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Drifting Down Lost Greek by Charles Egbert Craddock

I.

HIGH above Lost Creek Valley towers a wilderness of pine. So dense is this growth that it masks the mountain whence it springs. Even when the Cumberland spurs, to the east, are gaunt and bare in the wintry wind, their deciduous forests denuded, their crags unveiled and grimly beetling, Pine Mountain remains a sombre, changeless mystery; its clifty heights are hidden, its chasms and abysses lurk unseen. Whether the skies are blue, or gray, the dark, austere line of its summit limits the horizon. It stands against the west like a barrier. It seemed to Cynthia Ware that nothing which went beyond this barrier ever came back again One by one the days passed over it, and in splendid apotheosis, in purple and crimson and gold, they were received into the heavens, and returned no more. She beheld love go hence, and many a hope. Even Lost Creek itself, meandering for miles between the ranges, suddenly sinks into the earth, tunnels an unknown channel beneath the mountain, and is never seen again. She often watched the floating leaves, a nettle here and there, the broken wing of a moth, and wondered whither these trifles were borne, on the elegiac current. She came to fancy that her life was like them, worthless in itself and without a mission; drifting down Lost Creek, to vanish vaguely in the mountains.

Yet her life had not always been thus destitute of pleasure and purpose. There was a time—and she remembered it well—when she found no analogies in Lost Creek. Then she saw only a stream gayly dandering down the valley, with the laurel and the pawpaw close in to its banks, and the kildeer's nest in the sand.

Before it takes that desperate plunge into the unexplored caverns of the mountain, Lost Creek lends its aid to divers jobs of very prosaic work. Further up the valley it turns a mill-wheel, and on Mondays it is wont to assist in the family wash. A fire of pine-knots, kindled beside it on a flat rock, would twine long, lucent white flames about the huge kettle in which the clothes were boiled. Through the steam the distant landscape flickered, ethereal, dream-like. The garments, laid across a bench and beater white with a wooden paddle, would flutter hilariously in the wind. Deep in some willowy tangle the water-thrush might sing. Ever and anon from the heights above vibrated the clink- clinking of a hand-hammer and the clanking of a sledge. This iterative sound used to pulse like a lyric in Cynthia's heart. But her mother, one day, took up her testimony against it.

“I do declar', it sets me plumb catawampus ter hev ter listen ter them blacksmiths, up yander ter thar shop, at thar everlastin' chink-chank an' chink-chank, considerin' the tales I hearn 'bout 'em, when I war down ter the quiltin' at M'ria's house in the Cove.”

She paused to prod the boiling clothes with a long stick. She was a tall woman, fifty years of age, perhaps, but seeming much older. So gaunt she was, so toothless, haggard, and disheveled that but for her lazy step and languid interest she might have suggested one of Macbeth's witches, as she hovered about the great cauldron.

“They 'lowed down yander ter M'ria's house ez this hyar Evander Price hev kem ter be the headin'est, no 'count critter in the kentry! They 'lowed ez he hev been a-foolin' round Pete Blenkins's forge, a-workin' fur him ez a striker, till he thinks hisself ez good a blacksmith ez Pete, an' better. An' all of a suddenty this same 'Vander Price riz up an' made a consarn ter bake bread in, sech ez hed never been seen in the mountings afore. They 'lowed down ter M'ria's ez they dunno what he patterned arter. The Evil One must hev revealed the contrivance ter him. But they say it did cook bread in less 'n haffen the time that the reg'lar oven takes; leastwise his granny's bread, 'kase his mother air a toler'ble sensible woman, an' would tech no sech foolish fixin'. But his granny 'lowed ez she didn't hev long ter live, nohow, an' mought ez well please the chil'ren whilst she war spared. So she resked a batch o' her salt-risin' bread on the consarn, an' she do say it riz like all possessed, an' eat toler'ble short. An' that banged critter 'Vander war so proud o' his contrivance that he showed it ter everybody ez kem by the shop. An' when two valley men rid by, an' one o' thar beastis cast a shoe, 'Vander hed ter take out his contraption fur them ter gape over, too. An' they ups an' says they hed seen the like afore a-many a time; sech ovens war common in the valley towns. An' when they fund out ez 'Vander hed never hearn on sech, but jes' got the idee out 'n his own foolishness, they jes' stared at one another. They tole the boy ez he oughter take hisself an' his peartness in workin' in iron down yander ter some o' the valley towns, whar he'd find out what other folks hed been doin' in metal, an' git a good hank on his knack fur new notions. But 'Vander, he clung ter the mountings. They 'lowed down yander at M'ria's quiltin' ez 'Vander fairly tuk ter the woods with grief through other folks hevin' made sech contraptions ez his'n, afore he war born.”

The girl stopped short in her work of pounding the clothes, and, leaning the paddle on the bench, looked up toward the forge with her luminous brown eyes full of grave compassion Her calico sun-bonnet was thrust half off her head. Its cavernous recesses made a background of many shades of brown for her auburn hair, which was of a brilliant, rich tint, highly esteemed of late years in civilization, but in the mountains still accounted a capital defect. There was nothing as gayly colored in all the woods, except perhaps a red-bird, that carried his tufted top-knot so bravely through shade and sheen that he might have been the transmigrated spirit of an Indian, still roaming in the old hunting-ground. The beech shadow delicately green, imparted a more ethereal fairness to her fair face, and her sombre brown homespun dress heightened the effect by contrast. Her mother noted an unwonted flush upon her cheek, and recommenced with a deep, astute purpose.

“They 'lowed down yander in the Cove, ter M'ria's quiltin', ez this hyar 'Vander Price hev kem ter be mighty difficult, sence he hev been so gin over ter pride in his oven an' sech. They 'lowed ez even Pete Blenkins air fairly afeard o' him. Pete hisself hev always been knowed ez a powerful evil man, an' what 'twixt drink an' deviltry mos' folks hev been keerful ter gin him elbow-room. But this hyar 'Vander Price hectors round an' jaws back so sharp ez Pete hev got ter be truly mealy-mouthed where 'Vander be. They 'lowed down yander at M'ria's quiltin' ez one day Pete an' 'Vander hed a piece o' iron a-twixt 'em on the anvil, an' Pete would tap, same ez common, with the hand-hammer on the hot metal ter show 'Vander whar ter strike with the sledge. An' Pete got toler'ble bouncin', an' kep' faultin' 'Vander,—jes' like he use ter quar'l with his t'other striker, till the man would bide with him no more. All at wunst 'Vander hefted the sledge, an' gin Pete the ch'ice ter take it on his skullbone, or show more manners. An' Pete showed 'em.”

There was a long pause. Lost Creek sounded some broken minor chords, as it dashed against the rocks on its headlong way. The wild grapes were blooming. Their fragrance, so delicate yet so pervasive, suggested some exquisite unseen presence—the dryads were surely abroad! The beech-trees stretched down their silver branches and green shadows. Through rifts in the foliage shimmered glimpses of a vast array of sunny parallel mountains, converging and converging, till they seemed to meet far away in one long, level line, so ideally blue that it looked less like earth than heaven. The pine-knots flamed and glistered under the great wash-kettle. A tree-toad was persistently calling for rain, in the dry distance. The girl, gravely impassive, beat the clothes with the heavy paddle. Her mother shortly ceased to prod the white heaps in the boiling water, and presently took up the thread of her discourse.

“An' 'Vander hev got ter be a mighty suddint man. I hearn tell, when I war down ter M'ria's house ter the quiltin', ez how in that sorter fight an' scrimmage they hed at the mill, las' month, he war powerful ill-conducted. Nobody hed thought of hevin' much of a fight,—thar hed been jes' a few licks passed atwixt the men thar; but the fust finger ez war laid on this boy, he jes' lit out an' fit like a catamount. Right an' lef' he lay about him with his fists, an' he drawed his huntin' knife on some of 'em. The men at the mill war in no wise pleased with him.”

“Pears-like ter me ez 'Vander air a peaceable boy enough, ef he ain't jawed at, an' air lef' be,” drawled Cynthia.

Her mother was embarrassed for a moment. Then, with a look both sly and wise, she made an admission,—a qualified admission. “Waal, wimmen —ef—ef—ef they air young an' toler'ble hard-headed yit, air likely ter jaw some, ennyhow. An' a gal ought'nt ter marry a man ez hev sot his heart on bein' lef' in peace. He's apt ter be a mighty sour an' disapp'inted critter.”

This sudden turn to the conversation invested all that had been said with new meaning, and revealed a subtle diplomatic intention. The girl seemed deliberately to review it, as she paused in her work. Then, with a rising flush, “I ain't studyin' 'bout marryin' nobody,” she asserted staidly. “I hev laid off ter live single.”

Mrs. Ware had overshot the mark, but she retorted, gallantly reckless, “That's what yer aunt Malviny useter declar' fur gospel sure, when she war a gal. An' she hev got ten chil'ren, an' hev buried two husbands, an' ef all they say air true she's tollin' in the third man now. She's a mighty spry, good-featured woman an' a fust-rate manager, yer aunt Malviny air, an' both her husbands lef' her su'thin',—cows, or wagons, or land. An' they war quiet men when they war alive, an' stays whar they air put, now that they air dead; not like old Parson Hoodenpyle what his wife hears stumpin' round the house an' preachin' every night, though she air ez deef ez a post, an' he hev been in glory twenty year,—twenty year, au' better. Yer aunt Malviny hed lack, so mebbe 't ain't no killin' complaint fur a gal ter git ter talkin' like a fool about marryin' an' sech. Leastwise, I ain't minded ter sorrow.”

She looked at her daughter with a gay grin, which, distorted by her toothless gums and the wreathing steam from the kettle, enhanced her witch-like aspect and was spuriously malevolent. She did not notice the stir of an approach through the brambly tangles of the heights above until it was close at hand; as she turned, she thought only of the mountain cattle,—to see the red cow's picturesque head and crumpled horns thrust over the sassafras bushes, or to hear the brindle's clanking bell. It was certainly less unexpected to Cynthia when a young mountaineer, clad in brown jeans trousers and a checked homespun shirt, emerged upon the rocky slope. He still wore his blacksmith's leather apron, and his powerful corded hammer-arm was bare beneath his tightly rolled sleeve. He was tall and heavily built; his sunburned face was square, with a strong lower jaw, and his features were accented by fine lines of charcoal, as if the whole were a clever sketch. His black eyes held fierce intimations, but there was mobility of expression about them that suggested changing impulses, strong but fleeting. He was like his forge fire: though the heat might be intense for a time, it fluctuated with the breath of the bellows. Just now he was meekly quailing before the old woman, whom he evidently had not thought to find here. It was as apt an illustration as might be, perhaps, of the inferiority of strength to finesse. She seemed an inconsiderable adversary, as haggard, lean, and prematurely aged she swayed on her prodding-stick about the huge kettle; but she was as a veritable David to this big young Goliath, though she too flung hardly more than a pebble at him.

“Laws-a-me!” she cried, in shrill, toothless glee; “ef hyar ain't 'Vander Price! What brung ye down hyar along o' we-uns, 'Vander?” she continued, with simulated anxiety. “Hev that thar red heifer o' our'n lept over the fence agin, an' got inter Pete's corn? Waal, sir, ef she ain't the headin'est heifer!”

“I hain't seen none o' yer heifer, ez I knows on,” replied the young blacksmith, with gruff, drawling deprecation. Then he tried to regain his natural manner. “I kem down hyar,” he remarked in an off-hand way, “ter git a drink o' water.” He glanced furtively at the girl; then looked quickly away at the gallant redbird, still gayly parading among the leaves.

The old woman grinned with delight. “Now, ef that ain't s'prisin',” she declared. “Ef we hed knowed ez Lost Creek war a-goin' dry over yander a-nigh the shop, so ye an' Pete would hev ter kem hyar thirstin' fur water, we-uns would hev brung su'thin' down hyar ter drink out'n. We-uns hain't got no gourd hyar, hev we, Cynthy?”

“'Thout it air the little gourd with the saft soap in it,” said Cynthia, confused and blushing.

Her mother broke into a high, loud laugh. “Ye ain't wantin' ter gin 'Vander the soapgourd ter drink out'n, Cynthy! Leastwise, I ain't goin' ter gin it ter Pete. Fur I s'pose ef ye hev ter kem a haffen mile ter git a drink, 'Vander, ez surely Pete'll hev ter kem, too. Waal, waal, who would hev b'lieved ez Lost Creek would go dry nigh the shop, an' yit be a-scuttlin' along like that, hyar-abouts!” and she pointed with her bony finger at the swift flow of the water.

He was forced to abandon his clumsy pretense of thirst. “Lost Creek ain't gone dry nowhar, ez I knows on,” he admitted, mechanically rolling the sleeve of his hammer-arm up and down as he talked. “It air toler'ble high,—higher 'n I ever see it afore. 'T war jes' night afore las' ez two men got a kyart sunk in a quicksand, whilst fordin' the creek. An' one o' thar wheels kem off, an' they hed right smart scufflin' ter keep thar load from washin' out'n the kyart an' driftin' clean away. Leastwise, that was how they telled it ter me. They war valley men, I'm a-thinkin'. They 'lowed ter me ez they hed ter cut thar beastis out 'n the traces. They loaded him up with the goods an' fotched him ter the shop.”

Mrs. Ware forebore her ready gibes in her interest in the countryside gossip. She ceased to prod the boiling clothes. She hung motionless on the stick. “I s'pose they 'lowed, mebbe, ez what sort'n goods they hed,” she hazarded, seeing a peddler in the dim perspective of a prosaic imagination.

“They lef' some along o' we-uns ter keep till they kem back agin. They 'lowed ez they could travel better ef thar beastis war eased some of his load. They hed some o' all sorts o' truck. They 'lowed ez they war aimin' ter sot up a store over yander ter the Settlemint on Milksick Mounting. They lef' right smart o' truck up yander in the shed ahint the shop; 'pears like ter me it air a kyart-load itself. I promised ter keer fur it till they kem back agin.”

Certainly, so far as Cynthia was concerned, the sharpness of wits and the acerbity of temper ascribed generally to the red-haired gentry could be accounted no slander. The flame-colored halo about her face, emblazoned upon the dusky depths of her old brown bonnet, was not more fervid than an angry glow overspreading her delicate cheek, and an intense fiery spark suddenly alight in her brown eyes.

“Pete Blenkins mus' be sodden with drink, I 'm a-thinkin'!” she cried impatiently. “Like ez not them men will 'low ez the truck ain't all thar, when they kem back. An' then thar'll be a tremenjious scrimmage ter the shop, an' somebody'll git hurt, an' mebbe killed.”

“Waal, Cynthy,” exclaimed her mother, in tantalizing glee, “air you-uns goin' ter ache when Pete's head gits bruk? That's powerful 'commodatin' in ye, cornsiderin' ez he hev got a wife, an' chil'ren ez old ez ye be. Waal, sorrow fur Pete, ef ye air so minded.”

The angry spark in Cynthia's eyes died out as suddenly as it kindled. She began to beat the wet clothes heavily with the paddle, and her manner was that of having withdrawn herself from the conversation. The young blacksmith had flushed, too, and he laughed a little, but demurely. Then, as he still rolled and unrolled the sleeve of his hammer-arm, his wonted gravity returned.

“Pete hain't got nothin' ter do with it, nohow,” he averred. “Pete hev been away fur two weeks an' better: he hev gone ter see his uncle Joshua, over yander on Caney Fork. He 'lowed ez apple-jack grows powerful fine in them parts.”

“Then who war holpin' at the forge terday?” asked Mrs. Ware, surprised. “I 'lowed I hearn the hand-hammer an' sledge too, same ez common.”

There was a change among the lines of charcoal that seemed to define his features. He looked humbled, ashamed. “I hed my brother a-strikin' fur me,” he said at last.

“Why, 'Vander,” exclaimed the old woman shrilly, “that thar boy's a plumb idjit! Ye ought'nt trust him along o' that sledge! He'd jes' ez lief maul ye on the head with it ez maul the hot iron. Ye know he air ez strong ez a ox; an' the critter's fursaken in his mind.”

“I knows that,” Evander admitted. “I would'nt hev done it, ef I hed'nt been a-workin' on a new fixin' ez I hev jes' thought up, an' I war jes' obligated ter hev somebody ter strike fur me. An' laws-a-massy, 'Lijah wouldn't harm nobody. The critter war ez peart an' lively ez a June-bug,—so proud ter be allowed ter work around like folks!” He stopped short in sudden amazement: something stood in his eyes that had no habit there; its presence stupefied him. For a moment he could not speak, and he stood silently gazing at that long, level blue line, in which the converging mountains met,—so delicately azure, so ethereally suggestive, that it seemed to him like the Promised Land that Moses viewed. “The critter air mighty aggervatin' mos'ly ter the folks at our house,” he continued, “but they hectors him. He treats me well.”

“An ill word is spoke 'bout him ginerally round the mounting,” said the old woman, who had filled and lighted her pipe, and was now trying to crowd down the charge, so to speak, without scorching too severely her callous forefinger. “I hev hearn folks 'low ez he hev got so turrible crazy ez he oughter be sent away an' shet up in jail. An' it 'pears like ter me ez that word air jestice. The critter's fursaken.”

“Fursaken or no fursaken, he ain't goin' ter be jailed fur nothin', —'ceptin' that the hand o' the Lord air laid too heavy on him. I can't lighten its weight. I'm mortial myself. The rider says thar's some holp in prayer. I hain 't seen it yit, though I hev been toler'ble busy lately a-workin' in metal, one way an' another. What good air it goin' ter do the mounting ter hev 'Lijah jailed, stiddier goin' round the woods a-talkin' ter the grasshoppers an' squir'ls, ez seem ter actially know the critter, an' bein' ez happy ez they air, 'ceptin' when he gits it inter his noodle, like he sometimes do, ez he ain't edzactly like other folks be?” He paused. Those strange visitants trembled again upon his smoke-blackened lids. “Fursaken or no,” he cried impulsively, “the man ez tries ter git him jailed will 'low ez he air fursaken his own self, afore I gits done with him!”

“'Vander Price,” said the old woman rebukingly, “ye talk like ye hain't got good sense yerself.” She sat down on a rock embedded in the ferns by Lost Creek, and pulled deliberately at her long cob-pipe. Then she too turned her faded eyes upon the vast landscape, in which she had seen no change, save the changing season and the waxing or the waning of the day, since first her life had opened upon it. That level line of pale blue in the poetic distance had become faintly roseate. The great bronze- green ranges nearer at hand were assuming a royal purple. Shadows went skulking down the valley. Across the amber zenith an eagle was flying homeward. Her mechanical glance followed the sweeping, majestic curves, as the bird dropped to its nest in the wild fastnesses of Pine Mountain, that towered, rugged and severe of outlines against the crimson west. A cow-bell jangled in the laurel.

“Old Suke's a-comin' home ez partic'lar an' percise ez ef she hed her calf thar yit. I hev traded Suke's calf ter my merried daughter M'ria,—her ez merried Amos Baker, in the Cove. The old brindle can't somehow onderstan' the natur' o' the bargain, an' kems up every night moo-ing, mighty disapp'inted. 'T warn't much shakes of a calf, nohow, an' I stood toler'ble well arter the trade.”

She looked up at the young man with a leer of self-gratulation. He still lingered, but the unsophisticated mother in the mountains can be as much an obstacle to anything in the nature of love-making, when the youth is not approved, as the expert tactician of a drawing-room. He had only the poor consolation of helping Cynthia to carry in the load of stiff, dry clothes to the log cabin, ambushed behind the beech-trees, hard by in the gorge. The house had a very unconfiding aspect; all its belongings seemed huddled about it for safe-keeping. The beehives stood almost under the eaves; the ashhopper was visible close in the rear; the rain barrel affiliated with the damp wall; the chickens were going to roost in an althea bush beside the porch; the boughs of the cherry and plum and crab-apple trees were thickly interlaced above the path that led from the rickety rail fence, and among their roots flag-lilies, larkspur, and devil-in-the-bush mingled in a floral mosaic. The old woman went through the gate first. But even this inadvertence could not profit the loitering young people. “Law, Cynthy,” she exclaimed, pointing at a loose- jointed elderly mountaineer, who was seated beneath the hop vines on the little porch, while a gaunt gray mare, with the plow-gear still upon her, cropped the grass close by, “yander is yer daddy, ez empty ez a gourd, I'll be bound! Hurry an' git supper, child. Time's a-wastin',—time's a-wastin'!”

When Evander was half-way up the steep slope, he turned and looked down at the embowered little house, that itself turned its face upward, looking as it were to the mountain's summit. How it nestled there in the gorge! He had seen it often and often before, but whenever he thought of it afterward it was as it appeared to him now: the darkling valley below it, the mountains behind it, the sunset sky still flaring above it, though stars had blossomed out here and there, and the sweet June night seemed full of their fragrance. He could distinguish for a good while the gate, the rickety fence, the path beneath the trees. The vista ended in the open door, with the broad flare of the fire illumining the puncheon floor and the group of boisterous tow-headed children; in the midst was the girl, with her bright hair and light figure, with her round arms bare, and her deft hand stirring the batter for bread in a wooden bowl. She looked the very genius of home, and so he long remembered her.

The door closed at last, and he slowly resumed his way along the steep slope. The scene that had just vanished seemed yet vividly present before him. The gathering gloom made less impression. He took scant heed of external objects, and plodded on mechanically. He was very near the forge when his senses were roused by some inexplicable inward monition. He stood still to listen: only the insects droning in the chestnut-oaks, only the wind astir in the laurel. The night possessed the earth. The mountains were sunk in an indistinguishable gloom, save where the horizontal line of their summits asserted itself against an infinitely clear sky. But for a hunter's horn, faintly wound and faintly echoed in Lost Creek Valley, he might have seemed the only human creature in all the vast wilderness. He saw through the pine boughs the red moon rising. The needles caught the glister, and shone like a golden fringe. They overhung dusky, angular shadows that he knew was the little shanty of a blacksmith shop. In its dark recesses was a dull red point of light, where the forge fire still smouldered. Suddenly it was momentarily eclipsed. Something had passed before it.

“'Lijah!” he called out, in vague alarm. There was no answer. The red spark now gleamed distinct.

“Look-a-hyar, boy, what be you-uns a-doin' of thar?” he asked, beset with a strange anxiety and a growing fear of he knew not what.

Still no answer.

It was a terrible weapon he had put into the idiot's hand that day, —that heavy sledge of his. He grew cold when he remembered poor Elijah's pleasure in useful work, in his great strength gone to waste, in the ponderous implement that he so lightly wielded. He might well have returned to-night, with some vague, distraught idea of handling it again. And what vague, distraught idea kept him skulking there with it?

“Foolin' along o' that new straw-cutter terday will be my ruin, I'm afeard,” Evander muttered ruefully. Then the sudden drops broke out on his brow. “I pray ter mercy,” he exclaimed fervently, “the boy hain 't been a-sp'ilin' o' that thar new straw-cutter!”

This fear dominated all others. He strode hastily forward. “Come out o' thar, 'Lijah!” he cried roughly.

There were moving shadows in the great barn- like door,—three— four—The moon was behind the forge, and he could not count them. They were advancing shadows. A hand was laid upon his arm. A drawling voice broke languidly on the night. “I'm up an' down sorry ter hev ter arrest you-uns, 'Vander, bein' ez we air neighbors an' mos'ly toler'ble friendly; but law is law, an' ye air my prisoner,” and the constable of the district paused in the exercise of his functions to gnaw off a chew of tobacco with teeth which seemed to have grown blunt in years of that practice; then he leisurely resumed: “I war jes' sayin' ter the sheriff an' dep'ty hyar,”—indicating the figures in the doorway,—“ez we-uns hed better lay low till we seen how many o' you-uns war out hyar; else I would'nt hev kep' ye waitin' so long.”

The young mountaineer's amazement at last expressed itself in words. “Ye hev surely los' yer senses, Jubal Tynes! What air ye arrestin' of me fur?”

“Fur receivin' of stolen goods,—the shed back yander air full of 'em. I dunno whether ye holped ter rob the cross-roads store or no; but yander's the goods in the shed o' the shop, an' Pete's been away two weeks, an' better; so 't war obleeged ter be you-uns ez received 'em.”

Evander, in a tumult of haste, told his story. The constable laughed lazily, with his quid between his teeth. “Mebbe so,—mebbe so; but that's fur the jedge an' jury ter study over. Them men never tuk thar kyart no furder. 'Twar never stuck in no quicksand in Lost Creek. They knowed the sheriff war on thar track, an' they stove up thar kyart, an' sent the spokes an' shafts an' sech a-driftin' down Lost Creek, thinkin' 't would be swallered inter the mounting an' never be seen agin. But jes' whar Lost Creek sinks under the mounting the drift war cotched. We fund it thar, an' knowed ez all we hed ter do war ter trace 'em up Lost Creek. An' hyar we be! The goods hev been identified this very hour by the man ez owns 'em. I hope ye never holped ter burglarize the store, too; but 't ain't fur me ter say. Ye hev ter kem along o' we-uns, whether ye like it or no,” and he laid a heavy hand on his prisoner's shoulder.

The next moment he was reeling from a powerful blow planted between the eyes. It even felled the stalwart constable, for it was so suddenly dealt. But Jubal Tynes was on his feet in an instant, rushing forward with a bull-like bellow. Once more he measured his length upon the ground,—close to the anvil this time, for the position of all the group had changed in the fracas. He did not rise again; the second blow was struck with the ponderous sledge. As the men hastened to lift him, they were much hindered by the ecstatic capers of the idiot brother, who seemed to have been concealed in the shop. The prisoner made no attempt at flight, although, in the confusion, he was forgotten for the time by the officers, and had some chance of escape. He appeared frightened and very meek; and when he saw that there was blood upon the sledge, and they said brains, too, he declared that he was sorry he had done it.

I done it!” cried the idiot joyfully. “Jube sha'n't fight 'Vander! I done it!” and he was so boisterously grotesque and wild that the men lost their wits awhile he was about; so they turned him roughly out of the forge, and closed the doors upon him. At last he went away, although for a time he beat loudly upon the shutter, and called piteously for Evander.

It was a great opportunity for old Dr. Patton, who lived six miles down the valley, and zealously he improved it. He often felt that in this healthful country, where he was born, and where bucolic taste and local attachment still kept him, he was rather a medical theorist than a medical practitioner, so few and slight were the demands upon the resources of his science. He was as one who has long pondered the unsuggestive details of the map of a region, and who suddenly sees before him its glowing, vivid landscape.

“A beautiful fracture!” he protested with rapture,—“a beautiful fracture!”

Through all the countryside were circulated his cheerful accounts of patients who had survived fracture of the skull. Among the simple mountaineers his learned talk of the trephine gave rise to the startling report that he intended to put a linchpin into Jubal Tynes's head. It was rumored, too, that the unfortunate man's brains had “in an' about leaked haffen out;” and many freely prompted Providence by the suggestion that “ef Jube war ready ter die it war high time he war taken,” as, having been known as a hasty and choleric man, it was predicted that he would “make a most survigrus idjit.”

“Cur'ous enough ter me ter find out ez Jube ever hed brains,” commented Mrs. Ware. “'T war well enough ter let some of 'em leak out ter prove it. He hev never showed he hed brains no other way, ez I knows on. Now,” she added, “somebody oughter tap 'Vander's head, an' mebbe they'll find him pervided, too. Wonders will never cease! Nobody would hev accused Jube o' sech. Folks'll hev ter respec' them brains. 'Vander done him that favior in splitting his head open.”

“'T war'nt 'Vander's deed!” Cynthia declared passionately. She reiterated this phrase a hundred times a day, as she went about her household tasks. “'T warn't 'Vander's deed!” How could she prove that it was not, she asked herself as often,—and prove that against his own word?

For she herself had heard him acknowledge the crime. The new day had hardly broken when, driving her cow, she came by the blackmith's shop, all unconscious as yet of the tragedy it had housed. A vague prescience of dawn was on the landscape; dim and spectral, it stood but half revealed in the doubtful light. The stars were gone; even the sidereal outline of the great Scorpio had crept away. But the gibbous moon still swung above the dark and melancholy forests of Pine Mountain, and its golden chalice spilled a dreamy glamour all adown the lustrous mists in Lost Creek Valley. Ever and anon the crags reverberated with the shrill clamor of a watch-dog at a cabin in the Cove; for there was an unwonted stir upon the mountain's brink. The tramp of horses, the roll of wheels, the voices of the officers at the forge, busily canvassing their preparations for departure, sounded along the steeps. The sight of the excited group was as phenomenal to old Suke as to Cynthia, and the cow stopped short in her shambling run, and turned aside into the blooming laurel with a muttered low and with crouching horns. Early wayfarers along the road had been attracted by the unusual commotion. A rude slide drawn by a yoke of oxen stood beneath the great pine that overhung the forge, while the driver was breathlessly listening to the story from the deputy sheriff. A lad, mounted on a lank gray mare, let the sorry brute crop, unrebuked, the sassafras leaves by the wayside, while he turned half round in his saddle, with a white horror on his face, to see the spot pointed out on which Jubal Tynes had fallen. The wounded man had been removed to the nearest house, but the ground was still dank with blood, and this heightened the dramatic effects of the recital. The sheriff's posse and their horses were picturesquely grouped about the open barn-like door, and the wagon laden with the plunder stood hard by. It had been discovered, when they were on the point of departure, that one of the animals had cast a shoe, and the prisoner was released that he might replace it.

When Evander kindled the forge fire he felt that it was for the last time. The heavy sighing of the bellows burst forth, as if charged with a conscious grief. As the fire alternately flared and faded, it illumined with long, evanescent red rays the dusky interior of the shop: the horseshoes hanging upon a rod in the window, the plowshares and bars of iron ranged against the wall, the barrel of water in the corner, the smoky hood and the anvil, the dark spot on the ground, and the face of the blacksmith himself, as he worked the bellows with one hand, while the other held the tongs with the red-hot horseshoe in the fire. It was a pale face. Somehow, all the old spirit seemed spent. Its wonted suggestions of a dogged temper and latent fierceness were effaced. It bore marks of patient resignation, that might have been wrought by a life-time of self-sacrifice, rather than by one imperious impulse, as potent as it was irrevocable. The face appeared in some sort sublimated.

The bellows ceased to sigh, the anvil began to sing, the ringing staccato of the hammer punctuated the droning story of the deputy sheriff, still rehearsing the sensation of the hour to the increasing crowd about the door. The girl stood listening, half hidden in the blooming laurel. Her senses seemed strangely sharpened, despite the amazement, the incredulity, that possessed her. She even heard the old cow cropping the scanty grass at her feet, and saw every casual movement of the big brindled head. She was conscious of the splendid herald of a new day flaunting in the east. Against this gorgeous presence of crimson and gold, brightening and brightening till only the rising sun could outdazzle it, she noted the romantic outlines of the Cumberland crags and woody heights, and marveled how near they appeared. She was sensible of the fragrance of the dewy azaleas, and she heard the melancholy song of the pines, for the wind was astir. She marked the grimaces of the idiot, looking like a dim and ugly dream in the dark recesses of the forge. His face was filled now with strange, wild triumph, and now with partisan anger for his brother's sake, for Evander was more than once harshly upbraided.

“An' so yer tantrums hev brung ye ter this e-end, at last, 'Vander Price!” exclaimed an old man indignantly. “I misdoubted ye when I hearn how ye fit, that day, yander ter the mill; an' they do say ez even Pete Blenkins air plumb afeard ter jaw at ye, nowadays, on 'count o' yer fightin' an' quar'lin' ways. An' now ye hev gone an' bodaciously slaughtered pore Jubal Tynes! From what I hev hearn tell, I jedge he air obleeged ter die. Then nothin' kin save ye!”

The girl burst suddenly forth from the flowering splendors of the laurel. “'T war'nt 'Vander's deed!” she cried, perfect faith in every tone. “'Vander, 'Vander, who did it? Who did it?” she reiterated imperiously.

Her cheeks were aflame. An eager expectancy glittered in her wide brown eyes. Her auburn hair flaunted to the breeze as brilliantly as those golden harbingers of the sun. Her bonnet had fallen to the ground, and her milk- piggin was rolling away. The metallic staccato of the hammer was silenced. A vibratory echo trembled for an instant on the air. The group had turned in slow surprise. The blacksmith looked mutely at her. But the idiot was laughing triumphantly, almost sanely, and pointing at the sledge to call her attention to its significant stains. The sheriff had laid the implement carefully aside, that it might be produced in court in case Jubal Tynes should pass beyond the point of affording, for Dr. Patton's satisfaction, a gratifying instance of survival from fracture of the skull, and die in a commonplace fashion which is of no interest to the books or the profession.

“'T war'nt 'Vander's deed! It couldn't be!” she declared passionately.

For the first time he faltered. There was a pause. He could not speak.

I done it!” cried the idiot, in shrill glee.

Then Evander regained his voice. “'T war me ez done it,” he said huskily, turning away to the anvil with a gesture of dull despair. “I done it!”

Fainting is not a common demonstration in the mountains. It seemed to the bewildered group as if the girl had suddenly dropped dead. She revived under the water and cinders dashed into her face from the barrel where the steel was tempered. But life returned enfeebled and vapid. That vivid consciousness and intensity of emotion had reached a climax of sensibility, and now she experienced the reaction. It was in a sort of lethargy that she watched their preparations to depart, while she sat upon a rock at the verge of the clearing. As the wagon trundled away down the road, laden with the stolen goods, one of the posse looked back at her with some compassion, and observed to a companion that she seemed to take it considerably to heart, and sagely opined that she and 'Vander; “must hev been a-keepin' company tergether some. But then,” he argued, “she's a downright good-lookin' gal, ef she do be so red-headed. An' thar air plenty likely boys left in the mountings yit; an' ef thar ain't, she can jes' send down the valley a piece fur me!” and he laughed, and went away quite cheerful, despite his compassion. The horsemen were in frantic impatience to be off, and presently they were speeding in single file along the sandy mountain road.

Cynthia sat there until late in the day, wistfully gazing down the long green vista where they had disappeared. She could not believe that Evander had really gone. Something, she felt sure, would happen to bring them back. Once and again she thought she heard the beat of hoofs,—of distant hoofs. It was only the melancholy wind in the melancholy pines.

They were laden with snow before she heard aught of him. Beneath them, instead of the dusky vistas the summer had explored, were long reaches of ghastly white undulations, whence the boles rose dark and drear. The Cumberland range, bleak and bare, with its leafless trees and frowning cliffs, stretched out long, parallel spurs, one above another, one beyond another, tier upon tier, till they appeared to meet in one distant level line somewhat grayer than the gray sky, somewhat more desolate of aspect than all the rest of the desolate world. When the wind rose, Pine Mountain mourned with a mighty voice. Cynthia had known that voice since her birth. But what new meaning in its threnody! Sometimes the forest was dumb; the sun glittered frigidly, and the pines, every tiny needle encased in ice, shone like a wilderness of gleaming rays. The crags were begirt with gigantic icicles; the air was crystalline and cold, and the only sound was the clinking of the hand-hammer and the clanking of the sledge from the forge on the mountain's brink. For there was a new striker there, of whom Pete Blenkins did not stand in awe. He felt peculiarly able to cope with the world in general since his experience had been enriched by a recent trip to Sparta. He had been subpoenaed by the prosecution in the case of the State of Tennessee versus Evander Price, to tell the jury all he knew of the violent temper of his quondam striker, which he did with much gusto and self-importance, and pocketed his fee with circumspect dignity.

“'Vander looks toler'ble skimpy an' jail- bleached,—so Pete Blenkins say,” remarked Mrs. Ware, as she sat smoking her pipe in the chimney corner, while Cynthia stood before the warping bars, winding the party-colored yarn upon the equidistant pegs of the great frame. “Pete 'lowed ter me ez he hed tole you-uns ez 'Vander say he air powerful sorry he would never l'arn ter write, when he went ter the school at the Notch. 'Vander say he never knowed ez he would have a use for sech. But law! the critter hed better be studyin' 'bout the opportunities he hev wasted fur grace; fur they say now ez Jube Tynes air bound ter die. An' he will fur true, ef old Dr. Patton air the man I take him fur.”

“'T war'nt 'Vander's deed,” said Cynthia, her practiced hands still busily investing the warping bars with a homely rainbow of scarlet and blue and saffron yarn. It added an embellishment to the little room, which was already bright with the firelight and the sunset streaming in at the windows, and the festoons of red pepper and popcorn and peltry swinging from the rafters.

“Waal, waal, hev it so,” said her mother, in acquiescent dissent,— “hev it so! But 't war his deed receivin' of the stolen goods; leastwise, the jury b'lieved so. Pete say, though, ez they would'nt hev been so sure, ef it war'nt fur 'Vander's resistin' arrest an' in an' about haffen killin' Jubal Tynes. Pete say ez 'Vander's name fur fightin' an' sech seemed ter hev sot the jury powerful agin him.”

“An' thar war nobody thar ez would gin a good word fur him!” cried the girl, dropping her hands with a gesture of poignant despair.

“'T war'nt in reason ez thar could be,” said Mrs. Ware. “'Vander's lawyer never summonsed but a few of the slack-jawed boys from the Settlemint ter prove his good character, an' Pete said they 'peared awk'ard in thar minds an' flustrated, an' spoke more agin 'Vander 'n fur him. Pete 'lows ez they hed ter be paid thar witness-fee by the, State, too, on account of 'Vander hevin' no money ter fetch witnesses an' sech ter Sparty. His dad an' mam air mighty shiftless—always war, —an' they hev got that hulking idjit ter eat 'em out'n house an' home. They hev been mightily put ter it this winter ter live along, 'thout 'Vander ter holp 'em, like he uster. But they war no ways anxious 'bout his trial, 'kase Squair Bates tole 'em ez the jedge would app'int a lawyer ter defend 'Vander, ez he hed no money ter hire a lawyer fur hisself. An' the jedge app'inted a young lawyer thar; an' Pete 'lowed ez that young lawyer made the trial the same ez a gander-pullin' fur the 'torney-gineral. Pete say ez that young lawyer's ways tickled the 'torney-gineral haffen ter death. Pete say the 'torney-gineral jes' sot out ter devil that young lawyer, an' he done it. Pete say the young lawyer hed never hed more 'n one or two cases afore, an' he acted so foolish that the 'torney-gineral kep' all the folks laffin' at him. The jury laffed, an' so did the jedge. I reckon 'Vander thought 't war mighty pore fun. Pete say ez 'Vander's lawyer furgot a heap ez he oughter hev remembered, an' fairly ruined 'Vander's chances. Arter the trial the 'torney-gineral 'lowed ter Pete ez the State hed hed a mighty shaky case agin 'Vander. But I reckon he jes' said that ter make his own smartness in winnin' it seem more s'prisin'. 'Vander war powerful interrupted by thar laffin' an' the game they made o' his lawyer, an' said he didn't want no appeal. He 'lowed he hed seen enough o' jestice. He 'lowed ez he'd take the seven years in the pen'tiary that the jury gin him, fur fear at the nex' trial they'd gin him twenty-seven; though the 'torney-gineral say ef Jube dies they will fetch him out agin, an' try him fur that. The 'torney-gineral 'lowed ter Pete ez 'Vander war a fool not ter move fur a new trial an' appeal, an' sech. He 'lowed ez 'Vander war a derned ignorant man. An' all the folks round the court-house gin thar opinion ez 'Vander hev got less gumption 'bout 'n the law o' the land than enny man they ever see, 'cept that young lawyer he hed ter defend him. Pete air powerful sati'fied with his performin' in Sparty. He ups an' 'lows ez they paid him a dollar a day fur a witness-fee, an' treated him mighty perlite,—the jedge an' jury too.”

How Cynthia lived through that winter of despair was a mystery to her afterward. Often, as she sat brooding over the midnight embers, she sought to picture to herself some detail of the life that Evander was leading so far away. The storm would beat heavily on the roof of the log cabin, the mountain wind sob through the sighing pines; ever and anon a wolf might howl in the sombre depths of Lost Creek Valley. But Evander had become a stranger to her imagination. She could not construct even a vague status that would answer for the problematic mode of life of the “valley folks” who dwelt in Nashville, or in the penitentiary hard by. She began to appreciate that it was a narrow existence within the limits of Lost Creek Valley, and that to its simple denizens the world beyond was a foreign world, full of strange habitudes and alien complications. Thus it came to pass that he was no longer even a vision. Because of this subtle bereavement she would fall to sobbing drearily beside the dreary, dying fire,—only because of this, for she never wondered if her image to him had also grown remote. How she pitied him, so lonely, so strange, so forlorn, as he must be! Did he yearn for the mountains? Could he see them in the spirit? Surely in his dreams, surely in some kindly illusion, he might still behold that fair land which touched the sky: the golden splendors of the sunshine sifting through the pines; flying shadows of clouds as fleet racing above the distant ranges; untrodden woodland nooks beside singing cascades; or some lonely pool, whence the gray deer bounded away through the red sumach leaves.

Sombre though the present was, the future seemed darker still, clouded by the long and terrible suspense concerning the wounded officer's fate and the crime that Evander had acknowledged.

“He couldn't hev done it,” she argued futilely. “'T war'nt his deed.”

She grew pale and thin, and her strength failed with her failing spirit, and her mother querulously commented on the change.

“An' sech a hard winter ez we-uns air a-tusslin' with; an' that thar ewe a-dyin' ez M'ria traded fur my little calf, ez war wuth forty sech dead critters; an' hyar be Cynthy lookin' like she hed fairly pegged out forty year ago, an' been raised from the grave,—an' all jes' 'kase 'Vander Price hev got ter be a evil man, an' air locked up in the pen'tiary. It beats my time! He never said nothin' 'bout marryin', nohow, ez I knows on. I never would hev b'lieved you-uns would hev turned off Jeemes Blake, ez hev got a good grist-mill o' his own an' a mighty desirable widder-woman fur a mother, jes' account of 'Vander Price. An' 'Vander will never kem back ter Pine Mounting no more 'n Lost Creek will.”

Cynthia's color flared up for a moment. Then she sedately replied, “I hev tole Jeemes Blake, and I hev tole you-uns, ez I count on livin' single.”

“I'll be bound ye never tole 'Vander that word!” cried the astute old woman. “Waal, waal, waal!” she continued, in exclamatory disapproval, as she leaned to the fire and scooped up a live coal into the bowl of her pipe, “a gal is a aggervatin' contrivance, ennyhow, in the world! But I jes' up an' tole Jeemes ez ye hed got ter lookin' so peaked an' mournful, like some critter ez war shot an' creepin' away ter die somewhar, an' he hed'nt los' much, arter all.” She puffed vigorously at her pipe; then, with a change of tone, “An' Jeemes air mighty slackjawed ter his elders, too! He tuk me up ez sharp. He 'lowed ez he hed no fault ter find with yer looks. He said ye war pritty enough fur him. Then my dander riz, an' I spoke up, an' says, 'Mebbe so, Jeemes, mebbe so, fur ye air in no wise pritty yerself.' An' then he gin me no more of his jaw, but arter he hed sot a while longer he said, 'Far'well,' toler'ble perlite, an' put out.”

After a long time the snow slipped gradually from the mountain top, and the drifts in the deep abysses melted, and heavy rains came on. The mists clung, shroud-like, to Pine Mountain. The distant ranges seemed to withdraw themselves into indefinite space, and for weeks Cynthia was bereft of their familiar presence. Myriads of streamlets, channeling the gullies and swirling among the bowlders, were flowing down the steeps to join Lost Creek, on its way to its mysterious sepulchre beneath the mountains.

And at last the spring opened. A vivid green tipped the sombre plumes of the pines. The dull gray mists etherealized to a silver gauze, and glistened above the mellowing landscape. The wild cherry was blooming far and near. From the summit of the mountain could be seen for many a mile the dirt-road in the valley,—a tawny streak of color on every hilltop, or winding by every fallow field and rocky slope. A wild, new hope was suddenly astir in Cynthia's heart; a new energy fired her blood. It may have been only the recuperative power of youth asserting itself. To her it was as if she had heard the voice of the Lord; and she arose and followed it.

II.

Following the voice of the Lord, Cynthia took her way along a sandy bridle-path that penetrates the dense forests of Pine Mountain. The soft spring wind, fluttering in beneath her sunbonnet, found the first wild-rose blooming on her thin cheek. A new light shone like a steadfast star in her deep brown eyes. “I hev took a-holt,” she said resolutely, “an' I'll never gin it up. 'T war'nt his deed, an' I'll prove that, agin his own word. I dunno how,—but I'll prove it.”

The woods seemed to open at last, for the brink of the ridge was close at hand. As the trees were marshaled down the steep declivity, she could see above their heads the wide and splendid mountain landscape, with the benediction of the spring upon it, with the lofty peace of the unclouded sky above it, with an impressive silence pervading it that was akin to a holy solemnity.

There was a rocky, barren slope to the left, and among the brambly ledges sheep were feeding. As the flock caught her attention she experienced a certain satisfaction. “They hed sheep in the Lord's lifetime,” she observed. “He gins a word 'bout 'n them more 'n enny other critter.”

And she sat down on a rock, among the harmless creatures, and was less lonely and forlorn.

A little log house surmounted the slope. It was quaintly awry, like most of the mountaineers' cabins, and the ridgepole, with its irregularly projecting clapboards serrating the sky behind it, described a negligently oblique line. Its clay chimney had a leaning tendency, and was propped to its duty by a long pole. There was a lofty martin-house, whence the birds whirled fitfully. The rail fence inclosing the dooryard was only a few steps from the porch. There rested the genial afternoon sunshine. It revealed the spinning-wheel that stood near the wall; the shelf close to the door, with a pail of water and a gourd for the incidentally thirsty; the idle churn, its dasher on another shelf to dry; a rooster strutting familiarly in at the open door; and a newly hatched brood picking about among the legs of the splint-bottomed chairs, under the guidance of a matronly old “Dominicky hen.” In one of the chairs sat a man, emaciated, pallid, swathed in many gay- colored quilts, and piping querulously in a high, piercing key to a worn and weary woman, who came to the fence and looked down the hill as he feebly pointed.

“Cynthy—Cynthy Ware!” she called out, “air that you-uns?”

Cynthia hesitated, then arose and went forward a few steps.; “It be me,” she said, as if making an admission.

“Kem up hyar. Jube's wantin' ter know why ye hain't been hyar ter inquire arter him.” The woman waited at the gate, and opened it for her visitor. She looked hardly less worn and exhausted than the broken image of a man in the chair. “Jube counts up every critter in the mountings ez kems ter inquire arter him,” she added, in a lower voice. “'Pears-like ter me ez it air about time fur worldly pride ter hev loosed a-holt on him; but Satan kin foster guile whar thar ain't enough life left fur nuthin' else, an' pore Jube hev never been so gin over ter the glory o' this world ez now.”

“He 'pears ter be gittin' on some,” said the girl, although she hardly recognized in the puny, pallid apparition among the muffling quilts the bluff and hale mountaineer she had known.

“Fust-rate!” weakly piped out the constable. “I eat a haffen pone o' bread fur dinner!” Then he turned querulously to his wife: “Jane Elmiry, ain't ye goin' ter git me that thar fraish aig ter whip up in whiskey, like the doctor said?”

“'T ain't time yit, Jube,” replied the patient wife. “The doctor 'lowed ez the aig must be spang fraish; an' ez old Topknot lays ter the minit every day, I 'm a-waitin' on her.”

The wasted limbs under the quilts squirmed around vivaciously. “An' yander's the darned critter,” he cried, spying old Topknot leisurely pecking about under a lilac bush, “a-feedin' around ez complacent an' sati'fied ez ef I warn't a-settin' hyar waitin' on her lazy bones! Cynthy, I'm jes' a-honing arter suthin' ter eat all the time, an' that's what makes me 'low ez I'm gittin' well; though Jane Elmiry”—he glared fiercely at his meek wife, “hev somehows los' her knack at cookin', an' sometimes I can't eat my vittles when they air fetched ter me.”

He fell back in his chair, his tangled, overgrown hair hardly distinguishable from his tangled, overgrown beard. His eyes roved restlessly about the quiet landscape. A mist was gathering over the eastern ranges; shot with the sunlight, it was but a silken and filmy suggestion of vapor. A line of vivid green in the valley marked the course of Lost Creek by the willows and herbage fringing its banks. A gilded bee, with a languorous drone, drifted in and out of the little porch, and the shadow of the locust above it was beginning to lengthen. The tree was in bloom, and Cynthia picked up a fallen spray as she sat down on the step. He glanced casually at her; then, with the egotism of an invalid, his mind reverted to himself.

“Why hain't ye been hyar ter inquire arter me, Cynthy,—you-uns, or yer dad, or yer mam, or somebody? I hain't been lef' ter suffer, though, 'thout folkses axin' arter me, I tell ye! The miller hev been hyar day arter day. Baker Teal, what keeps the store yander ter the Settlemint, hev rid over reg'lar. Tom Peters kems ez sartain ez the sun. An' the jestice o' the peace”—he winked weakly in triumph, “Squair Bates—hev been hyar nigh on ter wunst a week. The sheriff or one o' the dep'ties hain't been sca'ce round hyar, nuther. An' some other folkses—I name no names—sends me all the liquor I kin drink from a still ez they say grows in a hollow rock round hyar somewhar. They sends me all I kin drink, an' Jane Elmiry, too. I don't want but a little, but Jane Elmiry air a tremenjious toper, ye know!” He laughed in a shrill falsetto at his joke, and his wife smiled, but faintly, for she realized the invalid's pleasant mood was brief. “Ef I hed a-knowed how pop'lar I be, I'd hev run fur jestice o' the peace stiddier constable. But nex' time thar'll be a differ, that hain't the las' election this world will ever see, Cynthy.” Then, as his eyes fell upon her once more, he remembered his question. “Whyn't ye been hyar ter inquire arter me?”

The girl was confused by his changed aspect, his eager, restless talk, his fierce girding at his patient wife, and lost what scanty tact she might have otherwise claimed.

“The folkses ez rid by hyar tole us how ye be a-gittin' on. An' we-uns 'lowed ez mebbe ye wouldn't want ter see us, bein' ez we war always sech friends with 'Vander, an'”—

The woman stopped her by a hasty gesture and a look of terror. They did not escape the invalid's notice.

“What ails ye, Jane Elmiry?” he cried, angrily. “Ye act like ye war destracted!”

A sudden fit of coughing impeded his utterance, and gave his wife the opportunity for a whispered aside. “He ain't spoke 'Vander's name sence he war hurt. The doctor said he war'nt ter talk about his a-gittin' hurt, an' the man ez done it. The doctor 'lowed 't would fever him an' put him out'n his head, an' he must jes' think 'bout'n gittin' well all the time, an' sech.”

Jubal Tynes had recovered his voice and his temper. “I hain't got no grudge agin' 'Vander,” he declared, in his old, bluff way, “nur 'Vander's friends, nuther. It air jes' that dadburned idjit, 'Lijah, ez I despise. Jane Elmiry, ain't that old Topknot ez I hear a-cacklin'? Waal, waal, sir, dad-burn that thar lazy idle poultry! Air she a-stalkin' round the yard yit? Go, Jane Elmiry, an' see whar she be. Ef she ain't got sense enough ter git on her nest an lay a aig when desirable, she hain't got sense enough ter keep out'n a chicken pie.”

“I mought skeer her off'n her nest,” his wife remonstrated.

But the imperious invalid insisted. She rose reluctantly, and as she stepped off the porch she cast an imploring glance at Cynthia.

The girl was trembling. The mere mention of the deed to its victim had unnerved her. She felt it was perhaps a safe transition from the subject to talk about the idiot brother. “I hev hearn folks 'low ez 'Lijah oughter be locked up, but I dunno,” she said.

The man fixed a concentrated gaze upon her. “Waal, ain't he?”

“'Lijah ain't locked up,” she faltered, bewildered.

His face fell. Unaccountably enough, his pride seemed grievously cut down.

“Waal, 'Lijah ain't 'sponsible, I know,” he reasoned; “but bein' ez he treated me this way, an' me a important off'cer o' the law, 'pears-like 't would a-been more respec'ful ef they hed committed him ter jail ez insane, or sent him ter the 'sylum,—fur they take some crazies at the State's expense.” He paused thoughtfully. He was mortified, hurt. “But shucks!” he exclaimed presently, “let him treat haffen the county ez he done me, ef he wants ter. I ain't a-keerin'.”

Cynthia's head was awhirl. She could hardly credit her senses.

“How war it that 'Lijah treated you-uns?” she gasped.

In his turn he stared, amazed.

“Cynthy, 'pears-like ye hev los' yer mind! How did 'Lijah treat me? Waal, 'Lijah whacked me on the head with his brother's sledge, an' split my skull, an' the folks say some o' my brains oozed out. I hev got more of em now, though, than ye hev. Ye look plumb bereft. What ails the gal?”

“Air ye sure—sure ez that war the happening of it?—kase 'Vander tells a differ He 'lowed ez 't war him ez hit ye with the sledge. An' nobody suspicioned 'Lijah.”

Jubal Tynes looked very near death now. His pallid face was framed in long elf-locks; he thrust his head forward, till his emaciated throat and neck were distinctly visible; his lower jaw dropped in astonishment.

“God A'mighty!” he ejaculated, “why hev 'Vander tole sech a lie? Sure! Why, I seen 'Lijah! 'Vander never teched the sledge. An' 'Vander never teched me.”

“Ye hev furgot, mebbe,” she urged, feverishly. “'T war in the dark.

“Listen at the gal argufyin' with me!” he exclaimed, angrily. “I seen 'Lijah, I tell ye in the light o' the forge fire. 'T war'nt more 'n a few coals, but ez 'Lijah swung his arm it fanned the fire, an' it lept up. I seen his face in the glow, an' the sledge in his hand. 'Lijah war hid a-hint the hood. 'Vander war t' other side o' the anvil. I gripped with 'Lijah. I seen him plain. He hit me twict. I never los' my senses till the second lick. Then I drapped. What ails 'Vander, ter tell sech a lie? Ef I hed a-died, stiddier gittin' well so powerful peart, they'd hev hung him, sure”

“Mebbe he thonght they'd hang 'Lijah!” she gasped, appalled at the magnitude of the sacrifice.

“'Lijah ain't 'sponsible ter the law,” said Jubal Tynes, with his magisterial aspect, “bein' ez he air a ravin' crazy, ez oughter be locked up.”

“I reckon 'Vander never knowed ez that war true,” she rejoined, reflectively. “The 'torney- gineral tole Pete Blenkins, when 'Vander war convicted of receivin' of stolen goods, ez how 'Vander war toler'ble ignorant, an' knowed powerful little 'bout the law o' the land. He done it, I reckon, ter pertect the idjit.”

Jubal Tynes made no rejoinder. He had fallen back in his chair, so frail, so exhausted by the unwonted excitement, that she was alarmed anew, realizing how brief his time might be.

“Jubal Tynes,” she said, leaning forward and looking up at him imploringly, “ef I war ter tell what ye hev tole me, nobody would believe me, 'kase—'kase 'Vander an' me hev kep' company some. Hed'nt ye better tell it ter the Squair ez how 'Vander never hit ye, but said he did, ter git the blame shet o' the idjit 'Lijah, ez ain't 'sponsible, nohows? Ain't thar no way ter make it safe fur 'Vander? They 'lowed he would'nt hev been convicted of receivin' of stolen goods 'ceptin' fur the way the jury thought he behaved 'bout resistin' arrest an' hittin' ye with the sledge.”

The sick man's eyes were aflame. “Ye 'low ez I 'm goin' ter die, Cynthy Ware!” he cried, with sudden energy. “I'll gin ye ter onderstand ez I feel ez strong ez a ox! I won't do nuthin' fur 'Vander. Let him stand or fall by the lie he hev tole! I feel ez solid ez Pine Mounting! I won't do nuthin' ez ef I war a-goin' ter die,—like ez ef I war a chicken with the pip—an' whar air that ole hen ez war nominated ter lay a aig, ter whip up in whiskey, an' ain't done it?”

A sudden wild cackling broke upon the air. The red rooster, standing by the gate, stretched up his long neck to listen, and lifted his voice in jubilant sympathy. Jubal Tynes looked around at Cynthia with a laugh. Then his brow darkened, and his mind reverted to his refusal.

“Ye jes' onderstand,” he reiterated, “ez I won't do nuthin' like ez ef I war goin' ter die.”

She got home as best she could, weeping and wringing-her hands much of the way, feeling baffled and bruised, and aghast at the terrible perplexities that crowded about her.

Jubal Tynes had a bad night. He was restless and fretful, and sometimes, when he had been still for a while, and seemed about to sink into slumber, he would start up abruptly, declaring that he could not “git shet of studying 'bout 'n 'Vander, an' 'Lijah, an' the sledge,” and violently wishing that Cynthia Ware had died before she ever came interrupting him about 'Vander, and 'Lijah, and the sledge. Toward morning exhaustion prevailed. He sank into a deep, dreamless sleep, from which he woke refreshed and interested in the matter of breakfast.

That day a report went the excited rounds of the mountain that he had made a sworn statement before Squire Bates, denying that Evander Price had resisted arrest, exonerating him of all connection with the injuries supposed to have been received at his hands, and inculpating only the idiot Elijah. This was supplemented by Dr. Patton's affidavit as to his patient's mental soundness and responsibility.

It roused Cynthia's flagging spirit to an ecstasy of energy. Her strength was as fictitious as the strength of delirium, but it sufficed. Opposition could not baffle it. Obstacles but multiplied its expedients. She remembered that the trained and astute attorney for the State had declared to Pete Blenkins, after the trial, that the prosecution had no case against Evander Price for receiving stolen goods, and must have failed but for the prejudice of the jury. It was proved to them by his own confession that he had resisted arrest and assaulted the officer of the law, and circumstantial evidence had a light task, with this auxiliary, to establish other charges. Now, she thought, if the jury that convicted him, the judge that sentenced him, and the governor of the State were cognizant of this stupendous self-sacrifice to fraternal affection, could they, would they, still take seven years of his life from him? At least, they should know of it,—she had resolved on that. She hardly appreciated the difficulty of the task before her. She was densely ignorant. She lived in a primitive community. Such a paper as a petition for executive clemency had never been drawn within its experience. She could not have discovered that this proceeding was practicable, except for the pride of office and legal lore of Jubal Tynes. He joyed in displaying his learning; but beyond the fact that such a paper was possible, and sometimes successful, and that she had better see the lawyer at the Settlement about it, he suggested nothing of value. And so she tramped a matter of ten miles along the heavy, sandy road, through the dense and lonely woods; and weary, but flushed with joyous hope, she came upon the surprised lawyer at the Settlement. This was a man who built the great structure of justice upon a foundation of fees. He listened to her, noted the poverty of her aspect, and recommended her to secure the cooperation of the convict's immediate relatives. And so, patiently back again, along the dank and darkening mountain road.

The home of her lover was not an inviting abode. When she had turned from the thoroughfare into a vagrant, irresponsible-looking path, winding about in the depths of the forest, it might have seemed. that in a group which presently met her eyes, the animals were the more emotional, alert, and intelligent element. The hounds came huddling over the rickety fence, and bounded about her in tumultuous recognition. An old sow, with a litter of shrill soprano pigs, started up from a clump of weeds, in maternal anxiety and doubt of the intruder's intentions. The calf peered between the rails in mild wonder at this break in the monotony. An old man sat motionless on the fence, with as sober and business-like an aspect as if he did it for a salary. The porch was occupied by an indiscriminate collection of household effects,—cooking utensils, garments, broken chairs,—and an untidy, disheveled woman. An old crone, visible within the door, was leisurely preparing the evening meal. Cynthia's heart warmed at the sight of the familiar place. The tears started to her sympathetic eyes. “I hev kem ter tell ye all 'bout 'n 'Vander!” she cried impulsively, when she was welcomed to a chair and a view of the weed-grown “gyarden-spot.”

But the disclosure of her scheme did not waken responsive enthusiasm. The old man, still dutifully riding the fence, conservatively declared that the law of the land was a “mighty tetchy contrivance,” and he did'nt feel called on to meddle with it. “They mought jail the whole fambly, ez far ez I know, an' then who would work the gyarden-spot, ez air thrivin' now, an' the peas fallin' up cornsider'ble?”

Mrs. Price had “no call ter holp sot the law on 'Lijah agin 'Vander's word. I dunno what the folks would do ter 'Lijah ef Jube died, sence he hev swore ez he hev done afore Squair Bates. Some tole me ez 'Lijah air purtected by bein' a idjit but I ain't sati'fied 'bout 'n that. 'Lijah war sane enough ter be toler'ble skeered when he hearn bout'n it all, an' hev tuk ter shettin' hisself up in the shed-room when strangers kem about.” And indeed Cynthia had an unpleasant impression that the idiot was looking out suspiciously at her from a crack in the door, but he precipitately slammed it when she turned her head to make sure. The old crone paused in her preparations for supper, that she might apply all her faculties to argument. “It don't 'pear ter reason how the gov'nor will pardon 'Vander fur receivin' of stolen goods jes' 'kase 't war'nt him ez bruk Jube Tynes's head,” she declared. “Vander war jailed fur receivin' stolen goods,— nobody never keered nothin' fur Jube Tynes's head! I hev knowed the Tynes fambly time out'n mind,” she continued, raising her voice in shrill contempt. “I knowed Jubal Tynes, an' his daddy afore him. An' now ter kem talkin' ter me 'bout the gov'nor o' Tennessee keerin' fur Jube Tynes's nicked head. I don't keer nothin' 'bout Jube Tynes's nicked head; an' let 'em tell the gov'nor that fur me, an' see what he will think then!”

Poor Cynthia! It had never occurred to her to account herself gifted beyond her fellows and her opportunities. The simple events of their primitive lives had never before elicited the contrast. It gave her no satisfaction. She only experienced a vague, miserable wonder that she should have perceptions beyond their range of vision, should be susceptible of emotions which they could never share. She realized that she could get no material aid here, and she went away at last without asking for it.

Her little all was indeed little,—a few chickens, some “spun-truck,” a sheep that she had nursed from an orphaned lamb, a “cag” of apple-vinegar, and a bag of dried fruit,—but it had its value to the mountain lawyer; and when he realized that this was indeed “all” he drew the petition in consideration thereof, and appended the affidavits of Jubal Tynes and Dr. Patton.

“She ain't got a red head on her for nothin',” he said to himself, in admiration of her astuteness in insisting that, as a part of his services, he should furnish her with a list of the jury that convicted Evander Price.

“For every man of 'em hev got ter sot his name ter that thar petition,” she averred.

He even offered, when his energy and interest were aroused, to take the paper with him to Sparta when he next attended circuit court There, he promised, he would secure some influential signatures from the members of the bar and other prominent citizens.

When she was fairly gone he forgot his energy and interest. He kept the paper three months. He did not once offer it for a signature. And when she demanded its return, it was mislaid, lost.

Oratory is a legal requisite in that region. He might have taken some fine points from her unconscious eloquence, inspired by love and grief and despair, her scathing arraignment of his selfish neglect, her upbraidings and alternate appeals. It overwhelmed him, in some sort, and yet he was roused into activity unusual enough to revive the lost document. She went away with it, leaving him in rueful meditation. “She hain't got a red head on her for nothin',” he said, remembering her pungent rhetoric.

But as he glanced out of the door, and saw her trudging down the road, all her grace and pliant swaying languor lost in convulsive, awkward haste and a feeble, jerky gait, he laughed.

For poor Cynthia had become in some sort a grotesque figure. Only Time can pose a crusader to picturesque advantage. The man or woman with a great and noble purpose carries about with it a pitiful little personality that reflects none of its lustre. Cynthia's devotion, her courage, her endurance in righting this wrong, were not so readily apparent when, in the valley, she went tramping from one juror's house to another's as were her travel-stained garments, her wild, eager eye, her incoherent, anxious speech, her bare, swollen feet,—for sometimes she was fain to carry her coarse shoes in her hands for relief in the long journeyings. Her father had refused to aid “sech a fool yerrand,” and locked up his mare in the barn. Without a qualm, he had beheld Cynthia set out resolutely on foot. “She'll be back afore the cows kem home,” he said, with a laughing nod at his wife. But they came lowing home and clanking their mellow bells in many and many a red sunset before they again found Cynthia waiting for them on the banks of Lost Creek.

The descent to a lower level was a painful experience to the little mountaineer. She was “sifflicated” by the denser atmosphere of the “valley country,” and exhausted by the heat but when she could think only of her mission she was hopeful, elated, and joyously kept on her thorny way. Sometimes, however, the dogs barked at her, and the children hooted after her, and the men and women she met looked askance upon her, and made her humbly conscious of her disheveled, dusty attire, her awkward, hobbling gait, her lean, hungry, worn aspect. Occasionally they asked for her story and listened incredulously and with sarcastic comments. Once, as she started again down the road, she heard her late interlocutor call out to some one at the back of the house, “Becky, take them clothes in off 'n the line, an' take 'em in quick!”

And though her physical sufferings were great, she had some tears to shed for sorrow's sake.

Always she got a night's lodging at the house of one or another of the twelve jurymen, whose names were gradually affixed to the petition. But they too had questions that were hard to answer. “Are you kin of his?” they would ask, impressed by her hardships and her self-immolation. And when she would answer, “No,” she would fancy that the shelter they gave her was not in confidence, but for mere humanity. And she shrank sensitively from these supposititious suspicions. They were poor men, mostly, but one of them stopped his plowing to lend her his horse to the next house, and another gave her a lift of ten miles in his wagon, as it was on his way. He it was who told her, in rehearsing the country-side gossip, that the governor was canvassing the State for reelection, and had made an appointment to speak at Sparta the following day.

A new idea flashed into her mind. Her sudden resolution fairly frightened her. She cowered before it, as they drove along between the fields of yellowing corn, all in the gairish sunshine, spreading so broadly over the broad plain. That night she lay awake thinking of it, while the cold drops started upon her brow. Before daybreak she was up and trudging along the road to Sparta. It was still early when she entered the little town of tho mountain bench, set in the flickering mists and chill, matutinal sunshine, and encompassed on every hand by the mighty ranges. A flag floated from the roof of the court-house, and there was an unusual stir in the streets. Excited groups were talking at every corner, and among a knot of men, standing near, one riveted her attention. He had been spoken of in her hearing as the governor of the State. Bold with the realization of the opportunity, she pushed through the staring crowd and thrust the much-thumbed petition into his hand. He cast a surprised glance upon her, then looked at the paper. “All right; I'll examine it,” he said hastily, and folding it he turned away. In his political career he had studied many faces; unconsciously an adept, he may have deciphered those subtle hieroglyphics of character, and despite her ignorance, her poverty, and the low, criminal atmosphere of her mission, read in her eyes the dignity of her endeavor, the nobility of her nature, and the prosaic martyrdom of her toilsome experience. He turned suddenly back to reassure her. “Rely on it,” he said heartily, “I'll do what I can.”

Her pilgrimage was accomplished; there was nothing more but to turn her face to the mountains. It seemed to her at times as if she should never reach them. They were weary hours before she came upon Lost Creek, loitering down the sunlit valley to vanish in the grewsome caverns beneath the range. The sumach leaves were crimsoning along its banks. The scarlet-oak emblazoned the mountain side. Above the encompassing heights the sky was blue, and the mountain air tasted like wine. Never a crag or chasm so sombre but flaunted some swaying vine or long tendriled moss, gilded and gleaming yellow. Buckeyes were falling, and the ashy “Indian pipes” silvered the roots of the trees. In every marshy spot glowed the scarlet cardinal-flower, and the goldenrod had sceptred the season. Now and again the forest quiet was broken by the patter of acorns from the chestnut-oaks, and the mountain swine were abroad for the plenteous mast. Overhead she heard the faint, weird cry of wild geese winging southward. The whole aspect of the scene was changed, save only Pine Mountain. There it stood, solemn, majestic, mysterious, masked by its impenetrable growth, and hung about with duskier shadows wherever a ravine indented the slope. The spirit within it was chanting softly, softly. For the moment she felt the supreme exaltation of the mountains. It lifted her heart. And when a sudden fluctuating red glare shot out over the murky shades, and the dull sighing of the bellows reached her ear from the forge on the mountain's brink, and the air was presently vibrating with the clinking of the hand-hammer and the clanking of the sledge, and the crags clamored with the old familiar echoes, she realized that she had done all she had sought to do; that she had gone forth helpless but for her own brave spirit; that she had returned helpful, and hopeful, and that here was her home, and she loved it.

This enabled her to better endure the anger and reproaches of her relatives and the curiosity and covert suspicion of the whole countryside.

Evander's people regarded the situation with grave misgivings. “I hope ter the mercy-seat,” quavered old man Price, “ez Cynthy Ware hain't gone an' actially sot the gov'nor o' Tennessee more 'n ever agin that pore critter; but I misdoubts,”—he shook his head piteously, as he perched on the fence,—“I misdoubts.”

“An' the insurance o' that thar gal!” cried Mrs. Price. “She never had no call ter meddle with 'Vander.”

Cynthia's mother entertained this view, also, but for a different reason. “'T war no consarn o' Cynthy's, nohow,” she said, advising with her daughter Maria. “Cynthy air neither kith nor kin o' 'Vander, who air safer an' likelier in the pen'tiary 'n ennywhar else, 'kase it leaves her no ch'ice but Jeemes Blake, ez she hed better take whilst he air in the mind fur it an' whilst she kin git him.”

Jubal Tynes wished he could have foreseen that she would meet the governor, for he could have told her exactly what to say; and this, he was confident, would have secured the pardon.

And it was clearly the opinion of the “mounting,” expressed in the choice coteries assembled at the mill, the blacksmith's shop, the Settlement, and the still-house, that a “young gal like Cynthy” had transcended all the bounds of propriety in this “wild junketing after govnors an' sech through all the valley country, whar she war'nt knowed from a gate-post, nor her dad nuther.”

There were, however, doubters, who disparaged the whole account of the journey as a fable, and circulated a whisper that the petition had never been presented.

This increased to open incredulity as time wore on, to ridicule, to taunts, for no word came of the petition for pardon and no word of the prisoner.

The bleak winter wore away; spring budded and bloomed into summer; summer was ripening into autumn, and every day, as the corn yellowed and thickly swathed ears hung far from the stalk, and the drone of the locust was loud in the grass, and the deep, slumberous glow of the sunshine suffused every open spot, Cynthia, with the return of the season, was vividly reminded of her weary ploddings, with bleeding feet and aching head, between such fields along the lengthening valley roads. And the physical anguish she remembered seemed light—seemed naught—to the anguish of suspense which racked her now. Sometimes she felt impelled to a new endeavor. Then her strong common sense checked the useless impulse. She had done all that could be done. She had planted the seed. She had worked and watched, and beheld it spring up and put forth and grow into fair proportions; only time might bring its full fruition.

The autumn was waning; cold rains set in, and veined the rocky chasms with alien torrents; the birds had all flown, when suddenly the Indian summer, with its golden haze and its great red sun, its purple distances and its languorous joy, its balsamic perfumes and its vagrant day-dreams, slipped down upon the gorgeous crimson woods, and filled them with its glamour and its poetry.

One of these days—a perfect day—a great sensation pervaded Pine Mountain. Word went the rounds that a certain notorious horse thief, who had served out his term in the penitentiary, had stopped at the blacksmith shop on his way home, glad enough of the prospect of being there once more; “an' ez pious in speech ez the rider, mighty nigh,” said the dwellers about Pine Mountain, unfamiliar with his aspect as a penitent and discounting his repentance. It was a long story he had to tell about himself, and he enjoyed posing as the central figure in the curious crowd that had gathered about him. He seemed for the time less like a criminal than a great traveler, so strange and full of interest to the simple mountaineers were his experiences and the places he had seen. He stood leaning against the anvil, as he talked, looking out through the barn-like door upon the amplitude of the great landscape before him; its mountains so dimly, delicately blue in the distance, so deeply red and brown and yellow nearer at hand, and still closer shaded off by the dark plumy boughs of the pines on either side of the ravine above which the forge was perched. Deep in the valley, between them all, Lost Creek hied along, veining the purple haze with lines of palpitating silver. It was only when the material for personal narration was quite exhausted that he entered, though with less zest, on other themes.

“Waal,—now, 'Vander Price,” he drawled, shifting his great cowhide boots one above another. “I war 'stonished when I hearn ez 'Vander war in fur receivin' of stolen goods. Shucks!”—his little black eyes twinkled beneath the drooping brim of a white wool hat, and his wide, flat face seemed wider and flatter for a contemptuous grin,—“I can't onderstand how a man kin git his own cornsent ter go cornsortin' with them ez breaks inter stores and dwellin's an' sech, an' hankerin' arter store-fixin's an' store-truck. Live-stock air a differ. The beastis air temptin', partic'lar ef they air young an' hev got toler'ble paces.” Perhaps a change in the faces of his audience admonished him, for he qualified: “The beastis air temptin'— ter the ungodly. I hev gin over sech doin's myself, 'kase we hed a toler'ble chaplain yander in the valley” (he alluded thus equivocally to his late abode), “an' I sot under the preachin' a good while. But store-truck!—shucks! Waal, the gyards 'lowed ez 'Vander war a turrible feller ter take keer on, when they war a-fetchin' him down ter Nashvul. He jes' seemed desolated. One minit he'd fairly cry ez ef every sob would take his life; an' the nes' he'd be squarin' off ez savage, an' tryin' ter hit the gyards in the head. He war ironed, hand an' foot.”

There was no murmur of sympathy. All listened with stolid curiosity, except Cynthia, who was leaning against the open door. The tears forced their way, and silently flowed, unheeded, down her cheeks. She fixed her brown eyes upon the man as he went on:—

“But when they struck the railroad, an' the critter seen the iron engine ez runs by steam, like I war a-tellin' ye about, he jes' stood rooted ter the spot in amaze; they could sca'cely git him budged away from thar. They 'lowed they hed never seen sech joy ez when he war on the steam-kyars ahint it. When they went a-skeetin' along ez fast an' ez steady ez a tur-r-key-buzzard kin fly, 'Vander would jes' look fust at one o' the gyards an' then at the t'other, a-smilin' an' tickled nearly out'n his senses. An' wunst he said, 'Ef this ain't the glory o' God revealed in the work o' man, what is?' The gyards 'lowed he acted so cur'ous they would hev b'lieved he war a plumb idjit, ef it hed'nt a-been far what happened arterward at the Pen.”

“Waal, what war it ez happened at the Pen?” demanded Pete Blenkins. His red face, suffused with the glow of the smouldering forge-fire, was a little wistful, as if he grudged his quondam striker these unique sensations.

“They put him right inter the forge at the Pen, an' he tuk ter the work like a pig ter carrots.” The ex-convict paused for a moment, and cast his eye disparagingly about the primitive smithy. “They do a power o' work thar, Pete, ez you-uns never drempt of.”

“Shucks!” rejoined Pete incredulously, yet a trifle ill at ease.

“'Vander war a good blacksmith fur the mountings, but they sot him ter l'arnin' thar. They 'lowed, though ez he war pearter 'n the peartest. He got ter be powerful pop'lar with all the gyards an' authorities, an' sech. He war plumb welded ter his work—he sets more store by metal than by grace. He 'lowed ter me ez he wouldn't hev missed bein' thar fur nuthin'! 'Vander air a powerful cur'ous critter: he 'lowed ter me ez one year in the forge at the Pen war wuth a hundred years in the mountings ter him.”

Poor Cynthia! Her eyes, large, luminous, and sweet, with the holy rapture of a listening saint, were fixed upon the speaker's evil, uncouth face. Evander had not then been so unhappy!

“But when they hired out the convict labor ter some iron works' folks, 'Vander war glad ter go, 'kase he'd git ter l'arn more yit 'bout workin' in iron an' sech. An' he war powerful outed when he hed ter kem back, arter ten months, from them works. He hed tuk his stand in metal thar, too. An' he hed fixed some sort 'n contrivance ter head rivets quicker 'n cheaper 'n it air ginerally done; an' he war afeard ter try ter git it 'patented,' ez he calls it, 'kase he b'lieved the Pen could claim it ez convict labor,—though some said not. Leastwise, he determinated ter hold on ter his idee till his term war out. But he war powerful interrupted in his mind fur fear somebody else would think up the idee, too, an' patent it fust. He war powerful irked by the Pen arter he kem back from the iron works. He 'lowed ter me ez he war fairly crazed ter git back; ter 'em. He 'lowed ez he hed ruther see that thar big shed an' the red hot puddler's balls a trundlin' about, an' all the wheels a-whurlin', an' the big shears a-bitin' the metal ez nip, an' the tremenjious hammer a-poundin' away, an' all the dark night around split with lines o' fire, than to see the hills o' heaven! It 'pears to me mo' like hell! But jes' when 'Vander war honing arter them works ez ef it would kill him ter bide away from thar, his pardon kem. He fairly lept and shouted fur joy!”

“His pardon!” cried Cynthia.

“Air 'Vander pardoned fur true?” exclaimed a chorus of mountaineers.

The ex-convict stared about him in surprise.

“Ain't you-uns knowed that afore? 'Vander hev been out 'n the Pen a year.”

A year! A vague, chilly premonition thrilled through Cynthia. “Whar be he now?” she asked.

“Yander ter them iron works. He lit out straight. I seen him las' week, when I war travelin' from my cousin Jerry's house, whar I went ez soon ez I got out 'n the Pen. The steam-kyars stopped at a station ez be nigh them iron works, an' I met up with 'Vander on the platform. That's how I fund out all I hev been a-tellin' ye, 'kase we did'nt hev no time ter talk whilst we war in the Pen; they don't allow no chin-choppin' thar. When 'Vander war released, the folks at the iron works tuk him ter work on weges, an' gin him eighty dollars a month.”

There was an outburst of incredulity. “Waal, sir!” “Tim'thy, ye kerry that mouth o' yourn too wide open, an' it leaks out all sorts o' lies!” “We-uns know ye of old, Tim'thy!” “Pine Mounting haint furgot ye yit!”

“I would'nt gin eighty dollars fur 'Vander Price, hide, horns, an' tallow!” declared Pete Blenkins, folding his big arms over his leathern apron, and looking about with the air of a man who has placed his valuation at extremely liberal limits.

“I knowed ye wouldn't b'lieve that, but it air gospel-true,” protested the ex-convict. “Thar is more money a-goin' in the valley 'n thar is in the mountings, an' folks pays more fur work. Besides that, 'Vander hev got a patent, ez he calls it, fur his rivet contrivance, an 'he 'lows ez it hev paid him some a'ready. It'll sorter stiffed up the backbone o' that word ef I tell ye ez he 'lowed ez he hed jes' sent two hunderd dollars ter Squair Bates ter lift the mortgage off 'n old man Price's house an' land, an' two hunderd dollars more ter be gin ter his dad ez a present. An' Squair Bates acted 'cordin' ter 'Vander's word, an' lifted the mortgage, an' handed old man Price the balance. An' what do ye s'pose old man Price done with the money? He went right out an' buried it in the woods, fur fear he'd be pulled out 'n his bed fur it, some dark night, by lawless ones. He'll never find it agin, I reckon. The idjit hed more sense. I seen 'Lijah diggin' fur it, ez I rid by thar ter-day.”

“Did 'Vander 'low when he air comin' back ter Pine Mounting?” asked Pete Blenkins. “He hev been gone two year an' a half now.”

“I axed him that word. An' he said he mought kem back ter see his folks nex' year, mebbe, or the year arter that. But I misdoubts. He air so powerful tuk up with metal an' iron, an' sech, an' so keen 'bout his 'ventions, ez he calls 'em, ez he seemed mighty glad ter git shet o' the mountings. 'Vander 'lows ez you-uns dunno nothin' 'bout iron up hyar, Pete.”

It was too plain. Cynthia could not deceive herself. He had forgotten her. His genius, once fairly evoked, possessed him, and faithfully his ambitions served it. His love, in comparison, was but a little thing, and he left it in the mountains,—the mountains that he did not regret, that had barred him so long from all he valued, that had freed him at last only through the prison doors. His love had been an unavowed love, and there was no duty broken. For the first time she wondered if he ever knew that she cared for him,—if he never remembered. And then she was suddenly moved to ask, “Did he 'low ter you-uns who got his pardon fur him?”

“I axed that word when las' I seen him, an' the critter said he actially hed never tuk time ter think 'bout 'n that. He 'lowed he war so tickled ter git away from the Pen'tiary right straight ter the iron works an' the consarn he hed made ter head rivets so peart, ez he never wondered 'bout 'n it. He made sure, though, now he had kem ter study 'bout 'n it, ez his dad hed done it, or it mought hev been gin him fur good conduc' an' sech.”

“'T war Cynthy hyar ez done some of it,” explained Pete Blenkins, “though Jubal Tynes stirred himself right smart.”

As Cynthia walked slowly back to her home in the gorge, she did not feel that she had lavished a noble exaltation and a fine courage in vain; that the subtlest essence of a most ethereal elation was expended as the motive power of a result that was at last flat, and sordid, and most material. She did not murmur at the cruelty of fate that she should be grieving for his woes while he was so happy, so blithely busy. She did not regret her self-immolation. She did not grudge all that love had given him; she rejoiced that it was so sufficient, so nobly ample. She grudged only the wasted feeling; and she was humbled when she thought of it.

The sun had gone down, but the light yet lingered. The evening star trembled above Pine Mountain. Massive and darkling it stood against the red west. How far, ah, how far, stretched that mellow crimson glow, all adown Lost Creek Valley, and over the vast mountain solitudes on either hand! Even the eastern ranges were rich with this legacy of the dead and gone day, and purple and splendid they lay beneath the rising moon. She looked at it with full and shining eyes.

“I dunno how he kin make out ter furgit the mountings,” she said; and then she went on, hearing the crisp leaves rustling beneath her tread, and the sharp bark of a fox in the silence of the night-shadowed valley.

Mrs. Ware had predicted bitter things of Cynthia's future, more perhaps in anger than with discreet foresight. Now, when her prophecy was in some sort verified, she shrank from it, as if with the word she had conjured up the fact. And her pride was touched in that her daughter should have been given the “go-by,” as she phrased it. All the mountain—nay, all the valley—would know of it. “Law, Cynthy,” she exclaimed, aghast, when the girl had rehearsed the news, “what be ye a-goin' ter do?”

“I 'm a-goin' ter weavin',” said Cynthia. She already had the shuttle in her hand. It was a useful expression for a broken heart, as she was expert at the loom.

She became so very skillful, with practice, that it was generally understood to be mere pastime when she would go to help a neighbor through the weaving of the cloth for the children's clothes. She went about much on this mission; for although there were children at home, the work was less than the industry, and she seemed “ter hev a craze fur stirrin' about, an' war a toler'ble oneasy critter.” She was said to have “broken some sence 'Vander gin her the go-by, like he done,” and was spoken of at the age of twenty-one as a “settled single woman;" for early marriages are the rule in the mountains


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When first her father and then her mother died, she cared for all the household, and the world went on much the same. The monotony of her tragedy made it unobtrusive. Perhaps no one on Pine Mountain remembered aright how it had all come about, when after an absence of ten years Evander Price suddenly reappeared among them.

Old man Price had, in the course of nature, ceased to sit upon the fence,—he could hardly be said to have lived. The fence itself was decrepit; the house was falling to decay. The money which Evander had sent from time to time, that it might be kept comfortable, had been safely buried in various localities and in separate installments, as the remittances had come. To this day the youth of Pine Mountain, when afflicted with spasms of industry and, as unaccustomed, the lust for gold, dig for it in likely spots as unavailingly as the idiot once sought it. Evander took the family with him to his valley home, and left the little hut for the owl and the gopher to hide within, for the red-berried vines to twine about the rotting logs, for the porch to fall in the wind, for silence to enter therein and make it a dwelling-place.

“How will yer wife like ter put up with the idjit?” asked Pete Blenkins of his old striker.

“She'll be obleeged ter like it!” retorted Evander, with an angry flash in his eyes, presaging contest.

It revealed the one dark point in his prospects. The mountaineers were not so slow- witted as to overlook it, but Evander had come to be the sort of man whom one hardly likes to question. He had a traveling companion, however, who hailed from the same neighborhood, and who talked learnedly of coal measures, and prodded and digged and bought leagues of land for a song,—much of it dearly bought. He let fall a hint that in marrying, Evander had contrived to handicap himself. “He would do wonders but for that woman!”

His mountain auditors could hardly grasp the finer points of the incompatibility; they could but dimly appreciate that the kindling scintilla of a discovery in mechanics, more delicately poised on practicability than a sunbeam on a cobweb, could have a tragic extinction in a woman's inopportune peevishness or selfish exactions.

In Evander's admiration of knowledge and all its infinite radiations, he had been attracted by a woman far superior to himself in education and social position, although not in this world's goods. She was the telegraph operator at the station near the iron works. She had felt that there was a touch of romance and self-abnegation in her fancy for him, and this titillated her tutored imagination. His genius was held in high repute at the iron works, and she had believed him a rough diamond. She did not realize how she could have appreciated polished facets and a brilliant lustre and a conventional setting until it was too late. Then she began to think this genius of hers uncouth, and she presently doubted if her jewel were genuine. For although of refined instincts, he had been rudely reared, while she was in some sort inured to table manners and toilet etiquette and English grammar. She could not be content with his intrinsic worth, but longed for him to prove his value to the world, that it might not think she had thrown herself away. In moments of disappointment and depression his prison record bore heavily upon her, and there was a breach when, in petulance, she had once asked, If he were indeed innocent in receiving the stolen goods, why had he not proved it? And she urged him to much striving to be rich; and she would fain travel the old beaten road to wealth in the iron business, and scorned experiments and new ideas and inventions, that took money out without the certainty of putting it in. And she had been taught, and was an adept in specious argument. He could not answer her; he could only keep doggedly on his own way; but obstinacy is a poor substitute for ardor. Though he had done much, he had done less than he had expected,—far, far less in financial results than she had expected. His ambitions were still hot within him, but they were worldly ambitions now. They searched his more delicate sensibilities, and seared his freshest perceptions, and set his heart afire with sordid hopes. He was often harassed by a lurking doubt of his powers; he vaguely sought to measure them; and he began to fear that this in itself was a sign of the approach to their limits. He could still lift his eyes to great heights, but alas for the wings,—alas!

He had changed greatly: he had become nervous, anxious, concentrated, yet not less affectionate. He said much about his wife to his old friends, and never a word but loyal praise. “Em'ly air school-l'arned fur true, an' kin talk ekal ter the rider.”

The idiot 'Lijah was welcome at his side, and the ancient yellow cur, that used to trot nimbly after him in the old days, rejoiced to limp feebly at his heels. He came over, one morning, and sat on the rickety little porch with Cynthia, and talked of her father and mother; but he had forgotten the mare, whose death she also mentioned, and the fact that old Suke's third calf was traded to M'ria Baker. His recollections were all vague, although at some reminiscence of hers he laughed jovially, and 'lowed that “in them days, Cynthy, ye an' me hed a right smart notion of keeping company tergether.” He did not notice how pale she was, and that there was often a slight spasmodic contraction of her features. She was busy with her spinning-wheel, as she placidly replied, “Yes,—though I always 'lowed ez I counted on livin' single.”

It was only a fragmentary attention that he accorded her. He was full of his plans and anxious about rains, lest a rise in Caney Fork should detain him in the mountains; and he often turned and surveyed the vast landscape with a hard, callous glance of worldly utility. He saw only weather signs. The language of the mountains had become a dead language. Oh, how should he read the poem that the opalescent mist traced in an illuminated text along the dark, gigantic growths of Pine Mountain!

At length he was gone, and forever, and Cynthia's heart adjusted itself anew. Sometimes, to be sure, it seems to her that the years of her life are like the floating leaves drifting down Lost Creek, valueless and purposeless, and vaguely vanishing in the mountains. Then she remembers that the sequestered subterranean current is charged with its own inscrutable, imperative mission, and she ceases to question and regret, and bravely does the work nearest her hand, and has glimpses of its influence in the widening lives of others, and finds in these a placid content.

 
 
 

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