Sunlight Patch
by Credo Fitch Harris
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Author of "Toby: A Novel of Kentucky," "Motor Rambles in Italy," etc.

Boston Small, Maynard & Company Publishers

Copyright, 1915 by Small, Maynard & Company (Incorporated)














































He appeared an odd figure, sitting loosely on an old white mare which held her nose to the ground and cautiously single-footed over the uneven road. Unconcerned, perhaps unconscious that he bestrode a horse, his head was thrown back and his gaze penetrated the lace-work of branches to a sky exquisite blue where a few white, puffy clouds were aimlessly suspended. And, like these clouds, his thoughts hovered between unrealized hopes and the realistic mountains he was leaving; thoughts interwoven with ambitions which had obsessed his waking hours and glorified his dreams—dreams, desires, ambitions, always before his eyes but out of reach. His hair fell to the opened collar of a homespun shirt, and homespun were his trousers, tucked into a pair of homemade boots. His saddle bore an obscure brand of the United States army, for it had carried one of his people through the War of the States fifty years before, and across its pummel balanced a long, ungainly rifle of an earlier period.

It was an afternoon of that month when the spirit of Kentucky arises from the loamy soil after a recreating sleep of winter. The fragrance of the earth was everywhere. Overhead the trees met in great, silent arches—Nature's Gothic, re-frescoed now in the delicate tints of spring by the brush of Nature's Master—beneath which all life seemed breathlessly poised as though in this dim-lit, sun-dappled cathedral of the forest a mute service were in progress. But the man—he did not seem to see, or feel, or be. Thus, without a sound except for the muffled shuffle of the old mare's unshod hoofs, he rode.

They were coming down the mountain, he and the old white mare; coming down into the valley, into the "settlements"; and to-day marked the last stage of his journey from the center of those wild giants which had bounded the territory of his twenty-two years' existence. To-day he would emerge from the foothills into the open country; into the smiling country of his imagination, from somewhere in whose expanding fields now came the call of a toiling plowboy. It was this which finally brought him from his reverie in the sky, from his lofty dreams to the smell of earth.

Drawing down his gaze, he saw that here, indeed, was the open threshold of a new world, and his eyes distended with a veritable glory of sight. They had seen distance, but not like this. They had ranged from mountain peak to mountain peak, or across the scarred tops of intervening peaks to a skyline untamed even by the coaxing tints of rose and purple sunsets; but before him now lay distance of another kind: hills upon hills, 'twas true, yet low; and whose once rough lines were mellowed by the patient surgery of a hundred years of plowshares. Gentle slopes, and shallow valleys, and slopes again—not standing like his graven monsters of the Cumberlands, but lolling in peace and lazy unconcern, melting into the azure west so artfully that he could not be definitely sure where earth left off and sky began. And between these softly molded forms was no towering harshness at whose contemplation his eyes would intuitively have narrowed, but a subdued carpet of many fields, with here and there a nestling home. A grand, sweeping canvas, it might have been, whose browns of new-turned soil, whose light green tints of reborn orchards and sprouting wheat, were gracefully interrupted by the deeper tones of clustered trees—those remnants of primeval forest which the unintentional landscape gardeners of pioneer days had chanced to leave standing in this picturesque Kentucky valley.

A welcome seemed to rise from it like soothing fingers laid upon his brow and his frame drooped in extreme contentment; for it portrayed the country he had come to seek from his home back in that wilderness where bridle-paths are boulevards and primitive log cabins the mansions of his people. So he continued to sit spellbound, held between the satisfaction of lingering and the impulse to ride down into it, and to rest there as everything seemed to be resting in a soft growth of plenty. This was decided by the mare which, of her own accord, turned and started on.

He did not again draw rein for many miles. The needle of his nature urged him forward, straight along a narrow valley lane that ambled between mildewed fences and their inclosed fields; between untouched walls of wild-grape, red-bud and blossoming dog-wood; and he knew that his intuition was not sending him astray. This sweet-smelling road was now making another turn which ushered him directly upon a frame schoolhouse, set slightly back in a grove of trees. Quickly, he brought the old mare to a stop.

That it was a schoolhouse—the very schoolhouse which had been the reliquary of his dreams—he never doubted, so accurately did it fit the description given by a mountain preacher; and to be actually facing it in the material form filled him with a nameless fascination. Sitting rigid, in an attitude bent forward, his tense stare directed on its partly open door, he suggested a Marathon runner crouched for the start of that great trial; and somewhere in his subconsciousness a voice whispered that this day, this hour, marked the beginning of his mortal race. He comprehended a certain vague significance to which analysis was denied.

Then slowly dismounting he led the mare deep into an opposite thicket. There was no necessity for doing this, no reason, except the latent sense of caution a wild creature feels in strange places; and, having concealed his rifle beneath a fallen log, he turned back to the road. But now he hesitated, putting one hand against a tree for support. A close observer might have seen that his body was swaying slightly from side to side with a curious movement, not unlike the restive motion of a caged beast; and a glance at his face would have confirmed the existence of some overwhelming emotion. In a deep, drawling voice, he spoke:

"Wall, Ruth, I reckon hyar hit air, 'cause hit looks jest like the preacher said! Now help my arms ter keep hit with me, 'n' pray the Lawd ter make my haid larn all the larnin' hit's got shet up in thar! 'N' tell Him ter give my eyes the fu'st sight of ary danged skunk that'll try ter crowd me outen hit, so's I kin kill 'im till he rots in hell; 'n' I'll be the Christian ye asked me ter!"

A gentle, almost a childish smile of satisfaction played across his mouth, and the next moment he was walking forward, carefully and reverently, as though the little schoolhouse were on holy ground.

The afternoon was waning, and the declining sun cast a genial glow upon the weatherboarded front; gilding, too, the near side of a crooked flag-pole set jauntily in the yard. Except for evidences of recent life the place seemed utterly deserted, and emboldened, even though disappointed by this, he went up to the door. Here again he hesitated, for some one within was speaking. It was a woman's voice, raised in command and fear.



"You may go home now," she was saying. There was a pause which carried no sign or sound of movement. "You may go home, don't you understand?"

It was a voice that to the listening mountaineer seemed inexpressibly sweet and caressing, in spite of the determination which made it a bit unsteady. Still no answer. The silence was becoming unnatural.

"Tusk," she said again, "don't stand before me like this! Go home!"

Not knowing exactly what to do, but in a vague way feeling that he might be needed, the stranger stepped cautiously to the door and peered in.

With her back to the blackboard and her arms rigid against her sides, altogether in an attitude of one at bay, stood a girl. He first noticed that her hands were tightly clenched, and then his look went upward. Streaming through the window the same golden rays that burnished the weatherboards and flag-pole touched the looser strands of her hair. This, against the background of black, framed her upraised face with a halo of lustrous glory, softening the parted lips rather than showing them to be stamped with fear, but not disguising the terror which leapt from her eyes as they stared, fairly hypnotized, at an ungainly man who stood leering down at her. His head was set deep between massive, stooping shoulders, and his arms were abnormally long, while the color of his face indicated a diet, at some period of his life, of clay and berries. Two fang-like teeth, curving outward as the tusks of a wild boar—having furnished inspiration for the name by which he was most popularly known—added a last fierce touch to his repulsive features.

"Go home," the girl repeated, now in a weaker voice.

"It ain't time to go home," he growled. "When kids don't know their lessons you make 'em stay in, don't you? Well, I'm a-stayin', too!"

"Let me by this instant," she commanded, plucking another crumb of courage from the sheer imminence of danger.

"Aw, come off yoh high airs," he leered. "Ain't you been standin' me up afore the school an' actin' me like a fool? I ain't kicked, have I? Well, what you want to go cuttin' up for now?"

Brains partly numbed, or over-excited by shock, sometimes take queer and irrelevant channels of thought, and now the only thing on which she seemed able to concentrate was a duel she had witnessed on that very schoolhouse window sill but the previous day: a duel between a locust and a wasp. They had fallen there in deadly embrace, the clumsier holding his antagonist by brute strength that ultimately would break its frail body; but the wily wasp, conscious of this danger, sent thrust after thrust of its venomous stinger with lightning stabs up and down its enemy's armor, trusting to chance that a vulnerable spot might be found between the scales. She had watched this struggle with a breathless pleasure—for at times she could be pagan as of old—and when at last the little point slipped through, she felt no pity for the locust; rather, was she tempted to stroke the victor as it crawled from the suddenly relaxed grip of its stiffening foe, laved its wings, polished its legs, and rose into the air.

Weak with the consciousness of her peril, this mental by-play urged her to the necessity of speed; and, like the stinger, her mind began an hysterical thrusting for a more subtle method of defense.

"Tusk, I'm sorry I stood you up before the class," she tried, in speaking kindly, to hide her loathing. "But now you must go home at once, or I shall never be able to let you come to school again!"

He laughed outright.

"Won't never let me come, no moh! Well, now jest heah that! Why, sissy, you'd ortent git so mad! Kiss me like a nice gal, an' let's make up!"

"You beast," she cried, her fear suddenly bursting into an irresistible rage. "You beast," she cried again, striking him in the face with all her strength. "You'll be killed for this!"

For an instant he was stunned by the surprise of her attack, but then, blind with fury, his gorilla-like arms shot out and caught her just as she was turning to dash toward the door.

During this scene the newcomer had made several determinations to enter, yet each was checked by a consciousness that he did not belong to this country where he had been told strange customs prevailed. He was not at all sure but that an interference would be seriously inapt. Once or twice he had been on the verge of stealing back into the thicket for his rifle, yet the schoolhouse drama held him too firmly chained for this. Adopting now a middle course, he went up the four steps and entered with an innocent air of one having just arrived. Blinking with a pretended effort to make out the interior, he mildly asked:

"Is this Miss Jane's school?"

Tusk sprang back with a snarl, while the girl, twisting free and frantically recovering her balance, came toward the new voice with hands outstretched, bumping against the desks as one who had suddenly gone blind. She could not speak, she could scarcely think, and only by the sternest force of will would her knees bear up; but somewhere in front of her stood deliverance, and to this she groped.

"Howdy," the new voice spoke again, as she felt a hand take one of her own and press her toward a seat. "Ye look peak-ed; maybe ye'd better set!"

Her composure was returning in bounds; for this girl, herself born in the mountains, possessed too much innate fortitude to be long dominated by fear.

"Thank you," her voice still trembled. "I—I must have been frightened." Then quickly: "Yes, this is Miss Jane's school, and I am Miss Jane."

A curious sound rattled in the newcomer's throat, and his chin dropped with stupid amazement. For a long moment he stared at her, his pupils dilating and contracting in a strangely fascinating way, and his body beginning slowly to rock from side to side as it had done in the thicket across the road. But just now she was meeting his gaze with a look of excited gladness.

"Yeou! Miss Jane?" he murmured, each syllable vibrating with some deep timbre of admiration and protection. Another moment he stared, then his eyes turned and rested unflinchingly on Tusk. It was a look particularly expressive neither of surprise nor condemnation, hatred nor scorn, yet its very impassivity carried a pulsing sense of danger, as though something terrible were on the verge of happening and the various elements of destruction were being hurriedly assembled. But quietly he turned again to the girl.

"Lucy's outside. Maybe ye'd better let her take ye home!"

"Oh, ask her to come in," she cried, feeling the need of a woman perhaps more than at any time in her life, and now fearful of another sort of tragedy. She was not sure of how much this newcomer had seen, but his look at Tusk was eloquent of one thing: that if these men were left alone the building would receive its first stain of human blood. She wanted to spare her schoolhouse this. It was her boast that no life should go out by violence beneath its roof: for it had long been a recognized custom in wilder regions of this country for men to choose the wayside schools, the scattered churches or crossroads stores as places from which to usher obtrusive neighbors into eternal rest.

"Wall, she can't do that," the newcomer thoughtfully replied, "seein' as how she's my ole mare. But ye mought take her 'n' go home. Me 'n' this feller'll watch yo' school!"

Looking from one to the other, weighing the chances of outwitting Tusk, she lightly suggested:

"My own horse is in the shed. You may help me put on the saddle!"

"All right," he readily answered. "'N' yeou," he turned to Tusk, now watching them with growing malignancy, "wait hyar till I git back: then verily, verily, I say unto ye, we'll cast another devil outen the Lawd's temple!"

She was alert to acquiesce in this. Her instinct said that unless something tentative were left in view, some further part of the drama held out to be played, the simple-minded Tusk would stop their going. His dwarfed intelligence, gauged to one idea, might be satisfied to wait only if waiting promised a climax. And as for the other's returning—this new-found deliverer who was so thoroughly of the mountains, yet whose dialect just now had savored of the "circuit-rider" type—she felt able to cope with that exigency after they were outside. So in her eagerness she had arisen, when Tusk stepped roughly to the door and slammed it.

"Nobody's goin' home to-night," he growled, turning and glaring at them.

His eyes, set unusually deep and close together, flashed murder, and the girl sank weakly back into a seat. For she knew Tusk's strength. She had seen him shoulder a log under which two men were struggling and walk firmly away with it. The very consciousness alone of this power was oppressive. He could crush this other man with a blow.

"A soft answer turneth away wrath," a quiet voice whispered down to her, and continued: "Let the gal out; she wants ter go home!"

"If you're some kind of a preacher," Tusk snarled at him, having also noticed the Biblical character of speech, "git out yohse'f. But the gal stays right heah till I'm ready fer her to go! An', young feller, mebbe she'll be let go home, or mebbe she'll come 'long with me—I ain't decided, but I won't be hindered by no one!" His voice was trembling with increasing passion. "Now's yoh time to git, Mister Preacher, or, by Gawd—" He drew a long, dirty knife from a hidden sheath, and seemed unable to complete the sentence for his excited breathing.

"I hain't a preacher," the other quietly replied to him, "but I've jest been sendin' a message ter the Lawd this very evenin', 'n' I reckon He had me come in heah ter look ye over, bein' as how ye air one of them sorry skunks I'm arter." And without warning he sprang like a panther at the offender's throat.

The shock of his body sent Tusk backwards, tripping him over a desk where both men went down in a heap. Almost before they struck the floor the newcomer cried to her:

"Git the critter 'n' ride, Schoolteacher! Hit's yo' only chance!"

He had no more time to warn, for a series of sounds, sickening, bestial sounds, told of a terrific struggle as feet and bodies and elbows dully crashed against the desks on either side. It was a narrow aisle in which to fight.

Yet she was not made of the stuff that would mount a horse and fly. Her early life, when as a slip of a girl she stood many a night with rifle in hand filling the place of lookout for an outlaw father who trafficked in moonshine whisky, had taught her to be careless of physical dangers. The terrors of a different sort of passion she had never known; but now, with this averted, her nature leapt beyond the past eight years of training—eight years spent in fitting herself as teacher for this school—and transported her to those early days of partial savagery. Again she was the little mountain outlaw, and the feeling was good, and her heart bounded with a primeval pleasure of this excitement which was routing every previous qualm of fright. Bent breathlessly forward, her hands clenched into revengeful little fists, her cheeks and eyes aflame and eager, her lips apart, and her nostrils dilated as though in very truth they sought the smell of battle, she was not a picture of one who would mount a horse and fly.

At the first rush Tusk's knife had fallen from his hand and now lay almost at her feet. Stooping impulsively, she seized it, while at the same moment he uttered a low chuckle of satisfaction and started to arise. He did not move as one entirely free, but clinging to a burden, and when his shoulders slowly appeared she saw that he was lifting the other man, who still struck ineffectually at his face. Handling him with no great exertion, he backed against a desk and forced the body between his knees; then placing one huge, hairy hand behind his victim's ear, and the other beneath his chin, he began calmly to twist.

Jane realized the hellishness of this move which with cruel certainty would break the yielding neck. The mountaineer also knew, and put his remaining strength into the struggle, yet only for a moment did it seem to divert Tusk's purpose.

If the girl had previously looked the beautiful savage, she now became its incarnation. With an agonized cry she screamed at him to stop, but his answer was to pin the man more firmly and recommence the murderous twisting.

It was a matter of seconds now. Any instant she might hear the snap, and see the one who was giving his life for her quiver and become still. No longer hesitating, she flew at them with the blade raised high and poised herself for the stroke. Yet she could not send it. Again she tried, and a sob of rage burst from her throat as the hand refused to obey. Had the creature turned, it might have been less difficult; but the utter revulsion of driving steel into unsuspecting and unresisting flesh was more than she could master. Slowly the head was yielding to those horrible hands, and the newcomer's eyes rested on her own for the merest instant. It was the look of a courageous man sinking beneath waves; but the sweat and whipcord veins were eloquent of his frenzied resistance.

"Someone's coming! Someone's coming!" she suddenly cried, rushing to the door and flinging it wide open.

Tusk looked up with a snarl.

"Quick! Quick!" she cried again. "Here, this way—quick! He's killing a man! Oh, thank God!" She sprang back into the room, rapturously clasping the knife to her breast. "They've come! They've come!"

With an oath Tusk flung his victim heavily to the floor and dashed to a rear window through which he disappeared. She watched only long enough to see that his rout was absolute—that her ruse of approaching help had been successful. Then she turned.

The room seemed dark to her eyes which had just been peering into the sunset's fading glow, and she walked with feeling steps toward the spot where she knew the body lay, asking in a whisper: "Are you alive?" The heavy silence made her shiver. There, at her feet, sprawled the shadowy bulk, twisted and grotesque, and an uncontrollable feeling of loathing crept over her.

With startling suddenness a quail, close by the open door, ripped out his evening call, and she sprang back as though the thing upon the floor had moved. Yet she continued to stare down at it, her cold hands pressed against her burning cheeks—fascinated, horrified. A few little minutes ago he had been a moving, feeling being like herself; and now he had entered the portals of that mysterious eternity—at this very moment he was standing before the calm scrutiny of God Himself! How was he behaving in that great inspection? Trembling with bowed head, like herself? Or smiling with a courage he had shown during his last earthly moments while giving his life for her?

So vivid were these thoughts which raced like fury through her brain that when the body did actually move she gave a piercing shriek of terror. But she had recovered even before the echo of her voice resounded through the little room and, instantly alert, brought the drinking bucket from its shelf to bathe his face.

Kneeling there—or, rather, in an attitude of sitting on her crossed feet—eagerly watching for another sign of life, the tenderness which spoke in mute eloquence from every movement of her ministrations for the stranger who had stood between her and insult, was a boon that might have repaid any man for worse hurts than his. She drew his head upon her lap and began carefully to staunch a trickle of blood flowing from a small cut in his temple.

The sun went down, regretfully backing out of sight, and by its slow retreat seeming loath to leave them to the somber night. She did not notice its decline, but in the afterglow leaned nearer, pushing back his matted hair and searching each of his well-molded features. There was nothing of a personal interest in the look; there was nothing in the contact of their touch that aroused in her the least personal appeal. He was merely a thing hurt, a thing wounded in her defense.

Again from outside the window came a call, the swinging, twilight-eerie notes of a whip-poor-will; while, from afar off, somewhere in the black woods, hooted an owl. Softly, but with a restless spirit, the night-wind began to stir; and a murmur, like the winnowing of many wings, passed tremulously through the branches which swept the schoolhouse roof. But now she was unafraid.



She was no longer fearful for his life. Saner deductions had recalled how he was fighting up to the moment Tusk threw him off, and this precluded the probability of a broken neck. The small abrasion over his temple, where it must have struck a desk, could alone be responsible for the unconsciousness which, she now felt assured, would soon be passing.

Had Jane been dressed as a nun, the picture she made with the young mountaineer's head upon her lap would have startled the world. None of those discerning critics who stalk the galleries on varnishing day could have passed a canvas such as this without bending their rusty knees at least one creak in humble reverence. For God had carefully blessed her with a Madonna-like loveliness, a matchless purity, which held enthralled all who came suddenly upon that look. Perhaps it was not known in Heaven where she got her smile. It was this, when rippling from eyes to mouth, and lingering about the ovals of her cheeks, that could have swayed Faith upon its base or chained it thrice firmly to the Rock.

She had first acquired a pleasant suspicion of this years before in the convent up the valley, where the good sisters had given her shelter. Early one morning on mischief bent, at the very peep of dawn, she had filched the garb of old sister Methtune and, supporting its bulky skirt, demurely walked into the Mother Superior's sanctified chamber. What that good woman thought as she raised herself up from her couch is not recorded even in her conscience, but Jane was sent in haste to replace the nun's attire. While passing a glass door in a dimly lit hall she saw, for the first time in her life, her own face. For five, ten minutes she continued to look back into this heretofore undiscovered and sinful reflector, sometimes laughing, sometimes making grimaces. Then for another ten minutes she simply stared. Sister Methune was late getting to her devotions that morning.

But this incident had occurred eight years ago, when she was scarcely thirteen. Until then she had literally grown up like a weed—or a wild rose—a half-savage little creature of the Cumberlands, loving passionately, hating blindly, doing all things with the full intensity of a vivid, whole-souled temperament. She lived in a cabin many miles from the more civilized country where the convent lay, under the questionable protection of a noted feudist father, who was usually making moonshine when not stalking his enemies. Her cherished glimpses of civilization came during one month each year—July—when she picked especially fat and luscious blackberries in remote spots known only to her, and sold them in the valley to Colonel John May, whose white columned house might be seen on clear days from the convent tower.

One of her visits happened upon a day when the place was enlivened by his daughter's approaching wedding. A distinguished house-party had assembled, among whom a city-bred young fellow had been attracted by her wild beauty. Safe from the eyes of his friends he followed her through the woodland pasture, and talked to her; and it had seemed a very natural thing. Mountain girls mature early, and she was a woman for all her tender years; a twelve and a half year old woman, partly savage, masquerading in the guise of a girl. He was dazzling to her and pleasing. But suddenly he kissed her and, infuriated, she flung the empty bucket in his face and fled. The gods may know where she learned the difference between right and wrong.

In a passion of shame and bitter hatred, she hurled back at him every oath her father, in his most prolific moments, had ever used. It was a wondrous collection. Her only idea was to reach home and return with the rifle, and so insistent was this that she ran most of the twelve intervening miles. Reaching at last the cabin clearing, she panted up its steep side, through burnt stumps and sparsely growing corn, to the door; but there across the sill her father lay face down and motionless. He might have been drunk, and so at first she thought, until her approach revealed a little hole in the back of his head. She stared at him like an image of wood, then sank upon the floor, putting her lips close to his ear.

"Pappy," she said, in a quick whisper, "Pappy, tell me who done hit! I know ye air daid—but can't ye tell me jest that?"

Her first impulse was of revenge, but slowly the love—unmerited as it may have been—and the sense of loss, of loneliness, came over her like a great wave, and with her face on his still shoulder she wailed her wretched grief to the silent wilderness. When she looked up it was sundown. She realized that whoever had killed him might come back for her—might now, indeed, be "layin' out" for her; and yet she could not leave him unburied! Her hands grasped his shirt and she frantically tugged, bracing her heels against the roughly hewn log door-step, in a vague way hoping that she might drag him to a spot where the ground would be soft enough to dig. A few minutes of this fruitless effort compelled her to give it up.

"Pappy, can't ye help me, jest a leetle?" she had whispered in despair. And then the tears would flow again.

She went stealthily to the edge of the corn patch and listened. A lingering afterglow touched the broken rows of skyward-pointing tassels, but the valley below her lay shrouded in gloom. Night was creeping up the mountain side; she could see it, feel it in the horrible silence. All alone in that stark vastness of crags, disregarding those who might be "layin' out" for her, she put her hands to her mouth and called; then leaned forward, holding her breath and listening. There was not even an echo. So she turned wearily back to the cabin and tenderly covered that which she was leaving with a quilt from her own bed, whispering:

"Gawd, nor nobody, don't seem ter heah me tonight—ye poh, ole Pappy!"

The only cabin where she might hope for help was three miles away; the home of a partial friend—at least no enemy. Reaching it after a perilous walk through a roadless, bridgeless wilderness, she stood outside the crooked gate and called "Hallo." Again and again she called till, in desperation scoffing at the risk—for it is never wise to approach the Kentucky mountaineer's home nearer than his front gate without an invitation—she walked boldly to the door. It was open, and she peered into the darkness. No fire had been lighted for supper. She kneeled on the sill and felt around with her hand. First she touched an overturned chair, then a piece of broken lamp chimney, then a man's foot; but the man was not standing, the toes were up. Her heart turned to ice, yet the need of help was too imperative to turn away from any hope, so again she reached for the clumsy boot and fearfully moved it to see if he might be merely asleep, or drunk. The leg was stiff, and, with another shudder, she turned and fled.

By early morning she had dragged herself down from the mountains and staggered through the convent gate. Here, at least, in one of those modest retreats, which generations ago slipped into the remoter valleys of young Kentucky for their voluntary exile, she would find help! Many an afternoon when the world was blithe she had been wont to stop and listen to the mellow peal of its bell floating across her mountains on an easterly evening breeze, and in all of this torturing night of wandering she imagined it was calling. The good sisters gathered her in as though she were that more treasured lamb than the ninety and nine, nor would they hearken to her leaving. The sheriff soon came to their call, and in his honest, gruff voice promised reverently to perform the last services at her cabin. Then she began to find peace.

But after three years here, when she had absorbed all that their patient teaching could impart, her mind grew disturbed with a new restlessness. It may have been that life was becoming monotonous; or that pictures of the great world, of which she had only had a glimpse, whetted her curiosity to go forth and see; or, more than these, it may have been her innate love for those mountains, and those mountain people—after all, her people. For she had come to learn that the blow she suffered had been struck through simple ignorance, and from this knowledge gradually developed a resolution, inspiring her with courage to approach the Mother Superior for permission to go back into the world and teach. She reminded the good woman that she had taken no vows, and horrified her by admitting that she had accepted no creed, save that of help to fellow man. After an hour of tearful, never-to-be-forgotten argument, the Mother gave signs of yielding.

It happened that upon this same afternoon Colonel May arrived, bringing some of his guests to see the convent. He was held in very high esteem by these nuns, although differing from their religious views, and if he did not quite atone for this by the frequent intervals with which the bounties of his farm added to their modest comfort, he did, at least, merit their impersonal affection. So it followed that the good Mother, being perplexed and sore in mind over her duty to the girl, led him aside.

He was deeply affected by her story, and recalled the child who suggested faint memories of toothsome berries. Conscious of the pressing need for more schools in the rural districts of his State—especially in the neighborhood of his own home—and spontaneously in sympathy with her ambition, he so earnestly espoused her cause with promises to keep her under his protection, that the last doubt vanished from the good woman's eyes.

What the sisters had been unable to do for her, the generous Colonel fully accomplished. She was taken away to a most excellent school and, after five years, returned to him a thoroughly proficient young lady. Graceful, possessing a finish and magnetism which her wild origin made more peculiarly attractive, sympathetic, frank, normal, and exceedingly good to look upon, she excelled even those hopes which he had built during her absence. A fortnight later the quail and whip-poor-wills, near the thicket where the wounded mountaineer's mare now stood, had been startled by the rat-tat of hammers and the song of saws; and that September she found herself, at nearly twenty-one, in possession of a well equipped schoolhouse, whose fame spread far during this, its first year of existence. But while her own years of study and acquiring culture had charmingly toned the surface of her nature, the earlier intensity, the freedom of thought and behavior which are the natural heritage of those born in wild places, still simmered like a resting volcano.

And now, as her handkerchief went mechanically from the pail to the forehead of the wounded man, a shadowy procession of these thoughts glided by in a fantastic panorama. In the stillness of the place ghosts of the old life reached out and clasped hands with actualities of the new; clasped hands, and danced, and arabesqued before her fancy until it seemed as if her entire life were performing there upon the dusky floor. If only her future could perform! She pressed the handkerchief more firmly to the wound, and waited.

Some distance along the road two men were hurriedly driving. The breeze carried this sound to her quick ears and, gently lowering the mountaineer's head, she went to the door. The whip-poor-wills abruptly hushed, for they, too, had caught the sound; and amidst that strained expectancy of woods life, which grows so tense as daylight fails, she waited.

When the approaching buggy came out of the dusk she saw what she had been expecting, Colonel May driving a powerful chestnut, and, with him, Bob Hart; not so great in stature, but resembling the older man in grace and manner as though he might in fact have been his son, instead of his daughter's husband.

A groan from the room made her hesitate on the point of rushing out to meet them, so she halloed between her hands while they alighted. A smile of extreme relief crossed her face as they came up.

"Oh, I'm so glad you're here," she cried, with pretended lightness.

"And you, my dear," the Colonel panted in his eagerness to reach her, "are more welcome still to us! What has happened that kept you?"

"Don't be alarmed," she answered, touched by the anxiety in his voice. "There's a man hurt in here. He's been unconscious for an hour—but just groaned!"

"Stabbed or shot?" Bob asked, pushing in and lighting the kerosene ceiling lamp. Its flame rose stupidly, but soon cast a luminous circle that framed the man, the bucket, the sodden handkerchief and splashes of blood-stained water on the floor, in a tragic, still-life picture.

"Stabbed or shot?" the Colonel repeated after Bob.

"Neither," she murmured. "He fought Tusk Potter, but I'm sure it's no worse than a blow on the head as he fell."

"My word! My word!" the old gentleman exploded. "I've always been concerned about your permitting that half-witted outlaw to come here! Where is he now?" He glared into the dark corners with the light of battle in his eyes.

The unconscious man mumbled and stirred, moving as one asleep will sometimes shift to a more comfortable position. Bob, already by him on the floor, looked up, saying:

"He's coming about all right. What shall we do, Colonel?"

"Leave him down the road," the Colonel snapped. "Tom Hewlet's house'll be good enough, and I'll pay the rascal's niece to nurse him, if he requires it. Why did they fight?" He turned abruptly to Jane.

"He—he resented something Tusk said."

"Something Tusk said to you?" The old warrior looked more ferocious than ever.

She nodded.

The Colonel's jaws came together with a snap. "By God, sir," he exclaimed to Bob, "we'll take him home, sir! He shall have the best room in Arden, sir, and all the doctors in the county! No gentleman can defend you, my dear," he took her hand, "and be left at run-down hovels on the roadside. The very suggestion, sir," he turned his frowning brows again on Bob, "is unworthy, sir!"

The young planter burst into a spontaneous laugh.

"It was certainly careless of me," he admitted, "and when our friend here perks up I'll apologise. I say, old chap," taking one of the inert wrists, "can't you come to for awhile?"

There was a slight twitching about the mouth, then the eyes opened, wearily at first, but the next moment wide with surprise. The Colonel bent over him.

"You have met with a mishap, sir," he said most gently. "If you've no friends hereabouts I offer you the hospitality of my home, which I trust you will honor me by accepting."

The mountaineer slowly raised himself to a sitting position, passed a hand over his forehead, and asked:

"What's hospitality?"

The question, the drawling quality of his voice which sounded as mellow as though someone had struck a chord upon a harp, surprised them out of an answer. Rousing further, he continued:

"I hain't got no friends 'round hyar—lest, as Ruth says, all things is friends."

"Must be a Shaker," Bob whispered, and the Colonel, with an indulgent smile, remarked:

"I bow to the charity of Miss Ruth's opinion, though I should scarcely expect so prompt an indorsement from one in your present position. But come, sir, and we'll help you to our buggy."



When the mountaineer had been assisted to his feet, he stood for a moment, with his legs apart, swaying with giddiness; then, aware that they were observing this, he looked at the Colonel and laughed. It was a silent laugh, of the eyes and mouth and a movement in the throat. One could not help thinking that should he let it out it would be deep and musical.

With growing interest, and no slight amusement, they followed him to the door where he gave a low whinnying sound that made Bob's stylish chestnut look up with intelligent expectancy. Then back in the thicket sounded a faint answer, followed by a crackling of brush, as the old mare came obediently forward. Jane's horse, also, spoke inquisitively from the shed where it was stabled, and the night sounds hushed again at this intrusion of noises.

"I am Colonel May, of this county, sir," the old gentleman said, smiling at the man's knack of mimicry. "My home, Arden, is but a few miles off."

"Howdy," replied the mountaineer, taking the proffered hand an instant late and not seeming to realize they might want to be knowing who he was. The Colonel and Bob exchanged glances.

"Perhaps," he ventured again, "you should drive with me and let Mr. Hart here ride your horse. This is Mr. Hart, sir!"

"Howdy," Bob soberly put out his hand. "My whole name is Bob Hart, this county, sir; and my home is known as Flat Rock—also at your service!"

The mountaineer thanked the Colonel with one perfunctory word, said "Howdy" to Bob, then stepped out to Lucy who gave another low whinny of welcome and rubbed her nose fondly into his hand. But something seemed to be weighing heavily on his mind; his brows were contracted, his head inclined in thought; and at last, having apparently worked it out, he turned to them, announcing simply:

"This is Lucy!"

"Howdy," said Bob, still keeping an impassive face.

There came another moment of thought. Then:

"I'm Dale Dawson, of Sunlight Patch, in the mountings, suh." He said this in so clever an imitation of their own introductions that it seemed a caricature.

"Chapeaux bas!" the Colonel murmured, throwing Jane into the most unlady-like fit of giggles.

"Where did it come from?" Bob asked later. He was riding with her a hundred yards behind the buggy that held the Colonel and Dale, the old rifle sticking out at the back like a bean pole.

"A heaven-sent deliverer," she quietly answered.

"I appreciate that," he said, in a more serious vein.

Her very reticence told him how deeply she had been shocked, and that it was a subject to be avoided, for the present, at least. Bob was quick to divine situations. For the moment, then, he drifted into another channel, saying with a laugh that could hardly have been called spontaneous:

"If he's an example of celestial types I'll—"

"Lead a different life?" she interrupted, smiling.

"No such plagiarism, thank you," he retorted. "I was about to say something else!"

"You've been giving Bip some most unfatherly theories about that place, by the way," she observed. "He has confided in me."

"Bip," Bob quietly remarked, with an oozing pride in the subject of his six-year-old son, "has reached the age of embarrassing questions."

"And is being fed unpardonable answers," she said. "Between old Aunt Timmie's declaration that it'll smell like heliotrope and taste like possum the year 'round, and Uncle Zack swearing it's just a big race track where everybody's horse will win, and doubtless the Colonel's word for it that it's a perpetual spring flowing with ice-cold mint juleps, I quite despair of the child's salvation. How have you been picturing it?"

"I passed that on," he ruefully admitted. "You and Ann can tackle it."

"I wasn't home this afternoon at his lesson time. Did he miss me?"

"Miss you! Ann says he went to your room about five o'clock, and then came running to her saying something had happened to you. She was quite a while getting him settled. And then, much shame to us, we realized you'd not got back. I drove over to the Colonel's really expecting you had stopped there." After a brief pause he asked: "Was that fellow much unruly? I wouldn't disturb you about it, but think you ought to tell us."

"About five o'clock," the girl mused. "That's most interesting, Bob. I've told you, haven't I, that the child is tremendously psychic?"

"I don't know just what psychic is," he laughed. "It sounds like medicine." And then repeated his other question: "Was Tusk much unruly?"

"Oh, no," she lightly answered. "Has Mr. McElroy been up in the hills today?"

"There's the laziest chap in clothes," he declared. "I don't believe he's done a lick of work since he came—and that's two months ago! Personally, I don't care. He's bully company, and I'm not rabid for that dinky little railroad, anyhow."

"It'll make all the difference to the mountaineers' future," she said.

"Quite right," he agreed, "and cut through my best pasture."

"Not your best pasture, surely!"

"My dear Jane, don't you know that when a railroad kills your cow it's always your best cow? Pastures accordingly! Still," he added with a wry look, "the people's good comes first, doesn't it! That's the proper motto!" And suddenly he began to laugh. "Brent and your new friend up there in the buggy ought to be a combination to keep the Colonel amused for awhile! What do you think?"

She, too, had to laugh. The mental picture of the immaculate, devil-may-care Brent McElroy—sent down in behalf of his father's corporation to develop coal fields, to run a line for the little railroad which Bob had just characterized as "dinky," and otherwise to put into practice college experiences not included in its curriculum—chumming with this new child of nature, threw them again into peals of mirth.

"I wish someone would urge him on faster, anyhow," she said, more seriously now.

"Why don't you try," he suggested.

They had turned into the lane, a mile of cool meanderings that led from the pike to hospitable Arden, and for awhile rode in contemplative silence. Faintly glimmering lights, yellow between the trees, from time to time twinkled a welcome from the classic old house. Through four generations of the Colonel's family this place had stood; occasionally being altered to meet the requirements of comfort, but its stately colonial front and thick brick walls remained intact. And for four generations the neighborhood had looked at it with deep respect.

Valiantly had it held the fortification against encroaching modernism, yet by slow degrees surrendering. A telephone had taken the place of the more picturesque negro on a mule; the rural delivery of mail had made another breach in the walls of seclusion. Only an automobile the Colonel would not essay, declaring himself too much a lover of horseflesh to offend his thoroughbreds with this; but when a touring car occasionally penetrated as far as Arden, it was noticeable that his horses viewed it with less suspicion than their master. Fortunately for the old gentleman's peace of mind such a form of vehicle remained a novelty in this section of Kentucky. The pike out of Buckville was good for a few miles only, and then came almost impassable stretches of unworked roads before connecting with those beautiful highways which wind and interwind through the creamier centers of the State—a condition that did not invite motorists.

Now as they drew near to the vine and tree entangled yard, the massive white columns stood out through the gloom to meet them. From some of the outlying cabins, former quarters of slaves, came low, minor singing of present day field hands. However many times Bob approached this place, his thoughts reverted to the evenings—half a score of years behind him—when he would ride across from his own farm to court the Colonel's daughter. He was thinking of this, of its sweetness to him then, of its blessings to him now, and quietly said:

"When you marry I hope you will be as happy as I am."

"Existence is satisfying enough with you and Ann and Bip," she lightly replied, "unless you want to get rid of me!"

He flushed, and turned almost angrily.

"There, I take it back," she said in tones as soft as the night. "It was horrid! You've been so splendid in giving me a home—although I do sometimes feel guilty for not being with the Colonel after all he's done! Yet, were I there, I couldn't give nearly as much time to Bip. Nothing can—"

"I wish you'd chop that," he growled. "You talk like you're under an obligation, when you know darn well—"

"I was saying," she looked up brightly, "that nothing can take its place, not even your suggested slavery; and there isn't a man in the world whom I wouldn't despise for asking me. I just don't feel a bit like it!"

"Lord help us!" he cried. "When will D. Cupid, Esquire, discover this pristine hunting ground? You've a blue ribbon surprise in store for you, that's all!"

"Perhaps Mr. D. Dawson will spring it," she laughed.

"Or the blase B. McElroy," he suggested.

She made a grimace at this.

Lucy whinnied, and they saw the Colonel and Dale waiting at the bottom step.

"Come in for awhile," the old gentleman urged.

"Now, Colonel," Bob said reproachfully, "do you know anything of Ann's temper when under suspense?"

"I see, sir," his eyes wrinkled into a merry smile, "that you're as much of a nigger about the house over there as I was when she honored me by living here. Go home to your tyrant, sir, but come over, all of you, tomorrow for dinner."

Lucy, now free of her burden, crossed to the silent but watchful mountaineer and nestled her nose in his arm. It was an evidence of affection which touched them all.

As Bob and Jane were leaving, in the buggy this time, they heard the Colonel ask Uncle Zack if Mr. McElroy were home, and that old darky of diminutive stature answer:

"No, sah, Cunnel, he done rid off harf hour ago."

"Maybe," Jane presently suggested, when they were well on their way, "he's gone over to our house!"

"Maybe," Bob replied, wondering where of late the young engineer had been spending his evenings.

"Do you know," she said irrelevantly, after a silence of several minutes, "I believe a man in whom animals show implicit faith is to be trusted."

"In this particular case, perhaps," he agreed, for it just so happened that he, too, now was thinking of Dale. "Yet old Tom Hewlet has a lot of dogs which fawn all over him!"

"That's so," she acquiesced, and both again fell silent.



About the time that Colonel May was finishing breakfast, consisting this particular morning of strawberries raised in his own greenhouse, calf's brains, omelet, fried apples and bacon, fried sweet potatoes, beaten biscuits, rice cakes, and coffee, Bob Hart was riding across the open country toward Arden. His right arm hung limberly down in a graceful perpendicular, unaffected by the galloping motion of his horse, and his fingers were clasped about the lock of a repeating rifle, pointed muzzle to the ground. On his face was stamped a look of stern absorption that relaxed only as he neared occasional fences, but when these had been hurdled and his mount had again caught its stride, the preoccupation returned. Although his eyes were lowered, he did not see the ground, nor the mild surprise of grazing Jerseys past which he dashed. He saw nothing now beyond a most unpleasant picture which circumstance was holding up to him.

Jumping into an open woodland pasture he reined to a more leisurely canter; for here were the very young colts, now crowding nearer the protection of their dams, which, in one or two instances, with heads and tails high, trotted toward this impertinent horseman as though questioning his right of entrance. They soon abandoned this, but stood looking after him like watchful sentinels until he had risen to the next fence, and they felt that their foals were free from menace. But he cantered on, hardly mindful of their unrest. Through ancient beeches now he went, trees whose downward sweeping boughs spread out in mute protection above the carpet of spring grass and violets; then he turned into the cedar-bordered avenue, and soon passed between the crumbling brick-and-plaster gate-posts to the tangled yard of Arden.

It was then, glancing across the side terrace, that Colonel May observed him, and laying aside his napkin he went somewhat hastily through the cool, deep hall and out upon the front porch. A tender expression lingered about his strong face as the younger man swung into the circle; a tenderness mingled with approval for the stylish animal that picked up its feet from the odorous tanbark with a precision bespeaking generations of thoroughbred ancestors. The Colonel was a great believer in breeding.

Only when Bob dismounted did the old gentleman see the rifle, and the seriousness in his eyes. He made no move or comment, but waited while a darky led back the horse and Bob was seated.

"Has Brant gone out to work?" were the young man's first words.

"I think he's not yet up," the Colonel's look of anxiety deepened. "You don't want to see him for—for anything?"

"No," Bob smiled. "And Dale—er—Dawson?"

"Left before I came downstairs, sir," the Colonel answered. "What is it, Bob? Tell me!"

Bob's eyes passed the Colonel and rested on the drive up which he had just come. With an attempt at casualness he said:

"That Potter fellow did more yesterday than I guessed."

There was no alteration in the old gentleman's attitude; he did not sit bolt upright in his chair, or grasp its arms until his knuckles showed white, but simply said:

"Tell me!"

"She went straight to her room when we got home," Bob continued in a more excited undertone. "Ann followed, of course, and found her desperately nervous, half crying with rage." He then related practically what had happened at the school, concluding: "Aunt Timmie slept in her room all night, and when Jane asks her to do that you know she's upset."

They heard Uncle Zack moving inside the hall, and the Colonel called him:

"Have Tempest brought up," he said, and to Bob: "I shall be right down, sir."

Uncle Zack came quickly back to the porch, for his eyes had seen things which electrified him. This old darky, shriveled up with his burden of toil and years, who had been the Colonel's servant, adviser, and comforter since both of them were boys, was too truly a member of the family to permit anything to occur without pushing well into its secrets. Until a few years ago, his wife, Aunt Timmie, had divided this welcome office with him; but after the wedding, and about the time when Bob's household began to walk on tiptoe in fearful and happy expectancy, old Timmie left, bag and baggage, for the younger home, where she had thereafter remained as nurse, comforter, scolder and chief director of the new heir, as well as of the premises in general. The Colonel having lately suggested that Mr. Hart, Jr.,—or Bip, for short—being now six years of age, was too big for her to manage, had called forth an eloquent outburst, which concluded with the terse observation: "If I could handle his Pappy an' Mammy, an' his Gran'pappy an' Gran'mammy befoh him, an' all de Mays an' Harts borned dese las' hund'ed yeahs, how-cum I ain' able to handle him?" And that had settled it, so each household gloried in the possession of one of these rare servants, spoiled by love, mellowed by age, and wise by scores of years of experience.

Old Zack now whispered, looking Bob squarely in the eyes:

"Whar you-all gwine, Marse Bob?"

"Hunting, Uncle Zack."

"Huntin'!" he gave a snort of impatience. "Dat ain' no shot-gun! Hit's man huntin' you'se all arter, dat's what! Dar's been funny doin's 'round heah dis mawnin', 'caze dat gemmen wid de long haih what come las' night done skin out 'foh sun-up, ridin' dat onery white cradle of his'n what he calls a hawse, an' totin' de rustiest, wickedest ole gun I ever seen. He say he's gwine huntin', too; arter squir'ls, he say, an' I'se fool 'nuff to believe him. Is a wah done broke out, Marse Bob?"

"I expect he really did go after squirrels, Uncle Zack, sure enough I do. But the Colonel and I won't be long, and it's nothing serious, so you just keep mum about it. Whatever you do, don't let Miss Liz know."

"She's de ve'y fu'st one I'se gwine tell, lest I git mah brains better sot on dis heah fracas!" He gave a low chuckle, adding: "Lor', chile, Miss Liz ain' gwine know nuthin'. Ole Zack kin keep mum an' fool de smartes' of 'em! Didn' I fetch Marse John's djeulin' pistols one Sunday mawnin' right under de Bible layin' on de cushion we cyarried to chu'ch fer ole Miss to kneel on? An' didn' we-all walk plumb up de aisle, an' fix her nice an' easy in her pew, an' den slip out an' go down on de crick whar de gemmens wuz waitin', an' shoot dat young Mister Green in de lung? 'Deed we did," he chuckled again, scratching his head as though the reminiscence were ticklesome—then looked up with a sly smile: "Whilst we wuz a-drivin' home dat day, ole Miss she say: 'You wuz late, son,' she say; an' I heah him say: 'Yes mam, a gemmen sont word he'd lak to see me,' he say. Den ole Miss ax: 'Did you find 'im, son?' 'Yes mam,' Marse John say, 'I foun' 'im, all right.' Ole Miss pat de back of his han', croonin' in dat soft voice of her'n: 'You'se a great comfo't, an' always so 'siderate of others!' At dat, I jest bust plumb out a-laughin', but turned it to sich a wicked-soundin' chokin' spell dat dey's 'bleeged to lean over an' beat mah back; an' while Marse John wuz a-puttin' on de licks, an' mighty nigh killin' me, he whisper: 'You black rascal, ef you don' behave I'll shoot you nex' Sunday!' Oh, dem wuz days what wuz days, Marse Bob; dey wuz fer a fac'! Ain' you-all gwine fight no one dis mawnin'?"

"You bloodthirsty old villain," Bob laughed. "Don't you know that gentlemen now go to law in adjusting their differences?"

Uncle Zack stood a moment looking at the rifle, apparently in retrospective reverie. Finally he observed:

"I spec dat's right. Dey may 'just dey diff'ences wid deyse'ves dat-a-way, but dey sholy make 'em 'parrent to de neighbors. In de ole days, a gemmen say to a gemmen: 'Yoh fence is too fur on mah line, sah!' An' de gemmen answer back: ''Tain' no sich a-thing, sah!' So dey frien's come by in de mawnin', an' has a julep, an' slips out de back way; an' dat evenin' de neighbors is all sayin': 'Too bad! Bofe sich fine gemmen!' Nowdays," he concluded, "dey go to cou't wid dey diff'ences, an' when it's all over de neighbors say: 'My! Who'd ever thought dem men wuz sich skallawags!' De cou'ts may be all right in dey way, Marse Bob, but dey suttenly do strip a man of his se'f respec'."

The Colonel came out drawing on his gloves. He made a striking figure in his riding togs. Tall, dignified, careful of address and slow of movement—though not the slowness of embonpoint—he would have attracted attention anywhere. Years had added no roundness to his frame. His nose was aquiline, perhaps a trifle too fine in lines; and his mouth might have been too large if uncovered by a silvery white mustache, whose training bespoke a minute, an almost effeminate, care. Now he looked every inch a gentleman going for a morning canter, except for the compact, high-powered rifle resting easily in the hollow of his arm.

"Zack," he cautioned, "when Miss Liz comes down, merely say that Mr. Robert and I are riding."

"Lor', Marse John, she ain' gwine know nuthin' 'bout it. She's jest lak yoh mammy dat-a-way; never 'spectin' folks to git in no devilment."

"What do you mean, you black rascal," the Colonel thundered.

Zack rolled his eyes from the old gentleman's face to his rifle, and back again. Then his own face disappeared into a multitude of wrinkles while he silently chuckled.

"You-alls jest as pure as de Heaven's blue," he murmured, holding his sides and shaking. "Reckon I'd better git mah coat!"

"Oh, no, Zack," the Colonel stopped him. "You must stay here."

"Marse John," the old darky approached with a troubled look, "you never used to go on dese heah trips widout Zack! Ain' you gwine take 'im 'long? Dar ain' no one else is got de knack of holdin' you up ef you gits stung some, an' you knows it, Marse John!"

He stood in an humble attitude of pleading, looking up at his white master with eyes as brown and soft as a deer's, notwithstanding the opaque circles which age had begun to form about their irises. The Colonel smiled affectionately down at him.

"This is to be nothing of that sort, Zack," he said, "or I would take you, truly I would. We will return shortly, and shall be expecting some of your best juleps." For the Colonel belonged to that school of Kentucky gentlemen, still existing if not flourishing as of yore, whose daily routine was punctuated into poetic rhythm by fragrant mint and venerable bourbon with a regularity that would have brought confusion to a younger generation. Once in a great while he took too much, and once every year he slipped off to "the springs" as a safeguard against gout. His type was passing, and for this reason he was even more beloved; but his example was present, which brought its measure of regret to those who loved him best. Zack, alone, encouraged the Colonel in whatsoever he desired; at toddy time, or duel, the old darky had always been found ready and proud to assist.



A thoroughbred man, sitting a thoroughbred horse, with an articulation that makes them both seem molded into one piece of flesh, is a magnet for admiration; and when Uncle Zack saw both the Colonel and Bob gallop out through the trees, their heads up, their rifles swinging gracefully down, their mounts bristling with power and intelligence, his eyes sparkled and he took a deep breath of satisfaction.

Passing by the stable way, the riders entered a dirt road and held a course due east. Finally Colonel May broke the silence.

"Do you know where he lives?"

"Near about," Bob answered. "We won't have any trouble finding it."

"It's a pity the sheriff can't take this duty from us," the older man said. "It's a pity we have no system of law that will spare women from unpleasant notoriety under such conditions. Men of the South would be less quick to take matters into their own hands if they were assured that the occasional women who may suffer would be spared the further suffering of public embarrassment in open court."

"Yes," Bob assented, "but this is our only way, so far. Shall we kill him?"

"My mind is still in solution as to that," the Colonel gravely answered. "It has not yet crystallized. If he were not the poor half-wit he is, we would by all means. Under the circumstances, I hardly think we have the right. Yet, after all is said, he may be just the sort who should be put out of harm's way. However, the most we will do will be to frighten him out of the country;—unless he stands his ground."

"He'll doubtless do that, and open on us when we come in sight," Bob suggested. "Of course, he'll know what we're after."

"I think it likely," the Colonel replied. "Let me caution you against unnecessary risks."

Some two or three miles from Arden the dirt road sharply began its climb into the Knobs, and through this rough and wooded foothill country of the farther Cumberlands, scarred by cliffs and ravines, they rode in silence. At last Bob spoke.

"We're not far off. His shack is somewhere in here."

They were riding at a quick walk, alert, watching up each ravine for signs of habitation, when suddenly a man, rifle in hand, stepped out two hundred yards ahead of them. A lightning touch of rein and spur, and both horses had sprung instantly apart, while the two repeaters flew with exact precision to the riders' shoulders. To their surprise, however, the man raised his hand.

"What do you make of this?" the Colonel asked in a cautious tone, when they had recognized Dale advancing, instead of the expected Potter.

"Squirrel hunting," Bob answered. "He told Zack."

Dale came with the long stride peculiar to his people, the stride with which they cover thirty miles a day and think it no great walk.

"Good mawnin'," he called, in a drawling voice. "There's no game in these parts."

He advanced with perfect ease—the ease of a wild thing walking at will—and the smile that illumined his face made it almost handsome. Absorbed even as the Colonel and Bob were in their own mission, and surprised by this unexpected interruption, they exchanged glances at his rather correct form of speech. Several times the evening before Colonel May had been impressed by this, and had thought of it after getting into bed, determining then to speak of it in the morning. So, recurring to him now, he said in an undertone:

"That fellow knows how to talk well."

"He does, and he doesn't," Bob replied. "Jane and I were speaking of it last night. If you'll notice, when he gets excited, or much interested, he's like a typical mountaineer. Only when careful is it otherwise. He's a funny cuss, but, gee, Colonel, look at that power! I'll bet he can run a hundred miles without turning a hair!"

The figure was almost up to them.

"There isn't anything to shoot," he said again, with a meaning smile of confidence.

"What are you hunting, sir?" the Colonel asked, after a polite exchange of greetings.

Dale looked at them and chuckled. It was a sign of comradeship, of fellowship; the sort of chuckle in which two boys might indulge if, having entered a jam closet from opposite sides and each unknown to the other, they suddenly meet face to face.

"I'm huntin' the same sort of game you-all air, I reckon," he remarked, pushing back his hat. "But it's gone."


The mountaineer regarded them with something pathetic in his eyes, and when he spoke his voice was tinged with disappointment.

"Last night," he said, "I thought ye war both my friends—'n' I war a-ready ter be yourn. Why do ye want ter lie ter me?"

A flush of anger spread over their faces, and the Colonel was framing a scorching retort, when Dale continued:

"No, hit hain't squir'ls; hit's that varmint Tusk Potter. I hain't afeerd ter tell. His shack's back thar;" jerking his thumb over his shoulder, "or, I'd ought ter say, what's left of hit's thar. He's gone."

"Did you kill him?" the Colonel asked, looking squarely into his eyes.

"That hain't jest a question one man ought ter be askin' of another man," he quickly answered. "But as hit turned out, I didn't kill him; 'n' I didn't mean ter. I kind of swore off killin' folks when I war a kid, 'n' hain't done hit much since. But I did mean ter run him outen the country, 'n' burn his cabin. If he'd ruther've stayed 'n' got kilt, that war his business."

By a common impulse the three started back, Dale leading them some half a mile when they dismounted and threaded their way along an obscure trail. This led up a deep ravine, through which trickled the South Fork of Blacksnake Creek, and eventually brought them out at a small clearing. In the center smouldered the ruins of a cabin, with a few fitful flames still spurting from the ashes and charred log ends.

"You've done well, Dale," the Colonel observed. "Bob, leave a notice for him here. He can read, I suppose?"

"He's been going to school for several months," Bob said, tearing off the back of an envelope and stooping to write.

Dale came close on tiptoe and watched this process over the young man's shoulder. He stood in an attitude of rapt attention and, as the pencil made stroke after stroke of the printed letters, his own finger traced each line in the air, as though he were memorizing their directions and positions. Only after the notice had been pressed on a sharpened stick and placed before the ruined threshold could he leave it. Turning to them he said in an awed voice:

"That's the fu'st writin' I ever seed! What does hit mean?"

While Bob repeated it the mountaineer's lips moved after him, as he tried carefully to fit each sentence to the pencil strokes. But from his deep breath of uncertainty at the end it appeared to bring him little satisfaction; and he was turning away when suddenly his frame stiffened and his hand touched Bob's shoulder.

To the east of them stood Snarly Knob, so called because of its serrated crest resembling a row of teeth from which the lips had been drawn back in an angry snarl. Half way up its almost perpendicular side a spur jutted into the air, and on this a figure stood. Only the hawk-like eyes of Dale could have seen the clenched fists raised high in a gesture of fury, eloquent of a flow of oaths which he knew were being hurled upon the trespassers in the clearing. The Colonel and Bob, following his steady gaze, saw and understood. Bob's face went white with anger, but the older man's held a troubled look. Dale's face told no story whatsoever.

"I wish he'd fall," Bob gritted his teeth. "He's just above the disappearing stream, Colonel!"

"What's the disappearin' stream?" Dale asked.

"It's a good sized creek that comes tearing down and tumbles into a sort of cave. Nobody knows where it comes out, and if it ever catches a man he's gone. The hole and suction is directly under that spur."

"Couldn't fetch 'im with one of them new-fangled guns of your'n, could ye?"

"Oh, no, Dale; that spur must be easily two miles."

"Come," said the Colonel, "let us go back. Our mission here is done, and now we must see that it remains well done. Dale, how did you find this place?"

"I came from the schoolhouse," he answered.

"You mean," Bob cried, "that you trailed him half a dozen miles?"

"Yep," he answered.

"You damned Indian," the young planter admiringly exclaimed; "that's the smoothest trick I ever saw!"

"'Tain't no trick," Dale simply replied. "I allers find folks that a-way, same as varmints do. Hit's Nature's way."

"Since we have come together this morning," the Colonel observed, smiling a frank compliment at Dale's woodcraft, "we may as well drop the bars, shake hands across the gap, and speak plainly one with the other. First, I want to thank you, sir, for your chivalry yesterday evening to Miss Jane—"

"What's chivalry?" the mountaineer interrupted.

"Chivalry? Why, bless my soul, sir," the old gentleman exclaimed, "chivalry, sir, chivalry is what we all have, sir!" He wiped his brow and stood in the path, planting himself firmly with a glare that defied contradiction.

"Chivalry, Dale," Bob said, not daring to laugh, "is the skeleton, or framework, on which gentlemen are built."

"Bones?" he asked, with a perplexed pucker between his eyes.

"Not bones, exactly," Bob smiled now. "And yet it is a sort of backbone, too, when you come to think of it."

"Bob, your ignorance is colossal, sir," the Colonel sternly looked at him. "Chivalry, Dale, is what we all have, and what prompted you to tackle that ruffian yesterday. The definition is quite simple, and of course you follow me. As I was saying, sir, we prefer to thank you now in behalf of Miss Jane, since any further reference to the matter will be unnecessary. You appreciate this?"

"What's appreciate?" he asked.

The old gentleman told him and, while his face still held a troubled look, he nodded as though understanding—not only the word, but the delicacy imposed on him.

"I don't want nobody ter thank me," he said. "I didn't do nothin' fer her!"

He said this quietly, so simply, that its peculiarity did not at once seem apparent, and before they had time to wonder at it, Dale, who now was leading, turned in the path and glared at them. His eyes were as stern as those of a wrathful god, and his lips as resolute as Thor.

"Do ye reckon I'd hev let that damned hound scare the teacher away, when I've jest now got hyar fer the big larnin'? If I hadn't stepped in, he'd a-tuck her ter his cabin; 'n' if I hadn't burned 'im out, he'd be likely ter stay 'round; 'n' as long as he'd be likely ter stay 'round, she'd be likely ter stay away from school. Then how'd I git my larnin'?" He gritted his teeth, and suddenly yelled at them: "I won't take no chances! I'll git the larnin', I tell ye! 'N' if one, or a hund'ed, tries ter come 'tween me 'n' hit—" He did not finish, but stood swaying from side to side with an overwhelming intensity of feeling.

Bob's inclination was to smile; not at what he said so much as at the grotesque figure he made while saying it. The long hair that had been flying back from his forehead as a lion might have tossed its shaggy mane, the homespun trousers tucked into wrinkled boots which were planted well apart as foundations for the swaying body, the antiquated rifle on which he leaned, all seemed to be the very antithesis of mental advancement.

The Colonel, on the other hand, had not been impressed by the clothes; or, at any rate, he had been more impressed by something which robbed them of their oddity. His observing eyes were fixed with growing interest on the purposeful face still thrust forward, and for a moment they were startled by something uncanny, something back of a normal human enthusiasm. It was only for a moment, only for a fleeting glimpse through the dilating pupils which shot defiance out at him; but in that moment he would have sworn that he had seen enthusiasm gone mad.

And yet, so brief had been the glimpse, that his conscious feeling was but of charm, inspired by the primal strength of this wild and unconquerable thing before him. The restive swaying of the body brought to the old gentleman's mind an incident he once had seen at a circus, when an elephant, fretted by its ankle chain, rocked from foot to foot in sullen disquiet. He pictured an ankle chain on this well made youth before him now, the ankle chain of ignorance, and a wave of pity made him resolve to be the means of breaking it.

"If that is what you want, Dale," he gently said, "you shall have it, all that you can store away." And he smiled at the flush of pleasure which followed his words. "I'll talk to you about it this afternoon," he added. "Let us now hurry; we must reach the horses."



Passing out to the road, the Colonel being somewhat in advance, Bob laid his hand on Dale's shoulder.

"There are lots of things to be learned out of schools, as well as in," he said, falling into step, "and some of them I can teach you better than Miss Jane. You mustn't hesitate to ask me, nor be put out—offended, I mean—if I volunteer things for your own good. Understand?"

"Hit seems thar hain't nuthin' but goodness down hyar," the mountaineer murmured.

"How about that cabin behind us?" the young planter laughed.

"Shucks, he hain't yo' kind," Dale said in a tone of deep disgust. "He belongs moh ter my people, I reckon, than ter yourn."

"Why shouldn't your people and my people be the same?" Bob asked. "We're the same stock, and live in the same State, and speak the same language."

"Three chestnuts come outen the same burr," Dale slowly answered, "but ye hain't never seed all three alike yit! 'N' they're the same stock, too, 'n' live in the same house, 'n' borned of the same tree! Hit don't foller what ye say is right!"

"But they're chestnuts, all the same," Bob laughed, pleased with the simile.

"'N' I never said they warn't," the other replied. "'N' yeou're a man, 'n' I'm a man, 'n' we're white men, too, 'n' borned in Kaintuck; but thar hain't only one thing as kin make us alike. That's the one thing Natur' hain't provided fer—education! Accordin' ter my way of thinkin', education draws the line 'tween a man 'n' a dawg; 'tween a woman 'n' a sow. A man kin git hit, but a dawg can't; 'n' if a man don't, then he's even wuss'n a dawg. I've done a lot of thinkin' 'bout hit," he added in a reverential, wistful voice, "since Ruth come back ter Sunlight Patch."

"You seem to take things pretty seriously, Dale." Bob gave his shoulder a slap. "Don't draw your lines too fine with Nature. It's apt to make you ride over the hounds; it's risky."

"How do ye mean risky?" he quickly asked.

"Lots of ways," Bob laughed, trying to think even of one. "In Nature, for instance, water flows down hill, but man must continually go up hill if he expects to be any account—even though he's mostly all made of water, at that! There's one way for you." And Bob felt proud of this, and glad the Colonel was listening. And the Colonel, still stalking on before them, nodded his head in approval.

"'Doth Nature itself not teach you?'" Dale sternly replied in faultless English. "That's in the Good Book, 'cause Ruth read it out; 'n' that's what fu'st made me look in the woods 'n' mountings fer my larnin'. Natur' hain't lied ter me yit—but," he added suspiciously, "hit hain't said nuthin' 'bout folks being mostly made of water!"

The Colonel gave an explosive snort, but did not turn around.

"It won't lie to you either," Bob said in good humor, "but neither will it give up all its secrets; and the danger is in thinking you have guessed what isn't there. Who's Ruth?"

"Ruth?" he turned as though the question surprised him. "She's the slocum of Sunlight Patch."

"The—slocum?" Bob again asked.

"Yes, the slocum," he answered simply.

"I don't remember having heard of a slocum. Is that one of Nature's lessons?"

"Bob," the Colonel spoke in a tone of warning, "you astonish me by your ignorance, sir. Everybody knows what a slocum is!"

They had reached the road, and Dale gave a long, low whinny, in so exact an imitation that even before Lucy answered and was heard coming toward him, the other horses, near by, had also whinnied a response. Bob laughed outright, and the Colonel chuckled.

"Upon my word, sir," he said, "I thought there was a horse right at the back of my neck! You do it remarkably well!"

Dale smiled, for compliments, even the simplest, he had not experienced. His people were unversed in many of the gentler ways, and this brought him a pleasant sense of being appreciated.

"Can you imitate other things?" Bob asked.

"All thar is in the mountings," he answered. "I've talked with 'em ever since I war a brat."

"They have a language, then?" Bob winked at the Colonel, who replied with another warning look.

"'Course they hev a language. They talk jest like we-uns do, but 'thout so many words. Lucy, hyar," he continued, after having patted her nose, "'n' all critters, has one kind of whinny fer hunger 'n' thirst, another when somethin's scarin' 'em, another when they're hurt, another when they're callin' a critter, 'n' another when they're answerin'. Most all varmints has those, too; jest the same as a critter—'cept the hunger call."

"I don't quite follow your distinction between critters, as you call them, and varmints," the Colonel turned curiously.

"Bob-cats, 'n' foxes, 'n' skunks, 'n' coons, 'n' them sech, is varmints. Lucy is a critter," he said simply. "'N' they all have 'bout the same sort of calls—'ceptin' hunger calls."

"But wild animals get hungry," the Colonel exclaimed, taking a still deeper interest in what this observer was saying.

"Wall, yes," he drawled, "but some don't make no fuss 'bout hit. Take a bob-cat! He'd be a purty thing a-yellin' all through the mountings when he's hungry, now wouldn't he? He's got ter move like a grey cloud, 'n' slip up on things! A bob-cat," he added with his peculiar chuckle, "that'd yell when he went a-huntin' wouldn't take long ter starve. 'N' the wilder a thing is, the moh uncomplainin' hit is, too. Shoot a fox, 'n' he'll pull hisse'f along till he drops daid—jest grittin' his teeth 'n' standin' hit; but a dawg'll holler somethin' awful. Hit's most allers that-a-way with birds, too. Ketch a chicken, 'n' folks'll think ye're killin' her; but ketch a pa'tridge, 'n' she'll jest lay in yo' hand 'n' breathe fast, 'n' hate ye."

"How do you account for that?" the Colonel asked. "The fox and the dog belong to the same family; likewise the chicken and partridge!"

"That's jest why I picked them kind out ter tell ye 'bout," he answered. "I reckon the reason is bein' 'round human folks, Cunnel. When a varmint loses his wildness, he loses his grit, 'n' I may say he's apt ter go down in health. Ruth says that Injuns could stand bein' burned with fyar 'n' not flinch. Thar hain't no white men now-days kin do hit. I've tried," he rolled back his sleeve and showed a long scar on his forearm. "I tried jest ter see, 'n' had ter quit. Hit made me plumb sick. 'N' that's jest the same with varmints."

They mounted their horses and turned down the road. Colonel May and Bob, being for the moment together, the old gentleman whispered;

"Interesting sort of fellow."

Bob nodded. "Nervy to try fire, wasn't he?"

"Dale," the Colonel called, "ride up with us! Is it then your impression," he asked, when the lowly head of Lucy was abreast with the arched necks of the thoroughbreds, "that civilization has a bad influence?"

Dale fairly rose in his stirrups. "I never said that," he cried. "I never said no sech a-thing! Hit hain't so! I said that bein' 'round folks makes varmints 'n' critters lose thar grit, 'n' be moh apt ter git sick; bein' brought up in stalls, 'n' stables, 'n' pens, 'n' havin' their victuals fetched ter 'em all the time, 'n' bein' drove 'n' bullied, makes 'em lose thar fightin' sperit; 'n' when a thing loses that hit'll go down. The same way with folks. Why, Cunnel, I knowed a man who laid behind two rocks 'n' fit all day long with nine bullets in him, 'cause his son war in the cabin jest below, 'n' both war a-holdin' off a passel of fellers. But to'ard evenin', when the ole man seed the fellers rush in 'n' drag his boy out, 'n' kill 'im thar afore his eyes, he rolled right over hisse'f 'n' died—'n' he hadn't been hit since dinner. 'N' that jest showed, as long's he had the savage in 'im fightin' fer the boy, he war all right; but when thar warn't no moh use, he quit. That's one big trouble with civilization, as we-uns sees hit from the mountings: hit takes the grit outen folks, 'n' makes 'em want ter quit too soon."

The Colonel sat gazing moodily between his horse's ears, one of which was tilted back and the other forward, as though at the same time listening to the conversation and watching the road. He seemed to have forgotten that an uncouth mountaineer had been talking; he seemed not to have heard the low drawl, or in any way have been affected by its musical crudity, but only by the man's point of view.

"So that's the way you people think of us?" he finally asked.

"Bob, hyar, says you-uns 'n' we-uns hain't no different." He had begun calling Bob by his first name with child-like ingenuousness.

"But there is a distinction," the old gentleman insisted. "The mountaineers are more—I might say more intense, as your act this morning gives testimony. Altogether, I should say, as Miss Jane once put it, that your aura is tinctured with savagery."

Dale hesitated. "I don't reckon," he said at last, "that what I did this mawnin' war any wuss'n what you-uns war a-goin' ter do. What's aura?"

Bob burst into peals of laughter.

"I think he's got you on number one, Colonel! Now tell him what aura is!"

But this was a knotty undertaking, and when he finished, quite unassisted by Bob, Dale's face held a troubled look.

"If a fine man like yeou, Cunnel," he began, causing the old gentleman to stiffen in his saddle with righteous pride, "don't know no moh'n that 'bout the English language, how, in Gawd's name, am I a-goin' ter larn?"

"Upon my word, sir! Upon my word!" the Colonel sputtered, red to the roots of his silvery hair, "you haven't the capacity to understand, sir; no matter how explicit I may be, sir!" And touching spur he galloped ahead, not deigning to look at them again.

"Dale," Bob implored, trying to control his laughter, "for the love of Mike cut 'aura' from your vocabulary! Honest, my friend, if you ever should walk into the Colonel's drawing room in that costume and announce that your aura is tinctured with savagery, it would be worse than murder!"

Again the mountaineer's face became troubled; indeed, it held an expression of childish helplessness, made so pathetic by a succeeding, shy glance at his awkward costume of homespun, that the young planter winced.

"That's all right," he said, contrite enough now, and giving the broad shoulder another friendly slap. "Before long you'll be turning out classier stuff than any of us. And we like your clothes."

"I'm a-goin' ter larn," Dale murmured through clenched teeth. "I'm a-goin' ter larn all thar is, 'n' a whole lot moh; so help me Gawd I will."

For awhile they rode without speaking until the Colonel was seen waiting at a turn of the road. Then Dale asked:

"Ye reckon he meant that, 'bout me livin' with 'im?"

"'Course he meant it. He'll make you think you own the place in twenty-four hours, and you won't feel the slightest obligation."

"What's obligation?"

Patiently Bob went through the definition, and Dale again asked:

"Who's the feller he calls Brent?"

"He's staying there, too; trying his wings on a survey for a railroad. There's going to be a little road through here some day, and he's looking to it."

"How does he?"

"Heaven pity us," Bob groaned. "I don't know how does he, Dale. Ask him. Come, let's catch up!"

The Colonel was riding slowly ahead, and from the appearance of his back Bob knew him to be sulking. Strong and big and fine as he was in both physique and temperament, his amour propre was an easy thing to wound. Such hurts, however, were quickly healed by his blessed sense of humor, and now as he wheeled and watched them, Bob saw that his spirits were returning.

"In the eyes of babes," the old gentleman began, with a humorous twitching about his mouth, "we see the mirror of our age—and, Mr. Dawson, don't ask me what that means for I don't know! But come, gentlemen, it is quite noon, and a cool house is calling us."

"When the mint is in the toddy, and the chair is in the shade," Bob hummed, bringing another twinkle of amusement to the old gentleman's lips.

"I reckon I'll turn off hyar," Dale said, "'n' go on ter school."

"What for?" the Colonel asked. "There's no school today."

"Hain't!" the mountaineer turned in a fury. "Why so?"

"Why so?" Bob answered, not exactly with patience. "For several reasons, Dale; one being that they don't have school on Saturdays, and another, quite sufficient in itself, that Miss Jane has a headache."

"What's Satu'day got ter do with hit?" He asked again, unconscious of the other's growing ill humor.

"You darned boob," Bob laughed, "don't you know that Saturday is a holiday? It always is! They never have school on that day!"

"D'ye mean they lose a whole day a week?" Dale cried, working himself into a rage and giving the Colonel that same unpleasant, startled feeling of witnessing something human out of gear. "That all that time is jest plumb wasted, when I mought be larnin'? Hain't I come hyar fer her ter teach me? Hain't I got the right? Hain't hit her business?"

"When Miss Jane doesn't feel like teaching," Bob began, turning a shade pale and becoming unnaturally calm, "Saturday or no Saturday, she isn't going to teach; and the Colonel and I'll see anyone in hell first. Remember that, for it's a right important thing."

"Lord have pity on our mendacious world," the old gentleman sighed.

The mountaineer had not intended to give offense. As a matter of fact, he held Jane in too sacred regard to suffer her the slightest inconvenience—but it was a regard for the teacher, for the possessor of that magic wand which would point him along the path of learning. She inspired him with no other personality. To get into school had been for so long the precious beacon of his desire that physical comforts or discomforts were transient incidents to be utterly ignored. He would have ignored his own bodily ailments, elbowed his way through pain of flesh and weariness of mind, in an onward rush for that one thing his soul craved—Learning. It craved, it blindly implored him, abjured him with curses and sweet words, until he had reached a state where obedience became an uncompromisable law. Nothing else came within his mental horizon, and thus it was that Bob's words perplexed, rather than offended, him.

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