"He hain't drunk a half-pint of licker to-day," he querulously replied.
"Why in heck don't we run this here pink-faced conjure-doctor outen the mountings?" demanded Caleb, who had drunk more than a half-pint. "He's a-castin' spells over the boy. He's a-practisin' of deviltries."
"We're a-goin' ter see about thet right now," was the response. "We don't 'low to let hit run on no further."
"Samson," began old Wile McCager, clearing his throat and taking up his duty as spokesman, "we're all your kinfolks here, an' we aimed ter ask ye about this here report thet yer 'lowin' ter leave the mountings?"
"What of hit?" countered the boy.
"Hit looks mighty like the war's a-goin' ter be on ag'in pretty soon. Air ye a-goin' ter quit, or air ye a-goin' ter stick? Thet's what we wants ter know."
"I didn't make this here truce, an' I hain't a-goin' ter bust hit," said the boy, quietly. "When the war commences, I'll be hyar. Ef I hain't hyar in the meantime, hit hain't nobody's business. I hain't accountable ter no man but my pap, an' I reckon, whar he is, he knows whether I'm a-goin' ter keep my word."
There was a moment's silence, then Wile McCager put another question:
"Ef ye're plumb sot on gittin' larnin' why don't ye git hit right hyar in these mountings?"
Samson laughed derisively.
"Who'll I git hit from?" he caustically inquired. "Ef the mountain won't come ter Mohamet, Mohamet's got ter go ter the mountain, I reckon." The figure was one they did not understand. It was one Samson himself had only acquired of late. He was quoting George Lescott. But one thing there was which did not escape his hearers: the tone of contempt. Eyes of smoldering hate turned on the visitor at whose door they laid the blame.
Caleb Wiley rose unsteadily to his feet, his shaggy beard trembling with wrath and his voice quavering with senile indignation.
"Hev ye done got too damned good fer yore kin-folks, Samson South?" he shrilly demanded. "Hev ye done been follerin' atter this here puny witch-doctor twell ye can't keep a civil tongue in yer head fer yore elders? I'm in favor of runnin' this here furriner outen the country with tar an' feathers on him. Furthermore, I'm in favor of cleanin' out the Hollmans. I was jest a-sayin' ter Bill——"
"Never mind what ye war jest a-sayin'," interrupted the boy, flushing redly to his cheekbones, but controlling his voice. "Ye've done said enough a'ready. Ye're a right old man, Caleb, an' I reckon thet gives ye some license ter shoot off yore face, but ef any of them no-'count, shif'less boys of yores wants ter back up what ye says, I'm ready ter go out thar an' make 'em eat hit. I hain't a-goin' ter answer no more questions."
There was a commotion of argument, until "Black Dave" Jasper, a saturnine giant, whose hair was no blacker than his expression, rose, and a semblance of quiet greeted him as he spoke.
"Mebby, Samson, ye've got a right ter take the studs this a-way, an' ter refuse ter answer our questions, but we've got a right ter say who kin stay in this hyar country. Ef ye 'lows ter quit us, I reckon we kin quit you—and, if we quits ye, ye hain't nothin' more ter us then no other boy thet's gettin' too big fer his breeches. This furriner is a visitor here to-day, an' we don't 'low ter hurt him—but he's got ter go. We don't want him round hyar no longer." He turned to Lescott. "We're a-givin' ye fair warnin', stranger. Ye hain't our breed. Atter this, ye stays on Misery at yore own risk—an' hit's a-goin' ter be plumb risky. That thar's final."
"This man," blazed the boy, before Lescott could speak, "is a-visitin' me an' Unc' Spicer. When ye wants him ye kin come up thar an' git him. Every damned man of ye kin come. I hain't a-sayin' how many of ye'll go back. He was 'lowin' that he'd leave hyar ter-morrer mornin', but atter this I'm a-tellin' ye he hain't a-goin' ter do hit. He's a-goin' ter stay es long es he likes, an' nobody hain't a-goin' ter run him off." Samson took his stand before the painter, and swept the group with his eyes. "An' what's more," he added, "I'll tell ye another thing. I hadn't plumb made up my mind ter leave the mountings, but ye've done settled hit fer me. I'm a-goin'."
There was a low murmur of anger, and a voice cried out from the rear:
"Let him go. We hain't got no use fer damn cowards."
"Whoever said thet's a liar!" shouted the boy. Lescott, standing at his side, felt that the situation was more than parlous. But, before the storm could break, some one rushed in, and whispered to Wile McCager a message that caused him to raise both hands above his head, and thunder for attention.
"Men," he roared, "listen ter me! This here hain't no time fer squabblin' amongst ourselves. We're all Souths. Tamarack Spicer has done gone ter Hixon, an' got inter trouble. He's locked up in the jail-house."
"We're all hyar," screamed old Caleb's high, broken voice. "Let's go an' take him out."
Samson's anger had died. He turned, and held a whispered conversation with McCager, and, at its end, the host of the day announced briefly:
"Samson's got somethin' ter say ter ye. So long as he's willin' ter stand by us, I reckon we're willin' ter listen ter Henry South's boy."
"I hain't got no use for Tam'rack Spicer," said the boy, succinctly, "but I don't 'low ter let him lay in no jail-house, unlessen he's got a right ter be thar. What's he charged with?"
But no one knew that. A man supposedly close to the Hollmans, but in reality an informer for the Souths, had seen him led into the jail-yard by a posse of a half-dozen men, and had seen the iron-barred doors close on him. That was all, except that the Hollman forces were gathering in Hixon, and, if the Souths went there en masse, a pitched battle must be the inevitable result. The first step was to gain accurate information and an answer to one vital question. Was Tamarack held as a feud victim, or was his arrest legitimate? How to learn that was the problem. To send a body of men was to invite bloodshed. To send a single inquirer was to deliver him over to the enemy.
"Air you men willin' ter take my word about Tamarack?" inquired Samson. But for the scene of a few minutes ago, it would have been an unnecessary question. There was a clamorous assent, and the boy turned to Lescott.
"I wants ye ter take Sally home with ye. Ye'd better start right away, afore she heers any of this talk. Hit would fret her. Tell her I've had ter go 'cross ther country a piece, ter see a sick man. Don't tell her whar I'm a-goin'." He turned to the others. "I reckon I've got yore promise thet Mr. Lescott hain't a-goin' ter be bothered afore I gits back?"
Wile McCager promptly gave the assurance.
"I gives ye my hand on hit."
"I seed Jim Asberry loafin' round jest beyond ther ridge, es I rid over hyar," volunteered the man who had brought the message.
"Go slow now, Samson. Don't be no blame fool," dissuaded Wile McCager. "Hixon's plumb full of them Hollmans, an' they're likely ter be full of licker—hit's Saturday. Hit's apt ter be shore death fer ye ter try ter ride through Main Street—ef ye gits thet fur. Ye dassent do hit."
"I dast do anything!" asserted the boy, with a flash of sudden anger. "Some liar 'lowed awhile ago thet I was a coward. All right, mebby I be. Unc' Wile, keep the boys hyar tell ye hears from me—an' keep 'em sober." He turned and made his way to the fence where his mule stood hitched.
When Samson crossed the ridge, and entered the Hollman country, Jim Asberry, watching from a hilltop point of vantage, rose and mounted the horse that stood hitched behind a near-by screen of rhododendron bushes and young cedars. Sometimes, he rode just one bend of the road in Samson's rear. Sometimes, he took short cuts, and watched his enemy pass. But always he held him under a vigilant eye. Finally, he reached a wayside store where a local telephone gave communication with Hollman's Mammoth Department Store.
"Jedge," he informed, "Samson South's done left the party et ther mill, an' he's a-ridin' towards town. Shall I git him?"
"Is he comin' by hisself?" inquired the storekeeper.
"Well, jest let him come on. We can tend ter him hyar, ef necessary." So, Jim withheld his hand, and merely shadowed, sending bulletins, from time to time.
It was three o'clock when Samson started. It was near six when he reached the ribbon of road that loops down into town over the mountain. His mule was in a lather of sweat. He knew that he was being spied upon, and that word of his coming was traveling ahead of him. What he did not know was whether or not it suited Jesse Purvy's purpose that he should slide from his mule, dead, before he turned homeward. If Tamarack had been seized as a declaration of war, the chief South would certainly not be allowed to return. If the arrest had not been for feud reasons, he might escape. That was the question which would be answered with his life or death.
The boy kept his eyes straight to the front, fixed on the philosophical wagging of his mule's brown ears. Finally, he crossed the bridge that gave entrance to the town, as yet unharmed, and clattered at a trot between the shacks of the environs. He was entering the fortified stronghold of the enemy, and he was expected. As he rode along, doors closed to slits, and once or twice he caught the flash of sunlight on a steel barrel, but his eyes held to the front. Several traveling men, sitting on the porch of the hotel opposite the court- house, rose when they saw his mule, and went inside, closing the door behind them.
The "jail-house" was a small building of home-made brick, squatting at the rear of the court-house yard. Its barred windows were narrow with sills breast-high.
The court-house itself was shaded by large oaks and sycamores, and, as Samson drew near, he saw that some ten or twelve men, armed with rifles, separated from groups and disposed themselves behind the tree trunks and the stone coping of the well. None of them spoke, and Samson pretended that he had not seen them. He rode his mule at a walk, knowing that he was rifle-covered from a half-dozen windows. At the hitching rack directly beneath the county building, he flung his reins over a post, and, swinging his rifle at his side, passed casually along the brick walk to the jail. The men behind the trees edged around their covers as he went, keeping themselves protected, as squirrels creep around a trunk when a hunter is lurking below. Samson halted at the jail wall, and called the prisoner's name. A towsled head and surly face appeared at the barred window, and the boy went over and held converse from the outside.
"How in hell did ye git into town?" demanded the prisoner.
"I rid in," was the short reply. "How'd ye git in the jail-house?"
The captive was shamefaced.
"I got a leetle too much licker, an' I was shootin' out the lights last night," he confessed.
"What business did ye have hyar in Hixon?"
"I jest slipped in ter see a gal."
Samson leaned closer, and lowered his voice.
"Does they know thet ye shot them shoots at Jesse Purvy?"
Tamarack turned pale.
"No," he stammered, "they believe you done hit."
Samson laughed. He was thinking of the rifles trained on him from a dozen invisible rests.
"How long air they a-goin' ter keep ye hyar?" he demanded.
"I kin git out to-morrer ef I pays the fine. Hit's ten dollars."
"An' ef ye don't pay the fine?"
"Hit's a dollar a day."
"I reckon ye don't 'low ter pay hit, do ye?"
"I 'lowed mebby ye mout pay hit fer me, Samson."
"Ye done 'lowed plumb wrong. I come hyar ter see ef ye needed help, but hit 'pears ter me they're lettin' ye off easy."
He turned on his heel, and went back to his mule. The men behind the trees began circling again. Samson mounted, and, with his chin well up, trotted back along the main street. It was over. The question was answered. The Hollmans regarded the truce as still effective. The fact that they were permitting him to ride out alive was a wordless assurance of that. Incidentally, he stood vindicated in the eyes of his own people.
When Samson reached the mill it was ten o'clock. The men were soberer than they had been in the afternoon. McCager had seen to that. The boy replaced his exhausted mule with a borrowed mount. At midnight, as he drew near the cabin of the Widow Miller, he gave a long, low whippoorwill call, and promptly, from the shadow of the stile, a small tired figure rose up to greet him. For hours that little figure had been sitting there, silent, wide-eyed and terrified, nursing her knees in locked fingers that pressed tightly into the flesh. She had not spoken. She had hardly moved. She had only gazed out, keeping the vigil with a white face that was beginning to wear the drawn, heart-eating anxiety of the mountain woman; the woman whose code demands that she stand loyally to her clan's hatreds; the woman who has none of the man's excitement in stalking human game, which is also stalking him; the woman who must only stay at home and imagine a thousand terrors —and wait.
A rooster was crowing, and the moon had set. Only the stars were left.
"Sally," the boy reproved, "hit's most mornin', an' ye must be plumb fagged out. Why hain't you in bed?"
"I 'lowed ye'd come by hyar," she told him simply, "and I waited fer ye. I knowed whar ye had went," she added, "an' I was skeered."
"How did ye know?"
"I heered thet Tam'rack was in the jail-house, an' somebody hed ter go ter Hixon. So, of course, I knowed hit would be you."
Lescott stayed on a week after that simply in deference to Samson's insistence. To leave at once might savor of flight under fire, but when the week was out the painter turned his horse's head toward town, and his train swept him back to the Bluegrass and the East. As he gazed out of his car windows at great shoulders of rock and giant trees, things he was leaving behind, he felt a sudden twinge of something akin to homesickness. He knew that he should miss these great humps of mountains and the ragged grandeur of the scenery. With the rich smoothness of the Bluegrass, a sense of flatness and heaviness came to his lungs. Level metal roads and loamy fields invited his eye. The tobacco stalks rose in profuse heaviness of sticky green; the hemp waved its feathery tops; and woodlands were clear of underbrush—the pauper counties were behind him.
A quiet of unbroken and deadly routine settled down on Misery. The conduct of the Souths in keeping hands off, and acknowledging the justice of Tamarack Spicer's jail sentence, had been their answer to the declaration of the Hollmans in letting Samson ride into and out of Hixon. The truce was established. When, a short time later, Tamarack left the country to become a railroad brakeman, Jesse Purvy passed the word that his men must, until further orders, desist from violence. The word had crept about that Samson, too, was going away, and, if this were true, Jesse felt that his future would be more secure than his past. Purvy believed Samson guilty, despite the exoneration of the hounds. Their use had been the idea of over-fervent relatives. He himself scoffed at their reliability.
"I wouldn't believe no dog on oath," he declared. Besides, he preferred to blame Samson, since he was the head of the tribe and because he himself knew what cause Samson had to hate him. Perhaps, even now, Samson meant to have vengeance before leaving. Possibly, even, this ostentatious care to regard the truce was simply a shrewdly planned sham meant to disarm his suspicion.
Until Samson went, if he did go, Jesse Purvy would redouble his caution. It would be a simple matter to have the boy shot to death, and end all question. Samson took no precautions to safeguard his life, but he had a safeguard none the less. Purvy felt sure that within a week after Samson fell, despite every care he might take, he, too, would fall. He was tired of being shot down. Purvy was growing old, and the fires of war were burning to embers in his veins. He was becoming more and more interested in other things. It dawned upon him that to be known as a friend of the poor held more allurement for gray-haired age than to be known as a master of assassins. It would be pleasant to sit undisturbed, and see his grandchildren grow up, and he recognized, with a sudden ferocity of repugnance, that he did not wish them to grow up as feud fighters. Purvy had not reformed, but, other things being equal, he would prefer to live and let live. He had reached that stage to which all successful villains come at some time, when he envied the placid contentment of respected virtues. Ordering Samson shot down was a last resort—one to be held in reserve until the end.
So, along Misery and Crippleshin, the men of the factions held their fire while the summer spent itself, and over the mountain slopes the leaves began to turn, and the mast to ripen.
Lescott had sent a box of books, and Samson had taken a team over to Hixon, and brought them back. It was a hard journey, attended with much plunging against the yokes and much straining of trace chains. Sally had gone with him. Samson was spending as much time as possible in her society now. The girl was saying little about his departure, but her eyes were reading, and without asking she knew that his going was inevitable. Many nights she cried herself to sleep, but, when he saw her, she was always the same blithe, bird-like creature that she had been before. She was philosophically sipping her honey while the sun shone.
Samson read some of the books aloud to Sally, who had a child's passion for stories, and who could not have spelled them out for herself. He read badly, but to her it was the flower of scholastic accomplishment, and her untrained brain, sponge-like in its acquisitiveness, soaked up many new words and phrases which fell again quaintly from her lips in talk. Lescott had spent a week picking out those books. He had wanted them to argue for him; to feed the boy's hunger for education, and give him some forecast of the life that awaited him. His choice had been an effort to achieve multum in parvo, but Samson devoured them all from title page to finis line, and many of them he went back to, and digested again.
He wrestled long and gently with his uncle, struggling to win the old man's consent to his departure. But Spicer South's brain was no longer plastic. What had been good enough for the past was good enough for the future. He sought to take the most tolerant view, and to believe that Samson was acting on conviction and not on an ingrate's impulse, but that was the best he could do, and he added to himself that Samson's was an abnormal and perverted conviction. Nevertheless, he arranged affairs so that his nephew should be able to meet financial needs, and to go where he chose in a fashion befitting a South. The old man was intensely proud, and, if the boy were bent on wasting himself, he should waste like a family head, and not appear a pauper among strangers.
The autumn came, and the hills blazed out in their fanfare of splendid color. The broken skyline took on a wistful sweetness under the haze of "the Great Spirit's peace-pipe."
The sugar trees flamed their fullest crimson that fall. The poplars were clear amber and the hickories russet and the oaks a deep burgundy. Lean hogs began to fill and fatten with their banqueting on beechnuts and acorns. Scattered quail came together in the conclave of the covey, and changed their summer call for the "hover" whistle. Shortly, the rains would strip the trees, and leave them naked. Then, Misery would vindicate its christener. But, now, as if to compensate in a few carnival days of champagne sparkle and color, the mountain world was burning out its summer life on a pyre of transient splendor.
November came in bleakly, with a raw and devastating breath of fatality. The smile died from horizon to horizon, and for days cold rains beat and lashed the forests. And, toward the end of that month, came the day which Samson had set for his departure. He had harvested the corn, and put the farm in order. He had packed into his battered saddlebags what things were to go with him into his new life. The sun had set in a sickly bank of murky, red-lined clouds. His mule, which knew the road, and could make a night trip, stood saddled by the stile. A kinsman was to lead it back from Hixon when Samson had gone. The boy slowly put on his patched and mud-stained overcoat. His face was sullen and glowering. There was a lump in his throat, like the lump that had been there when he stood with his mother's arm about his shoulders, and watched the dogs chase a rabbit by his father's grave. Supper had been eaten in silence. Now that the hour of departure had come, he felt the guilt of the deserter. He realized how aged his uncle seemed, and how the old man hunched forward over the plate as they ate the last meal they should, for a long while, have together. It was only by sullen taciturnity that he could retain his composure.
At the threshold, with the saddlebags over his left forearm and the rifle in his hand, he paused. His uncle stood at his elbow and the boy put out his hand.
"Good-by, Unc' Spicer," was all he said. The old man, who had been his second father, shook hands. His face, too, was expressionless, but he felt that he was saying farewell to a soldier of genius who was abandoning the field. And he loved the boy with all the centered power of an isolated heart.
"Hadn't ye better take a lantern?" he questioned.
"No, I reckon I won't need none." And Samson went out, and mounted his mule.
A half-mile along the road, he halted and dismounted. There, in a small cove, surrounded by a tangle of briars and blackberry bushes, stood a small and dilapidated "meeting house" and churchyard, which he must visit. He made his way through the rough undergrowth to the unkempt half-acre, and halted before the leaning headstones which marked two graves. With a sudden emotion, he swept the back of his hand across his eyes. He did not remove his hat, but he stood in the drizzle of cold rain for a moment of silence, and then he said:
"Pap, I hain't fergot. I don't want ye ter think thet I've fergot."
Before he arrived at the Widow Miller's, the rain had stopped and the clouds had broken. Back of them was a discouraged moon, which sometimes showed its face for a fitful moment, only to disappear. The wind was noisily floundering through the treetops. Near the stile, Samson gave his whippoorwill call. It was, perhaps, not quite so clear or true as usual, but that did not matter. There were no other whippoorwills calling at this season to confuse signals. He crossed the stile, and with a word quieted Sally's dog as it rose to challenge him, and then went with him, licking his hand.
Sally opened the door, and smiled. She had spent the day nerving herself for this farewell, and at least until the moment of leave- taking she would be safe from tears. The Widow Miller and her son soon left them alone, and the boy and girl sat before the blazing logs.
For a time, an awkward silence fell between them. Sally had donned her best dress, and braided her red-brown hair. She sat with her chin in her palms, and the fire kissed her cheeks and temples into color. That picture and the look in her eyes remained with Samson for a long while, and there were times of doubt and perplexity when he closed his eyes and steadied himself by visualizing it all again in his heart. At last, the boy rose, and went over to the corner where he had placed his gun. He took it up, and laid it on the hearth between them.
"Sally," he said, "I wants ter tell ye some things thet I hain't never said ter nobody else. In the fust place, I wants ye ter keep this hyar gun fer me."
The girl's eyes widened with surprise.
"Hain't ye a-goin' ter take hit with ye, Samson?"
He shook his head.
"I hain't a-goin' ter need hit down below. Nobody don't use 'em down thar. I've got my pistol, an' I reckon thet will be enough."
"I'll take good keer of hit," she promised.
The boy took out of his pockets a box of cartridges and a small package tied in a greasy rag.
"Hit's loaded, Sally, an' hit's cleaned an' hit's greased. Hit's ready fer use."
Again, she nodded in silent assent, and the boy began speaking in a slow, careful voice, which gradually mounted into tense emotion.
"Sally, thet thar gun was my pap's. When he lay a-dyin', he gave hit ter me, an' he gave me a job ter do with hit. When I was a little feller, I used ter set up 'most all day, polishin' thet gun an' gittin' hit ready. I used ter go out in the woods, an' practise shootin' hit at things, tell I larned how ter handle hit. I reckon thar hain't many fellers round here thet kin beat me now." He paused, and the girl hastened to corroborate.
"Thar hain't none, Samson."
"There hain't nothin' in the world, Sally, thet I prizes like I does thet gun. Hit's got a job ter do ... Thar hain't but one person in the world I'd trust hit with. Thet's you.... I wants ye ter keep hit fer me, an' ter keep hit ready.... They thinks round hyar I'm quittin', but I hain't. I'm a-comin' back, an', when I comes, I'll need this hyar thing—an' I'll need hit bad." He took up the rifle, and ran his hand caressingly along its lock and barrel.
"I don't know when I'm a-comin'," he said, slowly, "but, when I calls fer this, I'm shore a-goin' ter need hit quick. I wants hit ter be ready fer me, day er night. Maybe, nobody won't know I'm hyar.... Maybe, I won't want nobody ter know.... But, when I whistles out thar like a whippoorwill, I wants ye ter slip out—an' fotch me thet gun!"
He stopped, and bent forward. His face was tense, and his eyes were glinting with purpose. His lips were tight set and fanatical.
"Samson," said the girl, reaching out and taking the weapon from his hands, "ef I'm alive when ye comes, I'll do hit. I promises ye. An'," she added, "ef I hain't alive, hit'll be standin' thar in thet corner. I'll grease hit, an' keep hit loaded, an' when ye calls, I'll fotch hit out thar to ye."
The youth nodded. "I mout come anytime, but likely as not I'll hev ter come a-fightin' when I comes."
Next, he produced an envelope.
"This here is a letter I've done writ ter myself," he explained. He drew out the sheet, and read:
"Samson, come back." Then he handed the missive to the girl. "Thet there is addressed ter me, in care of Mr. Lescott.... Ef anything happens—ef Unc' Spicer needs me—I wants yer ter mail thet ter me quick. He says as how he won't never call me back, but, Sally, I wants thet you shall send fer me, ef they needs me. I hain't a-goin' ter write no letters home. Unc' Spicer can't read, an' you can't read much either. But I'll plumb shore be thinkin' about ye day an' night."
She gulped and nodded.
"Yes, Samson," was all she said.
The boy rose.
"I reckon I'd better be gettin' along," he announced.
The girl suddenly reached out both hands, and seized his coat. She held him tight, and rose, facing him. Her upturned face grew very pallid, and her eyes widened. They were dry, and her lips were tightly closed, but, through the tearless pupils, in the firelight, the boy could read her soul, and her soul was sobbing.
He drew her toward him, and held her very tight.
"Sally," he said, in a voice which threatened to choke, "I wants ye ter take keer of yeself. Ye hain't like these other gals round here. Ye hain't got big hands an' feet. Ye kain't stand es much es they kin. Don't stay out in the night air too much—an', Sally—fer God's sake take keer of yeself!" He broke off, and picked up his hat.
"An' that gun, Sally," he repeated at the door, "that there's the most precious thing I've got. I loves hit better then anything—take keer of hit."
Again, she caught at his shoulders.
"Does ye love hit better'n ye do me, Samson?" she demanded.
"I reckon ye knows how much I loves ye, Sally," he said, slowly, "but I've done made a promise, an' thet gun's a-goin' ter keep hit fer me."
They went together out to the stile, he still carrying his rifle, as though loath to let it go, and she crossed with him to the road.
As he untied his reins, she threw her arms about his neck, and for a long while they stood there under the clouds and stars, as he held her close. There was no eloquence of leave-taking, no professions of undying love, for these two hearts were inarticulate and dizzily clinging to a wilderness code of self-repression—and they had reached a point where speech would have swept them both away to a break-down.
But as they stood, their arms gripping each other, each heart pounding on the other's breast, it was with a pulsing that spoke in the torrent their lips dammed, and between the two even in this farewell embrace was the rifle which stood emblematical of the man's life and mission and heredity. Its cold metal lay in a line between their warm breasts, separating, yet uniting them, and they clung to each other across its rigid barrel, as a man and woman may cling with the child between them which belongs to both, and makes them one. As yet, she had shed no tears. Then, he mounted and was swallowed in the dark. It was not until the thud of his mule's hoofs were lost in the distance that the girl climbed back to the top of the stile, and dropped down. Then, she lifted the gun and pressed it close to her bosom, and sat silently sobbing for a long while.
"He's done gone away," she moaned, "an' he won't never come back no more—but ef he does come"—she raised her eyes to the stars as though calling them to witness—"ef he does come, I'll shore be a-waitin'. Lord God, make him come back!"
The boy from Misery rode slowly toward Hixon. At times, the moon struggled out and made the shadows black along the way. At other times, it was like riding in a huge caldron of pitch. When he passed into that stretch of country at whose heart Jesse Purvy dwelt, he raised his voice in song. His singing was very bad, and the ballad lacked tune, but it served its purpose of saving him from the suspicion of furtiveness. Though the front of the house was blank, behind its heavy shutters he knew that his coming might be noted, and night-riding at this particular spot might be misconstrued in the absence of frank warning.
The correctness of his inference brought a brief smile to his lips when he crossed the creek that skirted the orchard, and heard a stable door creak softly behind him. He was to be followed again—and watched, but he did not look back or pause to listen for the hoofbeats of his unsolicited escort. On the soft mud of the road, he would hardly have heard them, had he bent his ear and drawn rein. He rode at a walk, for his train would not leave until five o'clock in the morning. There was time in plenty.
It was cold and depressing as he trudged the empty streets from the livery stable to the railroad station, carrying his saddlebags over his arm. His last farewell had been taken when he left the old mule behind in the rickety livery stable. It had been unemotional, too, but the ragged creature had raised its stubborn head, and rubbed its soft nose against his shoulder as though in realization of the parting—and unwilling realization. He had roughly laid his hand for a moment on the muzzle, and turned on his heel.
He was all unconscious that he presented a figure which would seem ludicrous in the great world to which he had looked with such eagerness. The lamps burned murkily about the railroad station, and a heavy fog cloaked the hills. At last he heard the whistle and saw the blazing headlight, and a minute later he had pushed his way into the smoking-car and dropped his saddlebags on the seat beside him. Then, for the first time, he saw and recognized his watchers. Purvy meant to have Samson shadowed as far as Lexington, and his movements from that point definitely reported. Jim Asberry and Aaron Hollis were the chosen spies. He did not speak to the two enemies who took seats across the car, but his face hardened, and his brows came together in a black scowl.
"When I gits back," he promised himself, "you'll be one of the fust folks I'll look fer, Jim Asberry, damn ye! All I hopes is thet nobody else don't git ye fust. Ye b'longs ter me."
He was not quite certain yet that Jim Asberry had murdered his father, but he knew that Asberry was one of the coterie of "killers" who took their blood hire from Purvy, and he knew that Asberry had sworn to "git" him. To sit in the same car with these men and to force himself to withhold his hand, was a hard bullet for Samson South to chew, but he had bided his time thus far, and he would bide it to the end. When that end came, it would also be the end for Purvy and Asberry. He disliked Hollis, too, but with a less definite and intense hatred. Samson wished that one of the henchmen would make a move toward attack. He made no concealment of his own readiness. He removed both overcoat and coat, leaving exposed to view the heavy revolver which was strapped under his left arm. He even unbuttoned the leather flap of the holster, and then being cleared for action, sat glowering across the aisle, with his eyes not on the faces but upon the hands of the two Purvy spies.
The wrench of partings, the long raw ride and dis-spiriting gloom of the darkness before dawn had taken out of the boy's mind all the sparkle of anticipation and left only melancholy and hate. He felt for the moment that, had these men attacked him and thrown him back into the life he was leaving, back into the war without fault on his part, he would be glad. The fierce activity of fighting would be welcome to his mood. He longed for the appeasement of a thoroughly satisfied vengeance. But the two watchers across the car were not ordered to fight and so they made no move. They did not seem to see Samson. They did not appear to have noticed his inviting readiness for combat. They did not remove their coats. At Lexington, where he had several hours to wait, Samson bought a "snack" at a restaurant near the station and then strolled about the adjacent streets, still carrying his saddlebags, for he knew nothing of the workings of check-rooms. When he returned to the depot with his open wallet in his hand, and asked for a ticket to New York, the agent looked up and his lips unguardedly broke into a smile of amusement. It was a good-humored smile, but Samson saw that it was inspired by some sort of joke, and he divined that the joke was—himself!
"What's the matter?" he inquired very quietly, though his chin stiffened. "Don't ye sell tickets ter New York?"
The man behind the grilled wicket read a spirit as swift to resent ridicule as that of d'Artagnan had been when he rode his orange-colored nag into the streets of Paris. His face sobered, and his manner became attentive. He was wondering what complications lay ahead of this raw creature whose crudity of appearance was so at odds with the compelling quality of his eyes.
"Do you want a Pullman reservation?" he asked.
"What's thet?" The boy put the question with a steadiness of gaze that seemed to defy the agent to entertain even a subconsciously critical thought as to his ignorance.
The ticket man explained sleeping- and dining-cars. He had rather expected the boy to choose the day coach, but Samson merely said:
"I wants the best thar is." He counted out the additional money, and turned gravely from the window. The sleeping-car to which he was assigned was almost empty, but he felt upon him the interested gaze of those few eyes that were turned toward his entrance. He engaged every pair with a pair very clear and steady and undropping, until somehow each lip that had started to twist in amusement straightened, and the twinkle that rose at first glance sobered at second. He did not know why an old gentleman in a plaid traveling cap, who looked up from a magazine, turned his gaze out of the window with an expression of grave thoughtfulness. To himself, the old gentleman was irrelevantly quoting a line or two of verse:
"' ... Unmade, unhandled, unmeet— Ye pushed them raw to the battle, as ye picked them raw from the street—'"
"Only," added the old gentleman under his breath, "this one hasn't even the training of the streets—but with those eyes he'll get somewhere."
The porter paused and asked to see Samson's ticket. Mentally, he observed:
"Po' white trash!" Then, he looked again, for the boy's eyes were discomfortingly on his fat, black face, and the porter straightway decided to be polite. Yet, for all his specious seeming of unconcern, Samson was waking to the fact that he was a scarecrow, and his sensitive pride made him cut his meals short in the dining-car, where he was kept busy beating down inquisitive eyes with his defiant gaze. He resolved after some thought upon a definite policy. It was a very old policy, but to him new—and a discovery. He would change nothing in himself that involved a surrender of code or conviction. But, wherever it could be done with honor, he would concede to custom. He had come to learn, not to give an exhibition of stubbornness. Whatever the outside world could offer with a recommendation to his good sense, that thing he would adopt and make his own.
It was late in the second afternoon when he stepped from the train at Jersey City, to be engulfed in an unimagined roar and congestion. Here, it was impossible to hold his own against the unconcealed laughter of the many, and he stood for an instant glaring about like a caged tiger, while three currents of humanity separated and flowed toward the three ferry exits. It was a moment of longing for the quiet of his ancient hills, where nothing more formidable than blood enemies existed to disquiet and perplex a man's philosophy. Those were things he understood—and even enemies at home did not laugh at a man's peculiarities. For the first time in his life, Samson felt a tremor of something like terror, terror of a great, vague thing, too vast and intangible to combat, and possessed of the measureless power of many hurricanes. Then, he saw the smiling face of Lescott, and Lescott's extended hand. Even Lescott, immaculately garbed and fur-coated, seemed almost a stranger, and the boy's feeling of intimacy froze to inward constraint and diffidence. But Lescott knew nothing of that. The stoic in Samson held true, masking his emotions.
"So you came," said the New Yorker, heartily, grasping the boy's hand. "Where's your luggage? We'll just pick that up, and make a dash for the ferry."
"Hyar hit is," replied Samson, who still carried his saddlebags. The painter's eyes twinkled, but the mirth was so frank and friendly that the boy, instead of glaring in defiance, grinned responsively.
"Right, oh!" laughed Lescott. "I thought maybe you'd brought a trunk, but it's the wise man who travels light."
"I reckon I'm pretty green," acknowledged the youth somewhat ruefully. "But I hain't been studyin' on what I looked like. I reckon thet don't make much difference."
"Not much," affirmed the other, with conviction. "Let the men with little souls spend their thought on that."
The artist watched his protege narrowly as they took their places against the forward rail of the ferry-deck, and the boat stood out into the crashing water traffic of North River. What Samson saw must be absolutely bewildering. Ears attuned to hear a breaking twig must ache to this hoarse shrieking of whistles. To the west, in the evening's fading color, the sky-line of lower Manhattan bit the sky with its serried line of fangs.
Yet, Samson leaned on the rail without comment, and his face told nothing. Lescott waited for some expression, and, when none came, he casually suggested:
"Samson, that is considered rather an impressive panorama over there. What do you think of it?"
"Ef somebody was ter ask ye ter describe the shape of a rainstorm, what would ye say?" countered the boy.
"I guess I wouldn't try to say."
"I reckon," replied the mountaineer, "I won't try, neither."
"Do you find it anything like the thing expected?" No New Yorker can allow a stranger to be unimpressed with that sky-line.
"I didn't have no notion what to expect." Samson's voice was matter-of- fact. "I 'lowed I'd jest wait and see."
He followed Lescott out to the foot of Twenty-third Street, and stepped with him into the tonneau of the painter's waiting car. Lescott lived with his family up-town, for it happened that, had his canvases possessed no value whatever, he would still have been in a position to drive his motor, and follow his impulses about the world. Lescott himself had found it necessary to overcome family opposition when he had determined to follow the career of painting. His people had been in finance, and they had expected him to take the position to which he logically fell heir in activities that center about Wall Street. He, too, had at first been regarded as recreant to traditions. For that reason, he felt a full sympathy with Samson. The painter's place in the social world—although he preferred his other world of Art—was so secure that he was free from any petty embarrassment in standing sponsor for a wild man from the hills. If he did not take the boy to his home, it was because he understood that a life which must be not only full of early embarrassment, but positively revolutionary, should be approached by easy stages. Consequently, the car turned down Fifth Avenue, passed under the arch, and drew up before a door just off Washington Square, where the landscape painter had a studio suite. There were sleeping-rooms and such accessories as seemed to the boy unheard-of luxury, though Lescott regarded the place as a makeshift annex to his home establishment.
"You'd better take your time in selecting permanent quarters," was his careless fashion of explaining to Samson. "It's just as well not to hurry. You are to stay here with me, as long as you will."
"I'm obleeged ter ye," replied the boy, to whose training in open- doored hospitality the invitation seemed only natural. The evening meal was brought in from a neighboring hotel, and the two men dined before an open fire, Samson eating in mountain silence, while his host chatted and asked questions. The place was quiet for New York, but to Samson it seemed an insufferable pandemonium. He found himself longing for the velvet-soft quiet of the nightfalls he had known.
"Samson," suggested the painter, when the dinner things had been carried out and they were alone, "you are here for two purposes: first to study painting; second, to educate and equip yourself for coming conditions. It's going to take work, more work, and then some more work."
"I hain't skeered of work."
"I believe that. Also, you must keep out of trouble. You've got to ride your fighting instinct with a strong curb."
"I don't 'low to let nobody run over me." The statement was not argumentative; only an announcement of a principle which was not subject to modification.
"All right, but until you learn the ropes, let me advise you."
The boy gazed into the fire for a few moments of silence.
"I gives ye my hand on thet," he promised.
At eleven o'clock the painter, having shown his guest over the premises, said good-night, and went up-town to his own house. Samson lay a long while awake, with many disquieting reflections. Before his closed eyes rose insistently the picture of a smoky cabin with a puncheon floor and of a girl upon whose cheeks and temples flickered orange and vermilion lights. To his ears came the roar of elevated trains, and, since a fog had risen over the Hudson, the endless night- splitting screams of brazen-throated ferry whistles. He tossed on a mattress which seemed hard and comfortless, and longed for a feather-bed.
"Good-night, Sally," he almost groaned. "I wisht I was back thar whar I belongs." ... And Sally, more than a thousand miles away, was shivering on the top of a stile with a white, grief-torn little face, wishing that, too.
Meanwhile Lescott, letting himself into a house overlooking the Park, was hailed by a chorus of voices from the dining-room. He turned and went in to join a gay group just back from the opera. As he thoughtfully mixed himself a highball, they bombarded him with questions.
"Why didn't you bring your barbarian with you?" demanded a dark-eyed girl, who looked very much as Lescott himself might have looked had he been a girl—and very young and lovely. The painter always thought of his sister as the family's edition de luxe. Now, she flashed on him an affectionate smile, and added: "We have been waiting to see him. Must we go to bed disappointed?"
George stood looking down on them, and tinkled the ice in his glass.
"He wasn't brought on for purposes of exhibition, Drennie," he smiled. "I was afraid, if he came in here in the fashion of his arrival—carrying his saddlebags—you ultra-civilized folk might have laughed."
A roar of laughter at the picture vindicated Lescott's assumption.
"No! Now, actually with saddlebags?" echoed a young fellow with a likeable face which was for the moment incredulously amused. "That goes Dick Whittington one better. You do make some rare discoveries, George. We celebrate you."
"Thanks, Horton," commented the painter, dryly. "When you New Yorkers have learned what these barbarians already know, the control of your over-sensitized risibles and a courtesy deeper than your shirt-fronts —maybe I'll let you have a look. Meantime, I'm much too fond of all of you to risk letting you laugh at my barbarian."
The first peep of daylight through the studio skylight found the mountain boy awake. Before the daylight came he had seen the stars through its panes. Lescott's servant, temporarily assigned to the studio, was still sleeping when Samson dressed and went out. As he put on his clothes, he followed his custom of strapping the pistol-holster under his left armpit outside his shirt. He did it with no particular thought and from force of habit. His steps carried him first into Washington Square, at this cheerless hour empty except for a shivering and huddled figure on a bench and a rattling milk-cart. The boy wandered aimlessly until, an hour later, he found himself on Bleecker Street, as that thoroughfare began to awaken and take up its day's activity. The smaller shops that lie in the shadow of the elevated trestle were opening their doors. Samson had been reflecting on the amused glances he had inspired yesterday and, when he came to a store with a tawdry window display of haberdashery and ready-made clothing, he decided to go in and investigate.
Evidently, the garments he now wore gave him an appearance of poverty and meanness, which did not comport with the dignity of a South. Had any one else criticized his appearance his resentment would have blazed, but he could make voluntary admissions. The shopkeeper's curiosity was somewhat piqued by a manner of speech and appearance which, were, to him, new, and which he could not classify. His first impression of the boy in the stained suit, slouch hat, and patched overcoat, was much the same as that which the Pullman porter had mentally summed up as, "Po' white trash"; but the Yiddish shopman could not place his prospective customer under any head or type with which he was familiar. He was neither "kike," "wop," "rough-neck," nor beggar, and, as the proprietor laid out his wares with unctuous solicitude, he was, also, studying his unresponsive and early visitor. When Samson, for the purpose of trying on a coat and vest, took off his own outer garments, and displayed, without apology or explanation, a huge and murderous-looking revolver, the merchant became nervously excited. Had Samson made gratifying purchases, he might have seen nothing, but it occurred to the mountaineer, just as he was counting money from a stuffed purse, that it would perhaps be wiser to wait and consult Lescott in matters of sartorial selection. So, with incisive bluntness, he countermanded his order—and made an enemy. The shopkeeper, standing at the door of his basement establishment, combed his beard with his fingers, and thought regretfully of the fat wallet; and, a minute after, when two policemen came by, walking together, he awoke suddenly to his responsibilities as a citizen. He pointed to the figure now half a block away.
"Dat feller," he said, "chust vent out off my blace. He's got a young cannon strapped to his vish-bone. I don't know if he's chust a rube, or if maybe he's bad. Anyway, he's a gun-toter."
The two patrolmen only nodded, and sauntered on. They did not hurry, but neither did Samson. Pausing to gaze into a window filled with Italian sweetmeats, he felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to find himself looking into two pairs of accusing eyes.
"What's your game?" shortly demanded one of the officers.
"What's ther matter?" countered Samson, as tartly as he had been questioned.
"Don't you know better than to tote a gun around this town?"
"I reckon thet's my business, hain't hit?"
The boy stepped back, and shook the offending hand from his shoulder. His gorge was rising, but he controlled it, and turned on his heel, with the manner of one saying the final word.
"I reckon ye're a-barkin' up ther wrong tree."
"Not by a damned sight, we ain't!" One of the patrolmen seized and pinioned his arms, while the second threateningly lifted his club.
"Don't try to start anything, young feller," he warned. The street was awake now and the ever-curious crowd began to gather. The big officer at Samson's back held his arms locked and gave curt directions to his partner. "Go through him, Quinn."
Samson recognized that he was in the hands of the law, and a different sort of law from that which he had known on Misery. He made no effort to struggle, but looked very straight and unblinkingly into the eyes of the club-wielder.
"Don't ye hit me with thet thing," he said, quietly. "I warns ye."
The officer laughed as he ran his left hand over Samson's hips and chest, and brought out the offending weapon.
"I guess that's about all. We'll let you explain the rest of it to the judge. It's a trick on the Island for yours."
The Island meant nothing to Samson South, but the derisive laughter of the crowd, and the roughness with which the two bluecoats swung him around, and ordered him to march, set on edge every defiant nerve. Still, he gazed directly into the faces of his captors, and inquired with a cruelly forced calm:
"Does ye 'low ter take me ter the jail-house?"
"Can that rube stuff. Get along, get along!" And the officers started him on his journey with a shove that sent him lurching and stumbling forward. Then, the curb of control slipped. The prisoner wheeled, his face distorted with passion, and lashed out with his fist to the face of the biggest patrolman. It was a foolish and hopeless attack, as the boy realized, but in his code it was necessary. One must resent gratuitous insult whatever the odds, and he fought with such concentrated fury and swiftness, after his rude hill method of "fist and skull," driving in terrific blows with hands and head, that the crowd breathed deep with the delicious excitement of the combat—and regretted its brevity.
The amazed officers, for an instant handicapped by their surprise, since they were expecting to monopolize the brutality of the occasion, came to their senses, and had instant recourse to the comforting reinforcement of their locust clubs. The boy went down under a rat-tat of night sticks, which left him as groggy and easy to handle as a fainting woman.
"You got ter hand it ter dat guy," commented a sweater-clad onlooker, as they dragged Samson into a doorway to await the wagon. "He was goin' some while he lasted."
The boy was conscious again, though still faint, when the desk sergeant wrote on the station-house blotter:
"Carrying a deadly weapon, and resisting an officer."
The lieutenant had strolled in, and was contemplatively turning over in his hand the heavy forty-five-calibre Colt.
"Some rod that!" he announced. "We don't get many like it here. Where did you breeze in from, young fellow?"
"Thet's my business," growled Samson. Then, he added: "I'll be obleeged if ye'll send word ter Mr. George Lescott ter come an' bail me out."
"You seem to know the procedure," remarked the desk sergeant, with a smile. "Who is Mr. George Lescott, and where's his hang-out?"
One of the arresting officers looked up from wiping with his handkerchief the sweat-band of his helmet.
"George Lescott?" he repeated. "I know him. He's got one of them studios just off Washington Square. He drives down-town in a car the size of the Olympic. I don't know how he'd get acquainted with a boob like this."
"Oh, well!" the desk sergeant yawned. "Stick him in the cage. We'll call up this Lescott party later on. I guess he's still in the hay, and it might make him peevish to wake him up."
Left alone in the police-station cell, the boy began to think. First of all, he was puzzled. He had fared forth peaceably, and spoken to no one except the storekeeper. To force a man into peace by denying him his gun, seemed as unreasonable as to prevent fisticuffs by cutting off hands. But, also, a deep sense of shame swept over him, and scalded him. Getting into trouble here was, somehow, different from getting into trouble at home—and, in some strange way, bitterly humiliating.
Lescott had risen early, meaning to go down to the studio, and have breakfast with Samson. His mother and sister were leaving for Bermuda by a nine o'clock sailing. Consequently, eight o'clock found the household gathered in the breakfast-room, supplemented by Mr. Wilfred Horton, whose orchids Adrienne Lescott was wearing, and whose luggage was already at the wharf.
"Since Wilfred is in the party to take care of things, and look after you," suggested Lescott, as he came into the room a trifle late, "I think I'll say good-by here, and run along to the studio. Samson is probably feeling like a new boy in school this morning. You'll find the usual litter of flowers and fiction in your staterooms to attest my filial and brotherly devotion."
"Was the brotherly sentiment addressed to me?" inquired Wilfred, with an unsmiling and brazen gravity that brought to the girl's eyes and lips a half-mocking and wholly decorative twinkle of amusement.
"Just because I try to be a sister to you, Wilfred," she calmly reproved, "I can't undertake to make my brother do it, too. Besides, he couldn't be a sister to you."
"But by dropping that attitude—which is entirely gratuitous—you will compel him to assume it. My sentiment as regards brotherly love is brief and terse, 'Let George do it!'" Mr. Horton was complacently consuming his breakfast with an excellent appetite, to which the prospect of six weeks among Bermuda lilies with Adrienne lent a fillip.
"So, brother-to-be," he continued, "you have my permission to run along down-town, and feed your savage."
"Beg pardon, sir!" The Lescott butler leaned close to the painter's ear, and spoke with a note of apology as though deploring the necessity of broaching such a subject. "But will you kindly speak with the Macdougal Street Police Station?"
"With the what?" Lescott turned in surprise, while Horton surrendered himself to unrestrained and boisterous laughter.
"The barbarian!" he exclaimed. "I call that snappy work. Twelve hours in New York, and a run-in with the police! I've noticed," he added, as the painter hurriedly quitted the room, "that, when you take the bad man out of his own cock-pit, he rarely lasts as far as the second round."
"It occurs to me, Wilfred," suggested Adrienne, with the hint of warning in her voice, "that you may be just a trifle overdoing your attitude of amusement as to this barbarian. George is fond of him, and believes in him, and George is quite often right in his judgment."
"George," added Mrs. Lescott, "had a broken arm down there in the mountains, and these people were kind to him in many ways. I wish I could see Mr. South, and thank him."
Lescott's manner over the telephone was indicating to a surprised desk sergeant a decidedly greater interest than had been anticipated, and, after a brief and pointed conversation in that quarter, he called another number. It was a private number, not included in the telephone book and communicated with the residence of an attorney who would not have permitted the generality of clients to disturb him in advance of office hours.
A realization that the "gun-lugger" had friends "higher up" percolated at the station-house in another hour, when a limousine halted at the door, and a legal celebrity, whose ways were not the ways of police stations or magistrates' courts, stepped to the curb.
"I am waiting to meet Mr. Lescott," announced the Honorable Mr. Wickliffe, curtly.
When a continuance of the case had been secured, and bond given, the famous lawyer and Samson lunched together at the studio as Lescott's guests, and, after the legal luminary had thawed the boy's native reserve and wrung from him his story, he was interested enough to use all his eloquence and logic in his efforts to show the mountaineer what inherent necessities of justice lay back of seemingly restrictive laws.
"You simply 'got in bad' through your failure to understand conditions here," laughed the lawyer. "I guess we can pull you through, but in future you'll have to submit to some guidance, my boy."
And Samson, rather to Lescott's surprise, nodded his head with only a ghost of resentment. From friends, he was willing to learn.
Lescott had been afraid that this initial experience would have an extinguishing effect on Samson's ambitions. He half-expected to hear the dogged announcement, "I reckon I'll go back home. I don't b'long hyar nohow." But no such remark came.
One night, they sat in the cafe of an old French hostelry where, in the polyglot chatter of three languages, one hears much shop talk of art and literature. Between the mirrored walls, Samson was for the first time glimpsing the shallow sparkle of Bohemia. The orchestra was playing an appealing waltz. Among the diners were women gowned as he had never seen women gowned before. They sat with men, and met the challenge of ardent glances with dreamy eyes. They hummed an accompaniment to the air, and sometimes loudly and publicly quarreled. But Samson looked on as taciturn and unmoved as though he had never dined elsewhere. And yet, his eyes were busy, for suddenly he laid down his knife, and picked up his fork.
"Hit 'pears like I've got a passel of things ter l'arn," he said, earnestly. "I reckon I mout as well begin by l'arnin' how ter eat." He had heretofore regarded a fork only as a skewer with which to hold meat in the cutting.
"Most rules of social usage," he explained, "go back to the test of efficiency. It is considered good form to eat with the fork, principally because it is more efficient,"
The boy nodded.
"All right," he acquiesced. "You l'arn me all them things, an' I'll be obleeged ter ye. Things is diff'rent in diff'rent places. I reckon the Souths hes a right ter behave es good es anybody."
When a man, whose youth and courage are at their zenith, and whose brain is tuned to concert pitch, is thrown neck and crop out of squalid isolation into the melting pot of Manhattan, puzzling problems of readjustment must follow. Samson's half-starved mind was reaching out squid-like tentacles in every direction. He was saying little, seeing much, not yet coordinating or tabulating, but grimly bolting every morsel of enlightenment. Later, he would digest; now, he only gorged. Before he could hope to benefit by the advanced instruction of the life -classes, he must toil and sweat over the primer stages of drawing. Several months were spent laboring with charcoal and paper over plaster casts in Lescott's studio, and Lescott himself played instructor. When the skylight darkened with the coming of evening, the boy whose mountain nature cried out for exercise went for long tramps that carried him over many miles of city pavements, and after that, when the gas was lit, he turned, still insatiably hungry, to volumes of history, and algebra, and facts. So gluttonous was his protege's application that the painter felt called on to remonstrate against the danger of overwork. But Samson only laughed; that was one of the things he had learned to do since he left the mountains.
"I reckon," he drawled, "that as long as I'm at work, I kin keep out of trouble. Seems like that's the only way I kin do it."
* * * * *
A sloop-rigged boat with a crew of two was dancing before a brisk breeze through blue Bermuda waters. Off to the right, Hamilton rose sheer and colorful from the bay. At the tiller sat the white-clad figure of Adrienne Lescott. Puffs of wind that whipped the tautly bellying sheets lashed her dark hair about her face. Her lips, vividly red like poppy-petals, were just now curved into an amused smile, which made them even more than ordinarily kissable and tantalizing. Her companion was neglecting his nominal duty of tending the sheet to watch her.
"Wilfred," she teased, "your contrast is quite startling—and, in a way, effective. From head to foot, you are spotless white—but your scowl is absolutely 'the blackest black that our eyes endure.' And," she added, in an injured voice, "I'm sure I've been very nice to you."
"I have not yet begun to scowl," he assured her, and proceeded to show what superlatives of saturnine expression he held in reserve. "See here, Drennie, I know perfectly well that I'm a sheer imbecile to reveal the fact that you've made me mad. It pleases you too perfectly. It makes you happier than is good for you, but——"
"It's a terrible thing to make me happy, isn't it?" she inquired, sweetly.
"Unspeakably so, when you derive happiness from the torture of your fellow-man."
"My brother-man," she amiably corrected him.
"Good Lord!" he groaned in desperation. "I ought to turn cave man, and seize you by the hair—and drag you to the nearest minister—or prophet, or whoever could marry us. Then, after the ceremony, I ought to drag you to my own grotto, and beat you."
"Would I have to wear my wedding ring in my nose?" She put the question with the manner of one much interested in acquiring useful information.
"Drennie, for the nine-hundred-thousandth time; simply, in the interests of harmony and to break the deadlock, will you marry me?"
"Not this afternoon," she smiled. "Watch for the boom! I'm going to bring her round."
The young man promptly ducked his head, and played out the line, as the boat dipped her masthead waterward, and came about on the other tack. When the sails were again drumming under the fingers of the wind, she added:
"Besides, I'm not sure that harmony is what I want."
"You know you'll have to marry me in the end. Why not now?" he persisted, doggedly. "We are simply wasting our youth, dear."
His tone had become so calamitous that the girl could not restrain a peal of very musical laughter.
"Am I so very funny?" he inquired, with dignity.
"You are, when you are so very tragic," she assured him.
He realized that his temper was merely a challenge to her teasing, and he wisely fell back into his customary attitude of unruffled insouciance.
"Drennie, you have held me off since we were children. I believe I first announced my intention of marrying you when you were twelve. That intention remains unaltered. More: it is unalterable and inevitable. My reasons for wanting to needn't be rehearsed. It would take too long. I regard you as possessed of an alert and remarkable mind—one worthy of companionship with my own." Despite the frivolous badinage of his words and the humorous smile of his lips, his eyes hinted at an underlying intensity. "With no desire to flatter or spoil you, I find your personal aspect pleasing enough to satisfy me. And then, while a man should avoid emotionalism, I am in love with you." He moved over to a place in the sternsheets, and his face became intensely earnest. He dropped his hand over hers as it lay on the tiller shaft. "God knows, dear," he exclaimed, "how much I love you!"
Her eyes, after holding his for a moment, fell to the hand which still imprisoned her own. She shook her head, not in anger, but with a manner of gentle denial, until he released her fingers and stepped back.
"You are a dear, Wilfred," she comforted, "and I couldn't manage to get on without you, but you aren't marriageable—at least, not yet."
"Why not?" he argued. "I've stood back and twirled my thumbs all through your debut winter. I've been Patience without the comfort of a pedestal. Now, will you give me three minutes to show you that you are not acting fairly, or nicely at all?"
"Duck!" warned the girl, and once more they fell silent in the sheer physical delight of two healthy young animals, clean-blooded and sport- loving, as the tall jib swept down; the "high side" swept up, and the boat hung for an exhilarating moment on the verge of capsizing. As it righted itself again, like the craft of a daring airman banking the pylons, the girl gave him a bright nod. "Now, go ahead," she acceded, "you have three minutes to put yourself in nomination as the exemplar of your age and times."
The young man settled back, and stuffed tobacco into a battered pipe. Then, with a lightness of tone which was assumed as a defense against her mischievous teasing, he began:
"Very well, Drennie. When you were twelve, which is at best an unimpressive age for the female of the species, I was eighteen, and all the world knows that at eighteen a man is very mature and important. You wore pigtails then, and it took a prophet's eye to foresee how wonderfully you were going to emerge from your chrysalis."
The idolatry of his eyes told how wonderful she seemed to him now.
"Yet, I fell in love with you, and I said to myself, 'I'll wait for her.' However, I didn't want to wait eternally. For eight years, I have danced willing attendance—following you through nursery, younger-set and debutante stages. In short, with no wish to trumpet too loudly my own virtues, I've been your Fidus Achates." His voice dropped from its pitch of antic whimsey, and became for a moment grave, as he added: "And, because of my love for you, I've lived a life almost as clean as your own."
"One's Fidus Achates, if I remember anything of my Latin, which I don't"—the girl spoke in that voice which the man loved best, because it had left off bantering, and become grave with such softness and depth of timbre as might have trembled in the reed pipes of a Sylvan Pan—"is one's really-truly friend. Everything that you claim for yourself is admitted—and many other things that you haven't claimed. Now, suppose you give me three minutes to make an accusation on other charges. They're not very grave faults, perhaps, by the standards of your world and mine, but to me, personally, they seem important."
Wilfred nodded, and said, gravely:
"I am waiting."
"In the first place, you are one of those men whose fortunes are listed in the top schedule—the swollen fortunes. Socialists would put you in the predatory class."
"Drennie," he groaned, "do you keep your heaven locked behind a gate of the Needle's Eye? It's not my fault that I'm rich. It was wished on me. If you are serious, I'm willing to become poor as Job's turkey. Show me the way to strip myself, and I'll stand shortly before you begging alms."
"To what end?" she questioned. "Poverty would be quite inconvenient. I shouldn't care for it. But hasn't it ever occurred to you that the man who wears the strongest and brightest mail, and who by his own confession is possessed of an alert brain, ought occasionally to be seen in the lists?"
"In short, your charge is that I am a shirker—and, since it's the same thing, a coward?"
Adrienne did not at once answer him, but she straightened out for an uninterrupted run before the wind, and by the tiny moss-green flecks, which moments of great seriousness brought to the depths of her eyes, he knew that she meant to speak the unveiled truth.
"Besides your own holdings in a lot of railways and things, you handle your mother's and sisters' property, don't you?"
"In a fashion, I do. I sign the necessary papers when the lawyers call me up, and ask me to come down-town."
"You are a director in the Metropole Trust Company?"
"In the Consolidated Seacoast?"
"I believe so."
"In a half-dozen other things equally important?"
"Good Lord, Drennie, how can I answer all those questions off-hand? I don't carry a note-book in my yachting flannels."
Her voice was so serious that he wondered if it were not, also, a little contemptuous.
"Do you have to consult a note-book to answer those questions?"
"Those directorate jobs are purely honorary," he defended. "If I butted in with fool suggestions, they'd quite properly kick me out."
"With your friends, who are also share-holders, you could assume control of the Morning Intelligence, couldn't you?"
"I guess I could assume control, but what would I do with it?"
"Do you know the reputation of that newspaper?"
"I guess it's all right. It's conservative and newsy. I read it every morning when I'm in town. It fits in very nicely between the grapefruit and the bacon-and-eggs."
"It is, also, powerful," she added, "and is said to be absolutely servile to corporate interests."
"Drennie, you talk like an anarchist. You are rich yourself, you know."
"And, against each of those other concerns, various charges have been made."
"Well, what do you want me to do?"
"It's not what I want you to do," she informed him; "it's what I'd like to see you want to do."
"Name it! I'll want to do it forthwith."
"I think, when you are one of a handful of the richest men in New York; when, for instance, you could dictate the policy of a great newspaper, yet know it only as the course that follows your grapefruit, you are a shirker and a drone, and are not playing the game." Her hand tightened on the tiller. "I think, if I were a man riding on to the polo field, I'd either try like the devil to drive the ball down between the posts, or I'd come inside, and take off my boots and colors. I wouldn't hover in lady-like futility around the edge of the scrimmage."
She knew that to Horton, who played polo like a fiend incarnate, the figure would be effective, and she whipped out her words with something very close to scorn.
"Duck your head!" she commanded shortly. "I'm coming about."
Possibly, she had thrown more of herself into her philippic than she had realized. Possibly, some of her emphasis imparted itself to her touch on the tiller, and jerked the sloop too violently into a sudden puff as it careened. At all events, the boat swung sidewise, trembled for an instant like a wounded gull, and then slapped its spread of canvas prone upon the water with a vicious report.
"Jump!" yelled the man, and, as he shouted, the girl disappeared over- side, perilously near the sheet. He knew the danger of coming up under a wet sail, and, diving from the high side, he swam with racing strokes toward the point where she had gone down. When Adrienne's head did not reappear, his alarm grew, and he plunged under water where the shadow of the overturned boat made everything cloudy and obscure to his wide- open eyes. He stroked his way back and forth through the purple fog that he found down there, until his lungs seemed on the point of bursting. Then, he paused at the surface, shaking the water from his face, and gazing anxiously about. The dark head was not visible, and once more, with a fury of growing terror, he plunged downward, and began searching the shadows. This time, he remained until his chest was aching with an absolute torture. If she had swallowed water under that canvas barrier this attempt would be the last that could avail. Then, just as it seemed that he was spending the last fraction of the last ounce of endurance, his aching eyes made out a vague shape, also swimming, and his hand touched another hand. She was safe, and together they came out of the opaqueness into water as translucent as sapphires, and rose to the surface.
"Where were you?" she inquired.
"I was looking for you—under the sail," he panted.
"I'm quite all right," she assured him. "I came up under the boat at first, but I got out easily enough, and went back to look for you."
They swam together to the capsized hull, and the girl thrust up one strong, slender hand to the stem, while with the other she wiped the water from her smiling eyes. The man also laid hold on the support, and hung there, filling his cramped lungs. Then, for just an instant, his hand closed over hers.
"There's my hand on it, Drennie," he said. "We start back to New York to-morrow, don't we? Well, when I get there, I put on overalls, and go to work. When I propose next, I'll have something to show."
A motor-boat had seen their plight, and was racing madly to their rescue, with a yard-high swirl of water thrown up from its nose and a fusillade of explosions trailing in its wake.
* * * * *
Christmas came to Misery wrapped in a drab mantle of desolation. The mountains were like gigantic cones of raw and sticky chocolate, except where the snow lay patched upon their cheerless slopes. The skies were low and leaden, and across their gray stretches a spirit of squalid melancholy rode with the tarnished sun. Windowless cabins, with tight- closed doors, became cavernous dens untouched by the cleansing power of daylight. In their vitiated atmosphere, their humanity grew stolidly sullen. Nowhere was a hint of the season's cheer. The mountains knew only of such celebration as snuggling close to the jug of moonshine, and drinking out the day. Mountain children, who had never heard of Kris Kingle, knew of an ancient tradition that at Christmas midnight the cattle in the barns and fields knelt down, as they had knelt around the manger, and that along the ragged slopes of the hills the elder bushes ceased to rattle dead stalks, and burst into white sprays of momentary bloom.
Christmas itself was a week distant, and, at the cabin of the Widow Miller, Sally was sitting alone before the logs. She laid down the slate and spelling-book, over which her forehead had been strenuously puckered, and gazed somewhat mournfully into the blaze. Sally had a secret. It was a secret which she based on a faint hope. If Samson should come back to Misery, he would come back full of new notions. No man had ever yet returned from that outside world unaltered. No man ever would. A terrible premonition said he would not come at all, but, if he did—if he did—she must know how to read and write. Maybe, when she had learned a little more, she might even go to school for a term or two. She had not confided her secret. The widow would not have understood. The book and slate came out of their dusty cranny in the logs beside the fireplace only when the widow had withdrawn to her bed, and the freckled boy was dreaming of being old enough to kill Hollmans.
The cramped and distorted chirography on the slate was discouraging. It was all proving very hard work. The girl gazed for a time at something she saw in the embers, and then a faint smile came to her lips. By next Christmas, she would surprise Samson with a letter. It should be well written, and every "hain't" should be an "isn't." Of course, until then Samson would not write to her, because he would not know that she could read the letter—indeed, as yet the deciphering of "hand-write" was beyond her abilities.
She rose and replaced the slate and primer. Then, she took tenderly from its corner the rifle, which the boy had confided to her keeping, and unwrapped its greasy covering. She drew the cartridges from chamber and magazine, oiled the rifling, polished the lock, and reloaded the piece.
"Thar now," she said, softly, "I reckon ther old rifle-gun's ready."
As she sat there alone in the shuck-bottomed chair, the corners of the room wavered in huge shadows, and the smoke-blackened cavern of the fireplace, glaring like a volcano pit, threw her face into relief. She made a very lovely and pathetic picture. Her slender knees were drawn close together, and from her slim waist she bent forward, nursing the inanimate thing which she valued and tended, because Samson valued it. Her violet eyes held the heart-touching wistfulness of utter loneliness, and her lips drooped. This small girl, dreaming her dreams of hope against hope, with the vast isolation of the hills about her, was a little monument of unflinching loyalty and simple courage, and, as she sat, she patted the rifle with as soft a touch as though she had been dandling Samson's child—and her own—on her knee. There was no speck of rust in the unused muzzle, no hitch in the easily sliding mechanism of the breechblock. The hero's weapon was in readiness to his hand, as the bow of Ulysses awaited the coming of the wanderer.
Then, with sudden interruption to her reflections, came a rattling on the cabin door. She sat up and listened. Night visitors were rare at the Widow Miller's. Sally waited, holding her breath, until the sound was repeated.
"Who is hit?" she demanded in a low voice.
"Hit's me—Tam'rack!" came the reply, very low and cautious, and somewhat shamefaced.
"What does ye want?"
"Let me in, Sally," whined the kinsman, desperately. "They're atter me. They won't think to come hyar."
Sally had not seen her cousin since Samson had forbidden his coming to the house. Since Samson's departure, the troublesome kinsman, too, had been somewhere "down below," holding his railroad job. But the call for protection was imperative. She set the gun out of sight against the mantle-shelf, and, walking over unwillingly, opened the door.
The mud-spattered man came in, glancing about him half-furtively, and went to the fireplace. There, he held his hands to the blaze.
"Hit's cold outdoors," he said.
"What manner of deviltry hev ye been into now, Tam'rack?" inquired the girl. "Kain't ye never keep outen trouble?"
The self-confessed refugee did not at once reply. When he did, it was to ask:
"Is the widder asleep?"
Sally saw from his blood-shot eyes that he had been drinking heavily. She did not resume her seat, but stood holding him with her eyes. In them, the man read contempt, and an angry flush mounted to his sallow cheek-bones.
"I reckon ye knows," went on the girl in the same steady voice, "thet Samson meant what he said when he warned ye ter stay away from hyar. I reckon ye knows I wouldn't never hev opened thet door, ef hit wasn't fer ye bein' in trouble."
The mountaineer straightened up, his eyes burning with the craftiness of drink, and the smoldering of resentment.
"I reckon I knows thet. Thet's why I said they was atter me. I hain't in no trouble, Sally. I jest come hyar ter see ye, thet's all."
Now, it was the girl's eyes that flashed anger. With quick steps, she reached the door, and threw it open. Her hand trembled as she pointed out into the night, and the gusty winter's breath caught and whipped her calico skirts about her ankles.
"You kin go!" she ordered, passionately. "Don't ye never cross this doorstep ag'in. Begone quick!"
But Tamarack only laughed with easy insolence.
"Sally," he drawled. "Thar's a-goin' ter be a dancin' party Christmas night over ter the Forks. I 'lowed I'd like ter hev ye go over thar with me."
Her voice was trembling with white-hot indignation.
"Didn't ye hear Samson say ye wasn't never ter speak ter me?"
"Ter hell with Samson!" he ripped out, furiously. "Nobody hain't pesterin' 'bout him. I don't allow Samson, ner no other man, ter dictate ter me who I keeps company with. I likes ye, Sally. Ye're the purtiest gal in the mountings, an'——"
"Will ye git out, or hev I got ter drive ye?" interrupted the girl. Her face paled, and her lips drew themselves into a taut line.
"Will ye go ter the party with me, Sally?" He came insolently over, and stood waiting, ignoring her dismissal with the ease of braggart effrontery. She, in turn, stood rigid, wordless, pointing his way across the doorstep. Slowly, the drunken face lost its leering grin. The eyes blackened into a truculent and venomous scowl. He stepped over, and stood towering above the slight figure, which did not give back a step before his advance. With an oath, he caught her savagely in his arms, and crushed her to him, while his unshaven, whiskey-soaked lips were pressed clingingly against her own indignant ones. Too astonished for struggle, the girl felt herself grow faint in his loathsome embrace, while to her ears came his panted words:
"I'll show ye. I wants ye, an' I'll git ye."
Adroitly, with a regained power of resistance and a lithe twist, she slipped out of his grasp, hammering at his face futilely with her clenched fists.
"I—I've got a notion ter kill ye!" she cried, brokenly. "Ef Samson was hyar, ye wouldn't dare—" What else she might have said was shut off in stormy, breathless gasps of humiliation and anger.
"Well," replied Tamarack, with drawling confidence, "ef Samson was hyar, I'd show him, too—damn him! But Samson hain't hyar. He won't never be hyar no more." His voice became deeply scornful, as he added: "He's done cut an' run. He's down thar below, consortin' with furriners, an' he hain't thinkin' nothin' 'bout you. You hain't good enough fer Samson, Sally. I tells ye he's done left ye fer all time."
Sally had backed away from the man, until she stood trembling near the hearth. As he spoke, Tamarack was slowly and step by step following her up. In his eyes glittered the same light that one sees in those of a cat which is watching a mouse already caught and crippled.
She half-reeled, and stood leaning against the rough stones of the fireplace. Her head was bowed, and her bosom heaving with emotion. She felt her knees weakening under her, and feared they would no longer support her. But, as her cousin ended, with a laugh, she turned her back to the wall, and stood with her downstretched hands groping against the logs. Then, she saw the evil glint in Tamarack's blood-shot eyes. He took one slow step forward, and held out his arms.
"Will ye come ter me?" he commanded, "or shall I come an' git ye?" The girl's fingers at that instant fell against something cooling and metallic. It was Samson's rifle.
With a sudden cry of restored confidence and a dangerous up-leaping of light in her eyes, she seized and cocked it.
The girl stepped forward, and held the weapon finger on trigger, close to her cousin's chest.
"Ye lies, Tam'rack," she said, in a very low and steady voice—a voice that could not be mistaken, a voice relentlessly resolute and purposeful.
"Ye lies like ye always lies. Yore heart's black an' dirty. Ye're a murderer an' a coward. Samson's a-comin' back ter me.... I'm a-goin' ter be Samson's wife." The tensity of her earnestness might have told a subtler psychologist than Tamarack that she was endeavoring to convince herself. "He hain't never run away. He's hyar in this room right now." The mountaineer started, and cast an apprehensive glance about him. The girl laughed, with a deeply bitter note, then she went on:
"Oh, you can't see him, Tam'rack. Ye mout hunt all night, but wharever I be, Samson's thar, too. I hain't nothin' but a part of Samson—an' I'm mighty nigh ter killin' ye this minute—he'd do hit, I reckon."
"Come on now, Sally," urged the man, ingratiatingly. He was thoroughly cowed, seeking compromise. A fool woman with a gun: every one knew it was a dangerous combination, and, except for himself, no South had ever been a coward. He knew a certain glitter in their eyes. He knew it was apt to presage death, and this girl, trembling in her knees but holding that muzzle against his chest so unwaveringly, as steady as granite, had it in her pupils. Her voice held an inexorable monotony suggestive of tolling bells. She was not the Sally he had known before, but a new Sally, acting under a quiet sort of exaltation, capable of anything. He knew that, should she shoot him dead there in her house, no man who knew them both would blame her. His life depended on strategy. "Come on, Sally," he whined, as his face grew ashen. "I didn't aim ter make ye mad. I jest lost my head, an' made love ter ye. Hit hain't no sin ter kiss a feller's own cousin." He was edging toward the door.
"Stand where ye're at," ordered Sally, in a voice of utter loathing, and he halted. "Hit wasn't jest kissin' me—" She broke off, and shuddered again. "I said thet Samson was in this here room. Ef ye moves twell I tells ye ye kin, ye'll hear him speak ter ye, an' ef he speaks ye won't never hear nothin' more. This here is Samson's gun. I reckon he'll tell me ter pull the trigger terectly!"
"Fer God's sake, Sally!" implored the braggart. "Fer God's sake, look over what I done. I knows ye're Samson's gal. I——"
"Shet up!" she said, quietly; and his voice died instantly.
"Yes, I'm Samson's gal, an' I hain't a-goin' ter kill ye this time, Tam'rack, unlessen ye makes me do hit. But, ef ever ye crosses that stile out thar ag'in, so help me God, this gun air goin' ter shoot."
Tamarack licked his lips. They had grown dry. He had groveled before a girl—but he was to be spared. That was the essential thing.
"I promises," he said, and turned, much sobered, to the door.
Sally stood for a while, listening until she heard the slopping hoof- beats of his retreat, then she dropped limply into the shaky shuck- bottomed chair, and sat staring straight ahead, with a dazed and almost mortal hurt in her eyes. It was a trance-like attitude, and the gesture with which she several times wiped her calico sleeve across the lips his kisses had defiled, seemed subconscious. At last, she spoke aloud, but in a far-away voice, shaking her head miserably.
"I reckon Tam'rack's right," she said. "Samson won't hardly come back. Why would he come back?"
* * * * *
The normal human mind is a reservoir, which fills at a rate of speed regulated by the number and calibre of its feed pipes. Samson's mind had long been almost empty, and now from so many sources the waters of new things were rushing in upon it that under their pressure it must fill fast, or give away.
He was saved from hopeless complications of thought by a sanity which was willing to assimilate without too much effort to analyze. That belonged to the future. Just now, all was marvelous. What miracles around him were wrought out of golden virtue, and what out of brazen vice, did not as yet concern him. New worlds are not long new worlds. The boy from Misery was presently less bizarre to the eye than many of the unkempt bohemians he met in the life of the studios: men who quarreled garrulously over the end and aim of Art, which they spelled with a capital A—and, for the most part, knew nothing of. He retained, except within a small circle of intimates, a silence that passed for taciturnity, and a solemnity of visage that was often construed into surly egotism.