His Vanished Star
As the surveyor planted his Jacob’s staff anew, he drew a long sigh of fatigue, and gazed out discerningly at the weather signs from over a craggy jutting precipice at one side, which in its savage bareness disclosed from the midst of the dense forest a vast expanse of the tremulous mountain landscape below. The uncertain flicker of the sunshine was now on the green of the wooded valley, which presently dulled to the colorless neutrality of the persistent shadow, albeit the summits of the far horizon line gleamed delicately azure, as if the tint possessed some luminous quality and glowed inherently blue. To the right hung masses of vaporous gray ; and beneath, fine serried lines were drawn in myriads against the darker tints of half-seen slopes, where the rain was falling. Still beyond, a great glamourous sunburst appeared in the mist, with so rayonnant an effect of the divergent splendors from its dazzling focus that it might seem a fleeting glimpse of the actual wheel of the chariot of the sun. It rolled away speedily. A rainbow barely flaunted its chromatic glories across the sky, and faded like an illusion, and all the world was gray again ; from a dead bough starkly thrust out of the wooded slopes halfway to the valley a rain crow was calling and calling.
The other men, too, were looking over the valley, so long obscured by the dense forest trees and still denser undergrowth through which they had taken their way. It seemed much nearer than when they had last seen it from the dome, even allowing for the distance they had traversed, and they noted, with that interest always excited by a familiar scene from a new standpoint, the aspect of the well-known landmarks, all changed and strange. Kenniston had drawn near the verge ; he stood sharply outlined against the sky, a field-glass in his hand, which again and again he brought to bear upon the smouldering black mass on the cliffs far below that once was the new hotel, but now could be located only by the thinly curling smoke from its ruins. The instrument was familiar enough to the mountaineers, who had most of them observed its use during the war ; but to a certain type of rustic an affectation of ignorance is the prettiest of jests.
“Say, mister,” Rodolphus Ross adjured him, with a show of eager anxiety, “ air yer contraption strong enough ter view enny insurance on that thar buildin’ ? ”
The echo caught his laughter and blended it with the rain crow’s call. He was not sensitive himself, and he could not appreciate sensitiveness in others. The fact that the building had perished in the flames, without insurance, was well known to the community ; and how could it help or hinder that he should sharpen his wits by a little exercise on the theme ?
Kenniston made no reply, still sweeping the landscape with his glass. As the surveyor bent to take sight, Kenniston suddenly turned.
“Stop,” he said; “you will stop this farce right here. This is a conspiracy !”
The surveyor, still in his stooping posture, looked at him in amazement.
“Hey?” he exclaimed, as if he did not believe his senses.
“ A conspiracy ! ” Kenniston reiterated.
The surveyor, in the course of his brawny career, had been offered few insults, and these he had promptly requited with stout blows. But the sight of a man who has lost reason, temper, and policy together has sometimes a steadying effect on the spectator. Besides, he was in the performance of a sworn duty, and, being a faithful and efficient officer of the county, he had a high ideal of the functions of his office. He was nettled by Kenniston’s self-magnifying attitude, but it was obviously in order to give him the correct measurements, not of himself, but of his land, and although be retorted it was in good enough temper.
“ Conspirin’ with the meridian line ? ” he demanded, with a sneer, thrusting his quid of tobacco into his leather jaw with a tongue grown expert by long practice in thus clearing the way for its own utterances. “ Or maybe ye think the points o’ the compass have got in a mutiny against ye ? ”
Captain Lucy came alongside the Jacob’s staff, and gave Kenniston a rallying wink, sly, malicious, sarcastic, and altogether unworthy of the fine eye that it eclipsed. “ Conspirin’ with a monimint o’ boundary knowed ez Big Hollow Boulder ? ” he said.
Luther turned away suddenly, with an accession of hang-dog furtiveness in his manner, and Kenniston’s fury was stemmed for the moment by his surprise and doubt and bewilderment. Still with choleric color mantling his face, his eyes bright and wide, his white teeth pressed on the lip which he was biting, — and it was visible despite the thick abundance of beard.—with all the fire eliminated from the angry facial expression he yet retained, he stared silently at Captain Lucy, who was scornfully laughing. The surveyor took advantage of the seeming lucidity of the interval to seek to rehabilitate pacific relations.
“ I can’t help how ye expected the line ter run out, Mr. Kenniston. I’m rnnnin’ it ’cordin’ ter the calls an’ the compass. Ye an Cap’n Tems are here as owners o’ the adjoinin’ tracts, ter see it done fur yerselves.”
“ Not me ! ” cried Captain Lucy. “ I ain’t looked at yer durned bodkin ” (thus he demeaned the magnetic needle) “ sence I kem out. It mought waggle todes the north pole, like ye sez it do, — ’pears onstiddy enough fur ennytldng, —or it mought waggle todes the east pole. I ain’t keerin’. It may know the poles whenst it sees ’em, — though I dunno ef that needle hev got an eye. My main dependence air in that monimint o’ boundary knowed ez the Big Hollow Boulder—corner rock — corner o’ the lines — oh my ! — yes ! ”
The significance of this was hardly to be overlooked.
“ See here, Captain Lucy,” said Kenniston, dropping his aggressions even to the unusual point of giving the old man his accustomed title, “ what do you mean by that ? ”
Captain Lucy gave him a broadside of big bright eyes.
“ Why, don’t you-uns know that monimint o’ boundary knowed ez Big Hollow Boulder — corner mark — been thar so long ? ”
“Well, what about it?” demanded Kenniston impatiently.
“ Why, it’s known ez Big Hollow Boulder, ’cordin’ ter yer own notice posted up at the mill,” said Captain Lucy tantalizingly.
Kenniston still stared, and the surveyor, seeking to cut short a futile waste of time, bent once more to take sight. “ The only way ter git things settled is ter run out the line ’cordin’ ter the calls an’ the compass, an’ I ’m a-doin’ of it fair an’ square.”
“ There is something radically wrong,” persisted Kenniston angrily. Then turning to Captain Lucy, he continued vehemently, “I know — and you know — that Wild Duck River is on my land, and does n’t touch yours in any of its windings ; and look there ! —Wild Duck Falls ! ”
He pointed diagonally across a ravine, where, amidst the dusky depths of green shadows, and close to a gray cloud that came surging through the valley, a narrow, gleaming, white, feathery mountain cataract, with an impetus and a motion like the flight of an arrow smartly sped from the bow, shot down into the gorge.
It transfixed Captain Lucy. He stood staring at it, motionless, amazed, it might seem aghast. For the boundary line that the surveyor was running according to the compass and calls had thrown within his tract this mountain torrent, this wayward alien, which he had known for many a year as the native of the Kenniston woods.
“ It makes no difference, gentlemen, what ye hev ’lowed ye owned, an’ what ye did n’t,” interposed the surveyor: “this boundary line I ’m rnnnin’ out will show ye the exac’ extent o’ yer possessions.” And once more he bent to take sight.
Then he rose and stalked forward, his Jacob’s staff held before him, his eyes intent and fixed, the links of the chain once more dully clanking as it writhed through the grass, and the chain-bearers, with their cabalistic refrain, “ Stick ! ” “ Stuck ! ” bowing down and rising up, as they ever and again drew it out taut to its extreme length between them.
The spectators followed on either hand, plunging into the deeper woods, which, as they interposed before the cliff’s, cut off the view of the wide landscape, that seemed lifted into purer light and more transparent color by the contrast with the bosky shadows as it disappeared, and again was vaguely glimpsed between the boles and hanging branches, and once more vanished, leaving the aspect of the world the bare breadth of the herder’s trail through the laurel.
Two of the men — shaggy of beard and of hair, and shabbier far of garb than the others — gazed at the proceeding with the eyes of deep wonderment and reluctant acceptance, as if it were some incredible formula of necromancy. They were denizens of a deeply secluded cove near by, lured hither by the report of the processioning, and looking for the first time upon the simple paraphernalia of land-surveying,— the chain, the Jacob’s staff, and the compass ; even the surveyor and the chainbearers were only the verification of wild rumors that had reached them. They were not unintelligent; they were only uninformed. The habit and knowledge and experience of the commonplace process which the others possessed might hardly be considered an adequate set-off against such fresh and illimitable capacities of impressionability. Few people can so enjoy a day of sight-seeing as fell to the share of these denizens of “ Painter Flats.”
Kenniston lingered for a few minutes with the field-glass, still sweeping the rugged ravine where Wild Duck Falls gleamed white, swift, amidst the deep, dusky green shadows: disappearing beneath the approaching gray cloud as its filmy gauzes expanded and floated into the larger spaces of the ravine, then piercing its draperies with a keen, glimmering shaft of white light, and vanishing again as the cloud thickened and condensed in its passage through the narrowing limits of the gorge. He turned away at last, the glass still in his hand, following hard on the steps of the surveyor, marking all the successive stages of the proceedings with a keen, alert, inimical observation. He wore a grim, set face, and his manner expressed a sustained abeyance, watchfulness, and a dangerous readiness.
The landmarks were such as were easily common to any line. When the deed had called for four hundred and fifteen poles northwest to a white oaktree, the chain-bearers had brought up, without a link amiss, at the gnarled foot of one of a cluster of such trees. A half-obliterated indentation upon it the surveyor accepted as the specific mark of identification, although others considered it an old “ blaze ” indicating an ancient trail, and Kenniston declared it merely a “ cat-face.” Again, the line, diverging, ran due north eight hundred poles to a stake in the middle of Panther Creek. The chain found the middle easily enough, though not the stake, which was, of course, in the nature of things, a temporary mark, and liable to be carried away in a freshet, or broken down by floating logs or other obstruction. The stream, however, kept an almost perfectly straight line — barring the slight sinuous meandering inherent to a natural channel which did not affect the general direction — for more than a mile through a grassy glade almost free of undergrowth, purling along under the shadow of the great trees and rocks. Thus, if the previous markings were correct, this of necessity depended upon them. The surveyor had a stub driven down, in place of the missing stake, in the middle of the stream, thus re-marking the line according to the law. Once more the chain-bearers, dripping like spaniels from their excursions into the water, began their series of genuflections and their ringing outcry, “Stick ! ” “ Stuck ! ”
All had observed Kenniston curiously during the halt, and the doubt and discussion as to the missing mark, expectant of some wrathful demonstration. If he did not coincide with the surveyor’s opinion, he made no sign. In one sense, his demeanor balked them of the amusement which they had ravenously looked for. He made no protest, which, reasonable or unreasonable, they would have relished. His attitude, his face, his words, were constrained to a stern neutrality and inexpressiveness. He seemed only grimly watchful, waiting. The change itself afforded food for speculation, an entertainment more subtle and of keener interest than his previous outbreaks, if less alluring to the maliciously mirthful spectator. It seemed, however, to disconcert the surveyor more than active interference and aggression. Submissiveness is so abnormal a trait in a man of Kenniston’s type that its symptoms indicate a serious moral crisis. Now and again, the surveyor, pausing to mark the “ out,” appealed directly to him. To be sure, the remark was in relation to the weather, for the clouds were gathering overhead, a slate-tinted canopy, seeming close upon the summits of the tall trees, till a white lacelike film scudding across it in contrary currents of the wind served to show, by the force of comparison, the true distance of the higher vapors. Kenniston had only monosyllables for reply, and the man of the compass could but mop his brow, and listen anxiously to the distant rumblings of thunder, and wish this troublous piece of work well over, and take his bearings anew. When the call in the deed for a girdled and dead poplar-tree was found to have no correspondent mark on the face of the earth, being, as he observed, a mark bound to be obliterated in the course of time, since the tree was dead when the deed, which was of remote date, was written, Kenniston’s silence seemed to have an unnerving effect.
“ Why, look here,” the surveyor broke out in self-defense at length. “ I ain’t got no sort o’ interest in the line except to run it according ter the calls an’ the compass. I ’ll git my fees, whether or no. ’T ain’t nuthin’ ter me which gits the most lan’, you or Cap’n Tems.”
As Kenniston still continued silent, he looked appealingly at Captain Lucy, and, receiving no encouragement, set his teeth, addressed himself to his work, and communed thenceforward with naught more responsive than his Jacob’s staff.
But what, alack, had befallen Captain Lucy ? Did ever a game cock, that had never so much as felt his adversary’s gaff, drop his feathers so suddenly? He was all at once old, tired, anxious, troubled. He tugged along at the rear of the party, lagging and flagging as he had never done on certain forced marches that had seemed a miracle of endurance. For Captain Lucy’s frame had been upborne by his spirit in those ordeals, and now that ethereal valiance had deserted him. For what mystery was this? The moving of the monument of boundary “ known as the Big Hollow Boulder” — he thought of it thus for the first time without the sneer of inscrutable offense which the rotund phrasing had occasioned — had, instead of stripping him of his possessions, resulted in throwing much land, which he doubted not belonged to his neighbor, within his own lines. That Kenniston had himself moved the corner landmark or connived at the commission of this felony, if not otherwise preposterous, was thus rendered absolutely incredible. But who, then, could have moved it ? When ? How ? For what unimaginable reason ? How strange that he should have discovered the change ! And what mad freak of fate was it that it should be he, he himself, who should profit by it, acquiring the legal title to hundreds of acres at Kenniston’s expense? Captain Lucy was an honest man, and the thought made him gasp. Had it been possible, he would at that moment have flung all the Great Smoky Mountains at Kenniston’s feet. No recantation was too bitter, no renunciation was too complete, rather than be suspected, with any show of reason, as he had suspected Kenniston. Not that he cared for the groundless suspicion, but for its justification. This consideration summoned his tardy policy. He must needs have time to think. Were lie bluntly to declare the corner stone to have been moved, it might seem to criminate himself; for albeit the line was running to his advantage here, who could say how its divergences might affect his possessions lower down on the mountain ? “ Windin’ an’ a-twistin’ like the plumb old tarnation sarpient o’ hell!” Captain Lucy vigorously described it in a mutter to his beard.
Moreover, even if the later results were also to his benefit, as it had been notoriously contrary to his wishes that the land should be processioned at all, it might seem that moving the boulder had been his scheme to thus thwart any definite establishment of the line of boundary, — and this was a felony.
Captain Lucy experienced a sudden affection of the spine which appeared to him abnormal, and, at the moment, possibly fatal, so curious, so undreamed of heretofore, were its symptoms. A cold chill trembled along its fibres ; responsive cold drops bedewed his forehead. His hand had lost its normal temperature, and was cold to the touch. For the first time in all his life Captain Lucy’s nerves were made acquainted with the shock of fear. He did not identify it; he could not recognize it. He was spared this acute mortification. He only felt strangely ill and undecided and tremulous, and he doubted his survival. He began to wonder if Kenniston suspected aught. He no longer questioned the genuineness of his enemy’s demeanor earlier in the day, when each unexpected divergence of the line had seemed by turns to perturb and to anger him. Captain Lucy noted the cessation of the protestations, the grimly set jaw, the smouldering fire of the eye, the attitude of tense expectancy and waiting. He wondered if Kenniston were “laying for” him now as he had been “ laying for ” Kenniston. He thought of the intention deferred from “out” to “ out ” loudly to proclaim his discovery of the removal of the corner landmark, of his relish of his enemy’s fancied security in outwitting him. He had only given Kenniston a little line, a little more, as it were, that he might hang himself with it, and now, forsooth, this noose was at his own service.
He felt a moderate and tempered gratulation that he had not been precipitate in the matter; as yet no one knew of his discovery ; but suddenly he remembered his ill-starred confidence to Luther. For the first time he marked his son’s furtive, skulking, downcast manner.
“ Like a sheep-killin’ dog! ” said Captain Lucy to himself, in a towering rage. “ Whatef he do know it’s been moved : did I move it ? ”
He remembered, too, bis reiterated allusions to the perambulatory boulder, and Kenniston’s amazement, which then he had thought affectation, but which he now believed to be quite genuine. Mere they the exciting cause, so to speak, of that grim air of abeyance and biding his time ?
“ The boulder can’t be put back,” said Captain Lucy to himself, suddenly on the defensive. “ Nobody could make out whar kem from fust, ’base it never lef’ a trace on the rock ; an’ a dozen horse could n’t haul it up sech a steep slope. It mus’ hev been blowed down by dam-i-nite.”
It was a fine illustration of a moral descent, impossible to be retraced ; but Captain Lucy did not think of that. His mind was full of the complications of his position, the dangers of disclosure, and the impossibility to him of accepting the boundary line, thus taking possession of another man’s land, even if the owner would compose himself to sleep upon his rights. Judging from Kenniston’s looks, it was easily to be argued that he would prove very wide awake in this emergency.
But for the changing weather signs the old man’s altered demeanor might have encountered other notice than Kenniston’s keen watchfulness. Now and again the thunder pealed among the mountain tops, and the slate - colored cloud had spread until it overhung all the visible world, when they once more drew so near to the verge of the precipice as to have glimpses of the densely wooded cove and the circling mountains. The ranges were all sombre gray or deeply purple, save far away, where some rift in the clouds admitted a skein of sunbeams suspended in fibrous effect over a distant slope that was a weird yellowish-green in this scant illumination that had fallen to its share, rendered more marked by the dull estate of its dun-tinted and purple compeers. Nearer at hand, the shadows were deepening momently in the forest. Once or twice, when the sharp blades of the lightnings cleft them, the lifeless bronze aisles of the woods sprang into a transient glare of brilliant green that was hardly less dazzling, and again the thunder pealed.
Two or three of the mountaineers left the party, evidently with no mind to be drenched. A man with a hacking cough remained, animated by that indisposition to self-denial, that avidity of enjoyment, that determination to seize all that niggard life holds out, characteristic of a type of consumptive invalids. “ ’T ain’t goin’ ter rain,” he declared buoyantly. It might seem that nothing less potent than powder and lead could wean from the sight of processioning the land the two denizens of Panther Flats. They patrolled every step that the surveyor took. Whenever he paused, they came up and stared, fascinated, and at close quarters, at the Jacob’s staff. They counted the chains from “ out ” to “ out.” As one of them observed to the other, he “ was just beginning to get the hang of the thing.” He could keep under shelter at a more convenient season.
A sudden flash that seemed to pierce the very brain, so did it outdazzle the capacity of vision, a simultaneous deafening detonation, beneath which the mountains appeared to quake and to cry out with a terrible voice, while again and again the echoes repeated the thunderous menace, and then all the air was permeated by a swift electrical illumination, visibly transient, but so instantly succeeded by a similar effect that it seemed permanent, — in this weird glare the surveyor bent once more to take sight.
“ Old man sticks ter his contrac’ like a sick kitten ter a hot brick ! ” cried Rodolphus Ross to one of the chain-bearers.
But the chain-bearers had scant sympathy for the spectators, and visited upon the company in general their displeasure because of the reflections upon the “ old man’s ” work, for which Kenniston alone was responsible.
“ Why n’t ye wear yer muzzle, ’Dolphus ? ” the one addressed retorted gruffly.
Most of the party had now deserted the spectacle, in deference to a timely admonition as to the fate of the horses picketed on the “bald,” and their peculiar susceptibility to the fear of lightning. When the progress of the surveying again brought its adherents to the verge of the mountain and an extended outlook over the valley, there remained only the two men from Panther Flats, Rodolphus Ross, Captain Lucy, the chain-bearers, the surveyor, Luther, and the owner of the tract at whose instance the processioning had been made.
As they looked out over the gray valley, distinct under the sombre sky, as though only color, and not light, were withdrawn, — Captain Lucy’s cabin, the inclosures, the grim black crags beyond, the smouldering mass of the ruins of the burnt building, even the shanties of the workmen in the gorge at the foot of the cliffs, all perfectly distinguishable in their varied interpretation of gray and brown and blurring unnamed gradations of neutral tones, all overhung by the storm-cloud definitely and darkly purplish - black, with now and again, one knew not how, fleeting lurid green reflections,— Kenniston, brisk and dapper, lightly tapping his spurred boots with his riding-whip, smiling debonairly, but with a dangerous sarcastic gleam in his fiery eyes, stepped up to the surveyor. He carried his field-glass in one hand.
“ Now, if you will come a few paces this way, — and you, colonel,” in parenthesis to poor Captain Lucy, — “ and use your telescope, you are obliged to see that if you run out the line seventeen hundred poles to the north, according to the deed, you will go beyond the site of the hotel. I seem to have built my house on the colonel’s land. It was your house that was destroyed, colonel. Let me beg you to accept my condolences, — ha, ha, ha ! ”
A flash brighter than all that had preceded it, and his satiric laughter was lost in the roll and the reverberation of the thunder. A sudden darkening overspread the landscape, like a visible thickening of the clouds ; the form of a horse darted along the verge of the precipice, so swift, so gigantic, defined against the green suffusions of that purple-black storm-cloud, that it seemed like the materialization of the hero of some equine fable. A wild cry went up that the horses had broken loose, and were stampeding through the woods. A terrible wrenching, riving sound followed another flash, and they could see a stricken tree on the slope below, in the instant before the blinding descent of the torrents. The wind rose with a wild screaming cry; the forests bent and writhed; no one of the party could discern his neighbor’s face ; and, despite the pluck of the surveyor, the processioning of the Kenniston tract remained untie Llied.
Captain Lucy enjoyed in his own family an immunity from interference, criticism, and filial insurgency that was truly patriarchal. His word was law ; his every thought was wisdom ; all his dealings embodied the fullest expression of justice. Until his unlucky disclosure to Luther of his discovery of the strange removal of the Big Hollow Boulder, and the interpretation he placed upon it, imputing to Kenniston a crime of such importance, involving consequences so grave, his son had never entertained a moment’s doubt of the sufficiency of his prudence, the absolute infallibility of his judgment, the integrity of all his prejudices, notwithstanding his arbitrary temper, his high-handed methods, and his frequent precipitancy. Such remonstrance as ever was ventured upon usually emanated from Adelicia, in the interest of her pacific proclivities ; or to sue uncle Lucy’s clemency for some object of his most righteous displeasure ; or to prevail upon him blindly to consider some untoward chance a blessing in disguise. Now and then, too, she indulged in some solicitude lest the affluence of his courage should lead him into danger. But to his own children “ dad ” had always seemed more than capable of coping with all the forces of nature, animate and inanimate ; and as the day of the processioning of the land wore on, Julia listened, with her silent smile of sarcastic comment, to Adelicia’s monologue of arguments of alternate fears and reassurance for uncle Lucy’s sake. First, lest Mr. Kenniston should succeed in unjustly wresting some of his land from him. “ But,” she declared buoyantly, “ the surveyor won’t let him ! ” Then, lest a personal collision might ensue, to her bellicose relative’s injury. “ But uncle Lucy ain’t been often tackled ; ennybody kin see he’d hev a mighty free hand in a fight.” And again she was reduced to fear simply that things in general might fall out to the magnate’s dissatisfaction. “ But uncle Lucy ’s been mighty mad a heap o’ times before, an’ ’t ain’t set him back none,” she argued blithely. And so the atmosphere within cleared as the sky without darkened, and the domestic industries went forward apace.
It was during one of the deceptive withdrawals of the lowering storm-cloud, revealing great expanses of blue sky, when the sunshine was a-flicker once more over the landscape, albeit somewhat wan and tremulous, and a wind had sprung up, faint and short of breath, and disposed to lulls and sighs, but still setting mists and clouds astir, that Julia set, forth upon an errand some distance up the Cove. It had chanced that a hen, with the preposterous hopefulness of the species, had gone to “setting” in the orchard upon an unremunerative assemblage of fallen apples, in default of more appropriate material; for, in ignorance of the fowl’s intention, Adelicia had fried the last eggs for breakfast. Her momentary dismay was dispelled by the recollection that Mrs. Larrabee had promised her a “ settin of special an pereise tur-r-key aigs,” and, equipping Julia with a basket, she sent her forth to claim this pledge.
But in lieu of the hospitable welcome and the eager fulfillment of the promise, the reminder of which Mrs. Larrabee would have regarded in the light of a courtesy and a favor, Julia encountered at the door of the queer little house Henrietta Timson, her snuffbrush, her small unlighted eyes, her narrow discontented face, and her little brief authority oppressively in evidence.
“ Waal, I do declar’,” she said, regarding Julia sourly, when the errand was made known. " I dunno what Sist’ Lar’bee means, ’ — for Mrs. Timson was unfailing in the sororal appellation of church-membership, since she enjoyed no closer relation to Mrs. Larrabee. “ She done gone off a-pleasurin’ an’ a-jauntin’, an’ lef’ me hyar with this whole houseful ter ’tend ter, an’ ter work fur, an’ ter feed, an’ ter mend, an’ the neighbors ter pervide with aigs, — an’ tur-r-key aigs at that! ”
Julia Tems’s experience of life had been crude and scanty and monotonous. She had lived the successive uneventful years since her infancy at the little cabin down in the Cove in the humble domestic routine, without education of any sort, except perchance such as might be gleaned from the sermon of a stray circuit rider; without the opportunity of observation ; with the simplest, most untutored, most limited association. It was to be doubted if she knew a score of people in the world. But this was her first encounter with discourtesy.
She flushed scarlet under the shade of her brown sunbonnet, not with anger, but with shame: she was ashamed for Mrs. Timson. She hardly felt the affront to herself at first; the flout at the proprieties in the abstract nullified for the moment all personal consideration. She was not conscious of a retrograde movement, for her instinct was to terminate the interview. She found herself murmuring, “ It’s jes’ ez well,—jes’ ez well, in an apologetic cadence which would have befitted Mrs. Timson’s voice, and moving backward continuously, in her eager haste to be gone. She could with philosophy have beheld every hen that had ever owned the Terns sway in the grotesque catastrophe of patiently seeking to hatch apples, rather than prolong the ordeal for a moment.
But Henrietta Timson had hardly anticipated routing the invader so promptly. Noting Julia’s eagerness to be gone, she perversely thwarted it by stepping briskly down out of the door, remembering to put her hand to her side, with a suffering look and an affected limp.
“ I ’lowed ez I hed hed tribulation, but I never seen none sech ez now. Sist’ Lar’bee gone, — tuck one o’ my chil li with her! ” She shook her head with a dolorous accusation that might have become her if “ Sist’ Lar’bee ” had been a kidnapper, and the hero of the rickets had gone for aught but to insure being properly fed and provided for. “Jasper Lar’bee’s disappeared; an’ ole man Haight I do b’lieve hev gone deranged, — sets an’ cusses the Lost Time mine all day ; an’ Jerushy’s husband’s drunk, — ’pears like a rat-hole, ye can’t fill him up; an’—hev ye seen Jasper Lar’bee down yer ways ? ”
“ Not fur a long time,” faltered Julia, still retreating a few steps at intervals down the rocky, ledgy dooryard,
“ Waal, I ’ll tell him ez ye war hyar, an’ ’lowed it ’peared like a long time sence ye seen him,”said Mrs. Timson perversely, with the air of taking a message. “ An’ ” — her small eyes narrowed — “ ef I find enny tur-r-key aigs, I ’ll let ye know.”
She looked with a sour smile after the girl’s light figure, for Julia was now fairly in retreat.
“ I ’ll let ye know, too,” she muttered, “ ez we ain’t got none o’ Mis’ Lar’bee’s slack - twisted ways hyar now. — givin’ away a settin’ of tur-r-key aigs. I say ! ef I find enny tur-r-key aigs, I ’ll send ’em down ter the store ter trade. I be mos’ out. o’ snuff now.”
Then she meditated swiftly upon her theory that Mrs. Larrabee had reasons of her own for all her good works ; that they were subtle investments, as it were, sure of a return in better kind, and quadrupled in value. She could evolve no view in which the promised “ settin’ of tur-r-key aigs ” could figure as assets save for a general conciliatory purpose ; and then she remembered that Captain Lucy was a widower. A sneering smile stole over her face, arrested suddenly by a grave afterthought : if for this reason the family were worth conciliating for Mrs. Larrabee’s sake, surely more for her own. “ Lord knows, I need a house, an’ home, an’ land, an’ horse critters, an’ cows, an’ sheep, an’ hawgs —he hev jes’ two childern, an’ them growed, an’ that niece gal could be turned out” (she hastily ran over the list of Captain Lucy’s earthly gear, omitting only that important possession, himself) — “ a sight more ’n Mis’ Lar’bee do, ennyhows.”
With a sudden change of heart, she ran to the road, holding her hand to the level of her eyes to shade them from the glare of the sun ; but look as she might, there was not a flitting vestige to be seen of the dark briokdust red, the color of the dress which Julia wore. She called again and again without response. She thought the girl must surely have heard ; then she reassured herself by the reflection that the wind was blowing a gale, and doubtless the sound of her voice went far afield.
Its shrill pipe might have been easily enough distinguishable to ears that would heed, although the surges of the wind beat loud on every rock and slope. Julia took angry note as she went swiftly on and on, her skirts flying, her bonnet blown back, her heart hot with wrath against Mrs. Timson, against herself, against Adelicia who had sent her on so ill starred an errand. Her eyes and her gesture were singularly like Captain Lucy’s, as, threading the narrow path above the precipice, she paused and flung the empty basket into the wilderness below, and then walked on less swiftly, her tense nerves relaxed by this ebullition of rage. Like Captain Lucy, too, she felt the better for it, albeit she realized as he never would have done that the basket would be sorely missed at home. With the riddance she somehow discharged her mind of the thought of the Larrabee threshold, of her inhospitable reception there, of the whole ignoble episode. She looked out with a sort of enjoyment at the muster of the clouds, the gathering of rank after rank ; ever and again her unaffrighted eyes followed the swift yellow lightnings darting through the gray masses, and, looking from the height of the precipice on the mountain side, she seemed to stand just opposite them. Lower down on the wooded slope across the narrow valley, she could see the track of wind, which never touched those silent, vaporous congregations, motionless, or coming with contrary currents from opposite directions. The trees below bent and sprang back into place, and she could hear the sibilant shouting of the leaves. It was like a myriad of shrill tiny voices, but they combined into a massive chorus. The growths hard by were adding a refrain; the wind was winning new territory as it came up the mountain. She could see far away a cloud torn into fringes, and presently the rain was falling. It was coming nearer and nearer; she would meet it long before she could reach home. She quickened her steps at the thought. Sometimes the growths intervened on both sides of the path, and shut out the observation of the coming storm. Whenever she emerged, she noted the darkening aspect. More than once the thunder shook the very mountains. Suddenly, a searching, terrible illumination, the rising of the tumultuous wind, a frightful succession of peals, brought her to a pause. She hardly dared to face a storm like this, shelterless, and the store at the Lost Time mine was close at hand. Nevertheless she hesitated for a moment. Captain Lucy’s well-worn jest as to the “ perfessional widower ” was hardly so funny to her as to him. She stood, disconcerted, conscious, averse, in the teeth of the storm, her dress fluttering, her bonnet tossed back from her shining coiled hair, her eyes bright and wide and wistful, and the breath almost blown back from her lips. Then she noted suddenly the portal of the Lost Time mine. She did not pause to reflect; to dread the long, darkening, solitary afternoon in its dim recesses ; to remember the terrors of the mine’s traditions, and what ghostly presence she might meet, and what sepulchral voices she might hear, in the awful isolations of the coming storm, when all the laws that govern the outside world seemed set at naught; and if ever the supernatural should break bounds, it might be at a place like this. She ran against the wind as swiftly as she could ; skirted the water on the stones in the channel at the mouth of the cave, now more deeply submerged than their wont, for the stream was rising visibly, its underground tributaries already fed by the rains falling elsewhere ; felt with a shiver the chill of the place, as the high, grim, rough - hewn rocks towered above her head; climbed up on the inner ledges; and as the first floodlike outbreak of the torrents came down with a crash of thunder, and a glare of lightning, and a wild shrieking of swirling winds, she sat down, high and dry, and drew a breath of relief.
The next instant Julia’s heart gave a great plunge, and then seemed to stand still. She was not alone. A man in a further recess appeared, approaching cautiously. He evidently had not seen her. Her entrance into the place had preceded his appearance only by a few seconds. He was watching the rain with intense interest. She would have said that he had been apprised of it by the rise of the water within. He bestowed an eager, careful, calculating scrutiny upon the stream below the high shadowy point where he stood ; then he looked toward the portal where the descending sheets of rain cut off all glimpse of the world without. He was turning away, with the furtive, skulking, cautious air that had characterized his approach, when his eyes fell upon her. He dropped out of sight as if he had been shot.
She sat there, silent, trembling, her eyes fixed upon the spot where he had disappeared, her heart beating wildly. She heard the flow of the stream below, its volume and momentum continually increasing, and the foaming turmoil where the currents met the dash of the rain at the outlet of the mine ; now and again she was conscious that lightning flashed through the gray and white descending torrents without, and lit up this dreary subterranean recess with its uncanny glare for a space, till distance annulled its power, and she heard the thunder roar. But she did not withdraw her eyes, and she wondered if he had known her in that short moment as she had recognized him. For it was Jack Espey.
She sat there so long, waiting for some sign, or token, or further intimation, that she might have thought the apparition a mere illusion, had she ever heard enough of the tricks of the imagination to learn to doubt her senses. She was trembling still, although her voice was calm enough as at last she called his name.
“ Jack Espey ! ” the echoes cried out, as promptly as if it were a familiar sound and long ago conned. They fell to silence gradually. She did not call again, but, with her slow and composed manner, she waited for him to answer.
When he finally approached, apparently ascending an incline from depths below, he met her intent gaze fixed upon him ; but she seemed to him as impassive and as unmoved of aspect as if this were a daily occurrence in her life.
“ I war in hopes ye did n’t know me, Julia,” he said, dully sad, as he came up near her.
He stood leaning his elbow on one of the ledges of rock, looking up at her, mechanically shielding himself behind the jagged edges from observation without, although it might seem naught could stand in the storm that raged beyond.
His plight was forlorn. His clothes were worn and torn, and miry with clay ; it adhered in flakes and smears to his long boots, incongruously spurred. His face was lined and white. His hat was pushed far back on his black hair, as of yore, and his long-lashed grayish - blue eyes had an appealing look which she had not seen before.
“What fur ye wished I wouldn’t know ye ?”
He looked hard at her. “ ’Kase it’s dangersome. I’m a man hunted fur my life, I reckon. It’s dangersome fur me, an’ fur ye too, ter know I be hyar.”
“ It’s jes’ ez well I ain’t one of the skeery kind, then,” said Julia hardily. “ I be powerful glad I seen ye hyar.”
She seemed curiously unfamiliar to him in some sort. So alert had his faculties became in the suspense of jeopardy that this slight point perturbed him, until he bethought himself that he had hitherto heard her speak so seldom, and had observed her so little, that the very inflections of her voice were strange. It was of a different timbre from Adelicia’s. It did not vibrate. It had a conclusive flutelike quality, without a trailing sequence of resonance.
“ Waal, I ’lowed ez mos’ ennybody mought be sorry ter see me in sech a fix as this,” he said dolorously.
The deliberate, impassive Julia appeared almost in haste to avert this apparent misconstruction. “ Oh, I war glad ter view ye, ’kase a heap o’ folks ’lowed ye could n’t hev got away ’thout yer horse, him bein’ kilt, an’ ez. ye war a-lyin’ in the laurel somewhar, dead, yit.”
She turned her head, and looked steadily at him. Her deep, dark, translucent eyes were full of shoaling lights of variant blue, like the heart of some great sapphire. The long curling lashes flung a fibrous shadow on her cheek ; its texture, as the light fell upon it, was so fine, so soft, its tint so fair, its curve so delicate. Her lips, chiseled like some triumph of ideal beauty, but that no sculpture could express their mobile sweetness, parted suddenly in her rare and brilliant smile.
Many a man, under its glamours, might have taken heart of grace to be glad that he was alive ; but Espey’s face hardened.
“ ’T would be jes’ ez well, jes’ ez well, lying dead in the laur‘l,” he said bitterly. Then, with an afterthought, “ Let them folks stay ’feared. They won’t spile thar health quakin’ an’ shudderin’ 'bout me,” he added cynically. As he marked her expression change, her smile vanish, he realized the necessity to please, to propitiate. He knew her so slightly, his temper must not be too savage and surly with so complete a stranger, and perhaps earn her antagonism, especially since he and his refuge were at her mercy.
“ Course,” he went on, with a clumsy effort at amends, " I don’t mean Ad’licia. Ye knowed we-uns war keepin’ comp’ny ? ”
She nodded gravely.
“ I know Ad’licia hev quaked an’ shuddered ’bout me a heap mo’ ’n I be wuth,” he continued.
Was the day darker outside, or how was quenched that subtle brightness of aspect that had made the girl’s face radiant ? It was beautiful still, that statuesque outline, but as chill and unresponsive as if indeed its every line had been wrought with a chisel. The smooth hair, with its sheen of silken fineness, caught the light on its coiled and plaited chestnut-tinted strands. One hand rested on her brown sunbonnet, laid on the ledge of the gray rock, and she leaned her weight upon it. Her head and her fair complexion — so fair that it transmitted to the surface an outline of the blue veins in her temple and throat, and even her eyelids — and the roseate fluctuations in her cheek were very distinct against the yellow clay of the bank of earth behind her. Her little rough lowquarter shoes and the brown stockings showed a trifle beneath the skirt of the brickdusts - colored homespun dress she wore, as they were placed on a boulder that stood out of the tawny rushing Stream below.
He noted the change. He could not account for it other than as a vicarious resentment.
“ I ain’t faultin’ Ad’licia,” he said, more emphatically. “ She war tormented powerful ’bout me, war n’t she ? ”
“ A-fust,” said Julia veraciously. Her voice was as inexpressive as her eyes. " But Ad’licia is one ez always hopes fur the best.”
He drew back with a sudden recoil. “ Waal, now, by the Lord ! ” he cried furiously, " she’s welcome ter her hope ! Settin’ thar in the house, warm, an’ dry, an’ fed, an’ clean,” — he looked down with a sort of repulsion upon his miry garments, — “ a-hopin’ fur the bes’, an’ makin’ herself mighty comfort’ble an’ contented, an’ me hyar, freezin’ in this cold hole, an’ mighty nigh starvin’, in rags an’ mis’ry, an’ sick an’ sorry, an’ lonesome enough ter die, an’ shet out o’ the light! My God, ef I war n’t ’feared o’ my life, I ’d let the off’cer take me! The State hain’t got no sech term o’ imprisonment ez this! ”
Julia was leaning forward, each line of her impassive face replete with meaning, reflecting his every sentiment, but with the complement of sympathy and acquiescence and responsive anger in his anger.
He turned suddenly, lifting his arm with a scornful gesture toward the low vault with its dank, earthy odor, the ledges of barren, inhospitable rock, the cold stream rushing forth from the darkness within, seen in an appalling blackness adown the tunnel, against which his white-lined face looked whiter, his form taller in his closely belted garb and with his long boots drawn up to the knees. He waved his arm as if to include it all. " An’ Ad’licia, — she hopes for the bes’.”
He broke out into a harsh laugh, which the echoes repeated so promptly, and with apparently so malignant an intent, that he checked it hastily, and the sound died on his colorless lips ; but far down the black tunnel something uncanny seemed to fall to laughing suddenly, and as suddenly to break off ; and again a further voice still was lifted in weird mirth, and the laughter failed midway.
He waited for silence, and then he leaned against a higher ledge near which she was sitting, and, resting his elbow on it, looked at her once more, wondering how he might best revert to his object of propitiation. He was remembering that Adelicia had told him how prone was Julia to notice slights, and how quick to take offense. He felt hardly equal to the effort of repairing the damage of his outbreak against her relative, so spent was his scanty strength by the violence of his anger and his agitation. He could only look at her silently, more forlorn, more pallid, more appealing, than before.
“ I ought n’t ter think hard o’ Ad’licia,” he said at last. “ Nobody else would, I know. Would they? ” he added.
For, with Julia’s silent habit, conversation was somewhat difficult without a direct appeal. It was a direct appeal. She liked to remember that afterward.
“ Waal,” she said, slowly and judicially, as if weighing matters submitted for arbitrament, ‘‘I ’low Ad’licia treated ye right mean, fust an’ las’.”
“ Why ? ” he rejoined, in genuine interest, his face resuming its normal expression before flight and hardship and darkness and loneliness and fear and privation had so marked it.
“ ’Kase,” she went on in that soft, unfamiliar voice that the echoes seemed hardly to follow, so complete, so indivisible, was every flutelike tone, “she oughter married ye whenst ye axed her — ef she liked ye.”
A faint surprise was dawning in his eyes.
“ Cap’n Lucy would n’t gin his cornsent,” he said succinctly.
“ I reckon he ’lowed ’t war his jewty ter say no. But ef Ad’licia hed married ye ennyhows, do ye reckon dad would hev let that leetle fice o’ the law. ’Dolphus Ross, jail his nephew-in-law ’kase a man he fought in Tanglefoot Cove mought die ef he did n’t hev the industry ter git well ? Naw, sir ; ye ’d hev hed dad an’ Luther fur backers, an’ they air toler’ble stiff backers fur enny man. Dad would hev fixed a way out’n it fur ye, fur sure, ’count o’ Ad’licia. She war a turr’ble fool not ter marry ye, an’ I tole her so.”
The surprise, the doubt, and at last the conviction successively expressed in Espey’s face might have been easily discriminated by one skilled in reading the human physiognomy. But Julia possessed no such craft, and when he spoke she appreciated no change in his manner, albeit it was not guarded ; for he did not conceive it necessary to screen the discovery of a secret of which he perceived that Julia was herself unconscious.
“Julia,” he said appealingly, “ye see how I be hunted an’ harried, an’ nobody keers fur me. Jes’ let the folks shudder an’ quake fur a while longer ’thout knowin’ what’s kem o’ me. Don’t tell nobody ez ye hev seen me hyar.”
She was gazing out at the steely lines of the rain curtain, so dense as to be like a veritable fabric, as it swayed in the wind at the rugged mouth of the mine, and its foaming white fringes that seemed to trail upon the brown water where the continuous downfall splashed into its currents. The peculiarly clear, colorless light of a gray day, which, in its adequacy for all the purposes of mere vision, pointed the munificence and splendid lavishness of the sun’s bestowals in the interests of beauty and growth and the gladdening of the heart of man, was upon her face, which responded with a sort of subdued glister like marble. Her eyes and the shadowy long black lashes were meditatively downcast. She was evidently reviewing the course of action which she had just sketched for him, for Adelicia, for Captain Lucy. He did not hold her undivided attention, and he realized that it was only a mechanical assent as she nodded, her face still reflective, absorbed.
“Not even Cap’n Lucy,” he urged cagerly. “Not Jasper Lar’bee”— He paused suddenly.
The word seemed to arrest, to enchain, her elusive attention. The delicate roseate tints of her fair complexion deepened from throat to brow; her cheek was vividly red. She was remembering the Larrabee threshold, the greeting she had encountered there, the grotesque indignity of Henrietta Timson’s affronts. But hers was a reticent habit, and she had a reserved nature. She only said, conclusively, slowly, “Ye may be sure I won’t tell Jasper Lar’bee.”
Somehow Espey felt a sense of loss; and he had so little to lose, poor fellow, that albeit her affection was unsought, uncared for, unsuspected till a moment before, the doubt of it afflicted him as if his heart were cruelly rifled. That flush at Larrabee’s name! To him it was conclusive. He had no other indication by which to judge. He had mistaken her sympathy, her idle talk; she was wont to talk so seldom that it was not surprising that he hardly knew how to take her words; he knew so little of her and her mental processes. She cared for Larrabee, not for him. Nobody cared for him. And Adelicia was hoping for the best.
“ This be a mighty pore shelter an’ home an’ hope,” he said, grimly looking about him. “I hed prayed I mought crope inter a hole ter hide or die, like a hunted fox or bar or painter be ’lowed ter do sometimes. That did n’t ’pear ter me much fur a man ter ax of the Lord.”
He stood off from the rock for an instant, his big white wool hat in one hand, the other in his leather belt where that formidable array of weapons still gleamed. His head was thrown back from the loose collar of his blue-checked shirt; his straight hair was tossed from his brow; his gray eyes, scornfully bitter, surveyed the dripping walls, — so dark that in the recesses here and there clusters of bats hung head downwards, dimly descried, awaiting the night, — the rugged obtrusion of rock through the clay, the chill, chill flowing of the brown water in the channel below, as ceaseless, as cold, as heedless, as relentless, as in the days of yore when it broke its allotted bounds, rose into alien hewnout caverns, and flooded the mine, wrecking the humble industry of man, wresting away with its grasping currents two struggling human lives, and carrying not even a gruesome memory or token of its deeds upon its sleek waves out into the sunshine, and the free air, and the genial warmth of the upper world.
“ ’T ain’t much I hev axed, — this hole ter starve an’ die in, — but mebbe it’s too much! ” Then, turning, with an eye alight, and a furious flush that made him look all at once well and strong and alert and reckless again, “ But tell whar I be hid out — tell — tell who ye want! Tell ennybody — everybody ! Cap’n Lucy! the sher’ff! Taft! Jasper Lar’bee! ”
And what miracle was this ! The silent, impassive, reserved, reticent Julia fixed her eyes upon him for a moment, amazed, troubled, and then, as she suddenly comprehended, full of a keen but tender reproach. And until that moment he had not known how beautiful those much-vaunted eyes could be. The next they were full of tears, and Julia, leaning back against the wall behind her, had burst into sobs.
“ Tell ! Why, Jack Espey, how kin ye think I could be made to tell whar ye be hid out? ” She turned her head to look at him again with hurt and indignant amazement. “ I ’d die first! Powder an’ lead ” — she hesitated for hyperbole that might express this impossibility — “ all the powder and lead the men shot away in the war times could n’t git a word from me o’ what I hev fund out this evenin’! ”
“ I know it! ” he protested, coming up close to her, as she sat on the ledge. “ I ought n’t ter hev said that, but ye see, Julia, I feel so s’picious, sometimes ; I be so hunted an’ harried, an’ nobody keers fur me or whar I be — ’ceptin’ the sher’ff.” He lifted his eyebrows, with a fleering laugh at his own forlorn estate.
“ I keer,” said Julia stoutly. “ I won’t tell nobody whar ye be hid out, — not even dad, nor Luther, nor nobody, ’ceptin’ Ad’licia.”
He gasped in haste for utterance. He caught at her hand as if he were drowning, — as if she might be gone before he could stay her for a word.
“ Not Ad’licia ! Oh my Lord, no ! Jes’ leave her a-hopin’ fur the bes’ ! ” He had hardly realized how deeply he had resented Adelicia’s optimistic resignation to his fate. His sarcastic laugh was broken off halfway in his eager resumption of his argument. “ Ad’licia mought feel obligated ter tell Cap’n Lucy, an’ ’bide by his word. With her a-hopin’ fur the bes’, an’ Cap’n Lucy’s foolin’ long o’ his jewty ter his orphin niece, I 'll git the sher’ff’s bracelets locked round my wrists; an’ the jail ain’t ez sightly a place ez this beautisoine spot. I be a man fur myself, an’ I can’t ondertake ter cut out all my cloth with Cap’n Lucy’s scissors. Ad’licia’s contented. Leff her be ! She 'll hope fur the bes’ with a twenty horse power.”
He did not remember Mrs. Larrabee’s astute remark in the advice she had given him to the effect that “ perlitin’ round the t’other gal would n’t go so hard with him,” if she were really a “ gyardin lily ” for beauty. He only felt vaguely that he had not heretofore appreciated the radiance of the face that Julia bent upon him ; he did not understand that it was the moment, the unrealized thought, which so embellished it, as she said cogitatingly, “ Naw, ’t won’t do ter tell Ad’licia. I won’t tell her.”
“ See ter it that ye don’t,” he sternly urged her. And once more he was impressed with the idea that he really had not before known how singularly beautiful she was.
“ Ye see, Julia,” he said, lowering his voice confidentially, “ I can’t git away, ’kase I got no horse ; an’ ef I hed one, 1 hev got no money, an’ I ’d jes’ be tuk somewhar, now that the folks hev got sot onto the trail of me. So I ’lowed I’d hide hyarabout till I git news from Tanglefoot ez that man hev got better. Ye see I be hopin’ fur the bes’, too,” he said, with a pathetic smile. It ’s all I kin do.”
“ How do ye git suthin’ ter eat ? ” she asked suddenly.
Espey looked embarrassed. “ Oh, I makes out,” he said evasively. “ I gits out at night sometimes.”
Julia assumed that he hunted or trapped at night for provisions. He noted that she did not argue nor contend, as Adelicia was wont to do. She accepted his arrangements as intrinsically the best.
“I could fetch ye suthin’ wunst in a while,” she suggested.
He looked aghast at the idea.
“Don’t ye do that, Julia,” he said warningly. “It mought git ye or Cap’n Lucy liable ter the law. Don’t ye do it. I ’ll make out somehows.” Then seeing her reluctance, “ Ef I need ennything, or want ter git communication with folks outside, I ’ll let ye know. I ’ll — I’ll put this hyar pipe in a nick in them rocks, jes’ west, clost inter the freestone spring nigh yer dad’s house.”
She listened, breathless, and beamed with delight at the feasibility of this plan.
“ An’ whenever I pass hyar,” she said, with wide, illumined eyes and a flickering flush of excitement, — “ an’ I ’ll kem frequent, — I ’ll drap a wild flower in the road. An’ ye will see it, an’ know I hev been by an’ been a-studyin’ ’bout you-uns. An’ that will be plumb comp’ny fur ye.”
“ ’T will that! ” he cried. His eyes were soft and bright and dewy. Somehow it Seemed to bind him — that chain of flowers — to the fair world without, which had been slipping away, away forever.
He turned, and looked out toward the rocky egress of the cave as if he almost expected to see already a cardinal flower flaming in the sun on the gray rock.
There was no sun. The rain fell, dense still, — dense enough, doubtless, to preclude all observation from without; but from among the shadows within his practiced eyes descried through the shifting, shimmering veil, now white and gray in shoaling effects, all blown aslant by the wind, a white-canvas-covered wagon lumbering by, albeit for the rush of the stream and the fall of the torrents he could not hear the slow creak of its wheels. His heart was a-flutter, although he knew that the danger of observation was past, as the swaying white hood had disappeared.
“That’s ’Renzo Taft,” he remarked. “ He’s gittin’ back late from the crossroads. I reckon the storm cotch him an’ kep’ him.”
He hesitated. Then, with a sort of falter of humiliation, “ I reckon I’d better go back ter my hidin’ place, Julia. The rain’s slackenin’, so somebody passin’ mought view me. Ye jes’ set hyar right quiet an’ wait fur the rain ter hold up.”
He turned away; then looked back over his shoulder.
“Good-by,” he said.
The girl’s luminous eyes dwelt smilingly upon him.
“ Good-by,” she answered softly.
He took his way along the ledges above the treacherous stream to that blacker recess where the way deflected and the light failed ; he turned once more.
“ I ’ll be a-watchin’ fur them flowers,” he said.
Her smile itself was like a bloom ; he, unaware, treasured the recollection. He seemed to reflect it in some sort. He was smiling himself, as he went down into those sunless depths.
He could not forbear partly retracing his way once, and looking at her as she sat, quite still, gazing out with her eyes of summer and sunshine upon the rain, and the dreary, sad, tear-stained aspect of the world without, whence sounded the sobbing of the troubled wind.
When he came again yet another time, the rain had ceased, and she was gone.
Charles Egbert Craddock.