’t ain’t manners, an’ it never war, ter make game o’ yer elders.”

“ ’T ain’t true ! No two bar ever eat forty childern. They ’d hev bust ! ” Joe interposed realistically. “ Sis jes’ made that up out’n her own head.”

“It air true,” protested the little Biblical student. “ I hearn the rider read it myself.”

“ Them childern war obleeged ter be sorter sizable ter hev quit bein’ baldheaded tharse’fs, ef they war able ter run an’ p’int thar fingers. An’ shucks ! I hev been sassier ’n that a many a time, an’ no bar hev eat me yit,” said Joe hardily.

“ Ye air savin’ up fur Satan, I reckon,” retorted Miss Taft, with acerbity. “ I hev a heap o’ trouble with this boy,” she added, turning a dreary, disgusted little face toward Larrabee.

Their unity of literary interest had fostered a degree of sympathy for her. “Ye oughter go down sometimes an’ set at Tems’s,” he suggested. “ He hev got a darter an’ a niece, though they air older ’n ye be.”

“ I don’t mind old folks,” said Cornelia, evidently with no idea of the gradations of age. “ I be used ter granny. I wisht dad would marry one of ’em at Tems’s,” she added.

Larrabee glanced keenly at her.

“ What ails ye, ter say that ? ” he asked jealously.

“ I’d like ter see a tuck took in Joe,” said Sis bitterly.

She obviously spoke without further information or meaning. Larrabee rose restlessly, the interest of the literary symposium at an end.

“ I wisht ye could let me out’n hyar somehows,” he said, glancing uneasily about. Then, with a sudden recollection, “ Ain’t you-uns got a key ez would open the sto’ door, what ye brung from yer granny’s house ? Mebbe ’t would open t’other.”

“Dad took it; he did n’t want the sto’ do’ opened whenst he hed locked it.”

“ Hain’t you-uns got no mo’ keys, no kind o’ keys ?

She hesitated, but he had won upon her somewhat obdurate predilections; his acquaintance with the heroes of the tales that she had learned at her grandmother’s home was a pleasing and fresh bond of interest. She divined his sympathy, and had seen his approval of the works she had wrought in the service of order and cleanliness ; he saw in her little prim face that she had keys at hand, and presently she nodded brightly.

Let’s try ’em,” he urged, as if the experiment had a mutual interest.

It was a bunch of two or three rusty old keys which she produced, held together with a rough leather string, but they meant liberty and life to Larrabee. He could hardly be still long enough to clean and oil them before the attempt which should be decisive. The little girl rubbed one with a will, while he busied himself with the other. She held the candle as he knelt tremulously on the floor and applied them successively to the lock. One slipped in and turned futilely all round, — too small. The other would not even enter the keyhole.

As he knelt there, the tallow dip showed a white, set face. He was remembering his comrades, bound hand and foot down at the still, and prefiguring Taft’s alarm, — which was in itself formidable in its valiant disregard of all but his own safety, — his resentment and revenge, when their imprisoned estate should be discovered to him. Whatever might betide in the world without, it was death, indubitably, to remain. He rose suddenly, almost overturning the child at his elbow, starting toward the door of the store to get some implement to serve to break the lock.

“ Try a file,” said Sis reasonably, misunderstanding his intention.

She was still holding the candle as he came back, its white light on her precise little face and smooth hair put primly behind her ears, and a tall womanly caricature of her aped her gestures as her shadow stretched up on the new poplar weather-boarding of the partition.

Her suggestion worked like a charm. A few moments of a sharp, rasping noise, while she set her little teeth, a second essay at the lock : the bolt slipped back as if made for the rusty old key that had worked no miracles before save that of opening old Mrs. Jiniway’s “ chist ; ” the door swung open. A glimpse of the windy night, the clouds, the tossing woods, and Sis, putting up the bars again, heard the last echo of Larrabee’s swift step as he strode away.


The day fixed for processioning Kenniston’s land dawned with an element of perplexity all its own to add to the troublous questions which it was expected to decide. The weather was the aptest illustration of uncertainty. The first gray light came with a rolling cloud and a dank wind sweeping along quick gusts of rain ; then the sun rose, diffusive, promissory, with a great lavishness of red and yellow suffusions, a range and degree of rank, heavy color that seemed nearer to the hues of sunset than to the luminous purity and delicacy of wonted matutinal freshness. The slate-tinted clouds were massed once more, the beams failed, the wind brought the rain anew, and when it ceased at last, light mists were stealing along the heavy purple mountains, and rising from every chasm and depression ; even far away amongst those vague contours, gray and dun-tinted and brown, that were like the first lifeless sketch of the dazzling azure ranges that the sunny days were wont to paint with such brilliant softness upon the fair field of the horizon, these vapors, white, soft, opaque, flocculent, could be seen. So from the furthermost reaches to the nearest limits invisibility was visibly garnered.

As Kenniston, perturbed because of the weather signs, turned ever and anon in his saddle, as he rode up and up the mountain to the tryst at the Big Hollow Boulder, he saw now the great outward bend of the mountain, with heavily wooded green slopes under the gray sky, all the coloring heightened by the impending tufty white of the masses of silent approaching vapor; the surly crags of the terrace dark with the moisture and the shadow; and the great black mass of the charred wood still sending up a slow, melancholy thread of smoke where the hotel lay in ruins. And again, looking over his shoulder to verify some half-forgotten detail of the scene, the trees twenty feet away were barely visible in the encompassing medium, so fleetly did the impalpable cloud press upon them. To him, unversed in mountain weather, the enterprise of the day seemed impracticable ; and he was half surprised to see the surveyor, with his Jacob’s staff and his chain-bearers, already waiting at the boundary corner. The figures of the group of men, with their horses picketed hard by, stood out against the inexpressive whiteness about them with the distinctness of sketches on otherwise blank paper. They were easily recognizable even from a distance, and Captain Lucy’s slim proportions and grace of movement further served to differentiate him from the burlier forms of the others.

“ Ah, colonel,” called out Kenniston as he dismounted, “ you here? ”

It might hardly be believed by one who had experienced its causticity, but Captain Lucy’s tongue was blunted of much of its capacities under his own roof-tree by the exactions of hospitality. Now he felt the franchise of the free outer air.

“ I’m a mighty confidin’ young critter, I know,” he replied, advancing a few paces with his hands thrust in his pockets, “ but this hyar man ” — he nodded at the surveyor and affected to lower his voice confidentially—“ hev got the name o’ bein’ sorter tricky, an’ I ‘lowed I hed better kem along like a good neighbor ter holp ye some, else he mought cheat ye out’n a passel o’ lan’.”

The surveyor, a tall, saturnine, businesslike body, took not the slightest notice of this fling, but his two young chain-bearers grinned their appreciation, and the other men laughed outright with evident enjoyment, notably a tall, darkeyed fellow, whom Kenniston presently recognized as the deputy sheriff, with whom he had already had some slight colloquy touching the possibly incendiary origin of the fire that had destroyed the new building. The recollection furnished him with a retort. He had flushed darkly, and his eyes were angry.

“ I should n’t be surprised to be ill treated in any way now in the Cove — after what has happened.”

The laughter was checked by his tone. The men glanced at one another constrainedly. Before his coming, the event had promised to the volunteer assistants an episode of sociability affording the interchange of ideas and jocular converse, the interest of the developments sufficiently great to repay them for the hardship of the steep scramble down the mountain side. The significance of the proceeding was reasserted, and the silence was unbroken until the surveyor, busily adjusting his compass, remarked to Kenniston that he had noted one or two blazes indicating an old line, as he came up the mountain.

“ Ye won’t go a-nigh them blazes! ” cried Captain Lucy sarcastically, waving his hand along an imaginary line. “ Ye take my word fur it, ye won’t see them blazes ’twixt hyar an’ the mounting’s foot.”

Kenniston detected a covert meaning in the tone, and glanced keenly around at the speaker. But Captain Lucy’s face was as enigmatically satiric as his laughter ; and as Kenniston’s questioning stare sought out the son, Luther turned away to avoid meeting his eyes, lowering, anxious, and it seemed somehow conscious. Conscious, too, was the hangdog manner with which the usually bluff young mountaineer spoke to the deputy sheriff Ross, observing that he did not see how the surveyor could get his bearings such a shut-in day as this.

The deputy sheriff had found it easily compatible with his interpretation of his duty to spare the time to assist as idle spectator at anything promising SO much interest and excitement as the processioning of the Kenniston tract. For the antagonism between the disputants had already been noised abroad, and Rodolphus Ross, albeit a “ peace officer ” within the meaning of the statute, was not so attached to the service of the whitewinged goddess that he did not cherish a lively expectation of whatever sport could be extracted from Captain Lucy’s and Kenniston’s belligerent idiosyncrasies. He protested now so clamorously that it might seem he feared that this unique opportunity would be wrested from him, and, assuming the rôle of a trustworthy weather prophet, maintained that whenever it rained before twelve o’clock, noon, an early clearance was the certain sequel. The discussion and the aspect of the weather diverted the general attention from Captain Lucy’s singular words, and from Luther’s unwillingness to proceed and surly disaffection.

But Kenniston, whose already keen observation was whetted by the appreciation of the enmity he sustained and the magnitude of the disaster that had befallen him, followed Luther’s motion with an alert, apprehending eye, and hardly lost sight of him even when the mists swept between them and gave him but a distorted looming presentment of the young mountaineer ; though thus caricatured, Luther never lost for a moment his uncharacteristic and already significant demeanor. Small as the group was, the figures of two or three were now and again abstracted from it, as if literally caught up in the clouds, slowly materializing again as the mists shifted. The horses hard by were sometimes invisible in the dense white medium, and anon only their heads would appear here and there in various attitudes, like studies for a cavalry subject. So even with the Big Hollow Boulder: the corner of the lines seemed to recede, and again was near at hand, in a manner altogether inconsistent with its accepted attributes of immovability as a monument of boundary. The great felled trees, lying close by athwart the outcropping ledges of rock, — traces of the mountain tempest, — were obliterated and invisible in the encompassing whiteness. The chilly sound of the rain beating heavily below in the valley rose on the dank air, and more than once the white gauzy suffusions of the encompassing cloud were pervaded with a transient yellow glow, broad and innocuous reflections of the lightning of the storm cloud of the lower levels.

The surveyor was a tall, well-knit man of forty-five or fifty, with a square, short, grizzled beard decorating his chin, high cheek bones, a blunt nose, a far-seeing gray eye, and a quid of tobacco that seemed to render him indifferent to the joys of conversation. His high boots were drawn to the knees over his trousers, — a style affected by the rest of the party ; Kenniston’s correct equestrian garb being sufficiently dissimilar to give him that air of peculiarity and modishness that somehow seems so unworthy and flippant among plain and humble folk, as if they cared for better things than fashion. It made him a trifle ill at ease, and he had a sense of being out of his sphere, added to the conviction of the vicinage of enemies. He stood with his riding-whip in his hand beside the surveyor as he adjusted his instrument, conscious of sustaining the curious attention of the chain-bearers, two stalwart young fellows arrayed in brown jeans and heavy boots, amply competent for the task of carrying the chain through that rugged wilderness ; conscious, too, of Captain Lucy’s brilliant, laughing, handsome eyes, the doubtful, furtive glances of the others, and Luther’s anxious, troubled gaze.

Suddenly, with an infinitely light, elastic effect that permeated all its vast area, the cloud began to uplift; the great grassy bald of the mountain towering above them showed its vast green dome as it were between precipitous white cliffs of still higher cloud mountains. An eagle’s wing caught the sunlight as he soared above, beyond rifle range, and as he felt the rising wind his keen, exultant cry floated down to them. A tempered white glister suffused all the clouds about them ; the sun was out, and as the illumined masses parted, the blue mountains afar off now glimmered with a dusky section of the quiet valley below, and again were veiled with the gleaming gauze. Between its shining folds a glittering green avenue opened out down the woods, as the surveyor, bending first to take sight, then holding his Jacob’s staff stiffly before him, set out from the Big Hollow Boulder with a fair start and a long, elastic step ; the two chain-bearers in file alertly followed, alternately bowing down and rising again, while the chain writhed through the grass between them like some living sinuous thing, ever and again drawn out tense and straight, and the echoes rang with the strophe and antistrophe of their sudden short cry, “ Stick ! ” “ Stuck ! ” “ Stick ! ” “ Stuck ! ”

It might seem that all the oreads of the Great Smoky were set to flight by this invasion of their sylvan haunts, so many a flitting white robe fluttered elusive among the dense shadows of the trees, gone ere you could look again ; so often a glistening white arm was upflung in the deepest green jungle of the laurel. They sprang up by every shadowy cliff and lurking chasm, by every hidden spring and trickling stream, and fled with tattered white scarfs streaming in the wind behind them. All the way the rout continued as Science came down the slope, led by a compass rather than the sun or the shadow, and with her votaries to mete out the freedom of the wilds, and the grace of the contour of the slopes, and the beauty of herbage and flowering growth, and the largess of the gracious earth, and to reduce all to an arbitrary scale, and judge it by the rod or perch or pole.

The grizzly old surveyor saw naught of this, —not even when, in advance of all the company, he threaded the sun-glinted green glade, and strode almost in the midst of a bevy of white gauze-draped fleeing figures. Nor his chain-bearers, young though they were, and presumably impressionable, — not even when they rose from their alternate genuflections, and their sudden call “ Out! ” resounded on the air, though they stood idle and looked about them while the surveyor paused to mark the “ out.” Nor Captain Lucy, as light and swift on his feet as the youngest, fierce, jaunty, with his clear, defiant eye. Nor Rodolphus Ross, finding great opportunity for mirth behind Captain Lucy’s back as he scuffled along amongst the knot of spectators, keeping up as best they might, skirting the barriers that the surveyor and his chain-bearers, constrained by duty, went over, and tumbling, pulling, and struggling with one another now and then for the best and foremost place. “ Look at old Cap’n Tems ! ” cried Ross. “ Ain’t he the very model of a game rooster ? He ain’t big, an’ he ain’t strong, an’ he ain’t heavy, but Lord ! how he thinks he is!” Nor Kenneth Kenniston, beginning to pause now and again, — albeit he did not flag, despite the hard pull over the impracticable ground, for he was a man of stalwart physique and a practiced pedestrian, — to look instead at the memorandum of the calls of the title deed, which original paper the surveyor held in his hand, in doubt at first, in growing dismay, then in hot and mounting anger. At the next “ out,” when the surveyor set down his Jacob’s staff, Kenniston strode over and tapped him somewhat imperatively on the shoulder.

“ My good friend,” he said, with an evident effort at self-repression, “are you not making some mistake ? You surely are not following the calls as they are set forth in these papers ? ”

To the professor of an exact science the suggestion of mistake is an imputation of incapacity. The claims of the quid of tobacco were disregarded for the nonce. The surveyor spoke, albeit with his mouth full, and spoke to the point :

“ I reckon I know what I ’m about, Mr. Kenn’ston. If you don’t like the way I ’m runnin’ this line, run it yerse’f.”

“ The blazes on those trees on the side of the mountain, that you called my attention to, indicating the old line, are away over yonder on that sharp ridge.” Kenniston waved his hand with the paper in it toward a high rocky crest to the left; then he fixed insistent eyes on the surveyor, and stroked his full brown whiskers mechanically with the other hand.

The surveyor followed with perplexed eyes the direction pointed out. He gave a little puzzled sniff, as if he sought to smell the line. Then he reverted to that prop of common sense, his Jacob’s staff.

“ D’ ye want me to run the line according to the compass and the calls of the title papers, or by the old blazes scattered about in the woods on the trees ? ” he demanded. “ You don’t know whether they ever were intended to mark the line, nor who put ’em thar, nor for what. I know they ain’t no kin ter the line I’m runnin’ now, ’cordin’ ter the calls an’ the compass.”

Once more he took his bearings, and, holding his Jacob’s staff before him, walked steadily forward into the deeps of the wilderness ; the two sworn chainbearers, who had listened with indignant, sullen brows to the wrangle and reflection on the work, again began diligently to bow down and rise up, as they ejaculated their “ Stick ! ” “ Stuck ! ”

“ Stick ! ” “ Stuck! ” — the clanking of the chain sounding loud and metallic in the sylvan quiet. The other men, with their shadows, all pressed forward in a close squad, for the pause had given the stragglers time to gather.

Kenniston was aware that Captain Lucy carried the sympathies and good wishes of all the company, save perhaps the impartial surveyor, who would suffer himself to be influenced by nothing less just than his compass. He realized that he was looked upon as the “ town man,” and a rich one, desirous of wresting, by a slight technicality of the law, a very little land from a poor man who had in good faith built his house upon it. He had grown extremely hitter in his sentiment toward the people of the section because of the fire in which so much of value had perished, for he believed its origin incendiary. He was conscious of sustaining much antagonism, and he had fiercely resolved to deserve it. He had, in his first uncontrolled rush of anger, declared that he would punish somebody, — the true culprit, if possible ; but somebody should kick his heels in jail for a while, and go to the penitentiary if might be. He did not in reality go so far in feeling as in expression, but his was not a prudent tongue. He earnestly desired success in the matter of the processioning ; the scheme of the new hotel had grown very close to him ; it seemed to him that one log cabin might serve the mountaineer as well as another, and that, moreover, in justice to himself, he should claim his own. He had felt sure, perfectly sure, that his deed called for the land that Captain Lucy held. For the first time, as he clambered with the rest down the rugged slopes, a doubt of this entered his mind. It made him wince from the probable result. He was not prepared to occupy the position of having sought to despoil a man, and a poor man, of his own, his very own, and then to fail. He knew that if he succeeded the countryside would wish that he had failed, and Captain Lucy would be a popular and picturesque object of commiseration. But he could not endure the idea of the rejoicings in his failure. To work a hardship to another was bad, indeed, and he had never contemplated it without the salve of an ample money compensation. To seek futilely to work a hardship was far worse. Again and again he knit his brows, as he gazed at the treacherous annotations in his hand, while the interchange of glances behind him commented on his attitude and his evident state of mind. Captain Lucy, who could not have read a word of the notes, strode on, apparently indifferent to fate, the “ very model of a game rooster,” esteeming Kenniston’s show of anxiety the merest subterfuge ; for would that monument of boundary known as the Big Hollow Boulder have become so nimbly peripatetic, despite its tons of weight, if the line run out therefrom were not to be materially altered for the betterment of the claimant at whose instance the processioning was held ?

And still the chain clanked and writhed its length along the ground, and the cries “Stick ! ” “ Stuck ! ” of the chain-bearers alternated as before, until the sudden call “ Out! ” resounded, and the surveyor paused to mark the “out” once more.

Charles Egbert Craddock.