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The Boy from Hollow Hut - A Story of the Kentucky Mountains
by Isla May Mullins
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Arrived at the house, the friend, Mr. Colton, his wife and Maud, the young daughter about fifteen years of age, were at home and gave the visitors a lively welcome. They were at once greatly interested in the mountain boy, but so civilized was his outfit, and intelligent his face that they could not realize his difference from themselves except when he talked. This they were delighted to get him to do, and he answered all questions unabashed, though he liked better to look and listen.

The Coltons were well-to-do people with ever-ready, easy hospitality and insisted that Mr. Polk and Steve remain to tea.

"The maids are both out as it happens, so we must get tea ourselves," said Mrs. Colton, adding with mock graciousness, "and everybody may help!"

They all trooped out in responsive pleasantry through the hall, and Mr. Colton inquired:

"Where is Raymond?"

"Oh, he is out," replied Mrs. Colton. "There is no telling when he will be in."

That they were very indulgent parents and Raymond was an exceedingly lively boy, Mr. Polk already knew.

The hostess and her daughter exchanged glances of sudden consternation when they reached the dining-room, then burst into merriest laughter.

At last Mrs. Colton said between subsiding ripples, "Father, please go down in the basement and look in the furnace and you'll find the baker with the cold roast left from dinner! Mr. Polk, you go along too, please, and you'll see some loose bricks between the joists right under this dining-room window, and right behind them is the bread-box which you can bring up!"

"The cake is up-stairs in the hat-box of my trunk under lock and key," gaily put in Maud, "and you can come with me, Steve, and bring down the preserves from under the bed!"

By this time the whole family were in gales of laughter, and Steve was greatly puzzled at this new phase of civilization. Mrs. Colton finally explained that for a few Sundays past Raymond had been carrying off everything there was to eat in the house, and having "spreads" in the barn with his chums. This time they determined to outwit him.

Mr. Polk joined heartily in all the merriment, going after and bringing in provisions, but in his heart he thought, "This is the product of too much opportunity—give me my mountain boy every time. If he doesn't outstrip this pampered son, I miss my guess."

A little later Raymond came in and dominated the conversation at once, after the manner of too many bright, confident children of modern city life. After tea he took Steve in charge on a lively tour of exploration, and Mr. Polk talked over his plans for his boy.

"The thing you ought to do," said Mr. Colton who was very clear-headed concerning everything except his own son, "is to put the boy in a mountain college. He would be at a disadvantage among boys of his age in town, and then you've no way to take care of him, travelling as you do. My wife has a friend near here who is greatly interested in a mountain college; just go over and see her."

This seemed good advice and Mr. Colton took Mr. Polk and Steve over at once.

The lady came in and greeted them with gracious cordiality, but when she learned their errand and knew that one of the little mountain boys, to whose welfare she had given so much thought, time and money, was before her, her eyes grew tender and filled with tears.

"He must go to our mountain college at once; the school has just opened," she said. So they heard all about the school and its opportunities. When she had finished Steve spoke up:

"Is all that jes' fer mountain boys lack me?" This seemed beyond belief, but they assured him it was.

Raymond had greatly enjoyed demonstrating the mysteries of the telephone, electric lights and various contrivances of his own to so totally unenlightened and yet so appreciative an intelligence as Steve's, while the quaint mountain speech interested and amused him exceedingly. So when Mr. Polk and the boy took leave of the Coltons for the night Raymond secured a promise that Steve might attend school with him next day. Mr. Polk would be busy making arrangements for the few days' holiday which would be necessary to take Steve back to the mountains and place him in school.

Promptly next morning Raymond arrived at Mr. Polk's rooms for Steve and the boys started off together like two comrades. It was Steve's first day in a schoolroom, and eye and ear were on the alert, taking in everything.

He was well dressed and with his intelligent face the other boys noted nothing unusual until the noon hour when Raymond introduced his new specimen with keen relish. He had no unkind intentions in the sly winks he gave chosen comrades, but these aroused the curiosity of his fellows, and when Steve began to talk the boys awoke to lively possibilities. One after another began to ask questions.

"What did you do for fun down at Hollow Hut?" asked one.

"We uns didn't do nothin' fer fun, 'cep'in' hunt cotton tails, foxes an' coons," answered the boy.

"Didn't you play football?" asked some one else.

"I nuver hearn tell of it," said Steve.

"Du tell," returned another boy, venturing to fall a little into the stranger's vernacular.

"Didn't you ever play tennis, shinny or baseball?" persisted some one else, and Steve replied politely "that nobody ever hearn o' them things in Hollow Hut."

The boys then began to venture more boldly into imitations of Steve's speech while some got behind him and doubled up in silent laughter. Raymond looked on, feeling himself the hero of the day in having furnished such a comedy.

Suddenly Steve turned, perhaps with some intuition of what was going on, and with swift comprehension knew that he was being made fun of. His face on the instant was electrified with wrath. He drew himself up, and clenched his hands. Then in a twinkling his coat and cap were upon the ground. Taking the first boy at hand Steve dealt him a blow from the shoulder with a lean, sinewy arm that sent him spinning across the yard, and before any one could realize what was happening three or four others followed, and the rest, frightened at his fury, took to their heels with speed.

Steve stood alone at last quivering from head to foot; then calming slowly, he took his coat on his arm, put on his cap and walked away, not knowing whither he was going. But as he grew more quiet he took his bearings, and his keen sense of direction and good recollection of things they had passed in going, led him without trouble back to Mr. Polk's rooms.

Raymond was not a cad, and when he had time to think was thoroughly ashamed of himself. He went to the teacher and made confession; then as both were afraid the boy might get lost or come to some harm, he went at once on a search. He did not dream that Steve could so directly find his way back, and Raymond wandered about for hours in a fruitless search, doing without his dinner. At last, frightened and contrite, he went to Mr. Polk's office. Here the confession was harder to make, but it came out in all its humiliating details. Having eased his conscience he wound up with a burst of enthusiasm: "I tell you, Mr. Polk, Steve's got the stuff in him. There isn't a fellow in school but thinks he is fine. We didn't mean a thing by our fun, but he served us just right, and every fellow wants to take his paw."

Mr. Polk said little but sending Raymond home and promising to telephone later, he went directly to his rooms, knowing Steve's keenly intuitive mind better than Raymond. Though anxious until it was proven true, Mr. Polk found Steve as he had expected, seated in his rooms when he got there. But he saw a most dejected little figure. The new clothes were laid aside, the old mountain things were on, and the boy's face was drawn and white, though he fronted Mr. Polk sturdily.

"I don't belong in no town. I ain't got no town ways. I'll jes' go back to Hollow Hut and stay thar."

Mr. Polk put his arm about the boy and gently drew him to a seat. For some moments there was silence.

"Steve," he said at last, "did the trip over the mountains from Hollow Hut to Mr. Follet's sometimes seem hard for you?"

"Hit shore did," said the boy slowly.

"But you didn't give up the struggle, did you?"

"No," said Steve, still slowly.

"Well, the journey of life is like that journey over the mountains: it is often hard; there are things to overcome and things to endure. You have started now up the long, hard hill of learning, and I hope you are not going to turn back at the laughter of a few boys. You thrashed them out, I understand," he went on, and his voice held a strong hint of satisfaction; "pass right on now, putting the incident behind you just as you did each rocky summit you mounted on that difficult journey. You must climb to the top, son, understand; nothing short of that will satisfy me!" And he looked earnestly, almost vehemently into the boy's eyes.

The penetrating gaze was returned, but with a puzzled, groping inquiry for his benefactor's full intent.

"Yer mean I mus' larn as much as you know?" he asked at last.

"More,—infinitely more," said Mr. Polk with energy. "I have half-way climbed the mountain of knowledge and success in life,—I have even stopped less than half-way," he corrected a little bitterly, "but," rousing himself, "I want to begin life over again in you, and nothing but the very top of the mountain of success will ever satisfy me!" He turned again to the boy with a deep, searching gaze.

"You are a boy of your word," he went on after a moment, "that is what pleased me most about you, and now at the very outset of this business of learning and succeeding in life, I want your promise that you will not halt before obstacles, but go to the top!"

There was impelling enthusiasm as well as energy in the resonant tones, and Steve's spirit kindled with answering enthusiasm and a glimmering vision of heights which he had not hitherto glimpsed.

"I'll git ter the top, Mr. Polk,—ef I don't die on the way," he said with solemn earnestness.

It was a most unexpected, peculiarly intense moment for both, and in the silence which followed, the imagination of boy and man scaled lofty peaks, but the mountain of material success which filled Mr. Polk's vision was not the beautiful, mystic height upon which the boy gazed, and neither dreamed of the conflict which this fact was to bring about in future years.

"God hath set eternity in the heart of man," and the child of the woods felt the stirring of an eternal purpose, undefined though it was. The glamour of the world had long since intervened for the man.

The telephone rang noisily, having no respect for visions, and Mr. Polk rose to answer it while Steve began at once to put on again the new clothes in unconscious ratification of his solemn life-promise to Mr. Polk.

It was Mrs. Colton at the phone and she learned with great relief that Steve had been found. She insisted that Mr. Polk and the boy must come over to supper, after which there would be a little impromptu party of Raymond's friends for Steve.

The boy looked very sober when this announcement was made to him, but Mr. Polk smiled and said heartily, as he had already done to Mrs. Colton:

"Of course we will go!" And they went.

There was just a bit of awkwardness when the boys came into the Coltons' that evening and met Steve once more, but Mr. Polk, with an adroit question, started him to telling them about trapping rabbits, chasing foxes and treeing coons while the boys became so interested, including Steve himself, that all unpleasantness was forgotten. Upon leaving, each boy took Steve's hand with real respect and liking, and Raymond expressed the general sentiment when he exclaimed, "You're a brick!"

Next day Mr. Polk and Steve started for the mountain school. As they sat together on the train Steve said: "I'll be larnin' to do things jes' like mammy said fer me ter do. I wonder ef she will know."

"I think so," said Mr. Polk simply, but with a gentle sympathy in his voice, which, whenever expressed by look or tone, seemed to bring the boy close to the heart of the man. Resting a moment in this embrace, Steve asked a question which had come to him several times. His father and all the mature men he had known had been married,—for bachelors are rare in the mountains,—why had Mr. Polk no wife?

"Is ye woman dead, Mr. Polk?" was the question he asked.

"No," answered Mr. Polk, with a smile that flitted quickly, "she did not marry me at all, and so has left me lonely all my life. I would have been a far better man had she done so. As it is," and the bitterness crept into his voice again, "I stopped half-way up the hill of success as I told you, and threw my prospects away. That is why you are to live my life over for me and bring success whether or no."



VIII

OPPORTUNITY

Mr. Polk and Steve made their railroad trip by night, and the sleeper with its rows of shelf-like beds was a fresh experience for the boy, but he climbed to the upper berth and slept the sleep of healthy youth. They reached L—— about seven o'clock in the morning, and the sight of mountain and valley spread out before them in purple beauty gave a strange thrill of joy to Steve. The mountaineer's love of the mountains rushed upon him after all his new, pleasant experiences with a first consciously defined emotion.

"Well," said Mr. Polk, "now the problem is how we can cover that forty miles which lies between us and our school." But just at that moment he spied an old man helping a woman into a wagon, and at once he stepped up, found they were fortunately going to the same point, and would gladly take in two passengers with the ready accommodation of mountain people.

They travelled leisurely on and on, Steve seeing things of a familiar type and Mr. Polk much that was fresh and interesting. They stopped over night at a little settlement and journeyed on again next day, reaching their destination early in the evening. When the group of school buildings came into view, the old mountaineer pointed out the main building with its tower, and told them which was the "gals' sleepin' place," and which "the boys' sleepin' place," as he termed the two dormitories. He drove directly to the president's home, a little unpainted frame house. They were cordially received, entertained at supper and taken afterwards to the boys' dormitory, where Steve was given a room with several other boys. Then they walked over to "The Hall," as it was called, and were introduced to the teachers, who were gathering there for the study hour. They had met several when a young woman's trim, slender figure, with a decided air of the city about it, appeared in the doorway, and the light from within lit up a pair of clear, steady brown eyes, a pleasant mouth with firmness lurking in the corners, and fluffy brown hair put back in a roll from a very attractive face.

She stood a moment there in the doorway with a casual glance for the strangers, then suddenly caught her breath and went white, but instantly recovered herself as the president, oblivious of any tragic moment for her, turned and said:

"This is Miss Grace Trowbridge; she came down here all the way from New York City to teach mountain boys and girls,—and she knows how to do it, too."

Miss Trowbridge bowed and passed quickly within the hall.

Mr. Polk acknowledged the introduction with a look on his face that Steve had never seen before, and the boy felt somehow that his good friend had become a stranger as they walked back to the boys' dormitory for the night. Next morning, too, something had come between them, and when Mr. Polk said he would leave that day instead of staying several days, as he had intended, Steve could make no reply.

Before Mr. Polk left, however, in giving final instructions to his charge, the old kindly manner returned, and as he said, "I hope you will like it here, son," the boy replied with his old freedom:

"I knows I'm a-goin' to like it, and that thar Miss Grace Trowbridge is the nicest one of 'em all. She used ter live in New York City, the president said, whar you used ter live. Didn't you nuver know her thar?" he asked innocently, not yet comprehending in the least city conditions.

Mr. Polk set his lips grimly and answered sternly: "Yes," as he mounted a mule to ride back the forty miles to the nearest railroad station.

What was the matter again? The boy did not know, and he felt as though a sudden chill had come upon him. But a moment later Mr. Polk looked down at him kindly, reached over, pressed his hand, and said: "Be a good boy," as he rode away on the ambling mule.

So Steve began his school life. He went into the second reader class, his opportunities at the Follets' having put him beyond the beginners. In his class were children of all ages and mature men and women, who were just getting their first opportunity to learn. Steve was bright and quick, had a good mind, and made rapid progress.

With the superior social advantages which he had found along the way from Hollow Hut to the school, the boy became a great ally of the teachers in the battle for nightgowns, combs, and brushes for the hair and teeth, also for white shirts, collars and neckties on Sunday, which most of the boys thought "plum foolishness anyways."

"Here, fellows," Steve would say when he found them turning in at night with soiled feet, coats and trousers, "this ain't the way ter git ter be president." He organized a company of "regulators" in the boys' dormitory, and when any fellows turned in with soiled feet, coats and trousers, Steve's shrill whistle summoned the army and a lively pillow fight ensued which was hard on the pillows but always brought victory for nightgowns. And when a boy refused to brush his hair in the morning the regulators invariably caught him, and the penalty was a thorough brushing down of his rebellious locks by at least twenty-five sturdy young arms. Under such methods the cause of nightgowns and brushes was made to thrive.

There was another cause which was more difficult, but which enlisted all Steve's best endeavour. Mountain children are apt to know the taste of liquor from babyhood, but Steve had never liked it and neither had his mother. Occasionally parents, especially fathers, when they visited the school would bring the children bottles of "moonshine" to hide and drink from as they pleased, and the teachers found Steve a great helper, though his corps of "regulators" could not always be relied upon.

In the midst of his interesting, new surroundings Steve's mind often went back to the rock where Tige lay and to the grave of his "mammy." How pleased she would be, he thought again and again,—maybe she was—that he was where he could "larn things."

He soon began to write letters to Mr. Polk, and a steady improvement was noted all winter in these letters. There was always a great deal in them about Miss Grace, for she seemed to make him her special charge and the two were great friends. She loved to walk in the woods and talk with Steve, hearing him tell many interesting things which he had learned from intimate association with birds and animals. Sometimes she would take his hand at the top of a hill and together they would race down, laughing and breathless to the bottom. After such a run, one day, they halted by the bank of a stream beneath one of the grand old beeches for which Kentucky is famous.

"Oh, Steve," she exclaimed enthusiastically, "what a beautiful old beech this is. How symmetrical its giant trunk, how perfect its development of each branch and twig, while it pushes up into the sky higher than all its fellows, gets more sunshine than all the rest, has the prettiest growth of ferns and violets at its base,—and I just know the birds and squirrels love it best!"

Miss Grace had a bubbling, contagious enthusiasm, and Steve followed her expressive gestures as she pointed out each detail of perfection with answering admiration.

"Steve!" She turned suddenly and bent her eyes upon him with still more radiant emphasis. "I want you to be just such a grand specimen of a man! Big and strong and well developed,—pushing up into the sky further than all the rest about you, getting more sunshine than any one else—making little plants to grow and blossom all about you and drawing to you the sweetest and best in life!"

He smiled back into her shining eyes, somewhat bewildered, but with an earnest:

"I shore will try, Miss Grace, but I don't know just what you mean."

"I mean I want you to study hard, to develop every power of mind and body you have, and then,—give your life for the uplift of the children of the mountains."

She did not press him for a promise, nor linger upon the subject, but the first dim outline of that mystic height of the boy's vision had been traced.

Upon another walk which they took together Steve asked Miss Grace how she happened to come from her home way up in New York down to Kentucky to teach mountain boys and girls, and she was silent a moment, a look which he could not fathom coming over her bright face. At last she said, "I was very foolish; I threw away happiness. Then I heard of this work and came here that I might redeem my life by making it useful."

There was something about this boy of the mountains that made the telling of the simple truth the natural thing; but startled at even so vague a revealing of her bruised heart, she turned the talk quickly to other things.



IX

A STARTLING APPEARANCE

In the spring following came a great day for the mountain school when some friends and benefactors were coming. Great preparations were made. The school about three hundred strong fronted the main hall, and there was great waving of small and large handkerchiefs in a genuine salute as the visiting party drove up.

When the company had scattered a little after the greeting, Steve suddenly felt an arm about him and turning, found Mr. Polk smiling down upon him. The boy was overjoyed and could only cling to his hand, speechless for a moment. Mr. Polk had met the visiting party on the train, among whom was the lady who had told him of the school, and she would take no refusal,—he must go with them.

* * * * *

It was a beautiful day for Steve and in his boyish talk about his life and school he often spoke of Miss Grace, but each time came that grim setting of Mr. Polk's lips and the boy soon instinctively dropped her name. The day was destined to be full of events, some in honour of the visitors and some that were totally unexpected.

The speech of welcome from the school was made by Stephen Langly. Miss Grace had told him to say in his own words whatever was in his heart to say. So the boy stepped out from the gathered school, mounted a little platform and stood before the assembled crowd unabashed, for the mountaineer knows no embarrassment, while in simple good English he thanked the generous friends and teachers for what they were doing for mountain boys and girls. As he stood there well dressed, erect, manly, he bore little resemblance to the forlorn boy who had crept away from his cabin home at Hollow Hut a year before.

As the crowd dispersed a little after the speech-making, in which several took part, Mr. Polk and Steve walked away together and passed a group of teachers and students of which the visiting lady of Mr. Polk's acquaintance was the centre.

"Come here, Mr. Polk, please, and bring Steve to see me," she called.

Miss Grace Trowbridge was one of the group and Mr. Polk halted reluctantly, but finally joined them.

Before a word could be exchanged a tall, lank, grim mountaineer slouched forward and laid a horny hand upon Steve's shoulder. The startled boy looked up to see his father standing beside him!

The Kentucky mountain product, unlike any other so-called shiftless man in the world, may idle his days away with pipe and drink, but let a wrong, real or fancied, be done him or his and in his thirst for vengeance he is transformed. His energy, his perseverance, his intelligence, his fury become colossal. So, Jim Langly, convinced after months of waiting and brooding that his boy had been enticed away by the giver of the watch, had set out with a grim purpose of finding boy and man which had been undaunted by any obstacle. With slow but persistent effort he had traced the child over mountain and valley, often losing all clue, but never relaxing till at last he had reached Mr. Follet and learned that the boy was in school. From thence he easily made his way to the school of Mr. Polk's selection, and, arriving by strange providence upon a gala day, had found the two objects of his search at the same moment.

"I've found ye at last," he said grimly, "an' when I set eyes on the man whut give ye that watch and tolled my boy away from his home, I'll shoot him down lack a dog!"

Mr. Polk quietly walked out and said, "I am your man, Mr. Langly."

"You," the enraged mountaineer yelled, and jerking a pistol from his trousers pocket, he lifted and would have cocked it, but quick as a deer Grace Trowbridge had stepped in front of Mr. Polk, protecting him with her body, while Steve threw himself on his father and screamed shrilly, dropping into the speech of the mountains:

"No, oh, pappy, pappy, don't shoot him! He nuver got me ter leave home; I went myself, and I'll go back with yer and stay all my life!"

Frantically the boy clung to his father, pleading pitifully, while Grace Trowbridge with all her strength pushed Mr. Polk back among a quickly gathering crowd. Others joined her, and in the excitement of the moment, both she and Mr. Polk were hurried into safety within one of the school buildings and the door locked upon them.

The town constable was on the ground, for his services were quite likely to be needed in any public gathering, and before Jim Langly realized what was happening, being wholly unfamiliar with the ways of law and order, his pistol had been wrenched from his hand (something unheard of in mountain ethics), and he was hurried from the scene like an infuriated lion made captive.

Breathless and spent, Grace Trowbridge found herself looking into the face of her old lover when the door was locked upon them. She stood an instant like a frightened bird driven to cover, her eyes gazing into his, anxiety, relief, tragic intensity born of but one emotion in her white quivering face,—and then the warm blood surged up with returning realization of the years of estrangement between them, and she wheeled for instant flight.

But the door was locked, and baffled she faced him again, crying, "Oh, Sam, let me out!"

For answer he caught her in his arms and said, "Let you out, and away from me? Never! I shall hold you fast instead. I love you, love you, love you," he cried vehemently, "and what is more, you love me!" He crushed her to him and the tense, spent figure relaxed in his arms while love in full tide swept over them, after six weary years of longing and restraint. Their separation had followed a misunderstanding which now did not even seem to need explanation.

"Sam," she cried at last, moving energetically away from him, "I can never give up these blessed mountain children. You'll have to adopt every one of them if you take me!"

"All right," he said happily, "just as many of them as you please."

Instantly both remembered Steve.

"Oh, Sam, where is Steve? Do you suppose his father has carried him off, and that we will never see him again?" she exclaimed in distress, and a few moments later, when release came to them, their first anxious inquiry was for the boy.

No one had seen or thought of him in the excitement, and when the story of Jim Langly's arrest had been told them, they searched the grounds and buildings in great anxiety before they finally found Steve in his room.

When Mr. Polk opened the door the boy stood before him dressed in a little ragged shirt and old pair of trousers he had worn for hunting and with bared feet. The hopeless expression of the lost was in his face.

"I can't keep my promise to you, Mr. Polk," he said brokenly. "I can't ever climb that mountain fer yer, but it is better fer me ter die on the way than fer you to be killed." Correct speech had no part in such despair.

Mr. Polk drew the boy to him while Miss Grace stood without, her lips tremulous and eyes full of tears. After a silent moment Mr. Polk led the boy outside and put him in her arms.

"Do you think we are going to give you up?" Mr. Polk said, striding up and down the hall. "Not by a long shot," he went on with energy, and a conviction for which he could not at the moment see any tangible foundation. "This is all going to be fixed up,—just leave everything to Miss Grace and me."

The boy shook his head. "Ye don't know pappy," he said sadly.

"I may not," returned Mr. Polk cheerfully, "but I know Grace Trowbridge, and I am going to trust her to keep you here. Do just as she says, son, and everything will come right."

He left them to talk with the president of the school. They discussed what should be done with Jim Langly. Mr. Polk greatly regretted the man's arrest, but was compelled to admit it could not have been avoided. He begged, however, that prosecution of the case be delayed until every effort could be made to make Langly see that only good was intended for his son.

"Of course I must relinquish all claim to the boy," he said sadly, "but we must by some means win the father's consent that Steve remain here,—that is the important thing."

So it was decided that Mr. Polk should leave, as his presence could only infuriate the man, and the president gladly promised to do everything in his power to win the father.

For a week Jim Langly remained in the lock-up of the town. He had wrenched his back severely in the struggle with his captors; then, like a caged lion indeed, he had beaten the walls of his prison all night without food or drink, and being a man of indolent habits, he collapsed utterly next morning. The gaunt, haggard face with deep hollows beneath the eyes, the giant figure lying helpless upon a rude couch of the lock-up touched deeply the heart of Grace Trowbridge when she went in to see him. In his blind fury he had not noticed her especially the day before; and when, without saying a word, she stepped lightly across the room and reaching through the iron bars closed a rude shutter to screen the glare of the morning sun from his eyes, then gently adjusted a pillow beneath his head and fed him a cup of hot broth, he accepted it all like a wild, sick animal which in its helplessness has lost all animosity to man.

During the day she tended him unobtrusively, but with infinite kindness, and next morning she found him better, but still willing to accept her care. He even watched her with a far-away interest as one would something unknown and yet strangely pleasing. By the third morning she talked to him a bit as she smoothed his pillow, and smiled as he ate her toast with relish.

At last he said with an effort, "Whar's Steve?"

"He is here," she said gladly, "just waiting outside the door for you to ask for him. He has been there every day," she added softly.

Then she stepped to the door and motioned for Steve. The boy came in, still dressed in mountain fashion, for no amount of persuasion could induce him to again put on the better clothes. This evidently met the father's approval, for a look of bitter expectancy which had come into his face faded at once as he saw the old trousers and bare feet.

"Set down," he commanded feebly, but not unkindly, though he had nothing more to say.

The two stayed with him through the day, and gradually Grace, with consummate tact, made conversation which included the three, though Langly took little part. Then she read a stirring story which compelled his attention and interest even though he had never heard anything read aloud before. It was the first time in the mountaineer's long life that he had ever been unable to rise from his bed and go his way and the helplessness had softened his spirit like the touch of a fairy's wand. As he listened to the sweet, cultured voice of the woman while she read and saw Steve with quickened intelligence following every word, he realized for the first time that the world held strange things in which he had no part, but for which his boy was ready.

At last Miss Grace turned to Steve and said in the most natural manner, "My throat is getting tired; won't you read a little for us?"

The boy looked at his father in quick alarm, but the gaunt face betrayed nothing, and the reading went on in Steve's boyish voice.

Several days passed during which Miss Grace and Steve had been constantly with the prisoner, then his injured back was sufficiently restored to permit of his being raised in bed to a sitting posture, and Miss Grace felt it was time she tried to win his consent to Steve's remaining at school. With woman's intuition she divined the best method of approach. Steve was not there and she told with simple pathos of the boy's love for his mother. Jim Langly had loved his wife with all the mountain man's lack of expression, but the natural portrayal of the boy's affection did not displease him. The old self in fact seemed to pass out with that day of terrible fury and the softer spirit which had taken its place seemed to linger. She went on to tell how the boy's mother had longed for him to have a chance to learn, and that only a few minutes before her death she had made him promise to go where he could learn.

"It was this," she ended, "which made Steve leave home and not the man who sent the watch."

Jim Langly lay silent a long while after hearing this, and then he said:

"I was agin that in her alive, I reckon I won't be agin her dead."

After a little he inquired with resentment in his voice, "How come that man whut give him the watch ter be with him here?"

"The boy happened to find the man," she said, "and the man was good to him when he needed a friend. But we will get Steve to tell us all about it," she ended brightly, as Steve came just then to the door. And with a glad heart the boy told all his story from the day he left Hollow Hut till his father's appearance a few days before.

The president of the school then visited Langly, told of the boy's progress and begged earnestly that he be allowed to stay. Nothing was said as to how the boy's expenses were to be met, and since Jim Langly knew as little as a child about the cost of such things, he asked no questions. When strong enough at last Langly walked out a free man, the president having withdrawn all charges against him, and after looking about the buildings with strange interest he started back to Hollow Hut, with no good-bye for his boy after the manner of the mountains, but with an understanding that when school closed Steve should return to his old home for the summer.

It was some two months later when Mr. Polk carried out this promise which had been made the father, by taking the boy back to the woods where they had first met. He expected to camp there for a few days' fishing, and to arrange for Steve's safe return to the school in the fall, as happy plans of his own for the autumn would probably prevent his coming in person.

When Steve left Mr. Polk he swung off down the well-remembered mountainside with strange joy in his heart. He had felt a new kinship for his father growing upon him since he could remain at school in the freedom of parental consent, and shy thought had come of reading aloud sometimes in the old Hollow Hut cabin from the pile of books under his arms while his father smoked and listened, as he had in the beautiful days when Miss Grace had tended him.

But a few hours later he came slowly back up the same path with a stricken look on his face.

"Pappy's dead, too," he said brokenly, when Mr. Polk stepped forward in surprise and alarm to meet him.

The boy sat down upon a log, dropping his books in a heap beside him, and his bent shoulders shook with sobs.

Mr. Polk comforted him with silent tenderness for a time, then gradually drew out the story of Jim Langly's short illness of a week from a virulent fever and his burial two days before.

Together they went again next day to the cabin. Mirandy had married a few weeks previous and she and her husband were beginning family life anew in the old place. She had been stirred somewhat by the events of the year, and looked with interest upon Mr. Polk and Steve, the latter showing plainly to her the touch of new surroundings, and when Mr. Polk told her he wanted to take the boy for his own and educate him, she said with a touch of bitterness:

"Tek him erlong; he won't nuver know nothin' here."

So the two who had seemed bound from the first by close ties went away together, Steve to spend the summer at the school, where a few were always accommodated during the vacation, and Mr. Polk to wind up his business affairs in the South preparatory to a return to New York. He had formerly been associated with an uncle having large railroad interests in the East, who had often urged his return. He now proposed to do so, taking advantage of opportunities still open to him. These had been thrown away upon the breaking of his engagement with Grace Trowbridge, six years before, to take a position with a southern railroad and wander restlessly among new scenes.



X

STEVE DEVELOPS A MIND OF HIS OWN

In the autumn Mr. Polk's happy plans materialized. There was a wedding in a handsome New York City home, and Steve Langly arrived the day before for the festivities. At the ceremony he and Anita Trowbridge, the little sister of Miss Grace, were the attendants. They came in first, Steve dressed as a page in a velvet suit which went well with his clear, dark complexion, and little Nita, as she was called, tripped beside him in delicate pink as a fairy flower girl. They stood on either side of a beautiful fox-skin rug with a history, upon which the bride and groom, slowly following, took their places to repeat the sacred vows which bound them for life.

Steve and Nita, as the only children, spent the evening together, roaming about the house, Steve finding new interests everywhere. He looked around at the rich furnishings and beautiful floral decorations with appreciative eyes, seeming not at all out of place in such surroundings. A feeling of awkwardness and timidity might have possessed so poor a boy reared anywhere else, but mountain-born as he was, he accepted man's magnificence with the same tranquil spirit that he did the shimmering silver of a mountain sunrise or the gorgeous colour-triumph of its sunset. But he did not understand Nita. She tried her most grown-up ways upon him, chatting after the manner of a little society belle, and while she was so pretty that he loved to look at her as he would have looked at a beautiful flower, he did not know what to say to her. Having talked of many things, and being an ardent little lover of pretty clothes, taken in with appreciative eyes the handsome costumes of the guests, she sighed at last and said:

"Oh, I just love to go down Broadway, don't you, and see all the handsome gowns on people as they pass, and look in at the store windows!"

"I don't know; I nuver was there," he answered with a touch of his mountain speech, and then she laughed a silvery, childish laugh and said:

"You funny mountain boy," in a natural, frank way that made Steve smile back and feel more at ease.

After this they got on well as a couple of children, while Nita often exclaimed, "You funny mountain boy."

Mr. and Mrs. Polk called him their boy with a new sense of parentage after their marriage, and wanted to make him legally their son, but when it was proposed that he be known in the future as Stephen Polk, he looked far off into space a moment, and then as though his spirit had winged its way back into the wilderness of its birth, he dropped into the old manner of speech and said:

"I thank yer, but I was born Langly, an' I think I ought ter die Langly."

They said no more, and soon decided to send him back to the mountain school for his preparatory work at least, largely because Mrs. Polk was strongly convinced this was best for the boy; so, during the next six years, he spent the school terms in the mountains and his vacations in the north with his foster-parents. The last two summers he took work in a city university with special courses in geology and mining engineering, for Mr. Polk, knowing the rich treasures stored in the Kentucky mountains, had brilliant plans for Steve's future, dreaming of a time when the boy should be able to link these treasures with northern capital.

Mrs. Polk's dreams were of another sort altogether. She never lost interest in the cause of education in these same Kentucky mountains, and many were the talks she and Steve had about the progress being made there and the needs constantly developing. Engrossed in business, as Mr. Polk came more and more to be, he took no note of his wife's indirect influence, while she did not realize that she was interfering with plans of his.

As Steve grew to young manhood Mr. Polk asked him as often as studies would permit in summer to go down to the office. He liked to give the boy a taste of the financial whirl, and it was intensely interesting and exciting to Steve. He felt something of the same tremor of wonder and delight over the inner whirl of gigantic machinery moving railroad systems which stirred him when he felt the first rush of a passing railroad train, and there was a certain eager desire to be a part of it all.

It was upon his sixth vacation visit that Mr. Polk turned to him one day at the office as the boy's eyes glistened with interest and said:

"I shall want you at my elbow in a few years now. I shall be too old after a while to do all the things waiting to be done, and you remember your promise to climb that mountain of success for me whose heights I never shall be able to reach."

But the youth of nineteen suddenly looked afar as the boy of thirteen had done when it was proposed that he change the old name of Langly, and a vision of rugged mountains and deep valleys which again spread out before him were tracked by eager bared feet of poorly clad children hurrying towards the few schools which here and there dotted the wilderness. He was silent, for a definite conflict had begun in his soul.

Mr. Polk noticed the silence, and with a restless energy which was growing upon him, said to his wife that evening when they were alone:

"Look here, Grace, I am uncertain about Steve. That boy's unfathomable. Here I have been counting upon his going into business, and I know business appeals to him for I can see it in his eye, and yet when I spoke to him definitely to-day he just looked off into space," he ended in disgust.

Mrs. Polk laughed. "Well, you know, I have never been an enthusiast over money-making, and I don't believe Steve ever will be,—though he may."

"Why, look here," her husband said impatiently, "if he gets a good knowledge of geology and mining engineering, as I mean he shall, he can locate and open up some good mines in those Kentucky mountains which will make us all rich."

"Oh," laughed Mrs. Polk again, "that doesn't stir me a bit. But when I think of every little yearning child of the mountains well shod, with a clean kerchief in its pocket, and trudging away to school frosty mornings, then I begin to thrill."

"Of course," said Mr. Polk with impatient energy; "but money will help bring that to pass."

"Yes, but it isn't money alone that is necessary. They need an apostle of education, one of their very own who shall go among them opening their eyes to the world of knowledge and opportunity."

"And you would like our Steve to be that apostle, as you call him, I suppose." Looking at her intently a moment, he softened and added, "Well, you are a dear, unworldly woman." Then in sudden justification of himself, he went on: "I am willing he should be an apostle too, but one with money, so he can bring things to pass."

And he said no more to his wife, neither did he trouble Steve in the least with definite propositions for the future, but in the late summer of that year he remarked in a matter-of-fact way:

"Well, Steve, it must be college now for the next two years at least."

Whereupon Steve looked very sober and finally said: "Mr. Polk, you have been so good to me I cannot even talk about it. I do want to go to college more than I can express, but great, strapping fellow that I am, I ought not to accept your generosity any longer."

"Now, son," said Mr. Polk, with the tenderness he had given the little boy years before, "I want to do for you as I would for my own."

Steve said huskily, "I appreciate it deeply, but you know I couldn't give up my name, and it is just as hard for me to give up my independence. If I go to college at your expense it must be with the distinct understanding that I am to repay every penny spent for me. Forgive me," he added with a smile, "I suppose it is my mountain blood that makes me want to be free."

Mr. Polk, looking at the strong young face, knew that he must yield, and so the money was advanced for Steve's college expenses with the understanding that it was a loan.

The two college years were busy and profitable ones for Steve. He was fond of study and the regular courses of the school led him into new lines of interest while he still pursued his specialties of geology and mining engineering. The companionship of young men and women of inherited culture and opportunity of the best type was broadening and a fine means of general culture for him. Among the young women with whom he was thrown there developed no special interest for him, though he often wondered why. He, however, came to smile as he questioned his own heart or was questioned by chums, while he said, "We of mountain blood are slow, you know," and he failed to note how certain memories of soft yellow curls above a little white pinafore were so sacred that he never mentioned them.

He matured greatly in the two years, and at twenty-one was broad-shouldered from college athletics, six feet two in height, and his abundant dark hair with a suggestion of curl at the ends crowned a fine, clean-cut, somewhat slender face which in repose was serious, but possessed of a hidden smile which had formed the habit of flashing out suddenly, transforming his face with a peculiar radiance.

For the Christmas holidays of his last year at college he went home to the Polks as usual and one evening sat at the opera beside Nita Trowbridge in a little family party which included her. During all his comings and goings of the school years he had seen Nita with almost the familiarity of a brother. She was the child of middle age, petted and spoiled and much of a society butterfly as she developed into young ladyhood, though a very lovable one. Mr. and Mrs. Polk were greatly attached to her, and though it had not been hinted at, Steve knew that Mr. Polk would like nothing better than that they should marry when he was established in business. How Mrs. Polk would feel about it he was not so sure. Perhaps she doubted their congeniality of tastes.

As Nita sat beside him on this evening she watched Steve's rapt enjoyment of Wagner's beautiful, weird melodies. Between acts she said:

"How intensely you enjoy music!"

"Yes," he returned, throwing off the spell with an effort, "I do." And then with a reminiscent flash the smile broke over his face. "I remember well where I heard the first music of my life. It was when I was twelve years old, and from a mountain fellow who had had no training. But he simply made the banjo talk, as the darkeys would say, and reproduced with skillful touch and thrilling voice a fox hunt which fairly set me crazy.

"Then the next," he went on, "was at a church, just a little later, and never will I forget how the deep-toned organ stirred my soul to the very depths." There was a quiet solemnity upon him as he said this which Nita did not break for a moment. Then she said:

"How barren the mountains must be! You will never want to go there again, will you?"

"Barren!" he exclaimed in return. "I wish I were an artist in word painting and I would make mountain peak after mountain peak glow with rhododendron and laurel, fill the valleys with silver sunrise-mist to glorify their verdure for you, and then call out all the fur and feathered folk and troops of mountain children from their forest homes. You would not think it a barren country," he concluded with smiling eloquence.

"Perhaps not," she said slowly, "but to think of no good music, no pleasures, no,—anything that makes up our delightful living here," she ended.

"That is true," he responded gravely, adding almost to himself, "but it must be carried to them through work and sacrifice by somebody."

Then becoming conscious the next instant of the brilliant scene about him his smile flashed over his face again and he turned to her with:

"By the way, did you see an account in the papers of the wreckage of a car load of millinery in the Kentucky mountains a few days ago?"

"No, I did not," she smiled back.

"Well, there was a railroad wreck somewhere up there and a whole car load of millinery was sent out upon the four winds of heaven. Big hats and little, such as women know all about and men can't even talk of, with all sorts of gorgeous flower trimmings, feathers and ribbons were scattered through the woods, and they say barefooted mountain women flocked from every direction and decked themselves in the latest styles of head-gear."

Both laughed over the picture and Steve added:

"I suppose it would only need a procession of fashionable gowns parading the mountains to transform our women, while the sight of swallow-tails and silk hats might do as much for the men, for like the rest of the world we take up the superficial with ease, but"—sobering again—"to give our people a glimpse into the knowledge contained in books, to waken us to life's highest harmonies and open our eyes to nature's beautiful hidden colours, is going to take a long time, and as I said, somebody must work and sacrifice for it."

He searched the beautiful face beside him for sympathetic understanding, but she only looked at him with wide eyes as the frivolous little girl had done years before, not comprehending, while she wanted to say again, this time a little wistfully, "You funny mountain boy."

No conception of life translated into labour and sacrifice for others, such as he had begun to battle with, had ever come within her range of thought, and the starting of the music again was welcome to them both.

At the end of two years Steve was graduated, having been thoroughly prepared upon entering college, and when he returned to his foster-parents at the close of school they were greatly pleased with their boy. On the second night after his arrival Mr. Polk sat with him after dinner and smoked in great satisfaction. But it was of short duration. Steve had had a letter from his alma mater, the Kentucky mountain school, asking him to return as a teacher there the next year, putting forth strongly the need and opportunity for good. He had waited to talk the matter over with Mr. and Mrs. Polk before deciding, though it was pretty well settled in his own mind. He handed the letter to Mr. Polk.

"Of course you will not go," said Mr. Polk, with decision, as soon as he had finished it. "There is an opening for you in the office and I am anxious for you to take hold at once."

Steve looked afar again, as he had twice before when his fate was about to be settled for him, and Mr. Polk stirred impatiently. But the younger man turned at once, this time with that sudden smile upon his face, and said ingratiatingly:

"Mr. Polk, I am afraid I haven't any head for business,—I love books far better. I feel a premonition that I shall be stupid in business."

"Nonsense," said Mr. Polk, with quick irritation. "I don't believe it. You have never been stupid about anything."

"I do not know," Steve replied, serious again. "I have not been tried, I admit, and I must confess that business had a certain fascination for me as I have watched things stir in your office."

"Of course, of course," broke in Mr. Polk. "I have seen it in your face."

"But——" said Steve as promptly, and with a compelling earnestness in his voice that made the older man hold himself in restraint. "Mr. Polk, I must tell you something before we go any further in this matter. My barren boyhood has never faded from my mind. I cannot put it from me. I live it again in the thought of every little child hidden away in the mountains in ignorance and squalor.

"There may be little ones of my own blood in the Hollow Hut home," he added, and his voice dropped into a deep intensity which held them both motionless for a moment; then, for relief, breaking it again with that smile, he said: "I suppose it is the survival of our feudal mountain blood in me which makes me ready to go back to fight, bleed and die for my own."

"It is simply a Quixotic idea you have gotten into your head that you should go back to the mountains and spend your life trying to help your people," Mr. Polk replied emphatically.

"I don't deny you may be right," said Steve patiently, "but I got the idea fixed when I was a boy there at school having privileges which were denied so many, and you know one is very impressionable in early youth, and I confess that though for many pleasant reasons I have wanted to shake it off, I have been unable to do so."

This roused Mr. Polk to instant combat. He rose and strode the floor.

Mrs. Polk stood in the doorway an instant just then, but wisely and noiselessly slipped away.

"That's all right to want to help your own, but the practical way to do it is with money," he said vehemently.

"I am not entirely sure," returned Steve slowly. "I confess I may be mistaken—but I have thought and thought over this ever since you first proposed two years ago that I should go into business with you, and though, as I have said, I am still uncertain, I believe I ought to go there and work for my people. It will be ten years at least before I can do much in a monetary way, but I can begin teaching at once. Besides," he hurried on before Mr. Polk could speak, "people there need indoctrination,—inoculating so to speak, with the idea of education as much as they need money, and no one can do this so well as one of their own. Thanks to you, the best friend any boy ever had," he went on, his voice breaking a little, "I have had advantages which have fallen to the lot of few mountain boys, and I feel that my responsibility is tremendous."

"Yes," said Mr. Polk, "but I do not agree with you as to the best way of meeting it. However," he ended hotly, "I see you are like most young men of to-day whatever their obligations, you do not wish advice."

Steve was deeply hurt. "Mr. Polk," he said, "I would rather give my right arm than have anything come between us. If it were a matter of personal ambition, I would yield at once to your good judgment, but—please understand,—let me make this clear,—I am not sure that going myself to work among my people is the best way, but I simply feel it should be tried first. If I should remain here a while, I know I would never go there, and if I find that I am wrong in going, at the end of two years I will gladly return to you for business."

"If you go, Steve Langly, contrary to my advice and better judgment, you go for good," said Mr. Polk sternly, pausing in his striding and emphasizing with a stamp of his foot.

Mr. Polk with his gentleness had always had a hot-headed, unreasonable side to his nature. It was seldom in evidence, but it had shown itself years before in his break with his sweetheart and it was showing itself again with the boy whom he loved most devotedly.

Steve bowed his head in silent, dignified acceptance. Following a forceful law of human nature this unreasonable resistance (as he saw it) was fixing him very firmly in his own resolution. But the thought of all the older man had been to him rushed upon him again with softening effect, and he said sadly at last:

"I do not know how to make you understand, Mr. Polk,—but this need to go back to my own and try to help them is something inborn."

"I am afraid it is," said Mr. Polk curtly. "It is the mountain shiftlessness in you."

Steve rose with flashing eyes and heaving breast, but remembering again, he controlled himself, and sat down. His voice was cool and crisp, however, as he said a moment later:

"I have no intention of forgetting my debt to you, Mr. Polk, and you have a right to know what are my prospects for paying it." He named his salary, which was very meagre, and then added, "But my wants will be few,—and I have found that my pen promises to be a pretty good earning implement." This he added with reluctance, for he had not meant to tell it. "I shall pay you as soon as possible," he ended.

"Just as you please," said Mr. Polk again curtly, and strode this time out of the room for the night.

Steve soon followed, going to his room with a sense of desolation that was akin to the desolation of his boyhood in the wilderness. He felt that he must leave New York at once, for he could not stay longer with self-respect under the roof which had been home to him for so many years. What "little mother," as he had come to call Mrs. Polk, would say he did not know, but his heart warmed when he thought of her, and comforted at last by the feeling that she at least would not misunderstand him, he fell asleep towards morning. And in his fitful dreaming her sweet face was strangely crowned with soft yellow curls and she wore a little white pinafore!

The next day Steve had a long talk with Mrs. Polk. She had heard of the trouble from Mr. Polk, and had done all in her power to bring about a change in his state of mind. Failing utterly and knowing his tenacity when an idea was once fixed, she could not encourage Steve with the hope of any immediate change. Neither could she urge the young man to abandon his purpose, for she felt that he alone must decide his future, and though in her heart she approved his course, so deeply was she grieved over the alienation between him and Mr. Polk that she held it in restraint. She knew that she had helped to shape his determination, and woman-like was fearful now she had made a mistake.

When Steve said that he must go, she did not try to keep him, but her eyes were brimming with tears when he tenderly kissed her good-bye, as he had always been in the habit of doing, and she pressed a roll of money in his hand, whispering, "It is my own."

"No, no, little mother," he said with determined good cheer, "I do not need it. I was very economical the last few weeks at school, for I had forebodings of trouble; then,—I earned some money writing little stories for boys, the past year."

Scarcely noticing the last remark she hesitated a moment, wanting to insist that he take it, and yet reluctant. Then she held him by the shoulders with her slender hands, and said earnestly:

"If you ever need, you will let me know, will you not?"

"I certainly will, dearest little mother in the world," he said, his own eyes glistening with tears.

There was a formal leave-taking with Mr. Polk at the office, and then he went his way back to the mountains of his birth.



XI

EXPERIENCE

As the train carrying Steve southward reached a point where rugged peaks began pushing majestically up into the distant firmament he felt again the old thrill of the mountaineer's love of the mountains, while his trained eye noted with keen pleasure new details of line and colour. Then, when the railroad trip was over and he neared the end of the forty-mile wagon ride, bringing the little tower surmounting "The Hall" of his alma mater in sight once more, his face lit up with tender joy, for the old place had meant more to him than schools do to the average boy. Sweeping his eye back over a landscape where purple heights were tipped with sunset gold in the distance, giant beeches held aloft their summer leafage in the valleys and mountain flower-favourites bloomed in glorious June profusion everywhere, he inwardly exclaimed, with sudden reverence:

"That is God's part, the fashioning of this beautiful setting," and then turning again to the group of school buildings, "and this is man's,—the bringing of humanity into harmony with the perfection of His handiwork."

He had been unable to throw off entirely the depression which had followed the rupture with Mr. Polk, and deeply stirred emotionally as he had been in parting with Mrs. Polk, it required this spiritual interpretation of school life to restore his equilibrium.

But the battle involved in the step he had taken was by no means fought in that one flash of high conception. Being a wholesome, normal fellow with an ordinary amount of selfish desire for comfort (though he had seemed to follow a Quixotic idea into the wilderness), he found himself at once missing the luxuries of life to which he had become accustomed. All through the summer he travelled about on horseback,—sometimes on foot,—stopping often at little squalid cabins, and often also at meagre homes where housewives wrung his heart with their pathetic effort to be thrifty and cleanly on almost nothing, and everywhere he tried to inoculate the people with the idea of education. On the whole his experience proved more of a hardship than he had believed possible with his early mountain bringing up. He discovered that he had a decided liking for individual towels, and was quite capable of annoyance when obliged to bathe his face in a family tin wash-pan,—or temporarily idle skillet where wash-pans were unknown,—while his predilection for a bath tub with hot and cold water on tap had become more fixed than he had suspected.

"Have I already grown too fastidious to be helpful to my own people?" he asked himself in disgust. Then he squared his shoulders and set his lips in fresh determination. But, a moment later, with that sudden smile upon his face, he also resolved to compromise a bit with hardship. He stopped at the first wayside store and invested in towels which he learned to wash and dry at convenient times. This gave him pleasant independence, and since his bedroom had always been fixed in the open,—for from the first he could not bring himself to sleep in crowded rooms where whole families took their rest,—he could make his morning toilet without offense to his hosts, while a soapy plunge in some mountain stream became a luxury he would not readily forego. And always, whatever the hardship, there was the compensation of barefooted boys and girls held spellbound, and often fathers and mothers as well, while he unfolded the wonders of a world which lay beyond the mountain's rim, and always he had the advantage of being able to assure them that he, too, was mountain bred.

So, with contending against many things distasteful on one side, and exhilaration while little hands clung to his as his had clung to Mr. Polk's that long ago day in the heights about Hollow Hut, the summer passed and he began his work as teacher.

He had long known that he would enjoy teaching, and took up his duties with keen interest. Fortunately for him he had little conceit or pedantry, which would have been a fatal handicap for him as teacher among his own people, simple-hearted though they were. He organized his work with straightforward earnestness and quiet ability and things usually moved smoothly in his class room. But many old difficulties in the life of the school with which he had seen the teachers battling when he was a pupil promptly presented themselves afresh to test the tact, skill and wisdom of the young teacher. Some boys still came to school with well-developed taste for tobacco and liquor which parents still indulged, and passing mountaineers often good-naturedly fostered. Having helped to battle with these things as a boy he knew somewhat how to handle them. But another matter of which he took little note in his student days, but which had nevertheless always been a difficult problem, was love-making in the school. He was sorely puzzled how to wisely handle this.

"Little mother," he wrote Mrs. Polk, "my chief difficulty is laughable in a sense, but from another point of view it is really a stupendous problem! One old mountaineer said to me last summer, 'Them schools is the courtin'est places in the world.' I begin to think he was right, and it is not always the superficial flirting and love-making which is a part of your coeducational schools,—a thing simply trivial and naughty,—but often tragic passion instead, quite in harmony with the title of Dryden's play, 'All for Love, or the World Well Lost'!

"Really, these children of the woods hear the call to mate as naturally as the birds in the trees, and knowing nothing of Fifth Avenue brown stone fronts or cozy cottages at Newport, they want to leave school, gather twigs and build their nests at once. And sometimes one feels as guilty in breaking up such prospective nests as when molesting a pair of birds!

"Am I getting to be something of a sentimentalist? Well, I assure you I am not going to let it grow upon me. I bear sternly in mind that, like the first pair of human beings in the Garden of Eden, they have really eaten of the tree of knowledge and know some things which they ought not to know,—having some secrets from the rest of mankind which are not at all good for them,—while the things they need to know for higher, better living are so numerous, that I ruthlessly break the tenderest hearts, and insist on study and discipline; for nothing but education, mental, moral and spiritual, will ever bring the greatest people in the world, the people of the Kentucky mountains, into their just inheritance! You see how completely identified I am again when I indulge in Kentucky brag,—which is not so different after all from the brag of other sections, and I promise not to let this grow upon me either, for work and not brag is before me, as you know. I want you to see, however, that I continue to feel the mountaineer is worth working for.

"But to return to the love-making. Tragedy and comedy are in evidence enough to lure me into the field of romance, but the practical hindrances to daily school work are too absorbing for great indulgence of my pen. Ardent swains pay open court to their sweethearts, promenading halls and grounds together and even pressing suit in the class room! While frequently the crowning difficulty in the whole matter is the pleased approval of parents! Early marriage, you know, is most common in the mountains, girls of twelve and thirteen often taking up the duties of wives and the great desire of parents for their daughters is usually to get them early married off.

"But,—I suspect this is all familiar to you," he reminded himself, "and still I must tell it to you,—and let you laugh over a recent experience I have had with a pair of lovers.

"You may be sure that I have lectured most earnestly and scientifically upon the evils of tobacco and liquor for the young, and also have set forth as tactfully and convincingly as I know how the fact that a school is not the place for lover-like attentions, beseeching them to give themselves wholly to the business of acquiring knowledge while they are here, with all the eloquence of which I am capable. But, in spite of this, as I was leaving my recitation room at the close of school a few days ago I noticed a girl, Alice Tomby, lingering with Joe Mott, one of her admirers, and stepping outside I found another admirer of hers standing beneath a near-by tree, with clenched fist and blazing eyes.

"I knew that a typical mountain tragedy was quite possible and stopping casually a moment to look at my watch, I turned and went back to find the girl and her beau in a most lover-like attitude.

"I threw my shoulders out to their broadest, and walked with all the dignity I could summon to my desk where I stood before them a moment in silence. Their sheepish faces were a study for the cartoonist, and I wanted to laugh more than I can tell you, but I finally said gravely:

"'Miss Tomby and Mr. Mott' (the use of the last name with Mr. or Miss, which is unusual in the mountains, is always most impressive), 'you are guilty of breaking a rule of the school. You must remain and write twenty times each the sentence I shall put upon the board.'

"Then an old song came suddenly into my mind and I wrote without quiver of lash or hint of smile the silly lines:

"'Frog went courting, he did ride, Sword and pistol by his side.'

"'That!' said the fellow, looking startled, while the girl hung her head.

"'Yes, that,' I replied in perfect seriousness. And the two wrote the lines under my most calm, most dignified eye till they were thoroughly disgusted with themselves and one another. When at last they went out, the girl tossed her head and ignored both her crestfallen and her jealous lover. With books under her arm she went alone straightway to the boarding hall.

"The story of the discomfited lovers is spreading in the school, and the quotation of 'Frog went courting, he did ride,' hilariously given is quenching the ardour of many an amorous swain. Possibly a little wholesome humour may after all be more helpful than stern enforcement of rules, and you know if there is one thing more than another we mountain folks lack, it is a sense of humour! So, even on general principles, it will do no harm to cultivate it.

"However, with all this cruel separation of tender hearts perhaps I am in a fair way to become a cynical old bachelor instead of a sentimentalist."

He was determined to write cheerfully, for he knew that she constantly grieved over the alienation between Mr. Polk and himself, so his letters usually held bright accounts of his work, though sometimes he let her have a glimpse of the struggle which went on in his heart.

He wrote once after a contest with himself over natural desire for more congenial surroundings:

"Little mother, when things seem too sordid and commonplace and barren for endurance, as I confess they have a way of doing at times, I do crave a look into your dear face. But as I am too far away to see you clearly, I remember how you came down here and worked with dauntless courage and good cheer, and I take heart again. Then several things recently have contributed to make me ashamed of faint-heartedness, and I really think I am going to develop some stronger fibre.

"The pathos of the mountain desire for 'larnin" has come to me overwhelmingly lately. A woman came on foot forty miles over the mountains last week bringing her daughter and seven others of neighbours and friends to the school only to find there was no room for them. But so great was the mother's distress and so appealing her sacrifice and hardship in making the trip that one of our lady teachers took the daughter into her own room rather than see the mother disappointed. A few days later two boys came in having driven a pair of lean goats over thirty miles hitched to a rude cart, which held all the earthly possessions they could muster, the old father and mother walking behind,—all hoping to buy entrance to the school for the boys. They, too, were disappointed, for we are full to overflowing this year. Then to cap the argument for stout-heartedness on my part, I went for a stroll yesterday afternoon and came across a boy who is making one of the bravest fights for an education that I ever saw. I found him putting his shoulder to great boulders on the mountainside, rolling them down and then setting himself to break them in pieces for use in paving our little town,—for you must know that under the influence of the school it is beginning to strive for general improvement. The boy, whose father is a worthless fellow, works at rock-breaking till he earns enough to go to school a while; then, when the money is gone, he returns to work again with a pathetic patience which has stirred me deeply.

"So, mother mine, when I long for a sight of your face,—and an old-time hand-clasp from Mr. Polk, as I assure you I too often do, or when I crave the feast of books and the quiet student atmosphere of a city library, I am simply going to think on these things in the future."

The second summer in the mountains came on and was a repetition of the first. The school was getting more pupils than could be accommodated, it was true, but Steve felt that contact with the thought of education would help to further the general cause. Then, journeying about through the wilderness was also a means of gathering fresh material for his nature and hunting stories for boys.

There was a distinct drawing towards the Follets in his subconscious mind, the real objective of which he would scarcely admit to himself. He put from him suggestive pictures of curls and pinafores which memory and flitting dreams still flashed before him at times. He meant to go there some day for he wanted to express his gratitude for all the kindness of the past, but the time had not yet come. He must not for the present be diverted in the least from the purpose which was occupying him. He must repay Mr. Polk,—that was the thought which dominated him, and to that end he was frugally gathering all the money he could. As he had carried the fox skin through the wilderness when a boy, so now he carried the thought of that debt in his mind, and no robber in the form of pleasant indulgence should prevent him from meeting his obligation.

The second session passed, and he had learned how to handle his difficulties with better success, while his method of teaching was more definitely marked out and he found more leisure for the use of his pen. Fresh, bright stories with the breath of the mountains in them began to find ready sale, and occasionally as his pen dipped a bit into romance it brought more than ordinary returns. Upon the tide of this success came a strong temptation: Why not go to a distinctly literary atmosphere and make a business of literature? He felt an inward assurance of making good and a longing for the work which was almost overpowering. Money for the debt must continue to accumulate very slowly when so much time must be given to the daily business of teaching, for which he was very poorly paid, and he could not know freedom until that debt was paid. In literary work, too, he could combine the cause of mountain need with his daily task with equal effectiveness in both directions, for could he not portray with great pathos the mental, spiritual and material poverty of his people? And he stifled for the moment something within him which cried, "Others might do that, but never one of our own!" Beside all this it was probable, as Mr. Polk had said, that money was more sorely needed for schools than personal service and he believed by giving himself to literary work he could earn it. He had never been perfectly sure that giving his life to teaching and personal work among his people was the best method of helping them, so he need not feel chagrined by any inconsistency.

So great was the temptation which came to him at this crisis that he determined when the session closed to go for a visit to Mirandy's family and from there to the Follets, with the thought that he would not like to leave the mountains without seeing them, and it would doubtless be best to go east for his literary career. In this satisfactory justification of the latter visit he allowed himself the freedom of pleasant reminiscence about the spot where life first began to really unfold for him.

"Little Nancy," he said to himself, "why she must be nineteen now, clothed in long frocks and maidenly dignity, I suspect,—but I certainly hope she still wears the little white pinafores." And his eyes grew misty with a tenderness which he would have classified as brotherly, had it occurred to him to question himself. Then he smiled suddenly and said, "Yes, I must go and see about those pinafores before I leave the mountains."

He made the visit to Hollow Hut first, and in the ease of a saddle seat he reached the old familiar wood by a much more direct trail than he had followed when a boy. He halted his pony at last by the great boulder where Tige lay buried. The tragedy of his grief on that long-ago morning when he had touched the stiffened body of his old friend came back to him with such vividness that, in spite of "Time's long caressing hand," he could not "smile beholding it." He hitched his horse close by with a sense of the old dog's nearness and protection, for he meant to camp on that spot during his stay as he used to do when a boy. Then he went on foot down the mountainside to his old home in the hollow, little dreaming, as he passed along its rocky fastness, that a "still" was hidden there.

It was just dusk of an early June day, and cool shadows dropped their soft curtains about the old log house as he walked towards the door unannounced. He stopped a moment at the grave of his father and mother, and then followed noiselessly the little worn path to the cabin. As he drew near, he saw the fitful light of blazing pine-knots on the hearth and caught the sound of boisterous laughter. Reaching the door he stood a moment in the shadow of the outer darkness, before stepping into the light. Then,—what he saw transfixed him! White to the lips he watched a moment.

A group of men, Mirandy's husband among them, surrounded a little fellow about six years old, who, having been made reeling drunk, was trying to walk a crack in the floor. The little victim swayed and tottered and struggled under the hilarious urging of his spectators.



Steve's first mad impulse was to snatch up the wronged child, and, if necessary, face the half-drunken men in battle. But this would be worse than useless his second sober thought told him, for there stood Mirandy looking carelessly on from the kitchen door behind. The child was doubtless hers, and the father was taking part in the revolting deed! What could he do? He knew they would brook no interference.

With hard-won self-control he stepped upon the threshold, courteously lifted his hat and bade them "Good-evening."

Instantly the men turned and pistols clicked, for they thought him a revenue officer; but Mirandy, looking into his still boyish face which had caught the light, while his unfamiliar figure was in shadow, exclaimed:

"Don't shoot! Hit's Steve, my little buddie Steve!" And she stepped across the room to him in a way which showed she was capable of being stirred into action sometimes.

The men looked uncertain, but Mirandy's husband, peering into Steve's face a moment, said:

"Yes, that's right, hit's Steve Langly, though I'd nuver knowed ye in the world," and the other men dropped back.

The child in the centre of the room looked about with dull eyes, then dropped to the floor in a pitiful little drunken heap.

With his heart wrung to the point of agony, Steve stepped forward and stooping down lifted it tenderly to his breast. In the old home that little boy represented himself, as he used to be. When he could speak he said in a voice which trembled upon the silence:

"This is my little nephew, is it not?"

And Mirandy cried out sharply to her husband, without answering the question:

"Ye shan't nuver do that no more," and the men slunk out one by one, ashamed, rebuked, sobered, though they could not have told why.

Steve turned as they left and sat down, still holding the child to his breast. Then gently releasing his hold with one hand he tenderly pushed back the damp hair from the little swollen face, while Mirandy stood by, the tears dropping down her cheeks,—a thing most unusual for a mountain woman. And she said again passionately, "Champ shan't nuver make him drunk agin."

"What is his name?" asked Steve at last.

"Hit's Champ fer his pappy. The bigges' one—he's outdoors some'eres,—he's named Steve," she said in mollifying tone. "He was borned the nex' winter atter you was here, an' you'd been sech a likely lookin' boy I thought I'd name him fer ye."

"That was good ev you, Randy," said Steve dropping tenderly into the old form of speech. "I'll be glad ter see my namesake. Air the two all ye hev?"

"No, thar's the baby on the bed; she's a little gal," Mirandy replied dully. "Then there's two on 'em that died, when they was babies. We women allus gits chillun enough," she said, in a whining voice peculiar to the older women of the mountains which she had already acquired.

Steve remained a month and it was the most trying time of his life. When he learned of the "still," which he did very promptly, despair for Mirandy, her husband and the children filled his heart. Champ Brady was always under the influence of his "moonshine," and Steve knew it was perfectly useless to try to dissuade him from making or using it. Mirandy had his own distaste for it, but she had been accustomed to the thought of its free use all her life, and how could he make her listless mind comprehend its danger for her children? Not trusting her emotion and passionate protest the day he came, he talked with her earnestly many times and made her promise to do all she could to keep the children from it.

He took the two little boys, Steve and Champ, with their dog, every day up to the old haunt by Tige's rock, where he camped every night. He had brought picture books with him, illustrated alphabets and one-syllable stories with the thought of possible need for them. And the brown eyes of the two little fellows, so like his own in the old days, as he well knew, in their blankness and wonder, gave eager response to new things. He called the spot "our school," and the two little pupils soon learned their letters, while in a month's time little Steve was reading simple stories telling that "The dog is on the mat," and "The cat is on the rug" with great exhilaration, and spelling out laboriously more complex things.

But Champ Brady was restless under the visit. He told Mirandy frequently that he had no use for a fellow who hadn't enough stuff in him to drink good liquor when it was put before him; and Steve, knowing well his state of mind without hearing any expression of it, went sadly away from the cabin at Hollow Hut for the third time.

After a last earnest talk with Mirandy, he took the little boys to the old spot where they had kept school and he had camped for the month and put into the hands of Steve the second a German silver watch which he had also brought with the thought of a boy in the old home again as a possibility.

"This little shining ticker will tell you each day that you are going to make big, strong men who know things one of these days. You will listen to it always, will you not?" he said, and each in turn, as he was held up in the tender arms, promised earnestly with queer aching in their little throats. Then Steve set them down and rode away, looking back again and again with a waving hand at the two sober little figures as long as they were in sight.

"Oh, God of the wilderness," he cried, when at last he saw them no more, "Thou didst come and comfort me when I wandered here alone; oh, now give me assurance that Thou wilt watch over these two of my own blood and bring them into the light."

The prayer went up in despair akin to that of his boyhood's desolation and again, after a time, a sense of comfort and peace flooded his soul, while, in its full tide, a fresh resolve was fixed upon him:

"I will give my life to the work. Not money alone, please God, if I should make it, but my daily breath and life and vigour shall go for the uplift of my people of the mountains!"

And he smiled to think that literature should ever have appealed to him, for a sense of linking himself to the Almighty God to whom he had prayed had come to him in the holy stillness of the wilderness, making anything else seem trivial beyond compare.

He did not go to the Follets as he had intended, but made his way slowly back to the school, stopping at cabins here and there as in previous summers, chatting with the people, getting into their life and giving them visions as no alien could have done.

On this trip he passed a great coal mine and here he spent a couple of weeks watching the work with great interest. He carefully examined the various strata of the excavation and studied the practical working of the mine with keen intent, his college course having given him ample preparation for its intelligent comprehension.

Suddenly a bright thought struck him.

"Look here," he said to himself, "why not locate a mine here in the mountains, as Mr. Polk used to talk of my doing, buy the land for a few hundred dollars, as I am sure I can in some localities, and then make it over to Mr. Polk? He will know how to handle it, and if it is valuable will certainly make it pay. With another year's work I can have the money, and by that means I can cancel that debt with one fell stroke, perhaps," he went on jubilantly,—and if it proved to do so many times over, he would only be the more rejoiced, he thought.



XII

LOVE'S AWAKENING

Full of this happy inspiration Steve went back to his work, determined to gather during the year a sum sufficient to make his purchase, so as to be ready for the next vacation when he would be free to go prospecting. Under the stimulus of this good hope he worked with great absorption, only allowing himself the recreation of a weekly letter to Mrs. Polk, which he never failed to send, continuing to put into it all the interesting and amusing things which came into his work,—and they did come in spite of the seriousness of his life.

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