"Jess! Jess! Oh, Jess!" There was an insinuating sweetness in his voice as it echoed through the hall. Jesse, doubtless recognizing the velvety quality of the tone, made his appearance promptly. "Jess," said the major softly, "I wish you'd please fetch me my shotgun. Make 'aste, Jess, and don't make no furse."
Jesse went after the shotgun, and the major waddled into the parlor. He cleared his throat at the door, and Miss Fairleigh looked up.
"Miss Lizzie, did Jack Walthall insult you here in my house?"
"Insult me, sir! Why, he's the noblest gentleman alive."
The major drew a deep breath of relief, and smiled.
"Well, I'm mighty glad to hear you say so!" he exclaimed. "I couldn't tell, to save my life, what put it into my mind. Why, I might 'a' know'd that Jack Walthall ain't that kind of a chap. Lord! I reckon I must be getting old and weak-minded. Don't cry no more, honey. Go right along and go to bed." As he turned to go out of the parlor, he was confronted by Jesse with the shotgun. "Oh, go put her up, Jess," he said apologetically; "go put her up, boy. I wanted to blaze away at a dog out there trying to scratch under the palings; but the dog's done gone. Go put her up, Jess."
When Jess carried the gun back, he remarked casually to his mistress:
"Miss Sa'h, you better keep yo' eye on Marse Maje. He talkin' mighty funny, en he doin' mighty quare."
Thereafter, for many a long day, the genial major sat in his cool veranda, and thought of Jack Walthall and the boys in Virginia. Sometimes between dozes he would make his way to Perdue's Corner, and discuss the various campaigns. How many desperate campaigns were fought on that Corner! All the older citizens, who found it convenient or necessary to stay at home, had in them the instinct and emotions of great commanders. They knew how victory could be wrung from defeat, and how success could be made more overwhelming. At Perdue's Corner, Washington City was taken not less than a dozen times a week, and occasionally both New York and Boston were captured and sacked. Of all the generals who fought their battles at the Corner, Major Jimmy Bass was the most energetic, the most daring, and the most skilful. As a strategist he had no superior. He had a way of illustrating the feasibility of his plans by drawing them in the sand with his cane. Fat as he was, the major had a way of "surroundering" the enemy so that no avenue was left for his escape. At Perdue's Corner he captured Scott, and McClellan, and Joe Hooker, and John Pope, and held their entire forces as prisoners of war.
In spite of all this, however, the war went on. Sometimes word would come that one of the Hillsborough boys had been shot to death. Now and then one would come home with an arm or a leg missing; so that, before many months had passed, even the generals conducting their campaigns at Perdue's Corner managed to discover that war was a very serious business.
It happened that one day in July, Captain Jack Walthall and his men, together with quite an imposing array of comrades, were called upon to breast the sultry thunder of Gettysburg. They bore themselves like men; they went forward with a shout and a rush, facing the deadly slaughter of the guns; they ran up the hill and to the rock wall. With others, Captain Walthall leaped over the wall. They were met by a murderous fire that mowed down the men like grass. The line in the rear wavered, fell back, and went forward again. Captain Walthall heard his name called in his front, and then some one cried, "Don't shoot!" and Little Compton, his face blackened with powder, and his eyes glistening with excitement, rushed into Walthall's arms. The order not to shoot—if it was an order—came too late. There was another volley. As the Confederates rushed forward, the Federal line retreated a little way, and Walthall found himself surrounded by the small remnant of his men. The Confederates made one more effort to advance, but it was useless. The line was borne back, and finally retreated; but when it went down the slope, Walthall and Lieutenant Ransome had Little Compton between them. He was a prisoner. Just how it all happened, no one of the three could describe, but Little Compton was carried into the Confederate lines. He was wounded in the shoulder and in the arm, and the ball that shattered his arm shattered Walthall's arm.
They were carried to the field hospital, where Walthall insisted that Little Compton's wounds should be looked after first. The result was that Walthall lost his left arm and Compton his right; and then, when by some special interposition of Providence they escaped gangrene and other results of imperfect surgery and bad nursing, they went to Richmond, where Walthall's money and influence secured them comfortable quarters.
Hillsborough had heard of all this in a vague way—indeed, a rumor of it had been printed in the Rockville "Vade Mecum"—but the generals and commanders in consultation at Perdue's Corner were astonished one day when the stage-coach set down at the door of the tavern a tall, one-armed gentleman in gray, and a short, one-armed gentleman in blue.
"By the livin' Lord!" exclaimed Major Jimmy Bass, "if that ain't Jack Walthall! And you may put out my two eyes if that ain't Little Compton! Why, shucks, boys!" he exclaimed, as he waddled across the street, "I'd 'a' know'd you anywheres. I'm a little short-sighted, and I'm mighty nigh took off wi' the dropsy, but I'd 'a' know'd you anywheres."
There were handshakings and congratulations from everybody in the town. The clerks and the merchants deserted their stores to greet the newcomers, and there seemed to be a general jubilee. For weeks Captain Jack Walthall was compelled to tell his Gettysburg story over and over again, frequently to the same hearers; and, curiously enough, there was never a murmur of dissent when he told how Little Compton had insisted on wearing his Federal uniform.
"Great Jiminy Craminy!" Major Jimmy Bass would exclaim; "don't we all know Little Compton like a book? And ain't he got a right to wear his own duds?"
Rockville, like every other railroad town in the South at that period, had become the site of a Confederate hospital; and sometimes the hangers-on and convalescents paid brief visits of inspection to the neighboring villages. On one occasion a little squad of them made their appearance on the streets of Hillsborough, and made a good-natured attempt to fraternize with the honest citizens who gathered daily at Perdue's Corner. While they were thus engaged, Little Compton, arrayed in his blue uniform, passed down the street. The visitors made some inquiries, and Major Bass gave them a very sympathetic history of Little Compton. Evidently they failed to appreciate the situation; for one of them, a tall Mississippian, stretched himself and remarked to his companions:
"Boys, when we go, we'll just about lift that feller and take him along. He belongs in Andersonville, that's where he belongs."
Major Bass looked at the tall Mississippian and smiled.
"I reckon you must 'a' been mighty sick over yander," said the major, indicating Rockville.
"Well, yes," said the Mississippian; "I've had a pretty tough time."
"And you ain't strong yet," the major went on.
"Well, I'm able to get about right lively," said the other.
"Strong enough to go to war?"
"Oh, well, no—not just yet."
"Well, then," said the major in his bluntest tone, "you better be mighty keerful of yourself in this town. If you ain't strong enough to go to war, you better let Little Compton alone."
The tall Mississippian and his friends took the hint, and Little Compton continued to wear his blue uniform unmolested. About this time Atlanta fell; and there were vague rumors in the air, chiefly among the negroes, that Sherman's army would march down and capture Hillsborough, which, by the assembly of generals at Perdue's Corner, was regarded as a strategic point. These vague rumors proved to be correct; and by the time the first frosts fell, Perdue's Corner had reason to believe that General Sherman was marching down on Hillsborough. Dire rumors of fire, rapine, and pillage preceded the approach of the Federal army, and it may well be supposed that these rumors spread consternation in the air. Major Bass professed to believe that General Sherman would be "surroundered" and captured before his troops reached Middle Georgia; but the three columns, miles apart, continued their march unopposed.
It was observed that during this period of doubt, anxiety, and terror, Little Compton was on the alert. He appeared to be nervous and restless. His conduct was so peculiar that some of the more suspicious citizens of the region predicted that he had been playing the part of a spy, and that he was merely waiting for the advent of Sherman's army in order to point out where his acquaintances had concealed their treasures.
One fine morning a company of Federal troopers rode into Hillsborough. They were met by Little Compton, who had borrowed one of Jack Walthall's horses for just such an occasion. The cavalcade paused in the public square, and, after a somewhat prolonged consultation with Little Compton, rode on in the direction of Rockville. During the day small parties of foragers made their appearance. Little Compton had some trouble with these; but, by hurrying hither and thither, he managed to prevent any depredations. He even succeeded in convincing the majority of them that they owed some sort of respect to that small town. There was one obstinate fellow, however, who seemed determined to prosecute his search for valuables. He was a German who evidently did not understand English.
In the confusion Little Compton lost sight of the German, though he had determined to keep an eye on him. It was not long before he heard of him again; for one of the Walthall negroes came running across the public square, showing by voice and gesture that he was very much alarmed.
"Marse Compton! Marse Compton!" he cried, "you better run up ter Marse Jack's, kaze one er dem mens is gwine in dar whar ole Miss is, en ef he do dat he gwine ter git hurted!"
Little Compton hurried to the Walthall place, and he was just in time to see Jack rushing the German down the wide flight of steps that led to the veranda. What might have happened, no one can say; what did happen may be briefly told. The German, his face inflamed with passion, had seized his gun, which had been left outside, and was aiming at Jack Walthall, who stood on the steps, cool and erect. An exclamation of mingled horror and indignation from Little Compton attracted the German's attention, and caused him to turn his head. This delay probably saved Jack Walthall's life; for the German, thinking that a comrade was coming to his aid, leveled his gun again and fired. But Little Compton had seized the weapon near the muzzle and wrested it around. The bullet, instead of reaching its target, tore its way through Compton's empty sleeve. In another instant the German was covered by Compton's revolver. The hand that held it was steady, and the eyes that glanced along its shining barrel fairly blazed. The German dropped his gun. All trace of passion disappeared from his face; and presently seeing that the crisis had passed, so far as he was concerned, he wheeled in his tracks, gravely saluted Little Compton, and made off at a double-quick.
"You mustn't think hard of the boys, Jack, on account of that chap. They understand the whole business, and they are going to take care of this town."
And they did. The army came marching along presently, and the stragglers found Hillsborough patrolled by a detachment of cavalry.
Walthall and Little Compton stood on the wide steps, and reviewed this imposing array as it passed before them. The tall Confederate, in his uniform of gray, rested his one hand affectionately on the shoulder of the stout little man in blue, and on the bosom of each was pinned an empty sleeve. Unconsciously, they made an impressive picture.
The Commander, grim, gray, and resolute, observed it with sparkling eyes. The spectacle was so unusual—so utterly opposed to the logic of events—that he stopped with his staff long enough to hear Little Compton tell his story. He was a grizzled, aggressive man, this Commander, but his face lighted up wonderfully at the recital.
"Well, you know this sort of thing doesn't end the war, boys," he said, as he shook hands with Walthall and Little Compton; "but I shall sleep better to-night."
Perhaps he did. Perhaps he dreamed that what he had seen and heard was prophetic of the days to come, when peace and fraternity should seize upon the land, and bring unity, happiness, and prosperity to the people.
AUNT FOUNTAIN'S PRISONER
IT is curious how the smallest incident, the most unimportant circumstance, will recall old friends and old associations. An old gentleman, who is noted far and near for his prodigious memory of dates and events, once told me that his memory, so astonishing to his friends and acquaintances, consisted not so much in remembering names and dates and facts, as in associating each of these with some special group of facts and events; so that he always had at command a series of associations to which he could refer instantly and confidently. This is an explanation of the system of employing facts, but not of the method by which they are accumulated and stored away.
I was reminded of this some years ago by a paragraph in one of the county newspapers that sometimes come under my observation. It was a very commonplace paragraph; indeed, it was in the nature of an advertisement—an announcement of the fact that orders for "gilt-edged butter" from the Jersey farm on the Tomlinson Place should be left at the drugstore in Rockville, where the first that came would be the first served. This businesslike notice was signed by Ferris Trunion. The name was not only peculiar, but new to me; but this was of no importance at all. The fact that struck me was the bald and bold announcement that the Tomlinson Place was the site and centre of trading and other commercial transactions in butter. I can only imagine what effect this announcement would have had on my grandmother, who died years ago, and on some other old people I used to know. Certainly they would have been horrified; and no wonder, for when they were in their prime the Tomlinson Place was the seat of all that was high, and mighty, and grand, in the social world in the neighborhood of Rockville. I remember that everybody stood in awe of the Tomlinsons. Just why this was so, I never could make out. They were very rich; the Place embraced several thousand acres; but if the impressions made on me when a child are worth anything, they were extremely simple in their ways. Though, no doubt, they could be formal and conventional enough when occasion required.
I have no distinct recollection of Judge Addison Tomlinson, except that he was a very tall old gentleman, much older than his wife, who went about the streets of Rockville carrying a tremendous gold-headed cane carved in a curious manner. In those days I knew more of Mrs. Tomlinson than I did of the judge, mainly because I heard a great deal more about her. Some of the women called her Mrs. Judge Tomlinson; but my grandmother never called her anything else but Harriet Bledsoe, which was her maiden name. It was a name, too, that seemed to suit her, so that when you once heard her called Harriet Bledsoe, you never forgot it afterward. I do not know now, any more than I did when a child, why this particular name should fit her so exactly; but, as I have been told, a lack of knowledge does not alter facts.
I think my grandmother used to go to church to see what kind of clothes Harriet Bledsoe wore; for I have often heard her say, after the sermon was over, that Harriet's bonnet, or Harriet's dress, was perfectly charming. Certainly Mrs. Tomlinson was always dressed in the height of fashion, though it was a very simple fashion when compared with the flounces and furbelows of her neighbors. I remember this distinctly, that she seemed to be perfectly cool the hottest Sunday in summer, and comfortably warm the coldest Sunday in winter; and I am convinced that this impression, made on the mind of a child, must bear some definite relation to Mrs. Tomlinson's good taste.
Certainly my grandmother was never tired of telling me that Harriet Bledsoe was blessed with exceptionally good taste and fine manners; and I remember that she told me often how she wished I was a girl, so that I might one day be in a position to take advantage of the opportunities I had had of profiting by Harriet Bledsoe's example. I think there was some sort of attachment between my grandmother and Mrs. Tomlinson, formed when they were at school together, though my grandmother was much the older of the two. But there was no intimacy. The gulf that money sometimes makes between those who have it and those who lack it lay between them. Though I think my grandmother was more sensitive about crossing this gulf than Mrs. Tomlinson.
I was never in the Tomlinson house but once when a child. Whether it was because it was two or three miles away from Rockville, or whether it was because I stood in awe of my grandmother's Harriet Bledsoe, I do not know. But I have a very vivid recollection of the only time I went there as a boy. One of my play-mates, a rough-and-tumble little fellow, was sent by his mother, a poor sick woman, to ask Mrs. Tomlinson for some preserves. I think this woman and her little boy were in some way related to the Tomlinsons. The richest and most powerful people, I have heard it said, are not so rich and powerful but they are pestered by poor kin, and the Tomlinsons were no exception to the rule.
I went with this little boy I spoke of, and I was afraid afterward that I was in some way responsible for his boldness. He walked right into the presence of Mrs. Tomlinson, and, without waiting to return the lady's salutation, he said in a loud voice:
"Aunt Harriet, ma says send her some of your nicest preserves."
"Aunt Harriet, indeed!" she exclaimed, and then she gave him a look that was cold enough to freeze him, and hard enough to send him through the floor.
I think she relented a little, for she went to one of the windows, bigger than any door you see nowadays, and looked out over the blooming orchard; and then after a while she came back to us, and was very gracious. She patted me on the head; and I must have shrunk from her touch, for she laughed and said she never bit nice little boys. Then she asked me my name; and when I told her, she said my grandmother was the dearest woman in the world. Moreover, she told my companion that it would spoil preserves to carry them about in a tin bucket; and then she fetched a big basket, and had it filled with preserves, and jelly, and cake. There were some ginger-preserves among the rest, and I remember that I appreciated them very highly; the more so, since my companion had a theory of his own that ginger-preserves and fruit-cake were not good for sick people.
I remember, too, that Mrs. Tomlinson had a little daughter about my own age. She had long yellow hair and very black eyes. She rode around in the Tomlinson carriage a great deal, and everybody said she was remarkably pretty, with a style and a spirit all her own. The negroes used to say that she was as affectionate as she was wilful, which was saying a good deal. It was characteristic of Harriet Bledsoe, my grandmother said, that her little girl should be named Lady.
I heard a great many of the facts I have stated from old Aunt Fountain, one of the Tomlinson negroes, who, for some reason or other, was permitted to sell ginger-cakes and persimmon-beer under the wide-spreading China trees in Rockville on public days and during court week. There was a theory among certain envious people in Rockville—there are envious people everywhere—that the Tomlinsons, notwithstanding the extent of their landed estate and the number of their negroes, were sometimes short of ready cash; and it was hinted that they pocketed the proceeds of Aunt Fountain's persimmon-beer and ginger-cakes. Undoubtedly such stories as these were the outcome of pure envy. When my grandmother heard such gossip as this, she sighed, and said that people who would talk about Harriet Bledsoe in that way would talk about anybody under the sun. My own opinion is, that Aunt Fountain got the money and kept it; otherwise she would not have been so fond of her master and mistress, nor so proud of the family and its position. I spent many an hour near Aunt Fountain's cake and beer stand, for I liked to hear her talk. Besides, she had a very funny name, and I thought there was always a probability that she would explain how she got it. But she never did.
I had forgotten all about the Tomlinsons until the advertisement I have mentioned was accidentally brought to my notice, whereupon memory suddenly became wonderfully active. I am keenly alive to the happier results of the war, and I hope I appreciate at their full value the emancipation of both whites and blacks from the deadly effects of negro slavery, and the wonderful development of our material resources that the war has rendered possible; but I must confess it was with a feeling of regret that I learned that the Tomlinson Place had been turned into a dairy farm. Moreover, the name of Ferris Trunion had a foreign and an unfamiliar sound. His bluntly worded advertisement appeared to come from the mind of a man who would not hesitate to sweep away both romance and tradition if they happened to stand in the way of a profitable bargain.
I was therefore much gratified, some time after reading Trunion's advertisement, to receive a note from a friend who deals in real estate, telling me that some land near the Tomlinson Place had been placed in his hands for sale, and asking me to go to Rockville to see if the land and the situation were all they were described to be. I lost no time in undertaking this part of the business, for I was anxious to see how the old place looked in the hands of strangers, and unsympathetic strangers at that.
It is not far from Atlanta to Rockville—a day and a night—and the journey is not fatiguing; so that a few hours after receiving my friend's request I was sitting in the veranda of the Rockville Hotel, observing, with some degree of wonder, the vast changes that had taken place—the most of them for the better. There were new faces and new enterprises all around me, and there was a bustle about the town that must have caused queer sensations in the minds of the few old citizens who still gathered at the post-office for the purpose of carrying on ancient political controversies with each other.
Among the few familiar figures that attracted my attention was that of Aunt Fountain. The old China tree in the shade of which she used to sit had been blasted by lightning or fire; but she still had her stand there, and she was keeping the flies and dust away with the same old turkey-tail fan. I could see no change. If her hair was grayer, it was covered and concealed from view by the snow-white handkerchief tied around her head. From my place I could hear her humming a tune—the tune I had heard her sing in precisely the same way years ago. I heard her scolding a little boy. The gesture, the voice, the words, were the same she had employed in trying to convince me that my room was much better than my company, especially in the neighborhood of her cake-stand. To see and hear her thus gave me a peculiar feeling of homesickness. I approached and saluted her. She bowed with old-fashioned politeness, but without looking up.
"De biggest uns, dee er ten cent," she said, pointing to her cakes; "en de littlest, dee er fi' cent. I make um all myse'f, suh. En de beer in dat jug—dat beer got body, suh."
"I have eaten many a one of your cakes, Aunt Fountain," said I, "and drank many a glass of your beer; but you have forgotten me."
"My eye weak, suh, but dee ain' weak nuff fer dat." She shaded her eyes with her fan, and looked at me. Then she rose briskly from her chair. "De Lord he'p my soul!" she exclaimed enthusiastically. "W'y, I know you w'en you little boy. W'at make I ain' know you w'en you big man? My eye weak, suh, but dee ain' weak nuff fer dat. Well, suh, you mus' eat some my ginger-cake. De Lord know you has make way wid um w'en you wuz little boy."
The invitation was accepted, but somehow the ginger-cakes had lost their old-time relish; in me the taste and spirit of youth were lacking.
We talked of old times and old friends, and I told Aunt Fountain that I had come to Rockville for the purpose of visiting in the neighborhood of the Tomlinson Place.
"Den I gwine wid you, suh," she cried, shaking her head vigorously. "I gwine wid you." And go she did.
"I been layin' off ter go see my young mistiss dis long time," said Aunt Fountain, the next day, after we had started. "I glad I gwine deer in style. De niggers won' know me skacely, ridin' in de buggy dis away."
"Your young mistress?" I inquired.
"Yes, suh. You know Miss Lady w'en she little gal. She grown 'oman now."
"Well, who is this Trunion I have heard of?"
"He monst'ous nice w'ite man, suh. He married my young mistiss. He monst'ous nice w'ite man."
"But who is he? Where did he come from?"
Aunt Fountain chuckled convulsively as I asked these questions.
"We-all des pick 'im up, suh. Yes, suh; we-all des pick 'im up. Ain' you year talk 'bout dat, suh? I dunner whar you bin at ef you ain' never is year talk 'bout dat. He de fus' w'ite man w'at I ever pick up, suh. Yes, suh; de ve'y fus' one."
"I don't understand you," said I; "tell me about it."
At this Aunt Fountain laughed long and loudly. She evidently enjoyed my ignorance keenly.
"De Lord know I oughtn' be laughin' like dis. I ain' laugh so hearty sence I wuz little gal mos', en dat wuz de time w'en Marse Rowan Tomlinson come 'long en ax me my name. I tell 'im, I did: 'I'm name Flew Ellen, suh.' Marse Rowan he deaf ez any dead hoss. He 'low: 'Hey?' I say: 'I'm name Flew Ellen, suh.' Marse Rowan say: 'Fountain! Huh! he quare name.' I holler en laugh, en w'en de folks ax me w'at I hollerin' 'bout, I tell um dat Marse Rowan say I'm name Fountain. Well, suh, fum dat day down ter dis, stedder Flew Ellen, I'm bin name Fountain. I laugh hearty den en my name got change, en I feared ef I laugh now de hoss'll run away en turn de buggy upperside down right spang on top er me."
"But about this Mr. Trunion?" said I.
"Name er de Lord!" exclaimed Aunt Fountain, "ain' you never is bin year 'bout dat? You bin mighty fur ways, suh, kaze we all bin knowin' 'bout it fum de jump."
"No doubt. Now tell me about it."
Aunt Fountain shook her head, and her face assumed a serious expression.
"I dunno 'bout dat, suh. I year tell dat niggers ain' got no business fer go talkin' 'bout fambly doin's. Yit dar wuz yo' gran-mammy. My mistiss sot lots by her, en you been bornded right yer 'long wid um. I don't speck it'll be gwine so mighty fur out'n de fambly ef I tell you 'bout it."
I made no attempt to coax Aunt Fountain to tell me about Trunion, for I knew it would be difficult to bribe her not to talk about him. She waited a while, evidently to tease my curiosity; but as I betrayed none, and even made an effort to talk about something else, she began:
"Well, suh, you ax me 'bout Marse Fess Trunion. I know you bleeze ter like dat man. He ain' b'long ter we-all folks, no furder dan he my young mistiss ole man, but dee ain' no finer w'ite man dan him. No, suh; dee ain'. I tell you dat p'intedly. De niggers, dee say he mighty close en pinchin', but deze is mighty pinchin' times—you know dat yo'se'f, suh. Ef a man don' fa'rly fling 'way he money, dem Tomlinson niggers, dee'll say he mighty pinchin'. I hatter be pinchin' myse'f, suh, kaze I know time I sell my ginger-cakes dat ef I don't grip onter de money, dee won' be none lef' fer buy flour en 'lasses fer make mo'. It de Lord's trufe, suh, kaze I done had trouble dat way many's de time. I say dis 'bout Marse Fess Trunion, ef he ain' got de blood, he got de breedin'. Ef he ain' good ez de Tomlinsons, he lots better dan some folks w'at I know."
I gathered from all this that Trunion was a foreigner of some kind, but I found out my mistake later.
"I pick dat man up myse'f, en I knows 'im 'most good ez ef he wuz one er we-all."
"What do you mean when you say you 'picked him up'?" I asked, unable to restrain my impatience.
"Well, suh, de fus' time I see Marse Fess Trunion wuz terreckerly atter de Sherman army come 'long. Dem wuz hot times, suh, col' ez de wedder wuz. Dee wuz in-about er million un um look like ter me, en dee des ravage de face er de yeth. Dee tuck all de hosses, en all de cows, en all de chickens. Yes, suh; dee cert'n'y did. Man come 'long, en 'low: 'Aunty, you free now,' en den he tuck all my ginger-cakes w'at I bin bakin' 'g'inst Chris'mus; en den I say: 'Ef I wuz free ez you is, suh, I'd fling you down en take dem ginger-cakes 'way fum you.' Yes, suh. I tole 'im dat. It make me mad fer see de way dat man walk off wid my ginger-cakes.
"I got so mad, suh, dat I foller 'long atter him little ways; but dat ain' do no good, kaze he come ter whar dee wuz some yuther men, en dee 'vide up dem cakes till de wa'n't no cake lef'. Den I struck 'cross de plan'ation, en walked 'bout in de drizzlin' rain tell I cool off my madness, suh, kaze de flour dat went in dem cakes cos' me mos 'a hunderd dollars in good Confederick money. Yes, suh; it did dat. En I work for dat money mighty hard.
"Well, suh, I ain' walk fur 'fo' it seem like I year some un talkin'. I stop, I did, en lissen, en still I year um. I ain' see nobody, suh, but still I year um. I walk fus' dis away en den dat away, en den I walk 'roun' en 'roun', en den it pop in my min' 'bout de big gully. It ain' dar now, suh, but in dem days we call it de big gully, kaze it wuz wide en deep. Well, suh, 'fo' I git dar I see hoss-tracks, en dee led right up ter de brink. I look in, I did, en down dar dee wuz a man en a hoss. Yes, suh; dee wuz bofe down dar. De man wuz layin' out flat on he back, en de hoss he wuz layin' sorter up en down de gully en right on top er one er de man legs, en eve'y time de hoss'd scrample en try fer git up de man 'ud talk at 'im. I know dat hoss mus' des nat'ally a groun' dat man legs in de yeth, suh. Yes, suh. It make my flesh crawl w'en I look at um. Yit de man ain' talk like he mad. No, suh, he ain'; en it make me feel like somebody done gone en hit me on de funny-bone w'en I year 'im talkin' dat away. Eve'y time de hoss scuffle, de man he 'low: 'Hol' up, ole fel, you er mashin' all de shape out'n me.' Dat w'at he say, suh. En den he 'low: 'Ef you know how you hurtin', ole fel, I des know you'd be still.' Yes, suh. Dem he ve'y words.
"All dis time de rain wuz a-siftin' down. It fall mighty saft, but 'twuz monst'ous wet, suh. Bimeby I crope up nigher de aidge, en w'en de man see me he holler out: 'Hol' on, aunty; don't you fall down yer!'
"I ax 'im, I say: 'Marster, is you hurted much?' Kaze time I look at 'im I know he ain' de villyun w'at make off wid my ginger-cakes. Den he 'low: 'I speck I hurt purty bad, aunty, en de wuss un it is dat my hoss keep hurtin' me mo'.'
"Den nex' time de hoss move it errortate me so, suh, dat I holler at 'im loud ez I ken: 'Wo dar, you scan'lous villyun! Wo!' Well, suh, I speck dat hoss mus a-bin use'n ter niggers, kaze time I holler at 'im he lay right still, suh. I slid down dat bank, en I kotch holter dat bridle—I don't look like I'm mighty strong, does I, suh?" said Aunt Fountain, pausing suddenly in her narrative to ask the question.
"Well, no," said I, humoring her as much as possible. "You don't seem to be as strong as some people I've seen."
"Dat's it, suh!" she exclaimed. "Dat w'at worry me. I slid down dat bank, en I kotch dat hoss by de bridle. De man say: 'Watch out dar, aunty! don't let he foot hit you. Dee one cripple too much now.' I ain' pay no 'tention, suh. I des grab de bridle, en I slew dat hoss head roun', en I fa'rly lif 'im on he foots. Yes, suh, I des lif 'im on he foots. Den I led 'im down de gully en turnt 'im a-loose, en you ain' never see no hoss supjued like dat hoss wuz, suh. Den I went back whar de man layin', en ax 'im ef he feel better, en he 'low dat he feel like he got a big load lif' offen he min', en den, mos' time he say dat, suh, he faint dead away. Yes, suh. He des faint dead away. I ain' never is see no man like dat, w'at kin be jokin' one minnit en den de nex' be dead, ez you may say. But dat's Marse Fess Trunion, suh. Dat's him up en down.
"Well, suh, I stan' dar, I did, en I ain' know w'at in de name er de Lord I gwine do. I wuz des ez wringin' wet ez if I'd a-bin baptize in de water; en de man he wuz mo' wetter dan w'at I wuz, en goodness knows how long he bin layin' dar. I run back ter de big 'ouse, suh, mighty nigh a mile, en I done my level bes' fer fin' some er de niggers en git um fer go wid me back dar en git de man. But I ain' fin' none un um, suh. Dem w'at ain' gone wid de Sherman army, dee done hide out. Den I went in de big 'ouse, suh, en tell Mistiss 'bout de man down dar in de gully, en how he done hurted so bad he ain' kin walk. Den Mistiss—I speck you done fergit Mistiss, suh—Mistiss, she draw herse'f up en ax w'at business dat man er any yuther man got on her plan'ation. I say: 'Yassum, dat so; but he done dar, en ef he stay dar he gwine die dar.' Yes, suh; dat w'at I say. I des put it at Mistiss right pine-blank.
"Den my young mistiss—dat's Miss Lady, suh—she say dat dough she spize um all dez bad az she kin, dat man mus' be brung away from dar. Kaze, she say, she don't keer how yuther folks go on, de Tomlinsons is bleeze to do like Christian people. Yes, suh; she say dem ve'y words. Den Mistiss, she 'low dat de man kin be brung up, en put in de corn-crib, but Miss Lady she say no, he mus' be brung en put right dar in de big 'ouse in one er de upsta'rs rooms, kaze maybe some er dem State er Georgy boys mought be hurted up dar in de Norf, en want some place fer stay at. Yes, suh; dat des de way she talk. Den Mistiss, she ain' say nothin', yit she hol' her head mighty high.
"Well, suh, I went back out in de yard, en den I went 'cross ter de nigger-quarter, en I ain' gone fur tell I year my ole man prayin' in dar some'r's. I know 'im by he v'ice, suh, en he wuz prayin' des like it wuz camp-meetin' time. I hunt 'roun' fer 'im, suh, en bimeby I fin' 'im squattin' down behime de do'. I grab 'im, I did, en I shuck 'im, en I 'low: 'Git up fum yer, you nasty, stinkin' ole villyun, you!' Yes, suh; I wuz mad. I say: 'W'at you doin' squattin' down on de flo'? Git up fum dar en come go 'long wid me!' I hatter laugh, suh, kaze w'en I shuck my ole man be de shoulder, en holler at 'im, he put up he two han', suh, en squall out: 'Oh, pray, marster! don't kill me dis time, en I ain' never gwine do it no mo'!'
"Atter he 'come pacify, suh, den I tell him 'bout de man down dar in de gully, en yit we ain' know w'at ter do. My ole man done hide out some er de mules en hosses down in de swamp, en he feard ter go atter um, suh, kaze he skeerd de Sherman army would come marchin' back en fine um, en he 'low dat he mos' know dee er comin' back atter dat man down dar. Yes, suh; he de skeerdest nigger w'at I ever see, if I do say it myse'f. Yit, bimeby he put out atter one er de hosses, en he brung 'im back; en we hitch 'im up in de spring-waggin, en atter dat man we went. Yes, suh; we did dat. En w'en we git dar, dat ar man wuz plum ravin' deestracted. He wuz laughin' en talkin' wid hese'f, en gwine on, tell it make yo' blood run col' fer lissen at 'im. Yes, suh.
"Me en my ole man, we pick 'im up des like he wuz baby. I come mighty nigh droppin' 'im, suh, kaze one time, wiles we kyarn 'im up de bank, I year de bones in he leg rasp up 'g'inst one er n'er. Yes, suh. It make me blin' sick, suh. We kyard 'im home en put 'im upst'ars, en dar he stayed fer many's de long day."
"Where was Judge Tomlinson?" I asked. At this Aunt Fountain grew more serious than ever—a seriousness that was expressed by an increased particularity and emphasis in both speech and manner.
"You axin' 'bout Marster? Well, suh, he wuz dar. He wuz cert'n'y dar wid Mistiss en Miss Lady, suh, but look like he ain' take no intruss in w'at gwine on. Some folks 'low, suh, dat he ain' right in he head, but dee ain' know 'im—dee ain't know 'im, suh, like we-all. Endurin' er de war, suh, he wuz strucken wid de polzy, en den w'en he git well, he ain' take no intruss in w'at gwine on. Dey'd be long days, suh, w'en he ain' take no notice er nobody ner nuttin' but Miss Lady. He des had dem spells; en den, ag'in, he'd set out on de peazzer en sing by hese'f, en it make me feel so lonesome dat I bleeze ter cry. Yes, suh; it's de Lord's trufe.
"Well, suh, dat man w'at I fin' out dar in de gully wuz Marse Fess Trunion. Yes, suh, de ve'y same man. Dee ain' no tellin' w'at dat po' creetur gone thoo wid. He had fever, he had pneumony, en he had dat broke leg. En all 'long wid dat dee want skacely no time w'en he want laughin' en jokin'. Our w'ite folks, dee des spized 'im kaze he bin wid Sherman army. Dee say he wuz Yankee; but I tell um, suh, dat ef Yankee look dat away dee wuz cert'n'y mighty like we-all. Mistiss, she ain' never go 'bout 'im wiles he sick; en Miss Lady, she keep mighty shy, en she tu'n up her nose eve'y time she year 'im laugh. Oh, yes, suh; dee cert'n'y spize de Yankees endurin' er dem times. Dee hated um rank, suh. I tell um, I say: 'You-all des wait. Dee ain' no nicer man dan w'at he is, en you-all des wait tell you know 'im.' Shoo! I des might ez well talk ter de win', suh—dee hate de Yankees dat rank.
"By de time dat man git so he kin creep 'bout on crutches, he look mos' good ez he do now. He wuz dat full er life, suh, dat he bleeze ter go downsta'rs, en down he went. Well, suh, he wuz mighty lucky dat day. Kaze ef he'd a run up wid Mistiss en Miss Lady by hese'f, dee'd er done sumpn' ner fer ter make 'im feel bad. Dee cert'n'y would, suh. But dee wuz walkin' 'roun' in de yard, en he come out on de peazzer whar Marster wuz sunnin' hese'f and singin'. I wouldn' b'lieve it, suh, ef I ain' see it wid my two eyes; but Marster got up out'n he cheer, en straighten hese'f, en shuck han's wid Mars Fess, en look like he know all 'bout it. Dee sot dar, suh, en talk en laugh, en laugh en talk, tell bimeby I 'gun ter git skeerd on de accounts er bofe un um. Dee talk 'bout de war, en dee talk 'bout de Yankees, en dee talk politics right straight 'long des like Marster done 'fo' he bin strucken wid de polzy. En he talk sense, suh. He cert'n'y did. Bimeby Mistiss en Miss Lady come back fum dee walk, en dee look like dee gwine drap w'en dee see w'at gwine on. Dem two mens wuz so busy takin', suh, dat dee ain' see de wimmen folks, en dee des keep right on wid dee argafyin'. Mistiss en Miss Lady, dee ain' know w'at ter make er all dis, en dee stan' dar lookin' fus' at Marster en den at one er n'er. Bimeby dee went up de steps en start to go by, but Marster he riz up en stop um. Yes, suh. He riz right up en stop um, en right den en dar, suh, he make um interjuced ter one an'er. He stan' up, en he say: 'Mr. Trunion, dis my wife; Mr. Trunion, dis my daughter.'
"Well, suh, I wuz stannin' back in de big hall, en we'n I see Marster gwine on dat away my knees come mighty nigh failin' me, suh. Dis de fus' time w'at he reckermember anybody name, an de fus' time he do like he useter, sence he bin sick wid de polzy. Mistiss en Miss Lady, dee come 'long in atter w'ile, en dee look like dee skeerd. Well, suh, I des far'ly preach at um. Yes, suh; I did dat. I say: 'You see dat? You see how Marster doin'? Ef de han' er de Lord ain' in dat, den de han' ain' bin in nuttin' on de top side er dis yeth.' I say: 'You see how you bin cuttin' up 'roun' dat sick w'ite man wid yo' biggity capers, en yit de Lord retch down en make Marster soun' en well time de yuther w'ite man tetch 'im. Well, suh, dey wuz dat worked up dat dey sot down en cried. Yes, suh; dey did dat. Dey cried. En I ain' tellin' you no lie, suh, I stood dar en cried wid um. Let 'lone dat, I des far'ly boohooed. Yes, suh; dat's me. Wen I git ter cryin' sho' nuff, I bleeze ter boohoo.
"Fum dat on, Marster do like hese'f, en talk like hese'f. It look like he bin sleep long time, suh, en de sleep done 'im good. All he sense come back; en you know, suh, de Tomlinsons, w'en dey at deese'f, got much sense ez dee want en some fer give way. Mistiss and Miss Lady, dee wuz mighty proud 'bout Marster, suh, but dee ain' fergit dat de yuther man wuz Yankee, en dee hol' deese'f monst'ous stiff. He notice dat hese'f, en he want ter go 'way, but Marster, he 'fuse ter lissen at 'im right pine-plank, suh. He say de dead Tomlinsons would in-about turn over in dee graves ef dee know he sont a cripple man 'way from he 'ouse. Den he want ter pay he board, but Marster ain' lissen ter dat, en needer is Mistiss; en dis mighty funny, too, kaze right dat minnit dee wa'n't a half er dollar er good money in de whole fambly, ceppin' some silver w'at I work fer, en w'at I hide in er chink er my chimbly. No, suh. Dee want er half er dollar in de whole fambly, suh. En yit dee won't take de greenbacks w'at dat man offer um.
"By dat time, suh, de war wuz done done, en dee wuz tough times. Dee cert'n'y wuz, suh. De railroads wuz all broke up, en eve'ything look like it gwine helter-skelter right straight ter de Ole Boy. Ded wa'n't no law, suh, en dey wa'n't no nuttin'; en ef it hadn't er bin fer me en my ole man, I speck de Tomlinsons, proud ez dee wuz, would er bin mightily pincht fer fin' bread en meat. But dee ain' never want fer it yit, suh, kaze w'en me en my ole man git whar we can't move no furder, Marse Fess Trunion, he tuck holt er de place en he fetcht it right side up terreckerly. He say ter me dat he gwine pay he board dat away, suh, but he ain' say it whar de Tomlinsons kin year 'im, kaze den dee'd a-bin a fuss, suh. But he kotch holt, en me, en him, en my ole man, we des he't eve'ything hot. Mo' speshually Marse Fess Trunion, suh. You ain' know 'im, suh, but dat ar w'ite man, he got mo' ways ter work, en mo' short cuts ter de ways, suh, dan any w'ite man w'at I ever see, en I done see lots un um. It got so, suh, dat me en my ole man ain' have ter draw no mo' rashuns fum de F'eedman Bureau; but dee wuz one spell, suh, w'en wuss rashuns dan dem wuz on de Tomlinson table.
"Well, suh, dat w'ite man, he work en he scuffle; he hire niggers, and he turn um off; he plan, en he projick; en 'tain' so mighty long, suh, 'fo' he got eve'ything gwine straight. How he done it, I'll never tell you, suh; but do it he did. He put he own money in dar, suh, kaze dee wuz two times dat I knows un w'en he git money out'n de pos'-office, en I see 'im pay it out ter de niggers, suh. En all dat time he look like he de happies' w'ite man on top er de groun', suh. Yes, suh. En w'en he at de 'ouse Marster stuck right by 'im, en ef he bin he own son he couldn't pay him mo' 'tention. Dee wuz times, suh, w'en it seem like ter me dat Marse Fess Trunion wuz a-cuttin' he eye at Miss Lady, en den I 'low ter myse'f: 'Shoo, man, you mighty nice en all dat, but you Yankee, en you nee'nter be a-drappin' yo' wing 'roun' Miss Lady, kaze she too high-strung fer dat.'
"It look like he see it de same way I do, suh, kaze atter he git eve'ything straight he say he gwine home. Marster look like he feel mighty bad, but Mistiss en Miss Lady, dee ain't say nuttin' 'tall. Den, atter w'ile, suh, Marse Fess Trunion fix up, en off he put. Yes, suh. He went off whar he come fum, en I speck he folks wuz mighty glad ter see 'im atter so long, kaze ef dee ever wuz a plum nice man it wuz dat man. He want no great big man, suh, en he ain' make much fuss, yit he lef a mighty big hole at de Tomlinson Place, w'en he pulled out fum dar. Yes, suh; he did dat. It look like it lonesome all over de plan'ation. Marster, he 'gun ter git droopy, but eve'y time de dinner bell ring he go ter de foot er de sta'rs en call out: 'Come on. Trunion!' Yes, suh. He holler dat out eve'y day, en den, w'iles he be talkin', he'd stop en look roun' en say: 'Whar Trunion?' It ain' make no difference who he talkin' wid, suh, he'd des stop right still en ax: 'Whar Trunion?' Den de niggers, dee got slack, en eve'ything 'gun ter go een'-ways. One day I run up on Miss Lady settin' down cryin', en I ax her w'at de name er goodness de matter, en she say nuff de matter. Den I say she better go ask her pappy whar Trunion, en den she git red in de face, en 'low I better go 'ten' ter my business; en den I tell her dat ef somebody ain' tell us whar Trunion is, en dat mighty quick, dee won't be no business on dat place fer 'ten' ter. Yes, suh. I tol' her dat right p'intedly, suh.
"Well, suh, one day Marse Fess Trunion come a-drivin' up in a shiny double buggy, en he look like he des step right out'n a ban'-box; en ef ever I wuz glad ter see anybody, I wuz glad ter see dat man. Marster wuz glad; en dis time, suh, Miss Lady wuz glad, en she show it right plain; but Mistiss, she still sniff de a'r en hol' her head high. T'wa'n't long, suh, 'fo' we all knowd dat Marse Fess wuz gwine marry Miss Lady. I ain' know how dee fix it, kaze Mistiss never is come right out en say she agreeable 'bout it, but Miss Lady wuz a Bledsoe too, en a Tomlinson ter boot, en I ain' never see nobody w'at impatient nuff fer ter stan' out 'g'inst dat gal. It ain' all happen, suh, quick ez I tell it, but it happen; en but fer dat, I dunno w'at in de name er goodness would er 'come er dis place."
A few hours later, as I sat with Trunion on the veranda of his house, he verified Aunt Fountain's story, but not until after he was convinced that I was familiar with the history of the family. There was much in that history he could afford to be proud of, modern though he was. A man who believes in the results of blood in cattle is not likely to ignore the possibility of similar results in human beings; and I think he regarded the matter in some such practical light. He was a man, it seemed, who was disposed to look lightly on trouble, once it was over with; and I found he was not so much impressed with his struggle against the positive scorn and contempt of Mrs. Tomlinson—a struggle that was infinitely more important and protracted than Aunt Fountain had described it to be—as he was with his conflict with Bermuda grass. He told me laughingly of some of his troubles with his hot-headed neighbors in the early days after the war, but nothing of this sort seemed to be as important as his difficulties with Bermuda grass. Here the practical and progressive man showed himself; for I have a very vivid recollection of the desperate attempts of the farmers of that region to uproot and destroy this particular variety.
As for Trunion, he conquered it by cultivating it for the benefit of himself and his neighbors; and I suspect that this is the way he conquered his other opponents. It was a great victory over the grass, at any rate. I walked with him over the place, and the picture of it all is still framed in my mind—the wonderful hedges of Cherokee roses, and the fragrant and fertile stretches of green Bermuda through which beautiful fawn-colored cattle were leisurely making their way. He had a theory that this was the only grass in the world fit for the dainty Jersey cow to eat.
There were comforts and conveniences on the Tomlinson Place not dreamed of in the old days, and I think there was substantial happiness there too. Trunion himself was a wholesome man, a man full of honest affection, hearty laughter, and hard work—a breezy, companionable, energetic man. There was something boyish, unaffected, and winsome in his manners; and I can easily understand why Judge Addison Tomlinson, in his old age, insisted on astonishing his family and his guests by exclaiming: "Where's Trunion?" Certainly he was a man to think about and inquire after.
I have rarely seen a lovelier woman than his wife, and I think her happiness helped to make her so. She had inherited a certain degree of cold stateliness from her ancestors; but her experience after the war, and Trunion's unaffected ways, had acted as powerful correctives, and there was nothing in the shape of indifference or haughtiness to mar her singular beauty.
As for Mrs. Tomlinson—the habit is still strong in me to call her Harriet Bledsoe—I think that in her secret soul she had an ineradicable contempt for Trunion's extraordinary business energy. I think his "push and vim," as the phrase goes, shocked her sense of propriety to a far greater extent than she would have been willing to admit. But she had little time to think of these matters; for she had taken possession of her grandson, Master Addison Tomlinson Trunion, and was absorbed in his wild and boisterous ways, as grandmothers will be. This boy, a brave and manly little fellow, had Trunion's temper, but he had inherited the Tomlinson air. It became him well, too, and I think Trunion was proud of it.
"I am glad," said I, in parting, "that I have seen Aunt Fountain's Prisoner."
"Ah!" said he, looking at his wife, who smiled and blushed, "that was during the war. Since then I have been a Prisoner of Peace."
I do not know what industrial theories Trunion has impressed on his neighborhood by this time; but he gave me a practical illustration of the fact that one may be a Yankee and a Southerner too, simply by being a large-hearted, whole-souled American.
TROUBLE ON LOST MOUNTAIN
THERE is no doubt that when Miss Babe Hightower stepped out on the porch, just after sunrise one fine morning in the spring of 1876, she had the opportunity of enjoying a scene as beautiful as any that nature offers to the human eye. She was poised, so to speak, on the shoulder of Lost Mountain, a spot made cheerful and hospitable by her father's industry, and by her own inspiring presence. The scene, indeed, was almost portentous in its beauty. Away above her the summit of the mountain was bathed in sunlight, while in the valley below the shadows of dawn were still hovering—a slow-moving sea of transparent gray, touched here and there with silvery reflections of light. Across the face of the mountain that lifted itself to the skies, a belated cloud trailed its wet skirts, revealing, as it fled westward, a panorama of exquisite loveliness. The fresh, tender foliage of the young pines, massed here and there against the mountain side, moved and swayed in the morning breeze until it seemed to be a part of the atmosphere, a pale-green mist that would presently mount into the upper air and melt away. On a dead pine a quarter of a mile away, a turkey-buzzard sat with wings outspread to catch the warmth of the sun; while far above him, poised in the illimitable blue, serene, almost motionless, as though swung in the centre of space, his mate overlooked the world. The wild honeysuckles clambered from bush to bush, and from tree to tree, mingling their faint, sweet perfume with the delicious odors that seemed to rise from the valley, and float down from the mountain to meet in a little whirlpool of fragrance in the porch where Miss Babe Hightower stood. The flowers and the trees could speak for themselves; the slightest breeze gave them motion: but the majesty of the mountain was voiceless; its beauty was forever motionless. Its silence seemed more suggestive than the lapse of time, more profound than a prophet's vision of eternity, more mysterious than any problem of the human mind.
It is fair to say, however, that Miss Babe Hightower did not survey the panorama that lay spread out below her, around her, and above her, with any peculiar emotions. She was not without sentiment, for she was a young girl just budding into womanhood, but all the scenery that the mountain or the valley could show was as familiar to her as the fox-hounds that lay curled up in the fence-corners, or the fowls that crowed and clucked and cackled in the yard. She had discovered, indeed, that the individuality of the mountain was impressive, for she was always lonely and melancholy when away from it; but she viewed it, not as a picturesque affair to wonder at, but as a companion with whom she might hold communion. The mountain was something more than a mountain to her. Hundreds of times, when a little child, she had told it her small troubles, and it had seemed to her that the spirit of comfort dwelt somewhere near the precipitous summit. As she grew older the mountain played a less important part in her imagination, but she continued to regard it with a feeling of fellowship which she never troubled herself to explain or define.
Nevertheless, she did not step out on the porch to worship at the shrine of the mountain, or to enjoy the marvelous picture that nature presented to the eye. She went out in obedience to the shrilly uttered command of her mother:
"Run, Babe, run! That plegged old cat's a-tryin' to drink out'n the water-bucket. Fling a cheer at 'er! Sick the dogs on 'er."
The cat, understanding the situation, promptly disappeared when it saw Babe, and the latter had nothing to do but make such demonstrations as are natural to youth, if not to beauty. She seized one of the many curious crystal formations which she had picked up on the mountain, and employed for various purposes of ornamentation, and sent it flying after the cat. She threw with great strength and accuracy, but the cat was gone. The crystal went zooning into the fence-corner where one of the hounds lay; and this sensitive creature, taking it for granted that he had been made the special object of attack, set up a series of loud yells by way of protest. This aroused the rest of the dogs, and in a moment that particular part of the mountain was in an uproar. Just at that instant a stalwart man came around the corner of the house. He was bareheaded, and wore neither coat nor vest. He was tall and well made, though rather too massive to be supple. His beard, which was full and flowing, was plentifully streaked with gray. His appearance would have been strikingly ferocious but for his eyes, which showed a nature at once simple and humorous—and certainly the strongly molded, square-set jaws, and the firm lips needed some such pleasant corrective.
"Great Jerusalem, Babe!" cried this mild-eyed giant. "What could 'a' possessed you to be a-chunkin' ole Blue that away? Ag'in bullaces is ripe you'll git your heart sot on 'possum, an' whar' is the 'possum comin' from ef ole Blue's laid up? Blame my hide ef you ain't a-cuttin' up some mighty quare capers fer a young gal."
"Why, Pap!" exclaimed Babe, as soon as she could control her laughter, "that rock didn't tetch ole Blue. He's sech a make-believe, I'm a great mind to hit him a clip jest to show you how he can go on."
"Now, don't do that, honey," said her father. "Ef you want to chunk anybody, chunk me. I kin holler lots purtier'n ole Blue. An' ef you don't want to chunk me, chunk your mammy fer ole acquaintance' sake. She's big an' fat."
"Oh, Lordy!" exclaimed Mrs. Hightower from the inside of the house. "Don't set her atter me, Abe—don't, fer mercy's sake. Get her in the notion, an' she'll be a-yerkin' me aroun' thereckly like I wuz a rag-baby. I'm a-gittin' too ole fer ter be romped aroun' by a great big double-j'inted gal like Babe. Projick wi' 'er yourself, but make 'er let me alone."
Abe turned and went around the house again, leaving his daughter standing on the porch, her cheeks glowing, and her black eyes sparkling with laughter. Babe loitered on the porch a moment, looking into the valley. The gray mists had lifted themselves into the upper air, and the atmosphere was so clear that the road leading to the mountain could be followed by the eye, save where it ran under the masses of foliage; and it seemed to be a most devious and versatile road, turning back on itself at one moment only to plunge boldly forward the next. Nor was it lacking in color. On the levels it was of dazzling whiteness, shining like a pool of water; but at points where it made a visible descent it was alternately red and gray. Something or other on this variegated road attracted Miss Babe's attention, for she shaded her eyes with her hand, and leaned forward. Presently she cried out:
"Pap!—oh, pap! there's a man a-ridin' up Peevy's Ridge."
This information was repeated by Babe's mother; and in a few moments the porch, which was none too commodious, though it was very substantial, was occupied by the entire Hightower family, which included Grandsir Hightower, a white-haired old man, whose serenity seemed to be borrowed from another world. Mrs. Hightower herself was a stout, motherly-looking woman, whose whole appearance betokened contentment, if not happiness. Abe shaded his eyes with his broad hand, and looked toward Peevy's Ridge.
"I reckon maybe it's Tuck Peevy hisse'f," Mrs. Hightower remarked.
"That's who I 'lowed hit wiz," said Grandsir Hightower, in the tone of one who had previously made up his mind.
"Well, I reckon I ought to know Tuck Peevy," exclaimed Babe.
"That's so," said Grandsir Hightower. "Babe oughter know Tuck. She oughter know him certain an' shore; bekaze he's bin a-floppin' in an' out er this house ever' Sunday fer mighty nigh two year'. Some sez he likes Babe, an' some sez he likes Susan's fried chicken. Now, in my day and time—"
"He's in the dreen now," said Babe, interrupting her loquacious grandparent, who threatened to make some embarrassing remark. "He's a-ridin' a gray."
"He's a mighty early bird," said Abe, "less'n he's a-headin' fer the furder side. Maybe he's a revenue man," he continued. "They say they're a-gwine to heat the hills mighty hot from this on."
"You hain't got nothing gwine on down on the branch, is you, Abe?" inquired Grandsir Hightower, with pardonable solicitude.
"Well," said Abe evasively, "I hain't kindled no fires yit, but you better b'lieve I'm a-gwine to keep my beer from sp'ilin'. The way I do my countin', one tub of beer is natchally wuth two revenue chaps."
By this time the horseman who had attracted Babe's attention came into view again. Abe studied him a moment, and remarked:
"That hoss steps right along, an' the chap a-straddle of him is got on store-clo'es. Fetch me my rifle, Babe. I'll meet that feller half-way an' make some inquirements about his famerly, an' maybe I'll fetch a squir'l back."
With this Abe called to his dogs, and started off.
"Better keep your eye open, Pap," cried Sis. "Maybe it's the sheriff."
Abe paused a moment, and then pretended to be hunting a stone with which to demolish his daughter, whereupon Babe ran laughing into the house. The allusion to the sheriff was a stock joke in the Hightower household, though none of them made such free use of it as Babe, who was something more than a privileged character, so far as her father was concerned. On one occasion shortly after the war, Abe had gone to the little county town on business, and had been vexed into laying rough hands on one of the prominent citizens who was a trifle under the influence of liquor. A warrant was issued, and Dave McLendon, the sheriff of the county, a stumpy little man, whose boldness and prudence made him the terror of criminals, was sent to serve it. Abe, who was on the lookout for some such visitation, saw him coming, and prepared himself. He stood in the doorway, with his rifle flung carelessly across his left arm.
"Hold on thar, Dave!" he cried, as the latter came up. The sheriff, knowing his man, halted.
"I hate to fling away my manners, Dave," he went on, "but folks is gittin' to be mighty funny these days. A man's obleeged to s'arch his best frien's 'fore he kin find out the'r which aways. Dave, what sort of a dockyment is you got ag'in' me?"
"I got a warrant, Abe," said the sheriff, pleasantly.
"Well, Dave, hit won't fetch me," said Abe.
"Oh, yes!" said the sheriff. "Yes, it will, Abe. I bin a-usin' these kind er warrants a mighty long time, an' they fetches a feller every whack."
"Now, I'll tell you what, Dave," said Abe, patting his rifle, "I got a dockyment here that'll fetch you a blame sight quicker'n your dockyment'll fetch me; an' I tell you right now, plain an' flat, I hain't a-gwine to be drug aroun' an' slapped in jail."
The sheriff leaned carelessly against the rail fence in the attitude of a man who is willing to argue an interesting question.
"Well, I tell you how I feel about it, Abe," said the sheriff, speaking very slowly. "You kin shoot me, but you can't shoot the law. Bang away at me, an' thar's another warrant atter you. This yer one what I'm already got don't amount to shucks, so you better fling on your coat saddle your horse, an' go right along wi' me thes es neighborly ez you please."
"Dave," said Abe, "if you come in at that gate you er a goner."
"Well, Abe," the sheriff replied, "I 'lowed you'd kick; I know what human natur' on these hills is, an' so I thes axed some er the boys to come along. They er right down thar in the holler. They ain't got no mo' idea what I come fer'n the man in the moon; yit they'd make a mighty peart posse. Tooby shore, a great big man like you ain't afeard fer ter face a little bit er law."
Abe Hightower hesitated a moment, and then went into the house. In a few minutes he issued forth and went out to the gate where the sheriff was. The faces of the two men were a study. Neither betrayed any emotion nor alluded to the warrant. The sheriff asked after the "crap"; and Abe told him it was "middlin' peart," and asked him to go into the house and make himself at home until the horse could be saddled. After a while the two rode away. Once during the ride Abe said:
"I'm mighty glad it wa'n't that feller what run ag'in' you last fall, Dave."
"Why?" asked the sheriff.
"Bekaze I'd 'a' plugged him, certain an' shore," said Abe.
"Well," said the sheriff, laughing, "I wuz a-wishin' mighty hard thes about that time that the t'other feller had got 'lected."
The warrant amounted to nothing, and Abe was soon at home with his family; but it suited his high-spirited daughter to twit him occasionally because of his tame surrender to the sheriff, and it suited Dave to treat the matter good-humoredly.
Abe Hightower took his way down the mountain; and about two miles from his house, as the road ran, he met the stranger who had attracted Babe's attention. He was a handsome young fellow, and he was riding a handsome horse—a gray, that was evidently used to sleeping in a stable where there was plenty of feed in the trough.
The rider also had a well-fed appearance. He sat his horse somewhat jauntily, and there was a jocund expression in his features very pleasing to behold. He drew rein as he saw Abe, and gave a military salute in a careless, offhand way that was in strict keeping with his appearance.
"Good morning, sir," he said.
"Howdy?" said Abe.
"Fine day this."
"Well, what little I've saw of it is purty tollerbul."
The young fellow laughed, and his laughter was worth hearing. It had the ring of youth in it.
"Do you chance to know a Mr. Hightower?" he asked, throwing a leg over the pommel of the saddle.
"Do he live anywheres aroun' in these parts?" Abe inquired.
"So I'm told."
"Well, the reason I ast," said Abe, leaning his rifle against a tree, "is bekaze they mought be more'n one Hightower runnin' loose."
"You don't know him, then?"
"I know one on 'em. Any business wi' him?"
"Well, yes—a little. I was told he lived on this road. How far is his house?"
"Well, I'll tell you"—Abe took off his hat and scratched his head—"some folks mought take a notion hit wuz a long ways off, an' then, ag'in, yuther folks mought take a notion that hit wuz lots nigher. Hit's accordin' to the way you look at it."
"Is Mr. Hightower at home?" inquired the stranger, regarding Abe with some curiosity.
"Well," said Abe cautiously, "I don't reckon he's right slam bang at home, but I lay he ain't fur off."
"If you happen to see him, pray tell him there's a gentleman at his house who would like very much to see him."
"Well, I tell you what, mister," said Abe, speaking very slowly. "You're a mighty nice young feller—anybody kin shet the'r eyes and see that—but folks 'roun' here is mighty kuse; they is that away. Ef I was you, I'd thes turn right 'roun' in my tracks 'n' let that ar Mister Hightower alone. I wouldn't pester wi' 'im. He hain't no fitten company fer you."
"Oh, but I must see him," said the stranger. "I have business with him. Why, they told me down in the valley that Hightower, in many respects, is the best man in the county."
Abe smiled for the first time. It was the ghost of a smile.
"Shoo!" he exclaimed. "They don't know him down thar nigh as good as he's know'd up here. An' that hain't all. Thish yer Mister Hightower you er talkin' about is got a mighty bad case of measles at his house. You'd be ableedze to ketch 'em ef you went thar."
"I've had the measles," said the stranger.
"But these here measles," persisted Abe, half shutting his eyes and gazing at the young man steadily, "kin be cotched twicet. Thayer wuss 'n the smallpox—lots wuss."
"My dear sir, what do you mean?" the young man inquired, observing the significant emphasis of the mountaineer's language.
"Hit's thes like I tell you," said Abe. "Looks like folks has mighty bad luck when they go a-rippitin' hether an' yan on the mounting. It hain't been sech a monst'us long time sense one er them revenue fellers come a-paradin' up thish yer same road, a-makin' inquirements fer Hightower. He cotch the measles; bless you, he took an' cotch 'em by the time he got in hailin' distance of Hightower's, an' he had to be toted down. I disremember his name, but he wuz a mighty nice-lookin' young feller, peart an' soople, an' thes about your size an' weight."
"It was no doubt a great pity about the revenue chap," said the young man sarcastically.
"Lor', yes!" exclaimed Abe seriously; "lots er nice folks must 'a' cried about that man!"
"Well," said the other, smiling, "I must see Hightower. I guess he's a nicer man than his neighbors think he is."
"Shoo!" said Abe, "he hain't a bit nicer'n what I am, an' I lay he hain't no purtier. What mought be your name, mister?"
"My name is Chichester, and I'm buying land for some Boston people. I want to buy some land right on this mountain if I can get it cheap enough."
"Jesso," said Abe, "but wharbouts in thar do Hightower come in?"
"Oh, he knows all about the mountain, and I want to ask his advice and get his opinions," said Chichester.
Something about Mr. Chichester seemed to attract Abe Hightower. Perhaps it was the young fellow's fresh, handsome appearance; perhaps it was his free-and-easy attitude, suggestive of the commercial tourist, that met the approbation of the mountaineer. At any rate, Abe smiled upon the young man in a fatherly way and said: "'Twixt you an' me an' yon pine, you hain't got no furder to go fer to strike up wi' Hightower. I'm the man you er atter."
Chichester regarded him with some degree of amazement.
"My dear sir," he exclaimed, "why should you desire to play the sphinx?"
"Spinks?" said Abe, with something like a grimace; "the Spinks famerly lived furder up the mounting, but they er done bin weeded out by the revenue men too long ago to talk about. The ole man's in jail in Atlanty er some'rs else, the boys is done run'd off, an' the gal's a trollop. No Spinks in mine, cap', ef you please!"
Chichester laughed at the other's earnestness. He mistook it for drollery.
"I let you know, cap'," Abe went on, "you can't be boss er your own doin's an' give ever' passin' man your name."
"Well, I'm very glad to meet you," said Chichester heartily; "I'll have a good deal of business in this neighborhood first and last, and I'm told there isn't anything worth knowing about the mountain that you don't know."
"That kind er talk," Abe replied, "kin be run in the groun', yit I hain't a-denyin' but what I've got a kind er speakin' acquaintance wi' the neighborhood whar I'm a-livin' at. Ef you er huntin' my house, thes drive right on. I'll be thar ag'in you git thar."
Chichester found a very cordial welcome awaiting him when he arrived at Hightower's house. Even the dogs were friendly, and the big cat came out from its hiding-place to rub against his legs as he sat on the little porch.
"By the time you rest your face an' han's," said Abe, "I reckon breakfast'll be ready."
Chichester, who was anxious to give no trouble, explained that he had had a cup of coffee at Peevy's before starting up the mountain. He said, moreover, that the mountain was so bracing that he felt as if he could fast a week and still fatten.
"Well, sir," Abe remarked, "hit's mighty little we er got to offer, an' that little's mighty common, but, sech as 'tis, you er more'n welcome. Hit's diffunt wi' me when the mornin' air blows at me. Hit makes me wanter nibble at somepin'. I dunner whar you come from, an' I ain't makin' no inquirements, but down in these parts you can't spat a man harder betwixt the eyes than to set back an' not break bread wi' 'im."
Mr. Chichester had been warned not to wound the hospitality of the simple people among whom he was going, and he was quick to perceive that his refusal to "break bread" with the Hightowers would be taken too seriously. Whereupon, he made a most substantial apology—an apology that took the shape of a ravenous appetite, and did more than justice to Mrs. Hightower's fried chicken, crisp biscuits, and genuine coffee. Mr. Chichester also made himself as agreeable as he knew how, and he was so pleased with the impression he made that he, on his side, admitted to himself that the Hightowers were charmingly quaint, especially the shy girl of whom he caught a brief glimpse now and then as she handed her mother fresh supplies of chicken and biscuits.
There was nothing mysterious connected with the visit of Mr. Chichester to Lost Mountain. He was the agent of a company of Boston capitalists who were anxious to invest money in Georgia marble quarries, and Chichester was on Lost Mountain for the purpose of discovering the marble beds that had been said by some to exist there. He had the versatility of a modern young man, being something of a civil engineer and something of a geologist; in fine, he was one of the many "general utility" men that improved methods enable the high schools and colleges to turn out. He was in the habit of making himself agreeable wherever he went, but behind his levity and general good-humor there was a good deal of seriousness and firmness of purpose.
He talked with great freedom to the Hightowers, giving a sort of commercial coloring, so to speak, to the plans of his company with respect to land investments on Lost Mountain; but he said nothing about his quest for marble.
"The Lord send they won't be atter fetchin' the railroad kyars among us," said Grandsir Hightower fervently.
"Well, sir," said Chichester, "there isn't much danger."
"Now, I dunno 'bout that," said the old man querulously, "I dunno 'bout that. They're gittin' so these days they'll whirl in an' do e'enamost anything what you don't want 'em to do. I kin stan' out thar in the hoss-lot any cle'r day an' see the smoke er their ingines, an' sometimes hit looks like I kin hear 'em snort an' cough. They er plenty nigh enough. The Lord send they won't fetch 'em no nigher. Fum Giner'l Jackson's time plump tell now, they ere bin a-fetchin' destruction to the country. You'll see it. I mayn't see it myself, but you'll see it. Fust hit was Giner'l Jackson an' the bank, an' now hit's the railroad kyars. You'll see it!"
"And yet," said Chichester, turning toward the old man, as Hope might beam benignantly on the Past, "everybody and everything seems to be getting along very well. I think the only thing necessary now is to invent something or other to keep the cinders out of a man's eyes when he rides on the railroads."
"Don't let 'em fool you," said the old man earnestly. "Ever'thing's in a tangle, an' ther hain't no Whig party for to ontangle it. Giner'l Jackson an' the cussid bank is what done it."
Just then Miss Babe came out on the little porch, and seated herself on the bench that ran across one end. "Cap'," said Abe, with some show of embarrassment, as if not knowing how to get through a necessary ceremony, "this is my gal, Babe. She's the oldest and the youngest. I'm name' Abe an' she's name' Babe, sort er rimin' like."
The unaffected shyness of the young girl was pleasant to behold, and if it did not heighten her beauty, it certainly did not detract from it. It was a shyness in which there was not an awkward element, for Babe had the grace of youth and beauty, and conscious independence animated all her movements.
"'Ceppin' me an' the ole 'oman," said Abe, "Babe is the best-lookin' one er the famerly."
The girl reddened a little, and laughed lightly with the air of one who is accustomed to give and take jokes, but said nothing.
"I heard of Miss Babe last night," said Chichester, "and I've got a message for her."
"Wait!" exclaimed Abe triumphantly; "I'll bet a hoss I kin call the name 'thout movin' out'n my cheer. Hold on!" he continued. "I'll bet another hoss I kin relate the message word for word."
Babe blushed violently, but laughed good-humoredly. Chichester adjusted himself at once to this unexpected informality, and allowed himself to become involved in it.
"Come, now!" he cried, "I'll take the bet."
"I declare!" said Mrs. Hightower, laughing, "you all oughtn' to pester Babe that away."
"Wait!" said Abe. "The name er the man what sont the word is Tuck Peevy, an' when he know'd you was a-comin' here, he sort er sidled up an' ast you for to please be so good as to tell Miss Babe he'd drap in nex' Sunday, an' see what her mammy is a-gwine ter have for dinner."
"Well, I have won the bet," said Chichester. "Mr. Peevy simply asked me to tell Miss Babe that there would be a singing at Philadelphia camp-ground Sunday. I hardly know what to do with two horses."
"Maybe you'll feel better," said Abe, "when somebody tells you that my hoss is a mule. Well, well, well!" he went on. "Tuck didn't say he was comin', but I be boun' he comes, an' more'n that, I be boun' a whole passel er gals an' boys'll foller Babe home."
"In giner'lly," said Grandsir Hightower, "I hate for to make remarks 'bout folks when they hain't settin' whar they kin hear me, but that ar Tuck Peevy is got a mighty bad eye. I hearn 'im a-quollin' wi' one er them Simmons boys las' Sunday gone wuz a week, an' I tell you he's got the Ole Boy in 'im. An' his appetite's wuss'n his eye."
"Well," said Mrs. Hightower, "nobody 'roun' here don't begrudge him his vittles, I reckon."
"Oh, by no means—by no manner er means," said the old man, suddenly remembering the presence of Chichester. "Yit they oughter be reason in all things; that's what I say—reason in all things, espeshually when hit comes to gormandizin'."
The evident seriousness of the old man was very comical. He seemed to be possessed by the unreasonable economy that not infrequently seizes on old age.
"They hain't no begrudgin' 'roun' here," he went on. "Lord! ef I'd 'a' bin a-begrudgin' I'd 'a' thes natchally bin e't up wi' begrudges. What wer' the word the poor creetur sent to Babe?"
Chichester repeated the brief and apparently uninteresting message, and Grandsir Hightower groaned dismally.
"I dunner what sot him so ag'in' Tuck Peevy," said Abe, laughing. "Tuck's e'en about the peartest chap in the settlement, an' a mighty handy man, put him whar you will."
"Why, Aberham!" exclaimed the old man, "you go on like a man what's done gone an' took leave of his sev'm senses. You dunner what sot me ag'in' the poor creetur? Why, time an' time ag'in I've tol' you it's his ongodly hankerin' atter the flesh-pots. The Bible's ag'in' it, an' I'm ag'in' it. Wharbouts is it put down that a man is ever foun' grace in the cubberd?"
"Well, I lay a man that works is boun' ter eat," said Abe.
"Oh, I hain't no 'count—I can't work," said the old man, his wrath, which had been wrought to a high pitch, suddenly taking the shape of plaintive humility. "Yit 'tain't for long. I'll soon be out'n the way, Aberham."
"Shoo!" said Abe, placing his hand affectionately on the old man's shoulder. "You er mighty nigh as spry as a kitten. Babe, honey, fill your grandsir's pipe. He's a-missin' his mornin' smoke."
Soothed by his pipe, the old man seemed to forget the existence of Tuck Peevy, and his name came up for discussion no more.
But Chichester, being a man of quick perceptions, gathered from the animosity of the old man, and the rather uneasy attitude of Miss Babe, that the discussion of Peevy's appetite had its origin in the lover-like attentions which he had been paying to the girl. Certainly Peevy was excusable, and if his attentions had been favorably received, he was to be congratulated, Chichester thought; for in all that region it would have been difficult to find a lovelier specimen of budding womanhood than the young girl who had striven so unsuccessfully to hide her embarrassment as her grandfather proceeded, with the merciless recklessness of age, to criticize Peevy's strength and weakness as a trencherman.
As Chichester had occasion to discover afterward, Peevy had his peculiarities; but he did not seem to be greatly different from other young men to be found in that region. One of his peculiarities was that he never argued about anything. He had opinions on a great many subjects, but his reasons for holding his opinions he kept to himself. The arguments of those who held contrary views he would listen to with great patience, even with interest; but his only reply would be a slow, irritating smile and a shake of the head. Peevy was homely, but there was nothing repulsive about his homeliness. He was tall and somewhat angular; he was sallow; he had high cheek-bones, and small eyes that seemed to be as alert and as watchful as those of a ferret; and he was slow and deliberate in all his movements, taking time to digest and consider his thoughts before replying to the simplest question, and even then his reply was apt to be evasive. But he was good-humored and obliging, and, consequently, was well thought of by his neighbors and acquaintances.
There was one subject in regard to which he made no concealment, and that was his admiration for Miss Babe Hightower. So far as Peevy was concerned, she was the one woman in the world. His love for her was a passion at once patient, hopeful, and innocent. He displayed his devotion less in words than in his attitude; and so successful had he been that it was generally understood that by camp-meeting time Miss Babe Hightower would be Mrs. Tuck Peevy. That is to say, it was understood by all except Grandsir Hightower, who was apt to chuckle sarcastically when the subject was broached.
"They hain't arry livin' man," he would say, "what's ever seed anybody wi' them kind er eyes settled down an' married. No, sirs! Hit's the vittles Tuck Peevy's atter. Why, bless your soul an' body! he thes natchally dribbles at the mouth when he gits a whiff from the dinner-pot."
Certainly no one would have supposed that Tuck Peevy ever had a sentimental emotion or a romantic notion, but Grandsir Hightower did him great injustice. Behind his careless serenity he was exceedingly sensitive. It is true he was a man difficult to arouse; but he was what his friends called "a mighty tetchy man" on some subjects, and one of these subjects was Babe. Another was the revenue men. It was generally supposed by Peevy's acquaintances on Lost Mountain that he had a moonshine apparatus over on Sweetwater; but this supposition was the result, doubtless, of his well-known prejudice against the deputies sent out to enforce the revenue laws.
It had been the intention of Chichester to remain only a few days in that neighborhood; but the Hightowers were so hospitably inclined, and the outcroppings of minerals so interesting, that his stay was somewhat prolonged. Naturally, he saw a good deal of Peevy, who knew all about the mountain, and who was frequently able to go with him on his little excursions when Abe Hightower was otherwise engaged. Naturally enough, too, Chichester saw a great deal of Babe. He was interested in her because she was young and beautiful, and because of her quaint individuality. She was not only unconventional, but charmingly so. Her crudeness and her ignorance seemed to be merely phases of originality.
Chichester's interest in Babe was that of a studiously courteous and deferent observer, but it was jealously noted and resented by Tuck Peevy. The result of this was not at first apparent. For a time Peevy kept his jealous suggestions to himself, but he found it impossible to conceal their effect. Gradually, he held himself aloof, and finally made it a point to avoid Chichester altogether. For a time Babe made the most of her lover's jealousy. After the manner of her sex, she was secretly delighted to discover that he was furious at the thought that she might inadvertently have cast a little bit of a smile at Mr. Chichester; and on several occasions she heartily enjoyed Peevy's angry suspicions. But after a while she grew tired of such inconsistent and foolish manifestations. They made her unhappy, and she was too vigorous and too practical to submit to unhappiness with that degree of humility which her more cultivated sisters sometimes exhibit. One Sunday afternoon, knowing Chichester to be away, Tuck Peevy sauntered carelessly into Hightower's yard, and seated himself on the steps of the little porch. It was his first visit for several days, and Babe received him with an air of subdued coolness and indifference that did credit to her sex.
"Wharbouts is your fine gent this mornin'?" inquired Peevy, after a while.
"Wharbouts is who?"
"Your fine gent wi' the sto'-clo'es on."
"I reckon you mean Cap'n Chichester, don't you?" inquired Babe innocently.
"Oh, yes!" exclaimed Peevy; "he's the chap I'm a-making my inquirements atter."
"He's over on Sweetwater, I reckon. Leastways thar's whar he started to go."
"On Sweetwater. Oh, yes!" Peevy paused and ran his long slim fingers through his thin straight hair. "I'm mighty much afeard," he went on after a pause, "that that fine gent o' yourn is a-gwine ter turn out for to be a snake. That's what I'm afeard un."
"Well," said Babe, with irritating coolness, "he don't do any of his sneakin' aroun' here. Ef he sneaks, he goes some'ers else to sneak. He don't hang aroun' an' watch his chance to drap in an' pay his calls. I reckon he'd walk right in at the gate thar ef he know'd the Gov'ner er the State wuz a-settin' here. I'm mighty glad I hain't saw none er his sneakin'."
Peevy writhed under this comment on his own actions, but said nothing in reply.
"You don't come to see folks like you useter," said Babe, softening a little. "I reckon you er mighty busy down thar wi' your craps."
Peevy smiled until he showed his yellow teeth. It was not intended to be a pleasant smile.
"I reckon I come lots more'n I'm wanted," he replied. "I hain't got much sense," he went on, "but I got a leetle bit, an' I know when my room's wuth more'n my comp'ny."
"Your hints has got more wings'n stings," said Babe. "But ef I had in my min' what you er got in yourn—"
"Don't say the word, Babe!" exclaimed Peevy, for the first time fixing his restless eyes on her face. "Don't!"
"Yes, I'll say it," said Babe solemnly. "I oughter 'a' said it a long time ago when you wuz a-cuttin' up your capers bekaze Phli Varnadoe wuz a-comin' here to see Pap. I oughter 'a' said it then, but I'll say it now, right pine-blank. Ef I had in my min' what you er got in yourn, I wouldn't never darken this door no more."
Peevy rose, and walked up and down the porch. He was deeply moved, but his face showed his emotion only by a slight increase of sallowness. Finally he paused, looking at Babe.
"I lay you'd be mighty glad ef I didn't come no more," he said, with a half smile. "I reckon it kinder rankles you for to see old Tuck Peevy a-hangin' roun' when the t'other feller's in sight." Babe's only reply was a scornful toss of the head.
"Oh, yes!" Peevy went on, "hit rankles you might'ly; yit I lay it won't rankle you so much atter your daddy is took an' jerked off to Atlanty. I tell you, Babe, that ar man is one er the revenues—they hain't no two ways about that."
Babe regarded her angry lover seriously.
"Hit ain't no wonder you make up your min' ag'in' him when you er done made it up ag'in' me. I know in reason they must be somep'n 'nother wrong when a great big grown man kin work hisself up to holdin' spite. Goodness knows, I wish you wuz like you useter be when I fust know'd you."
Peevy's sallow face flushed a little at the remembrance of those pleasant, peaceful days; but, somehow, the memory of them had the effect of intensifying his jealous mood.
"'Tain't me that's changed aroun'," he exclaimed passionately, "an' 'tain't the days nuther. Hit's you—you! An' that fine gent that's a hanging roun' here is the 'casion of it. Ever'whar I go, hit's the talk. Babe, you know you er lovin' that man!"
Peevy was wide of the mark, but the accusation was so suddenly and so bluntly made that it brought the blood to Babe's face—a tremulous flush that made her fairly radiant for a moment. Undoubtedly Mr. Chichester had played a very pleasing part in her youthful imagination, but never for an instant had he superseded the homely figure of Tuck Peevy. The knowledge that she was blushing gave Babe an excuse for indignation that women are quick to take advantage of. She was so angry, indeed, that she made another mistake.
"Why, Tuck Peevy!" she cried, "you shorely must be crazy. He wouldn't wipe his feet on sech as me!"
"No," said Peevy, "I 'lowed he wouldn't, an' I 'lowed as how you wouldn't wipe your feet on me." He paused a moment, still smiling his peculiar smile. "Hit's a long ways down to Peevy, ain't it?"
"You er doin' all the belittlin'," said Babe.
"Oh, no, Babe! Ever'thing's changed. Why, even them dogs barks atter me. Ever'thing's turned wrong-sud-outerds. An' you er changed wuss'n all."
"Well, you don't reckon I'm a-gwine ter run out'n the gate thar an' fling myself at you, do you?" exclaimed Babe.
"No, I don't. I've thes come to-day for to git a cle'r understan'in'." He hesitated a moment and then went on: "Babe, will you marry me to-morrow?" He asked the question with more eagerness than he had yet displayed.
"No, I won't!" exclaimed Babe, "ner the nex' day nuther. The man I marry'll have a lots better opinion of me than what you er got."
Babe was very indignant, but she paused to see what effect her words would have. Peevy rubbed his hands nervously together, but he made no response. His serenity was more puzzling than that of the mountain. He still smiled vaguely, but it was not a pleasing smile. He looked hard at Babe for a moment, and then down at his clumsy feet. His agitation was manifest, but it did not take the shape of words. In the trees overhead two jays were quarreling with a catbird, and in the upper air a bee-martin was fiercely pursuing a sparrow-hawk.
"Well," he said, after a while, "I reckon I better be gwine."
"Wait till your hurry's over," said Babe, in a gentler tone.
Peevy made no reply, but passed out into the road and disappeared down the mountain. Babe followed him to the gate, and stood looking after him; but he turned his head neither to the right nor to the left, and in a little while she went into the house with her head bent upon her bosom. She was weeping. Grandsir Hightower, who had shuffled out on the porch to sun himself, stared at the girl with amazement.
"Why, honey!" he exclaimed, "what upon the top side er the yeth ails you?"
"Tuck has gone home mad, an' he won't never come back no more," she cried.
"What's the matter wi' 'im?"
"Oh, he's thes mad along er me."
"Well, well, well!" exclaimed the old man, fumbling feebly in his pockets for his red bandanna handkerchief, "what kind of a come-off is this? Did you ast him to stay to dinner, honey?"
"No—no; he didn't gimme a chance."
"I 'lowed you didn't," exclaimed Grandsir Hightower triumphantly. "I thes natchally 'lowed you didn't. That's what riled 'im. An' now he'll go off an' vilify you. Well, well, well! he's missed his dinner! The fust time in many's the long day. Watch 'im, Babe! Watch 'im, honey! The Ole Boy's in 'im. I know 'im; I've kep' my two eyes on 'im. For a mess er turnip-greens an' dumperlin's that man 'u'd do murder." The old man paused and looked all around, as if by that means to dissipate a suspicion that he was dreaming. "An' so Tuck missed his dinner! Tooby shore—tooby shore!"