IT created something of a sensation, one morning, when the juggler — for the mountaineers as solemnly distinguished him by the name he had given them of his queer vocation as if it were the serious profession of law — appeared among the lime-burners on the slope of the mountain. With his sensitive perceptions, he could not fail to notice their paucity of courtesy, the look askance, the interchanged glances. Singularly obtuse, however, he must have seemed, for he presently ensconced himself, with a great show of consideration for his own comfort, as if for a stay of length, in the sheltered recess where the lime-burners were seated at some distance from the fire, for the heat was searching and oppressive. The heavy shadow of the cliff protected them from the sun. Below, the valley was spread out like a map. If one would have dreams, a sylvan ditty that an unseen stream, in a deep ravine hard by, was rippling out like a chime of silver bells swaying in the wayward wind came now to the ear, and now was silent, and somehow invited the fantasies of drowsing. Everything that grew bespoke the spring. Even the great pines which knew no devastation of winter bore testimony to the vernal impulse, and stood bedecked with fair young shoots as with a thousand waxen tapers.
The juggler, lying at full length on the moss, his hands clasped under his head, watched their serried ranks all adown the slope, broken here and there by the high - tinted verdure of the deciduous trees. He conserved a silence that seemed unintentional and accidental, perhaps because of his unconstrained attitude and of his casual expression of countenance, since he apparently took no note of the cessation of conversation among the lime-burners which had supervened on his arrival.
Talk was soon resumed, curiosity becoming a factor.
“ Who’s ’tendin’ the pertracted meetin’ down yander, from Sims’s ? demanded Peter Knowles, looking at Royce to intimate whom he addressed.
“ Only the head of the house,” responded the juggler : “ Tubal Cain, the man of might, himself.”
Peter Knowles still gazed at him with frowning fixity. “ That thar Jane Ann Sims ain’t got no mo’ religion 'n a Dominicky hen,” he observed.
“ Well,” the juggler was fain to contend in a sentiment of loyalty to the roof that sheltered him, “ she is busy; she has her household duties to look after.”
“ Shucks, ye young buzzard ! ye can’t fool me!” exclaimed Tip Wrothers, in half-jocular triumph. “ Don’t all the Cove know ez Jane Ann Sims don’t turn a hand ef Phemie ’s thar ter do it fur her ? ”
“ Yaas,” drawled Gideon Beck, “ an’ Phemie ain’t got much mo’ religion 'n her mammy. Jes’ wunst hev she been ’tendin’ on the meetin’, — an’ this air Thursday, an’ the mourners constant, an’ a great awakenin’. Phemie Sims would set the nangel Gabriel down ter wait in the passage whilst she war a-polishin’ of her milk-crocks, ef he hed been sent ter fetch her ter heaven, an’ she warn’t through her dairy worship.”
“If Mrs. Sims don’t turn her hand, there ’s obliged to be somebody there to turn one. We don’t have any rations of manna served out these days.” argued the juggler. “ It’s well that somebody stays at home. Tubal Cain and I are enough church-goers for one house.”
“ Air you-uns a mourner ? ” demanded Beck, with a sudden accession of interest.
“ No,” answered the juggler, “ though I’ve lots and cords to mourn over.” He shifted his position with a sigh.
Wrothers and Knowles exchanged a significant glance which Beck did not observe. With a distinct bridling he said, " I be a perfesser. I hev been a perfesser fur the past ten year.”
“ It must be a great satisfaction,” responded the juggler.
It was something, however, which he did not envy, and this fact was so patent that it roused the rancor of Beck. One of the dearest delights of possession is often the impotent grudging of him who hath not.
The juggler, despite his assured demeanor, had reverted to that sense of discomfort which had earlier beset him when he went abroad in the Cove. He had marked a certain agitated curiosity in the church as the members of the audience at the “ show ” recognized the man who was deemed so indisputably in league with Satan. But this was merged in the new and fast-accumulating interest of the meetings, and upon a second attendance, barring that he was here and there covertly pointed out to wide-eyed strangers, denizens of further heights and more retired dells, his entrance scarcely made a ripple of excitement. This he accounted eminently satisfactory. It had been his intention to accustom the mountaineers to the sight of him, to have his accomplishments as a prestidigitator grow stale as a story that is told, to be looked upon as a familiar and a member of the Sims household ; all this favored his disguise and his escape from notoriety and question. He had been prepared for the surprise and curiosity which the presence of a stranger in so secluded a region naturally excites. Since learning somewhat of the superstitions and distorted religious ideas which prevailed among so ignorant and sequestered a people, he could even understand their fear of his simple feats of legerdemain, and the referring of the capacity to work these seeming miracles to collusion with the devil. But altogether different, mysterious, threatening, unnerving, was the keen inimical vigilance in Peter Knowles’s eye, and the sense of some withheld thought, some unimagined expectation, which might be apprehended yet not divined, roused afresh the anxiety of detection which had slumbered in the security of this haven and this new life and this absolute death to the old world. As the juggler lay on his back, with his eyes fixed on that deep blue sky of May, fringed about with the fibrous pines above his head, he tried to elucidate the problem. Something alien, something dangerous, something removed it was from the fantasies of the ignorant mountaineer. But for all his keenness and his long training in the haunts of men, for all his close observation and his habit of just deduction, that thin-lipped, narrow, ascetic visage gave him no inkling what this withheld thought might be, — how it could be elicited, met, thwarted. Only one gleam of significance from the eye he interpreted, a distinct note of interrogation. Whatever the expectation might be, to whatever it might be leading, it was not devoid of uncertainty nor of involuntary inquiry.
He attempted to reassure himself. He tried to argue that it was only his consciousness surcharged with its weighty secret which made him flinch when any questioning eye was turned upon him. What could this mountaineer, ignorant and inexperienced as the rest, divine or suspect, — how could he dream of the truth ?
And yet, so much was at stake : his name, his honor, — nay, the sheerest commercial honesty, — his liberty, perhaps even his life. And so far all had gone well! He clung now to his fictitious death as if the prospect of this existence in the Cove had not well-nigh made it real, so had his heart sunk within him at the thought of the future. He said to himself sharply that he would not be brought to bay by this clumsy schemer. Surely he could meet craft with craft. The old habit of transacting business had no doubt sufficed to keep his countenance impassive, and he would set himself to add to the little they knew circumstances of which they did not dream, well calculated to battle preconceived theories.
“No, I ’m not a mourner,” he replied to Beck’s sanctimonious gaze, — “ not much! The kind of sinner I am goes to meeting to see the girls.”
A momentary silence ensued. Not that this pernicious motive for seeking the house of worship was unheard of in Etowah Cove. There as elsewhere it was a very usual symptom of original sin. Few saints, however indurated by holiness against such perversion of the obvious uses of the sanctuary, but could remember certain soft and callow days when the hope of salvation held forth no greater reward than the occupancy of crowded back benches and the unrestricted gaze of round young eyes. It was, nevertheless, a motive so contrary to the idea which Knowles and Sims himself had entertained of the juggler’s sojourn here and grafted on the credulity of their cronies, — a lightsome motive, so incompatible with the grisly suggestions of murder, and flight from justice, and the expectation of capture and condign punishment, — that it could not be at first assimilated with his identity as a fugitive and criminal. His sudden unaccountedfor presence here, the unexplained prolonged stay, the report of the silent preoccupied hours which he spent on the ledges over the river, fishing with an unbaited hook, the troubled silence, the answers at haphazard, the pallid languid apparition after sleepless nights, and, more than all, the agonized cries from out the feigned miseries of dreams, all tallied fairly and justified the theory built upon them. But this new element interjected so abruptly had a disintegrating subversive effect.
“ Waal, ain’t all the gals in the kentry mighty nigh down yander at the meetin’ now ? ” demanded Beck.
He spoke mechanically, for he had lost sight of his effort to induce the juggler to attend upon the means of grace, if ever he had seriously entertained it, and he would not, on sober reflection, have offered this frivolous inducement as a loadstone to draw the reluctant heavenward, — let perdition seize him first!
“ Plenty there, no doubt,” said the juggler uncommunicatively, as if havingtaken counsel within himself.
Old Josiah Cobbs chuckled knowingly, as he sat on the stump he most affected and nursed his knee. “ The right one ain’t thar, — that’s the hitch ! All the gals but one, an’ that one wuth all the rest, hey ? ” He chuckled once more, thinking he was peculiarly keen-witted to spy out the secret of the juggler’s indifference to prayer and praise. He perceived naught of the subtler significance of the disclosure, and easily quitting the subject he turned his head as if to listen.
The sound of the hymning rose suddenly on the breeze. From far away it was, if one must mete out the distance by the windings of the red clay road and the miles of fragrant springtide woods that intervened. But the music came straight through the air like the winged thing it is. And now it soared in solemn jubilance, and now it sank with soft fluctuations, and presently he recognized the tune and fell to humming it in unison with that far-away worship and with that air of soft pleasure in the religious cadences which one may often see in the aged, and which suggests the idea that in growing old hymns are as folk-song on the lips of the returning exile, and in every inflection is the rapture of going home.
The others neither heard nor heeded. They reminded Lucien Royce, as they were grouped around him, — some standing, some sitting or reclining on the mossy rocks in the flickering shade, but every eye fixed speculatively on him, — of that fable of many tongues wherein the beasts of the field find a sleeping man and hold a congress to determine the genus of the animal, his capacities and utilities. He looked as inadvertent as he could, and but for the jeopardy of all he held dear he might have found in the situation food for mirth.
Jack Ormsby, who had not spoken heretofore, sat with a great clasp-knife in his hand whittling into thin slivers a bit of the bird’s-eye maple that lay prone on the ground as if it had no better uses in manufacture than to furnish fuel to burn lime. He suddenly said, regardless of the possible inference and with a certain surly emphasis, “I hev hearn tell ez Euphemia Sims air a-goin’ ter marry Owen Haines.”
“ I don’t believe it! ” cried the juggler.
Swift significant glances were exchanged, as he pulled himself into a sitting posture and looked with challenging controversy at Ormsby. The young mountaineer seemed surprised at this direct demonstration.
“ They hev been keepin’ comp’ny cornsider’ble, ennyhow,” he persisted.
“ Let bygones be bygones,” the juggler said, with his wonted easy flippancy.
Old Cobbs rejoiced in the idea of lovemaking in the abstract. He had not realized who was the girl whose absence apparently rendered the crowded church but a barren desert. He only apprehended that one of the disputants advanced the possibility of a future marriage which the other denied. He sided at once with conjugal bliss.
“ I reckon it must be true,” he urged.
“ Thar ain’t nuthin’ ter be said agin it.”
“ Except he’s a fool! ” exclaimed the juggler, with rancor.
“ Ye mean ’bout prayin’ fur the power ? ” asked Beck.
“A tremendous fool! He can’t preach. He has n’t the endowment, the gift of the gab. He has no call from above or below.”
Royce felt no antagonism to the man, and he realized that they all shared his standpoint, but he was not ill pleased that he should seem to be jealously decrying Euphemia’s lover.
“ Phemie don’t ’low he be a fool, I ’ll be bound,” said old Cobbs. " I hev viewed a many a man ’counted a puffibck idjit, mighty nigh, at the sto’ an’ the blacksmith shop, yit at home ’mongst his wimmin-folks he be a mo’ splendugious pusson ’n the President o’ the Nunited States.”
“ I reckon Jack ’s right,” remarked Beck. “ I reckon they ’ll marry.” This stroke, he reflected with satisfaction, cut not only the juggler, but Ormsby also, notwithstanding the fact that it was the theory advanced by the young mountaineer himself.
“ I 'll bet my hat they don’t,” declared the juggler eagerly.
This suggestion of superior knowledge, of certainty, on the part of a stranger angered Jack Ormsby, who vibrated between his red-hot jealousy of the juggler on one side and of Owen Haines on the other.
“ We-uns know Phemie Sims better ’n ye do ! ” he said, as if this were an argument despite the chameleon-hued changes of the feminine mind. “ Ye never seen her till ye kem ter Etowah Cove.”
“ How do you know I did n’t ? ” retorted the juggler warily. He sat leaning forward, his hat in his hand; his hair, grown longer than its wont, was crumpled on his forehead; he looked at Ormsby with a glitter of triumph in his red-brown eyes.
“ Whar ’d ye kem from jes’ afore ye got hyar ? ” demanded Ormsby huskily.
“ I don’t know why you are so inquisitive, my son,” returned the juggler, airily flouting, “ but since you wish to know — from Piomingo Cove.”
This was true in a literal sense. Since he had been here, and had sought, with that instinct natural to civilized people, to grasp the details of the surrounding country, — some specimens of the genus not being able to sleep until the points of the compass are satisfactorily indicated and arranged in their well-regulated minds, — he had learned that the long rugged valley which he had traversed, with only another cove intervening before he reached Etowah, was Piomingo Cove. They all remembered Euphemia’s recent visit there. The inference was but too plain. He had doubtless seen her at her grandmother’s house down in Piomingo Cove, and, fascinated by her beauty and charm, he had followed her here. And here he lingered, — what so natural! A proud, headstrong maiden like Euphemia was not to be won in a day ; and should he leave her, with Jack Ormsby and Owen Haines inciting each other to haste and urgency, were matters likely to remain until his return as they were now ? Most of the lime-burners’ clique never hereafter believed aught but that this was the solution of the mystery of the juggler’s sojourn in Etowah Cove.
Royce went down the mountain flushed with victory. He had descried a strong and favorable revolution in popular sentiment toward him, and the duty nearest at hand was to make the illusion true and lay siege to the heart of Euphemia.
He was not concerned as to how his wooing should speed. It was only essential that it should be a demonstration sufficiently marked to color his lingering presence here and sustain the impression which he had made on the lime-burners. He said this again and again to himself, to appease a certain repugnance which he began to experience when the idea with which he had lightly played became a definite and constraining course of action. He remembered that in reverie he had even gone so far as to canvass the disguise which marriage might afford, settlinghim here permanently as if he were a native, and, as time should pass, lessening daily the chance of the detection of his identity and of his life heretofore. He realized that this discovery impended at any moment for the next twenty years. He had a great respect for the truth as truth, and its inherent capacity for prevailing ; and this led him to fear it the more. A lie has so fatal a proclivity to collapse. He had often told himself that it was the part of policy to accept life here as one of the mountaineers, content with their portion of the good things vouchsafed, the brand of undeserved shame evaded, the hardship of ignominious imprisonment eluded, the struggle of poverty reduced to its minimum in this Arcadian existence ; for sometimes he realized anew, with a half-dazed sense, that the old life was indeed gone forever, — if for naught else, by reason of his financial losses in the collapse of the firm of Greenhalge, Gould & Fife.
He now stipulated within himself, however, that this was to be only a feint of love-making, — a flirtation, he would have termed it, were it to be illumined by wax candles, or the electric light, or gas, in lieu of the guttering tallow dip. He adduced with a sense of protection — and he could not forbear a laugh at himself and his sudden terrors — the certainty with which he had cause to know that the heart of the fair daughter of the miller was already bestowed on the young " crank,”as he called the man “ who was fool enough to pray for what he wanted.” Yet for all it was to be only a mere semblance of capture, he could but be dubious of these chains with which he was about to invest himself of deliberate intention ; heretofore he had fallen headlong in love and headlong out, and would not have shackled himself of his own volition. Thus he rattled Cupid’s fetters tentatively, timorously, judging of their weight, and with a wish to be safely out of them as well as swiftly into them.
It was but a feint, he reassured himself. On her part, she would have an additional conquest to boast of ; and as to him, all the world — of Etowah Cove — would see with what grace he would “ wear the willow-tree.”
“ Since Phyllis hath forsaken me ! ” he sang airily, as he made his way down the sharp declivity.
Never in all his mental exercitations did he dream of difficulty in conveying to her intelligence an intimation of the supposed state of his heart. It had been his experience that such intimations are like spontaneous combustion : they take fire from no appreciable provocation. Nay, he had known of many wills-o’-the-wisp in this sort, suggesting flame where there was no fire. It is a trait of the feminine creature to often overrate the power of her charms, and to predicate desolation therefrom in altogether thriving insensible hearts. But perhaps because of her absorption Euphemia took no notice of a certain change in his manner toward her, which had been heretofore incidental and non-committal and inexpressive. Mrs. Sims, however, with that alertness to which the meddler in other people’s love affairs is ever prone, marked it with inward perturbation, lest it should attract the attention of Tubal Cain Sims, whose evident antagonism to the juggler she had ascribed merely to a perverse humor. From the beginning, however, Royce had found especial favor in her eyes, — at first because he was so travel-worn and rainsoaked, and fevered and exhausted. Mrs. Sims had not experienced such solicitude since her only child was an ailing infant. Although he disproved her diagnosis of his illness and her arbitrary plans of treatment by appearing fresh and well the next morning, as if he had been newly created, she forgave him his recovery, and liked him because he was so strong and handsome and pleasant-spoken, and in some vague way, to her groping inexperienced realization of the various strata of human beings, so different, and so superior, and so capable of appreciating the wonderful Euphemia that he was really to be accounted worthy of the relenting of fate which permitted him to see her. After Euphemia’s return Mrs. Sims suffered a certain disappointment that the young people took such scant notice of each other in coming and going the household ways, and she was wont to console herself now and then by contemplating them furtively as they sat opposite, one on each side of the table, and fetching the fattest of her sighs to think what a handsome couple they would make! She remembered, however, as in duty bound, Owen Haines, and perhaps she drew from this consciousness deeper sighs than either of the young lovers could have furnished to any occasion. She was not proud like Euphemia, and she thought that if the Lord visited no judgment on Owen Haines for his pertinacity in praying for the power, his fellow saints or fellow sinners — whichever they might be most appropriately called—should be able to endure the ten minutes wasted in the experiment to win the consent of Heaven. But she wished that her prospective son-in-law could be more practical of mind. She realized that he was dreamy, and that his spiritual aspirations were destined to be thwarted. They had sent deep roots into his nature, and she could foresee the effect on his later years, — years pallid, listless, forever yearning after a spiritual fantasy always denied ; forever reaching backward with a regret for the past wasted in an unasked and a spurned service. Her motherly heart went out to Owen Haines, and she would fain have coddled him out of his — religion, was it ? She did not know; she could not argue.
But Euphemia was her only child, and it is not necessary that the materials shall be ivory and gold and curious inlay to enable a zealous worshiper to set up an idol. Mrs. Sims looked into the juggler’s handsome face with its alert eyes and blithe mundane expression, and as proxy she loved him so heartily that she did not doubt his past, nor carp at his future, nor question his motives. The fact of his lingering here so long — for he had asked only a night’s lodging, and afterward had taken board by the week — occurred to her more than once as a symptom of a sentimental interest in Euphemia; for otherwise why did he not betake himself about his affairs ? This theory had languished recently, since naught developed to support it.
Now when she began to suspect that this vicarious sentiment of hers on Euphemia’s account was about to meet a return, Mrs. Sims’s heart was all a-flutter with anxiety and pity and secret exultation. One moment she trembled lest Euphemia should mark the thoughtful silent scrutiny of which she was the subject, until she chanced to lift her long-lashed eyes, when the juggler reddened suddenly, averted his own, and drank his coffee in a scalding gulp. But when Kuphemia evidently was oblivious of him, Mrs. Sims was wroth within her amiable-seeming mask, and said to herself that she would as soon have a dough child, since one could “ take notice ez peart ez Phemie.” Perhaps because of Mrs. Sims’s superabundant flesh, which rendered her of a quiescent appearance, however active her interest, and perhaps because she did not appeal in any manner to the ungrateful juggler’s hypercritical and finical prepossessions, he had no subtle intimations that she was cognizant in a degree of his mental processes, and had noted the fact that he had some purpose in the frequent serious dwelling of his eyes, and manifestly his thoughts, upon Euphemia.
The girl had never been so beautiful. In these later days, that saddened pride which at once subdued and sustained her added a dignity to her expression of which earlier it would have been incapable. It spiritualized her exquisite eyes ; so often downcast they were and so slowly lifted that the length of the thick dark lashes affected the observer like a hitherto unnoted element of beauty. Her eyes always had a certain look of expectation, — now starlike as with the radiance of renewing hope, now pathetic and full of shadows. It seemed to the juggler, unconsciously sympathetic, that those incomparable eyes might have conjured the man bodily into the road where they looked so wistfully to see him, so vainly.
“ Confound the fellow ! ” he said to himself. “ Why does n’t he come ? I ’d like to hale him here by the long hair of that tow head of his — if she wants to see him.” And his heart glowed with resentment against poor Owen Haines, who thought in his folly that a woman’s “ No ” is to be classed among the recognized forms of negation, and was realizing on far Chilhowee all the bitterness of rejected love and denied prayers.
After a while Royce despaired of drawing her attention to him, —he who had been in his own circle the cynosure of all youthful eyes. “ There’s nothing in the world so stupid as a girl in love,” he moralized, irritated at last.
This state of unwilling obscurity developed in him a degree of perversity. He was prepared to assume an attitude of lowly admiration, of humble subservience, the kiss-the-hem-of-your-robe-savefor-the-foolishness-of-it sort of look which might impress her and the rest of the Sims family and all admiring spectators with the fact of how stuck full of Cupid’s arrows he had now become. But this requires a certain receptivity in the object. No man can play the rôle of lover, however lamely, when the lady of his adoration notices him no more than a piece of furniture.
As he passed through the passage one day, she happened to be there alone, tilted back in her chair against the wall, her small feet upon one of the rungs, her curls stirring in the breeze, droning laboriously aloud from the Third Reader, the pride and limit of her achievement.
“ Here,” he said cavalierly, reaching out and taking the book quickly from her hand, “ let me show you how I read that.”
Now elocution had been one of the versatile juggler’s chief accomplishments.
He read the simple stanzas in a style of much finish. His voice was of a quality smooth as velvet, and his power of enunciation had been trained to that degree that its cultivation was apparent only in its results, and might have seemed a natural endowment, so scantily was the idea of effort suggested. His special and individual capacity lay in the subtle inflections of tone, which elicited from the verses meanings undreamed of by her. It was as if a stone had been flung into still water. Above these suddenly interjected new interpretations the circles of thought widened from one elastic remove to another, and Euphemia sat dazed in the contemplation of these diverse whorls and concentric convolutions of the obvious idea. She said nothing as he handed back the book with an elaborate ballroom bow, but gazed up at him with an absorbed, serious face, all softened and gently appealing like a bewildered child’s, and then fixed her eyes intently upon the page, as if seeking to find and hold those transient illusions of fickle fancy that glimmered so alluringly through the plain, manifest text. He left her thus as he put on his hat and stepped out upon the path leading down the slope. He glanced back once, to see her still sitting there, motionless but for the wind which swayed the fair loosely curled hair of her bent head and the folds of her faint green dress as it did the sprays of the vines on the opposite side of the passage, which grew so thick that they formed a dark background for her figure in the cool shadowy green dusk ; otherwise he might not have been able to distinguish it from out the glare and glister of the open sunny space where he stood. He gazed unobserved for a moment; then he turned and went on in much dissatisfaction of spirit. It was no way, he argued within himself, to assume the character of a lovesick swain by demonstrating his superiority to the fair maiden, — to flout her poor and painful efforts by the exhibition of his glib accomplishment. “ I must needs always have an audience, — be always exhibiting my various feats and knacks. I was born a juggler,” he said ruefully.
But that evening when they sat at supper, — much later than usual, since the favorite Spot had wandered far into the forest, and did not return till she was sought and found and driven reluctantly home, with many pauses by the way, — the furtive glances across the table did not emigrate from his side. The meal was served in the main room of the cabin, to avoid the cloud of moths which the light outside in the passage would attract. In the white, languid, dispirited glow of the tallow dip the furnishings of the apartment were but dimly visible. Now and again the flicker of the wind set astir the pendent strings of pepper and bunches of dried herbs and various indiscriminate gear that swung from the beams. The mass of red embers where the supper had been cooked was spread apart on the hearth that the heat might be lessened, and here and there through the white efflorescence of the ash only the tinge of the vermilion hues of the coals could be discerned. Despite its subdued red glare the failing fire had little irradiating effect, and added scantily to the cheer of the apartment. The batten shutter flapped back and forth with a wooden clamor; the wind had brought clouds and rain impended, and Tubal Cain Sims’s corn was not yet all planted, and the ground would be too wet to plough for a week or more. Grum and indignant because of this possible dispensation of Providence, he sat in his shirt-sleeves, with his shock head bent, only looking up from under his grizzled shaggy eyebrows to discern in the glimmer of the candle the food he wanted, and only speaking to growl for it. The one crumb of comfort he coveted was denied him. A certain jolinny-cake had burnt up “ bodaciously ” on its board as it baked before the fire, and it would have seemed that Tubal Cain Sims, from his youth up, had subsisted solely on the hope of this most dainty of rural cates, so surlily did he receive the news, and so solemnly did he demand to be told how in the name of Moses a cake that never was put near the fire, but baked by the heat thrown on the hearth, could be reduced to cinders.
“ Witched somehows, I reckon,” suggested Mrs. Sims easily; and since argument could not move that massive lady, Tubal Cain resorted to silent sulks, not in the vain hope of shaking her equilibrium, but for the sake of their own solace to the affronted spirit.
Although this disaster chanced within Euphemia’s own jurisdiction and beneath her presidial care, she took no part in the spirited colloquy on the subject, but seemed absorbed in thought, ever and anon casting a covert look at the young man. As of late he had fallen into the habit, with the opportunity afforded at meal - times, of contemplating her with swift and furtive glances, more than once their eyes met, to the visible embarrassment of both; the juggler, to his astonishment, coloring furiously as might any country boy, and a touch of surprise and almost inquiry becoming visible in the eyes of Euphemia. Strange that so poor and primitive a contrivance as a pallid tallow dip could set such stars of radiant beauty in those long-lashed, pensive orbs. They looked bewilderingly lovely to the young man as they were suddenly fixed upon him, intent with the first intimation of personal interest which he had ever discerned in their depths.
“ How long hev you-uns hed schoolin’ ? ” she demanded abruptly.
“ Schooling ? I ? Oh yes. From the time I was six till I was twenty-two,” he replied.
Her face was a study of amazement. “ Did school keep reg’lar all them years in the cove whar you-uns lived?” she asked.
“ Oh yes, school kept as regular as taxes.” He had half a mind to explain that it was not always the same institution which had the honor of training his youthful faculties, and to recount the various gradations which had their share in his proficiency, from the kindergarten, the preparatory department, the grammar school, to the academic and collegiate career; but he stopped short, reflecting that this might result in self-betrayal in some sort.
Her mind was at work. Her eyes and face were troubled. “ We-uus hev hbed school in the Cove two years consider’ble time ago,” she remarked. “ They ’low the money air short, somehows.”
“ That ain’t no differ ter we-uns,” said Mrs. Sims cheerily. “Phemie l’arned all thar is to know.”
Even old Tubal Cain threw off dull care for a moment and vouchsafed a prideful refrain: “I ’lowed the chile would put out her eyes studyin’ an’ reactin’ so constant, but she hev got her eyesight and her l’arnin’ too.”
But Phemie’s face was flushed with a sudden painful glow. “ I ain’t got ez much ez some,” she faltered, her head drooping slightly.
In the midst of the clamor of denial of any greater possible proficiency, from the two old people, who had not heard the juggler’s reading during the afternoon, she involuntarily cast upon him so appealing, so disarming a glance that for once he was ashamed to even secretly laugh at them.
“ If it’s erudition that goes,” he said afterward, lighting his pipe under the stars and finding the grace to laugh instead at himself, “ I am the learned man to suit the occasion.”
Euphemia’s interest did not relax. What strange perversity of fate was it that this little clod of humanity, so humbly placed, upon the very ground of existence, as it were, should have been instinct with that high, keen, fine appreciation of learning for its own sake? — for she knew naught of its more sordid rewards, and could not have dreamed that the relative estimation of these values, even by those of happiest opportunities, is often reversed, the reward making the worth of the learning. She did not realize an aspiration. Her wings simply fluttered because she felt the inspiration to rise. Royce could not have conceived of aught more densely ignorant. He had known no mind more naturally intelligent. Its acquisitiveness, like some primal instinct, hardly differentiated its objects ; it only grasped them. He began to shrink from its comprehensive appropriations. The Third Reader bade fair to become a burden. He could hardly put his foot on the sill of the passage before he heard the flutter of its leaves, and the much-thumbed, dog-eared old volume was offered to his hand with the restrained enthusiasm of the remark, “Ye 'll hev time ter read a piece afore dinner,” or supper, or bedtime, as the case might be. There was a certain embarrassment in these symposia. Mrs. Sims, it is true, looked on smilingly, with her vicarious affection shining in her eyes, but a chance question developed the fact that she understood hardly one word out of ten, the vocabulary of ignorance being of most constricting limitations; while Tubal Cain openly and gruffly sneered down the performance, tossing his shock head at every conclusion, and protesting that the young man read so fast, an’ with so many ups an’ downs, an’ with such a clippin’ an’ bobtailin’ of his words that it was plumb ridic’lous. For him, give him good Scriptur’ readin’, slow an’ percise, like the l’arned men in the pul -pit. Did Pa’son Tynes read in that flibbertygibberty way ? He reckoned not. And he wagged his head as if he would fain take his oath on that, the spirit of affirmation so possessed him. Moreover, Royce did not consider this Third Reader a particularly meritorious compilation, and he often flung its pages back and forth in vain search of a satisfactory selection, and doubtless would have declined to waste the merits of his rendering on the least vapid had it not been for the submissive, expectant face of Euphemia, as she sat waiting in her chair, bolt upright, school - wise, with her hands clasped in her lap, the subdued radiance of her eyes capable of making a much wiser man do a more foolish thing. For his own sake — he did not dream of the possibility of the development of her taste — he would fain have had a wider choice that his delicate perceptions might suffer no despite, and one day he bethought himself of the resources of memory. They were both down at the mill. Some domestic errand had brought her there, and he chanced to be on a ledge near at hand languidly essaying to fish. He asked her a question touching the further course of the stream and the locality of a notable fishing-ground further down. As she replied, she paused and stood expectantly in the doorway, dangling her green sunbonnet by the string.
The mill was silent, as was its wont; the afternoon sunlight glinted through the dense laurel and the sparse spring foliage of the deciduous trees ; the great cliff on a ledge of which Royce was standing beetled above the smooth flow of the stream. Many a fissure broke the massive walls of stone; here herbage grew and vines swung, and the mould was moist and fragrant; the perfume of the wild cherry in a niche on the summit filled all the air. Close by, a great sycamore which had fallen in a storm stretched from one bank to the other : its white bark and bare branches were reflected in the water with wondrous fidelity ; even a redbird with his tufted crest, as he fluttered and strutted up and down the white boughs, now and again uttering sharp cries of alarm ; even a nest in a crotch, and his sober-hued little brown mate with her head, devoid of any decoration in the way of unnecessary and vainglorious tufts, stretched far out in anxiety and trembling.
Euphemia pointed out these reflections in the water, and after another long pause, “ Ef we-uns hed the book now, ye could read,” she sighed regretfully.
He played his line negligently ; he cast his eyes to the far, far sky, as if his memory dwelt on high. Then he began to recite. The wind stirred in the trees ; on the dark lustrous water a shimmer of sunshine fluctuated like some ethereal golden mesh. Once, the joy of spring and the bliss of love and the buoyancy of life overcame the fear in the redbird’s heart, and he sang out suddenly, as if he too would have to do with the poetry of thought and the melody of utterance, and the little brown bird in the nest listened in admiring silence. All the time Royce was conscious of Euphemia’s amazed and radiant eyes on his face; when he had finished he could scarce trust himself to meet the mute rapture of her gaze. He looked down at his futile line draggingon the water, and among the sounds of the sibilantly lapsing currents and the leaves wafted by the wind he heard her long-drawn sigh of the relaxing of the tension of delight, and he turned and met her eyes with a laugh in his own in which there was only a gentle mirth.
After this he had no peace. He was reminded of the importunacy of juvenile consumers of stories, whose interest seems whetted by the incapacity to read and thus purvey romance for their own delectation. He found it conducive to his entertainment to relapse into prose, and he rehearsed many a work of fiction from memory, failing seldom of the details, but in such lapses as must needs come boldly supplying the deficit by invention, — which effrontery doubtless would have gone far to commend to the authors the utility of lynch law could they have laid hands on him. It is true that in these recitals Euphemia was debarred the graces of the style of the authors, but then the juggler thought he had a very good style of his own. All this involved long digressions, historical, geographical, astronomical, political, to explain the status of the personnel or the locus in quo ; and while be talked her eyes never left his face. He had a habit of looking straight at his interlocutor, whoever this might be, and it was thus, perhaps, that he could with such distinctness conjure the image of those eyes of hers — of such beauty as he had never heretofore imagined — upon the retina of his mind at moments of darkness or absence or reverie, as he would. Much that he said she could not at first comprehend, and again he was reminded of the inquisitors of the nursery in the multitude and unsparingness of her questions; only, so searching and keen and apt were these that sometimes there was an experience of surprise and pleasure on his part.
“ I tell you, Phemie,” he said one day, “ you are most awfully clever to have seen that.”
The blood rushed to her cheeks in the joy, the triumph, of his commendation. Pride, the love of preëminence, the possession of worthy endowment, — these sentiments were her soul, the ethereal essence of her life. She had no definite ambition; she had no definite mental paths. She had groped in the primeval wildernesses of mind, as if there had been no splendid line of pioneers who had blazed out a road for all the centuries to come.
In the midst of his utter idleness, in the turmoil of his troublous thoughts, this review of the literature that had been dear to him was at first a resource and a distraction, and later it became a luxury. He began to be only less eager than she to resume the discourse where it had left off, and to conform to her leisure. Thus it was that he joined her in sundry domestic duties, so that while mechanically busy they might be mentally free, in Scotland, or Norway, or Russia, or on the wild seas. He was wont to go with her to drive up the cows; and surely never in such company did the old fancies tread this New World soil, — knights in armor and ladyes fair and all the glittering hordes of chivalry crowding the narrow aisles of the wilderness, with the fairies and demons of many an antique legend. Once on the summit of a crag they looked out upon the world beyond the Cove, for the first time since his arrival here. Fair, oh, very fair it was, in the yellow haze of the declining springtide sunshine, and far it stretched in promissory lengths, like all the vague possibilities of the future. Parallel with the massive green heights near at hand ran others growing amethystine of hue, showing many a cliff and many a gleam of silver mountain streams winding amongst the divergent Spurs and ravines and coves. Beyond lay the levels of a great valley, and here were brown stretches of ploughed fields, and here gleamed the emerald of winter wheat, and here swept the splendid free curves of the Tennessee River, flowing the color of burnished copper, so did the sunlight idealize the hue of the spring floods between the keen high tints of the green foliage fringing its banks where the rocks failed. To the north a thousand minor ridges continued the parallelism which marks the great mountain system, and these were azure of an indescribably exquisite and languorous shade, rising into a silver haze that was itself like an illumination. And where it seemed that the liberties of vision must surely be reached, the abrupt steeps of the eastern side of Walden’s Ridge, stretching diagonally across the whole breadth of the State, shadowy purple, reflecting naught of the sunset, rose against the west, and there the sun, all alive with scarlet fire, was tending downward, with only one vermilion flake of a cloud in all the blue and pearly-green and amber crystal sky. He paused on the verge of the cliff and gazed at it all, while she stood and looked expectantly at him. Perhaps with her woman’s intuition she divined that this was in some sort a crisis in his mind. She was inexplicably agitated, breathless. But as he gazed his pulses did not stir the faster. Here and there he marked a brilliant slant of glitter where a steeple caught the sun, now to the north and again to the southwest, across a space a hand might seem to cover, but which he knew measured fifty or a hundred miles. These indicated towns. There beat the life he had left; and still at sight of them his heart did not plunge. He looked down at her with an expression in his eyes all new to them and which she could not interpret. Nevertheless it set her happy heart a-flutter. Nothing was said of the view, and with one accord they sat down on the verge of the cliff. He had adopted the mountaineer’s method, and his boots dangled over the sheer spaces a thousand feet below, but he could not repress a shiver at this attitude as she too assumed it.
“ I wish you would move farther back from the edge, or kneel,” he said, with a corrugated brow. " I am afraid you may slip over, you are so little, and " —
“ That would put an e-end to the readings mighty quick,” she said, as she leaned over to peer down at the tops of the trees in the valley, and he turned sick and dizzy at her very gesture. He hardly dared to speak lest an unconsidered word might flutter her nerves and cause her to lose her hold. She had no intention of thus teasing his vicarious fright, but drew up the “ stout little brogans ” forthwith and tucked them under the edge of her skirt as she sat beside him. “ Would n’t it? ” she asked, recurring to her remark as she executed this manōuvre.
“ You mean if you should slip over into this dreadful abyss ? I should never, never have the heart to read another word as long as I should live ! ” he protested.
He caught the look of exultant joy in her surprised and widely opened eyes for one moment, and then she turned them discreetly on the splendid vastness of that great landscape in its happiest mood. He realized that she had no difficulty in comprehending the obvious inference. Her experience as a rural beauty and belle heretofore had doubtless served to acquaint her with the hyperbole of a lover’s language. There were Haines and Ormsby within his own knowledge, and he could not guess how many suitors hitherto, — confound them all! He had not intended to win her heart. In view of her feeling for Owen Haines he had not deemed it possible. With the suspicion, which he would fain call realization, for it had all the importunacy of hope, he experienced a rush of elation, of soft delight, which amazed him, while it almost swept him off his feet. Had he too not fallen in love during his “ readings ” ? —for thus they both called his recitals. He knew that he had only to look into her eyes to make his heart flutter; but then it was a susceptible heart and easily stirred. She had grown dear to him in many ways, and he had learned this even when he did not dream of other result of their companionship than the broadcast impression that he lingered here for her sake. He began to strive to separate his ideal of womanhood from those merely arbitrary values which fashion and artificial life bestow. Is it a French man milliner only who establishes the criterion of beauty ? He had but to glance at the face and form beside him. She was beautiful ; she was good ; she was of a singularly strong and individual character ; her natural mind was quick and retentive and discerning, and of a remarkable aptness. She was so endowed with a keen perception of real excellence that knowledge had but to open its doors to her, for she possessed as a gift the capacity of worthy choice. She loved with spontaneous affection those things which other people are trained to love ; she seized on the best of her own devout accord, unaware of aught of significance save her own preference. She could easily acquire all he could teach her. With her quick grasp and greed of learning there would soon be little disparity. He began to meditate on the arbitrary methods of appraisement of the world. How sadly do we richly rate, not our own preference, but that which is valued by others : hence the vyings, the heart-burnings, the ignoble strife, the false pride, of many mundane miseries. He knew her real identity. Her nature would befit any station. Her beauty, — even the reference to the immutable standards of his own world could avail no detraction here, — it was preëminent. Having lived his life in one sphere, why should he, being dead to it forever, let its rigid conventionalities follow him into his new world? As to the coming years and the monotony of rounding out a long life in this narrow circuit, let the coming years take thought for themselves. For a moment the words pressed to his lips. Then he realized that this was no ordinary self-committal. To pledge himself to marry a woman of her degree in life — an ignorant mountain girl of an inexpressible rusticity and lack of sophistication, as far removed from a comprehension of the conventions in which he had been reared and the cultivated ideals still dear to him as if she were a denizen of a different planet — was a serious step indeed ; he winced, and was silent.
This day marked a change. When they reached home the sky was red, and a white star was alight in the zenith. Spot stood lowing at the bars, and Mrs. Sims’s dimples deeply indented her plumpness as she addressed the young people in pretended reproof.
“I sent you-uns arter Spot. From now on I be a-goin’ ter sen’ Spot arter you-uns.”
With the sound of her chuckle out came briskly Tubal Cain, venomous with fault-finding and repining. “ Hyar ye be, Euphemy Sims,” he said, more harshly than he had ever before spoken to the apple of his eye, “ a-foolin’ away yer time huntin’ fur a cow what war standin’ at the bars sence long ’fore sundown, ez sensible ez grown folks, an’ Pa’son Tynes a-settin’ an’ a-settin’ hyar waitin’ ter see ye.”
There was a convulsive throb at Euphemia’s heart very like a throe of conscience ; nevertheless she answered with an affronted coolness : “ Pa’son Tynes ? An’ what do I keer ter see Pa’son Tynes fur ? ”
“ Pa’son Tynes keer ter see you-uns, Phemie : that’s what makes yer dad hop roun’ like a pea on a hot shovel,” said Mrs. Sims.
Royce began to have an illuminating sense that “ Daddy Sims ” was flattered to have so preëminent a guest as Pa’son Tynes, with his widespread oratorical fame, awaiting by the hour Eupliemia’s return, and that he could hardly forgive his idol that these precious moments had been wasted in the juggler’s society. Royce perceived the farcical antithesis of the proposition which he had been arguing all the afternoon, and realized that there are arbitrary gradations in less sophisticated society than that on which he had predicated the proposition. He felt very small indeed, being thus called upon to look up to Pa’son Tynes.
“ I dunno what he be wantin’ ter see me fur,” said Euphemia, still with the resentment of being esteemed in default, and evidently apprehending a purpose in the call other than the enjoyment of her conversation.
“ Me nuther,” chuckled Mrs. Sims; “ you-uns bein’ sech a outdacious ugly gal ez all the men-folks be compelled ter shade thar eyes whenst ye kem about.”
Mrs. Sims’s vicarious coquetry was unblushingly fickle. She did not wait for Euphemia to be quit of the old love before she was on with the new. Nay, in the very presence of the superseded swain she prospectively and speculatively flirted with his successor.
“ A plague on all fat old women ! ” thought the juggler, ill at ease and out of countenance. “ I hev got my religion,” said Euphemia stiffly, her pride revolting at the idea that perchance Pa’son Tynes had presumed her to be “ convicted of sin ” and that his call was pastoral. “ I dunno what he kin be a-comin’ pesterin’ round about me fur.”
“ Waal, he ain’t got all he wants,” said her mother, still chuckling, “ for he be a-comin’ agin ter-morrer ter see you-uns. He axed me special ter keep ye home ter view him — no, that was n’t the way ; he knows thar’s better things ter be viewed in this world ’n a lantern-jawed, tallow-faced preacher-man, though from thar own account thar ’ll be a power o’ nangels featured like that in heaven — he axed me special ter keep ye home till he could view you-uns! And Mrs. Sims’s chuckle of enjoyment broke from its habitual bounds and burst into the jolliest of obese laughter. It might have been termed infectious had any one been there enough in spirits to be susceptible to its influence. The juggler was disconcerted and strangely cast down ; Euphemia, doubtful, antagonistic, prophetically affronted; and old Tubal Cain’s interest still hinged on the topics of the conversation through the several hours while he had borne the parson somewhat weary company.
“ He hev hed great grace in the pertracted meetin’,” her father rattled on, still flustered by the occurrence. " He hev converted fifteen sinners ; some hardened cases, too. An’ he hev preached wunst a day reg’lar, an’ sometimes twict.”
“ Let him go preach some mo’, then,” retorted Euphemia, vaguely resentful or angrily apprehensive.
She was silent during the serving of supper, carrying her head high, with her cheeks flushed and her eyes alight. Royce’s glance forbore to follow her. He ate little, and with a downcast, thoughtful mien he found his pipe after supper and took it out upon the rocky slope that led to the river. The moon was up; long, glamourous slants of light lay athwart the Cove ; the shadows of the pines were dense along the slope, but through their fringed branches the light filtered like a shower of molten silver. The river was here touched with a crystalline glitter, and here a lustrous darkness told of its shaded depths. Looking across the levels of the Cove, one had a sense of the dew in the glister and sparkle of the humid leaves. Above all rose the encompassing mountains, imposing, dark, and stern. The little log cabin with the swaying hopvines and the window flaringly alight, the glittering reflection flung so far in the swift current below, had its idyllic suggestions in the moonlight, but he was not alive to the interests of the picturesque in humble environment, and had no fibre that responded to the enthusiasm of the genre painter. He looked toward the house not to mark how the silver-gray hue of its weathered logs was heightened by the smooth effect of the moonbeams. He did not even feign to care that one of the clay-and-stick chimneys leaning from the wall was so awry against the sky as to give a positive value of individuality in composing ; what it did in regard to the proper emission of smoke was of no consequence, since it so served the airy designs of the possible painter. He approved of the cant of the roof no more than if he had been an architectural precisian. He looked with all his eyes for what he presently saw, — a shadowy light-robed figure steal out and sit down on the step of the passage, with her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand, and gaze disconsolately, as he fancied, up at the moon.
“ Eupherma, come down here,” he called in a low voice. It had the quality of carrying far, although so softly pitched.
She started, stared out into the mingled shadow and sheen with dilated eyes; then, as he advanced she rose and went down toward him.
As they stood there together, the girl looked out from the shadow of the tree above them at the blended dew and glimmer, and he looked imperiously down at her.
“ See here, Phemie, why is that man coming to see you to-morrow ? ”
“ I dunno,” she responded vaguely.
“ Ah, but you guess ; ” he caught both her hands. “ Tell me why you think he is coming.”
She lifted her eyes to his, which had a constraining quality for her. “ He be kemin’ ter see me — ’bout — ’bout Owen Haines — him — him ez prayed fur the power — I reckon.”
He gave a short laugh of ridicule.
She could not join in his mirth. Only so short a time ago its cause had been the tragedy of the world to her. She could hardly bring herself to admit even to herself that now, scarcely three weeks later, she cared as little for it as if it had never been. But her world had changed. How it had developed ! There were new countries ; strange peoples had been discovered ; a marvelous scope of emotion had been evolved. Romance had unfolded its wondrous page. She had seen Poetry trim its pinions and wing its flight. She had traveled far, far afield ; she had lived a new life ; she was a changeling. Where was her old self ? Where was her fancied love for the young religionist, her wounded pride for his sake, her scorching, fiery compassion for her own ? She remembered herself in these emotions as if she were another being. She could hardly pity Owen Haines. If he did not care for the fleer of ridicule, why should she ? For since — she had lived an enchanted life.
“ What will he want of you ? ” demanded Royce gravely.
She faltered. She feared Tynes and his powers of argument. She dreaded, not being convinced, but the rigors of the contest. And if Owen Haines should, as a sacrifice to love, agree to relinquish his " praying for the power,” she dreaded the renewal of their old status of “ keepin’ comp’ny.” “ He will want me ter take Owen Haines back.”
“ But you would n’t, Phemie, you would n’t?” urged Royce breathlessly.
“ He mought gin up prayin’ fur the power. I turned him off fur that,” she hesitated.
Royce’s scheme was complete. All the Cove and the mountain regarded him as a dangler after Euphemia Sims. He could feign a hopeless jealousy. He could hold aloof for a time, and the old status would doubtless readjust itself with the ease and security imparted by habit. He had gone as far as he had ever planned. Now he could place the period and leave the rest to chance.
But if the life here had afforded so arid a prospect heretofore, how could he contemplate it without Euphemia ? His very speech no other creature could understand. He felt that he would be as isolated as if he were on a desert island, and he had a fiery impatience of time, — the years that were coming seemed such long years. He had never been more in earnest in his life, as he looked down into her beautiful illumined face.
“ But you will not, Eupliemia,” he said, slipping his arm around her waist. " You don’t love him.”
Beyond a start, half surprise and half coyness, she had not moved.
“ Tell me — you care nothing for him ? ”
“ Not now,” she faltered. And she felt anew a pang for her lack of constancy.
He revolted at the partial admission with all a lover’s insistence on preëminence. “ Never — never ! You could n’t care for such a fool. And he does n’t love you, or he would have given up that folly at once — or anything you wished.”
Even now he hesitated. The breeze swayed the branches above them, and all the draping pendent wild grapevines that clung about the tree were suddenly astir. The circle of dark shadow in which they stood was inlaid with silver glintings as the moonlight struck through the foliage ; the soft radiance fell full in her eyes as he looked down into her face.
“ I would give up all the world for you,” he cried impulsively, “ because I love you! ”
She drew back a trifle, and looked over her shoulder into the glittering idealization of the familiar scenes of her life in the glamours of the moonlight and of love. She heard the low dryadic song of the leaves ; she heard the beating of her own heart.
“ Tell me that you love me, Euphemia,” he pleaded. " Tell me that.”
Amidst all the joy of her face there was a flash of triumph. She was withdrawing her hands from his, and the realization how like she was to women of a higher sphere, despite her limitations, came to him with a certain surprise. No Sooner did she feel her power than she had the will to wield it. The solicitous, humble little rustic was expressed only in her outer guise. No finished coquette could have given him a more bewildering broadside of beautiful eyes as she said, joyously laughing, “ What makes you ask such impossible questions ? ”
The phrase was borrowed of him, in his frequent despair of elucidating the whole scheme of civilization to her ignorance, in their readings. He could not laugh when it was so dexterously turned on himself. “ Tell me,” he persisted earnestly, “ tell me, Phemie — or I ’ll — I ’ll ” — the assertion had little humility, but he divined its effectiveness — “I ’ll go away, and never come back again.”
She was still laughing, but he marked that she no longer drew back. “ Do you have to be told everything ? ” she quoted anew from his remonstrances because of her catechistic insistence. “ Can’t you see through anything without having it point-blank ? ” with his own impatient intonation.
He allowed himself to be decoyed into a hasty smile. “ And you ’ll send that fellow to the right-about to-morrow ? ” he urged gravely.
“ Oh, I 'll be glad enough ter git rid of him! ” she cried, in the extremity of her relief.
He realized with a momentary qualm that the new situation must be avowed openly to justify the position which Euphemia would sustain in case Owen Haines should offer to relinquish, as a sacrifice to love, the pernicious practice of “ prayin’ fur the power ” in public. He recognized this step as a certain riveting of his chains ; yet had he not been eager but a moment ago to assume them ? And even now, as he looked down into her face, radiant with that joyous sense of supremacy in his heart, and seeming to him the most beautiful he had ever seen, the most tender, as it responsively looked up to his, he wondered that his untoward fate had so relented as to bestow upon him, in his forlorn exile, this creature, so delicately endowed, so choicely gifted, that even his alien estimate of values wrought no discord in the simple happiness that had come to him.
And it was he who revealed to Jane Ann Sims the altered state of things when the two went presently back to the little cabin on the slope. There she sat in bulky oblivion of the things of this world, and especially the dish-pan. Her spectacles were awry on her nodding head. The dish-cloth was limp in her nerveless hand. The tallow dip was guttering in the centre of the table, and about it the moths circled in fond delusions, regardless of the winged cinders that lay, now still, and now with a quiver of departing life, on the cloth. She made a spasmodic offer to resign the dish-cloth to Euphemia, waving it mechanically at her with a fat, dimpled hand and a gesture of renunciation ; but the girl, all unallured, passed without a word into the shed-room beyond, and the juggler sat down on the opposite side of the table with one elbow on it as he looked steadily across at Mrs. Sims’s face, which was all lined with the creases of fat that were usually dimples. She had roused into that half-dazed condition of the sudden and unwelcome termination of the sleep of fatigue, and the tallow dip swayed reduplicated before her eyes like a chandelier. Mentally she seemed no clearer of perception. Royce had realized her maternal fondness for him, ungratefully requited, and he could not altogether reconcile this with the agitated and alarmed mien with which she received his disclosure.
“Marry Phemie ! ” she exclaimed in a sort of drowsy affright, as if her mental capacities had not yet laid hold on something that had roused her more alert apprehensions.
He was irritated for a moment. He knew in his secret soul that he forswore much, overlooked much, bestowed much, in this mad resolution, and this knowledge, quiescent under the immediate influence of the girl’s beauty and charm and his loneliness, became tumultuously assertive in the society of Mrs. Sims.
“Why not? I love her, and I want to marry her. Is there anything so astonishing in that ? ”
“ Laws-a-massy, no, honey ! ” Mrs. Sims sputtered, her eyelids faltering before the myriad-flamed tallow dip. She apprehended his rising wrath, and, somnambulistically waving her hand, seemed to seek to appease it. “ Mighty nigh every young fool ez ever seen her sets up the same chune. 'T ain’t astonishin’ — but — honey”—she looked at him with sleepy admonition, still waving her hand — “ don’t talk 'bout seek so brazen an’ loud.” Then sinking her voice to a husky whisper that could have been heard in South America, “ Shet that thar door ahint ye. Tubal Cain be asleep in thar.” Her gesture, indicating the door, was accompanied by a premonitory jerk of her body which usually preceded rising.
“ Don’t disturb yourself, I beg,” said Royce, still nettled.
He leaned back in his chair, and catching the door by the latch brought it to with a brisk bang. Mrs. Sims pursed up her mouth with a warning hiss imposing silence to preserve the gentle slumbers of old Tubal Cain, and neither noticed that the latch had failed to catch, and that the door, although apparently closed, stood slightly ajar.
“Phemie says — at least she gives me to understand that my affection is returned,” Royce went on, in better humor.
“ I hope she ain’t tellin’ no lies ’bout’n it this time, ennyhow,” said Mrs. Sims waggishly ; and it seemed to Royce that he was capable of singular temerity when he had exposed himself to the perils of seriously falling in love by simulating the tender passion in any instance in which Mrs. Sims was to be considered, however remotely. To be good-natured in ridicule by no means implies good-nature in being ridiculed.
“ You have a right to say anything you like, I suppose, about your own daughter,” he rejoined angrily. “ She does n’t look like a liar. For my part, I believe her.”
“ Shucks! Shucks ! ” Mrs. Sims shook a mildly admonitory head at him. “ I ’m jes’ funnin’. An’ yit I kin ’member tellin’ Tubal Cain things cornsider’ble short o’ the truth whenst I war a young gal like Euphemy, an’ he war a-sparkin’ round.”
The young man looked uneasily out of the window. Could time really work such metamorphoses as these ? Had she ever been young and lissome and soft-eyed and fair, and was Euphemia to grow old thus ?
Perhaps it was well for the broken snatch of Love’s young dream that there against the darkness he suddenly saw the bending boughs of an elder bush all whitely abloom, and among them, the fairest blossom of them all, Euphemia’s face, half touched with the moonlight, yet distinct in the radiance that came from the candle within, smiling upon him as she played the eavesdropper, her dimpled elbows on the window-sill and her fair hair blown back in the wind.
“ Nothing was said about it till this evening,” he went on, his satisfaction restored in an instant, “and I thought it was only the fair thing to let you and Mr. Sims know; you have both been so kind since I have been here.”
Mrs. Sims’s preliminary apprehension, which she appeared to have forgotten, was once more aghast upon her face. She raised a warning forefinger, and she spoke in her husky penetrating whisper : “ Don’t you-uns say nare word ter Tubal Cain Sims. Leave him ter me. I ’ll settle him.”
“ Why not ? ” asked the young man, alert to any menace, however remote.
Mrs. Sims knitted her brows in embarrassment. “ Waal,” she said, composing herself to divulge the truth so far as she knew it, since no polite subterfuge was handy, “ he air cantankerous, an’ quar’lsome, an’ hard-headed, an’ powerful perverse. An’ he ’pears ter be sot agin ye, kase, I reckon, I like ye, — me an’ Phemie, though Phemie never tuk no notice o’ ye in this worl’ till ’bout three weeks ago whenst ye ondertook ter set up ter her so constant. Ye hev witched that gal; ye jes’ made her fall in love with ye, whether or no.”
The juggler laughed at this, casting a bright glance at the dusky aperture of the window where the white blossoms all stirred by the wind seemed to be leaning on the sill and eavesdropping too. They might not have all been so happily at ease had they known that, close by the door, still slightly ajar, and awakened by the bang which the juggler had dealt it, lay old Tubal Cain Sims, grimly listening to this conversation.
“ I can’t agree to that,” said Royce, after a moment’s reflection. He was certainly nothing of a prig, but he had his own views of honor, and they controlled him. " This is Mr. Sims’s house; and I was received into it first as a guest, and it is as a privilege that I have been allowed to remain. I can’t make love to any man’s daughter, under these circumstances, on the sly.”
“ But s’pose he won’t agree— an’ the critter is ez contrary ez — ez ” — Comparisons failed Mrs. Sims, and she could only shake her head warningly.
“ Oh well, everything having been aboveboard, I’d take the girl and elope!” cried the juggler, his eyes alight at the mere prospective fanning of the breeze of adventure. “ Being an educated man, Mrs. Sims, I could make a living for myself and my wife in a dozen different ways, in any of these little towns about here. Why — what ” —
Mrs. Sims, bulkily rising, had almost overturned the table and the crockery upon him. Her fat face was pallid and flabby, and it shook as she gazed, speechless and wild-eyed, at him. Her puffy hand besought him in mute entreaty before she could find words to blurt out, “ Good Gawd A’mighty, John Leonard, don’t lay yer tongue ter sech ez that! Don’t s’picion the word ez ye’d steal my darter away from me. It would kill me — an’ I hev stood yer frien’ from the fust, even whenst they all made out ez ye war in league with Satan an’ gin over ter witchments. It would kill me, bodaciously ! Don’t ye steal my one leetle lamb — thar’s plenty o’ gals in the worl’, ready an’ willin’ — steal them — steal them ! I want my darter ter live liyar with me, married an’ single, — ter live hyar hyar with me. We ain’t got but the one lone, lorn leetle chile. Ef ye war ter run off with her, Tubal Cain would kill ye sure, ef he could ketch ye ; an’ ef he could n’t, the mountain would. Don’t — don’t ” — The tears stood in all her dimples and she was speechless.
“ Well, upon my word!” exclaimed Royce indignantly, but pausing, with that care which he bestowed upon all manner of possessions representing property, however meagre, to right the table and restore the imperiled crockery. " What sort of a frenzy is this, Mrs. Sims ? Am I going to run away with your daughter ? Have I shown any symptoms of decamping ? Strikes me I have come to stay. I make a point of telling you — because I know that I am not here under your roof for any small profit to you, but as a matter of kindness and courtesy — of telling you all about it within the hour that I know it myself, and this is my reward ! ”
Poor Mrs. Sims, having sunk back in her chair, and the young man still remaining standing, could only look up at him with piteous contrition and anxious appeal.
“ I hope Mr. Sims won’t give me any reason to contemplate elopement. Was n’t he willing for his daughter to marry Owen Haines, they having been ‘ keepin’ comp’ny,’ as I understand ? ”
She silently nodded.
“ My Lord ! what have I come to ! ” Royce cried, lifting his hands, then letting them fall to his sides, as if calling on heaven and earth to witness the absurdity of the situation. “ I think I might be considered at least as desirable a parti as that pious monkey prayin’ for the power! ” He gave that short laugh of his which so expressed ridicule, turned, secured the end of tallow candle placed for him on the shelf, and, lighting it, ascended the rickety stairs to the roof-room.
The suggestion of an elopement was not unacceptable to him. If there should be any objection urged against him,— and he could hardly restrain his mirth at the idea, — an elopement into some other retired cove in these regions of nowhere would result not infelicitously, affording still further disguise and an adequate reason for both him and his wife to be strangers in a strange land. “ A runaway match would account for everything : so bring on your veto and welcome ! ” he said to himself.
Next morning, however, he found his disclosure to Tubal Cain Sims postponed. His host had left the house before day, and although he did not return for any of the three meals Mrs. Sims felt no uneasiness, it being a practice of Tubal Cain Sims’s, in order to assert his independence of petticoat government, to deal much in small mysteries about his affairs. All day — her equanimity restored by the half-jocular, half-affectionate raillery of Royce, who had roused himself to the realization that it was well to continue friends with her — she canvassed her husband’s errand, and guessed at the time of his probable return, and speculated upon his reasons for secrecy. Night did not bring him, and Royce, who had been now laughing at Mrs. Sims’s various theories, and now wearying of their futile inconsistencies, began to share her curiosity.
It was the merest curiosity. He did not dream that he was the chief factor in his host’s schemes and absence.
Charles Egbert Craddock.