His Great Deed by Rebecca Harding Davis
In all the old Norse legends we are sure to find the inevitable three
brothers, to the youngest of whom, Grimmel, fall all the adventures, the
dealings with the Devil, and the pot of yellow gold at the end.
Not many years ago there lived in a lonely hut on Mount Mitchell in
North Carolina this identical Grimmel and his brothers. Their father,
John Boyer, was a hunter. When he died the two elder sons, Richard and
Hugh, remained with their mother, farmed a sterile tract on the Black
Mountains and trapped bears and wolves through the great southern ranges
of the Appalachian chain. Twice in the year they came down to the hamlet
at Gray Eagle to exchange their peltry for such goods as they needed.
They were, in short, Grimmel's elder brothers, who sat satisfied in the
chimney-corner while giants, devils and trolls were carousing without.
They wore the cloth which their mother had spun, woven and made up for
them. They shot with their father's rifle, ate the same corn-dodgers,
nodded over the same Bible every evening, and drank plenty of whiskey
from the same secret still back in the gorge. It had never occurred to
them to go down into the world, to learn a trade or profession or to
make money. Why should they? Money was of very little use. They probably
did not handle twenty dollars in the year, yet they had all they wanted.
They were big and slow-moving and serious as the tame bear which lay
before the fire. At forty they always spoke of the house and farm as "my
mother's, Mistress Boyer's," and meekly obeyed the old woman as she
ordered them about with a sharp tongue. The instinct of kinship was as
strong in them as in the old Jews. They would strike a bee-line for each
other through the trackless wilderness when miles apart. This happened
"How do I know where to find Richard?" said Hugh. "I don't know how I
know. Something in my bones tells me."
I think that when the youngest brother, Peter, left the mountains these
older men suffered a kind of physical loss ever after, as if an arm or a
leg had been taken from them. Peter was somewhere out in the world,
living by his wits. God had given him precisely the same kind of wits as
his brothers, but with a single added drop of uneasy leaven. He tumbled
out of his cradle when he was a baby to see what lay beyond. He was
thin, wizened, restless as a strange beast in a cage, though his
brothers tirelessly puzzled their slow brains to soothe and satisfy him.
When he was a boy he was wretched because he was not taken down into the
valley or to far-off towns. His brothers were puzzled, dismayed.
"It is the bird in the bush he wants," said his shrewd old mother. "The
bird in the bush: he will never get it in his hand."
When he was a boy of ten a party of geologists stopped at the log hut.
There was much talk among them of the cities, of science and of
politics. Peter Boyer thought he had found his bird in the bush.
"I must have an education, and a good one, mother," he said.
He was sent to Raleigh to school. Reports came home that no such boy had
ever been taught there. His fellow-students prophesied that Carolina
would some day be proud of her gifted son. Up in the mountains the two
brothers ploughed, trapped, dug ginseng and climbed the peaks for balsam
with hot, steady zeal to earn the little money which was needed to pay
for his schooling. The bare cabin grew barer, mother and brothers went
hungry many a day, but the pittance was always saved and sent to him.
The boy came home in vacations with his moustache, his gorgeous
scarf-pin and his quick, eager talk: he brought, too, piles of gilded
prize-books, and once a silver medal. He did not care much for books or
medal, but Richard wrapped each one carefully in paper and packed them
in the big chest, and when the boy was gone the two broad-shouldered men
would take them out at night and turn them over, and sometimes spell out
a page, with a grave awe and delight.
Presently, the lad sent back their money: he was pushing his own
way—into college, into the University of Virginia, finally—great and
culminating triumph!—into the newspapers. Poems (after Poe, as a matter
of course), political diatribes in Johnsonese periods in De Bow's
Review, essays, criticisms,—nothing came amiss to him.
The young man's mind was of that flabby but fidgety kind which throws
off ideas as a crab its shells, one after another—useless, imperfect
moulds of itself. He came home to the mountain-hut in the first flush
and triumph of authorship, bringing every newspaper-clipping in his
pocket-book wherein a mention of his name had appeared. Richard, Hugh
and his mother were never tired of hearing nor he of reading them. The
poems and the clippings were left to be stored away—sacred relics—with
the prize-books and medals. Peter set off to the West.
"The bird in the bush is always out of sight with Peter," said his
mother, whose hair was growing white and her voice feeble. He became a
lawyer, a Congressman. When he made his first speech (on the snags in
the Missouri River) he ran down to Carolina with a copy of it in The
Congressional Globe. He had grown portly and red-faced, and talked in a
strident voice. All the towns on his route received him as a conquering
hero. "The Honorable Peter M. Boyer arrived last night," said the
papers, "and received a magnificent public dinner at the —— Hotel. The
distinguished Senator, one of the favorite sons of the Old North State,
is on his way to visit his parents at their summer retreat in Buncombe
The distinguished and pompous Senator, at home in the hut, walked up
and down with uneasy strides and anxious wandering eyes, just as he had
done when a thin cub of a boy. The Senate Chamber evidently was but as
narrow a cage for this alien beast as the life of a hunter had been.
"I'm not satisfied," he told Hugh and Richard. "Politics are not the
right groove for me. But I'll find it. I know that I have an intellect
different from that of the ordinary man. You can't compare pure gold and
brass, can you? Well, I've tested those fellows at Washington, and they
are brass: they're pot-metal, sir! My brain," tapping his forehead,
"will tell some day on the world: I'll make my mark. I'll hit the bull's
The Senator went back to Iowa. He was not returned for the next term. In
a month or two his mother received a letter from him dated at London.
"When I succeed," he said, "I will come back to you. I have given up
politics and taken to literature. Literature is the only career in which
my brain can reach its full development: all others compress and
constrain me. I shall seek in the Old World for the recognition which
the New did not yield me." All this was Greek to his mother and her
sons, but they knew that it meant that he was gone.
He never came back.
In two years the Honorable Peter was as extinct, so far as the American
Congress, newspapers and people were concerned, as any saurian dead
before the Flood. His mother died. Peter had always been an alien to
her, a perpetual disquiet. But when he was gone the thorn was out of her
flesh. She talked and thought of him as in his babyhood, and left him
her blessing at the last. As year after year crept by, the twin-brothers
ceased to talk of him. But it was because they had begun to think of him
with that strained, tense attention with which we sit and listen for the
steps of one who long delays his coming, and who may be dead by the way.
He might come back any day, with a crown of glory on his head. Or—was
he dead? So many ships went down in that dim outer world—so many
cities were burned; legions of men were swept away in battle; in short,
the millions of graves which dotted the earth's surface only meant to
these Boyers the one possible grave where he might lie. The gray-headed
old men went stealthily alone at night sometimes to the big chest and
turned over again the poems and essays yellow now with age, and the
gilded prize-books. But they never spoke to each other of them.
About eighty miles from Black Mountains, in a hamlet on the Nantahela
range, the whereabouts of Peter Boyer was discussed one July day as a
subject of more practical interest. All the men in Sevier—a dozen, all
told—were gathered as usual under the great oak which stood by the pump
in the middle of the square. It was a grassy, weedy square: one or two
cows lay chewing the cud on it, as they did all day long. Why not? There
was never enough noise in the little street which ran round its four
sides to disturb them. In the evening the women went out and milked them
just where they were: occasionally, a meditative sow with her litter, or
a slouching boy, passed them; or a canvas-covered wagon drawn by a steer
would lumber slowly along, stop, and a woman get out of it with a bag of
ginseng or angelica to barter for sugar and shoes; or a farmer in
butternut homespun would jog up the street on his mule, his gun and bag
of rations strapped behind, on his way to the higher peaks to salt his
wild cattle; or a party of Cherokees from Qualla would come in with
baskets to sell; or Seth Keen, the dwarf hunter, would bring in a roll
of wolf-skins, and stay to tell his old stories over for the hundredth
time. But these were rare events: on ordinary days the cows dozed
undisturbed in the sleepy, foggy air, and the men lounged on the trough
by the pump, and smoked from morning until bed-time, and cracked jokes
on each other, and told marvellous stories of the war and its ravages.
"It giv' Sevier a staggerin' blow, gentlemen," old Judge Scroope would
say: "we'll never recover from it. I tell you, Jefferson Davis an'
Lincoln wur men the country hed no use for. Nor the Almighty neyther.
That's my cool jedgment, now that we are out of the fracas. Look at the
ruin them men wrought around you!"
And his audience would look around them, and shift their legs, and shake
their heads with solemn conviction, though they knew, and he knew that
they knew, that since North Carolina began to exist the decrepit frame
houses yonder had turned the same pauper faces to the square in Sevier,
and that their grandfathers in homespun had lounged just as they did on
this very broken trough, and watched their lean cows chew the cud, and
leisurely abused the Federalists for the ruin of the country. Twice a
year the judge and Lawyer Grayson rode down to court and crossed the old
track of Sherman and his raiders, and coming back would tell of levelled
fences and burned barns. For thirteen years they had gone down, and the
barns and fences yet lay as Sherman left them, as unchanged as the
gneiss rocks about them.
On this day, however, they had a new subject to discuss. The
sheepskin-covered chair which sat by the pump day and night the year
round, ready for the judge, had been empty for two weeks. The old man
had pneumonia, and was on his deathbed. Every morning the doctor brought
a full account of his latest symptoms, and the crowd drearily discussed
them during the rest of the day over interminable melancholy games of
On this morning Grayson the lawyer had been sent for.
"The old gentleman's going to make his will," said the doctor, taking a
The words were like a chilly wind from the grave. The gossips of Sevier
were, after all, a simple affectionate folk. They had grown together
like the mossy logs of their houses: when one was torn away, it left a
gap and a dull, abiding sense of loss for years. There was a long
"De jedge am bin a class-leader fohty year," said at last old Primus the
barber in the background, shaking his woolly poll.
Nobody answered. The squire noiselessly laid down the dice and shut the
backgammon-board. Major Fetridge rose with a groan: "I'll go over and
get a glass of somethin'. Won't some gentleman join me?"
Nobody joined him. The major's red head and lean little legs moved
unsteadily over the square.
"Sam Fetridge hes hed enough a'ready," said the squire. "He'll follow
the jedge, and that hot foot, ef he don't pull up. D'ye think Dave
Cabarreux will come in for all the Scroope proputty, doc?"
"I don't know. I—don't—know," pulling his beard meditatively. "It'll
be left in a lump: that much the jedge told me himself. 'I'll not part
the proputty,' he says, 'but I'll leave it whar it'll keep up the
standin' of the family.' The old man always hed his sheer of pride in
the Scroopes, you know."
"Dave Cabarreux is his cousin once removed," interrupted Bright the
landlord, who had sauntered back with the major, and engineered that
unsteady worthy to a place on the trough. "He hes no other kin than
Dave, that I know of. David's as genteel a young man as walks Sevier
"He's a damned cub!" The major staggered to his feet, gesticulating
angrily with his trembling hands.
"Tut, tut, Sam! sit down," said the squire, pulling at his coat-tail.
"You begrudge Dave his pretty little sweetheart. I understand: I've
watched you. Why, Fetridge, you're old enough to be her father, you
Sam stiffened his shaky body into a drunken dignity: "Squire, you can
talk of me as you choose: every scrag-end of humanity kin take liberties
with my name now, and does it. But the pump is no place to mention that
lady, nor any lady, sir."
"No, it's not: that's a fact, Sam. I beg her pardon. But Primus tells
me, gentlemen, that the jedge has been talkin' incessant of his nephew
Boyer. Who's Boyer?"
"I've heerd the jedge talk of him frequent, sittin' on that very cheer,"
said Byloe the carpenter. "He's his grand-nephew. Peter Marmyduke Boyer
is the full name. Governor of Iowy. The jedge has told me he was one of
the first men of the present century. He'd all the genius of the Scroope
family. Fact is, I used to think he was a straw man the jedge had made
expressly to hang the honors of the family on."
"What's the jedge callin' on him now for?" said the major.
The doctor glanced around cautiously to the circle of attentive faces,
the silent street beyond, the houses that fenced them in: "It's my
opinion—in strict confidence, gentlemen," lowering his voice: the faces
gathered more closely, Sam's, pimpled and eager, the nearest—"it's my
opinion that the jedge means to cut off Dave without a shilling, and
leave the proputty to this Honorable Peter M. Boyer. But what's the
difference?" he continued after waiting a moment to allow the sensation
produced by his words to subside. "This man Boyer, they tell me, has not
been heard of for years. He didn't even turn up in the war. Undoubtedly,
Major Fetridge sank back against the pump with a drunken chuckle: "Dave
Cabarreux thinks that he's dead, hey? Boyer's not the sort of man to die
as long as a good thing like this is in the dice. Why, Boyer's young,
sir. He's got more brains and experience and vitality than all the
damned wooden Cabarreuxes in a lump."
Byloe squirted tobacco-juice skilfully into the puddle between his feet,
and winked at the squire. "It would go dead ag'in' your chances down at
Calhoun's, major, if Dave gets that proputty," he said gravely. "Old
Tony Calhoun is a full-blood Yankee. He'll never give his daughter to a
man with lean pockets."
The major pulled himself up, half sobered as if by a dash of cold water.
"And what has Cabarreux to make him fit for her?" he demanded shrilly.
"Neither money nor brains. No one of the name ever had energy to earn
salt to his bread. Cabarreux? Bah-h! Boyer is a man! Why, gentlemen, if
Peter Marmaduke Boyer were to appear in Sevier, it would be like the
coming of the eagle among the magpies."
"Sam, you're drunk," said Byloe. "What d'ye know about the man?"
"Know Boyer?" He laughed. The major had a peculiar laugh, which always
put the crowd about the pump in a good-humor—a shrill, pleasant cackle
of exultation. "Why, the whole country knows Boyer. But, if you must
know it, he was a personal friend of mine. He had a great intellect—a
gi-gantic intellect," sweeping the horizon with his arm. "He represented
one of the great Western States in the Senate, Mr. Byloe: ten years ago
he was known through the length and breadth of the Union as North
Carolina's favorite son. To have asked who was Peter M. Boyer then would
have argued yourself unknown."
"Sam's right," said the squire, nodding. "Now, that you speak of it, I
remember him perfectly well. He had a great reputation as a politician.
The Raleigh Herald used to publish his speeches in extenso. Queer he
took no part in the war!"
The major chuckled again, delighted: "He did, sir! he did! Beauregard
had no braver officer. To see that man lead his command into the teeth
of the Yankees was a spectacle nobody who saw it can ever forget." The
little man stood up as he talked, gesticulating fiercely as if in the
presence of the foe, his linen coat flapping about his legs, his white
hat set jauntily on one side. "Ha! those were pleasant days, squire,"
wiping his forehead in a glow of triumph. "They brought men up to their
proper level! Boyer was never promoted, though. He was too modest to
push himself, and war was hardly the right groove for him, after all."
"So this great man was a personal friend of yours, Sam?" asked Byloe
with another wink and shrug at the crowd.
The major nodded: "Yes. I wasn't always a drunken loafer in Sevier, nor
Ike Byloe's companion," he said quietly.
There was a laugh of applause. The little man, with all his vaporing,
his windy boasts, his general utter worthlessness, had at bottom a grain
of something genuine which keen Ike Byloe lacked.
"What sort of looking man was this Boyer, Sam?" asked the doctor. "I
confess I have a curiosity about the jedge's heir."
"Oh, a fine-looking fellow—every inch a man," said the major
carelessly. "Voice orotund, magnetic. Easy manners. Good figure;" and he
walked up and down complacently, slapping his own shrunk shank. There
had been a well-shaped leg inside of the ragged linen trousers once, and
the conscious merit which infused every atom of his lean little body
still culminated in his strut.
The sun was setting behind the Balsam Range, and threw a cheerful glow
over the oak and the pump and the little group, when a loose-jointed
figure came across the fields.
"Hyar's Grayson!—Well, colonel, how is he?"
"It's all over, gentlemen. The jedge is gone."
There was a sudden silence. The men asked no questions, as Northern
gossips would have done. Presently, they got up one by one, with a brief
word or two, and went quietly away to their own houses to close them up,
and to tell madam. The Carolinian "madam" may be ugly and shabby and
silly, but she is usually first in her husband's mind all day.
Nobody was left under the oak but Grayson, the major and Byloe, who was
resolved to solve the mystery of the will.
"I s'pose the jedge attended to his earthly affairs before he went off,
Colonel Grayson?" he said.
"Will witnessed, signed—all correct?"
Byloe gave a dolorous cough: "Folks are talkin' a good deal about Dave
Cabarreux as the heir. Dave's the next of kin."
Grayson pushed the ashes into his pipe in imperturbable silence.
"I was suggestin' that Boyer had a chance—Governor Boyer of Iowy: Sam
hyar'd prefer him. Ef Dave gits the proputty, he'll take somethin' else
that Dave's set his heart on, eh?" chuckling. "Sam knows Boyer."
The lawyer looked up quickly. He said nothing, but Byloe noted the
glance. "Boyer is the man!" he thought, and hurried off to tell the
When he was gone Mr. Grayson turned to the major: "Do you really know
this Boyer, Fetridge? Could you find him if he was wanted?"
Sam did not answer immediately. He was looking thoughtfully at the
ground, his palms resting on his knees. He too supposed that Boyer was
the heir, and the news had driven all the braggadocio and drunken fire
out of him. What a weak imitation of a man he was, any how! Grayson
thought, looking at him curiously, and wondering what had moved the
fellow so strangely. Was it possible that he hoped to marry Calhoun's
little girl if Dave lost this money?
The major got up at last, and put on his hat. "If Peter Boyer is
wanted—that is, if the money is really left to him—I can produce the
man, Grayson," he said, and walked slowly away, his head bent and his
hands clasped behind him. The stagey strut was quite gone.
The day after the judge was buried Mr. Calhoun came down in the buggy
from the farm to Sevier, Isabel driving. "I have a new mule in harness,"
he explained to the squire, "and I had to bring Bel to manage him. It's
bad training to use the whip, and he has the temper of the devil. He's
beyond me, but Bel has her ways of making him go."
The old squire, looking up at her, his hat in his hand, said gallantly
there was nothing in Sevier which Miss Isabel couldn't make go; at which
the little girl laughed, and put her foot in his offered hand to jump
down from the buggy. There did not seem to be a large amount of
propelling power in her. She had a childish-looking figure, and went
shyly into the store, blushing nervously as she passed the men outside.
They all stood up and took off their hats, though they did that when any
woman passed; but one after another, from Colonel Grayson to old Primus,
contrived afterward to throw himself in her way, to give her a good-day
respectfully, and have a private glimpse of the beaming face under the
broad-brimmed brown hat. As soon, too, as it was noised about that
Calhoun's wagon was in town the women all came out to find Isabel.
Sevier was dismal enough after the funeral, and needed heartening, and,
as Byloe said, "That young woman hed spirit enough for all Haywood
county." Isabel was an intimate friend of every woman in town. Sue
Grayson hurried her in to read her last love-letter, and Mother Byloe
consulted her about her cherry jam. It was a pity, they thought, that
she had no beauty—there was always a lamentation on that point when she
was gone—and the men agreed that she lacked flesh; but Major Fetridge,
who had known something of the world outside of Sevier in his day, used
to follow her far off to watch her clear, sparkling face. However drunk
he might be, it sobered him. To-day, as she stood among the village
women, whose charms had ripened on the fried meat and black coffee on
which they had been fed since babyhood, she reminded him of a fine proof
engraving among cheap chromos.
How it was that the little Pennsylvanian moved the mules and sluggish
Sevier to life even the major did not know, but it was a fact that she
always left the village more awake and happier than she found it. It was
as if one had sung a stirring song in the market-place.
As she drove away to-day the squire looked after her admiringly. "I
heard you were going to send her North, Mr. Calhoun?" he said to the
paunchy, brisk little man beside him.
"Yes, yes," pulling his black moustache. "Fact is, this is no place for
Isabel, squire. She has no mother: I have to think for the child. She
has kinsfolk in New England, and I'll send her there for a year or two.
To tell you the truth, I can't see her mated with one of these loggish
young ploughmen about Sevier."
"You mean Cabarreux?" said the squire with a significant nod.
"Yes, I mean Cabarreux. 'Twon't do, squire. I've forbidden her to see
him again. Well, what d'ye think of sending her away? I meant to ask
your advice about it."
The squire was more intimate with Mr. Calhoun than any of the other men
in Sevier; but it was the Northerner's practice to take counsel with
them all concerning his endless schemes: he was a friendly, social
fellow, and liked to hear himself explain his plans—just the man to
buttonhole Charon in his boat and get a useful hint or two from him
about the other side. The people of Sevier liked Calhoun, but were a
little afraid of him. His education and mind, they knew, were no better
than theirs; his manners were not as good; but a man who, with but a
hundred dollars in his pocket, could camp down in the woods and evolve
out of the bare earth a farm, a mill, a mica-mine, a house with comforts
and luxuries such as Sevier had never dreamed of, had a quality which
stunned and awed them. A man may know how common are the iron and steel
and coal that go to make up a steam-engine, but none the less does the
mysterious force inside make him stand out of the way.
The squire and Mr. Calhoun sauntered down the street. "I'll not deny,"
said the old man, meditatively, "that Cabarreux has no Northern 'go' in
him. But Dave's a good-natured fellow. He fought like the devil thar in
the Wilderness, and him but sixteen!"
"Yes, and has done nothing since but think of it. Oh, I've no objections
to Carbarreux except that he's of no account: he'll never earn his
bread. I can't see my girl starve."
"They'd be a fine-looking couple," persisted the squire, whose heart
leaned toward the young people. "Dave stands a good chance for the
jedge's property, too. We'll know to-night: the will's to be read this
Mr. Calhoun stopped: "I'll acknowledge, squire, that would make a
difference—that would undoubtedly make a difference. I'm a practical
man. Cabarreux with a steady income would be a dead weight which Bel
might manage to shove along through the world; but Cabarreux with
nothing is a millstone which would grind her to powder. I'd made up my
mind to send her away next week. But if you think—"
"Stay in town until we hear. The will's to be read to-night. Come and
dine with me: the madam has corned beef and succotash to-day."
Isabel drove briskly along the mountain-road. When she came to the forks
she stopped and hesitated: either way would take her home—one in half
an hour, the other after a long circuit among the hills. She turned the
mule's head into the longer road, a red flush rising suddenly on her
delicate neck and face. For an hour the narrow path climbed the
mountain-side, then dipped abruptly into the valley. Isabel looked
eagerly down the gorge; her breath came quickly; she began to sing
softly to herself. Yet there was nothing in sight but a little clearing
in the vast stretch of sombre, uninhabited forest, a vacant log house, a
This was the place which Dave Cabarreux's father had given him years
ago, and which she had heard he was going to work next spring. He would
be drudging here while she was in the North, thinking of her as he
ploughed: she knew that. But she would be gone for ever. It would be all
over then. Isabel stopped the mule, and sat with her hands clasped on
her knees, looking at the meadow and the desolate closed house. It was
nobly done in David to give himself up to hard work. Her heart beat as
high with pride as if he had been the first man who ever undertook at a
late day to earn his living. She had heard in town that he had been down
looking at the place the day before. Perhaps he had walked over that
very meadow. She leaned forward: the ground was soft: surely there were
the marks of footsteps. Only yesterday! Isabel glanced quickly
around—at the lonely road, the mighty hills that shut her in, swathed
in forest, shouldering the clouds, the gray mist creeping through the
gorge. An eagle swept across the opening overhead, frogs croaked in the
swamp yonder: there were no other living things to see her. She sprang
from the wagon, ran across the meadow, put her foot in the deep print:
her bosom heaved, the tears came to her eyes. Isabel was not a
sentimental, silly girl, but a shrewd, hard-working woman. She had not
seen her lover for a long time, and she thought it would be years before
she would see him again.
She walked down to the river—sat down under a walnut tree. Surely she
might rest there a minute. She would never see David's home again.
A tall, dark man gathered himself up from among the deep fern, watching
her breathlessly. Was it possible that she cared to walk over the land
because it was his land? No: she was too cold-blooded a little thing
She sprang to her feet. It was he! Then she spoke coolly, precisely as
if they had met on the street in Sevier: "How did you come here, Mr.
Cabarreux? I thought there was nobody but myself in this valley."
Young Cabarreux stood leaning over her, his hat in his hand: "The truth
is, I was asleep by the branch thar. I came out to look into the quality
of the soil this mornin', but I took a rest instead: I'll have enough of
work hyar next year."
"Yes, you will," with a little sigh, and a quick glance of pity at the
well-knit, handsome figure.
Cabarreux colored high and hesitated: "You—you knew it was my land,
then, Miss Isabel? When you stopped?" He bent so close that she could
feel his breath stir her hair. What could she say? She had never let him
know that she cared for him so much as that. She gave a frightened
glance at the face above her, the mellow olive complexion, the laughing
mouth, the dark, liquid eyes. It seemed to her that one of the early
gods might have had such a face.
"I had heard—I thought you had a farm in this valley," she faltered,
Cabarreux did not press the question: he followed her, moving the
branches aside with patient courtesy. He was a sincere man, and he
loved the girl with all his strength. Did she care for him? He would
He stopped, clearing the dead leaves from a mossy log. "Will you sit
down?" he said with a certain stately grace which even his baggy,
homespun clothes and torn hat did not make absurd. "It is my land, and
it would seem always different to me if you'd rest on it for a minute,
Isabel sat down. The color glowed hot in her face, and her lips moved
unsteadily as she tried to talk. "The laurel blooms late in this gorge,"
she said. "Look at the bush by the rock."
But Cabarreux did not look at the laurel: he did not know what she said.
He stood immovable before her, his sultry eyes lazily reading her face.
There was deep quiet in the little valley, except when a fish leaped in
the water beside them or the call of a mocking-bird rang through the
woods. They had never before, as it happened, been quite alone together.
Now this great silence and solitude shut them in.
He stood erect at last with a long breath. "There is somethin' I've
wished to say to you for a long time," he began in his leisurely drawl.
She stood up pale and fluttering. If she were the man! If she could
speak! She would compel love, she would force confession by sheer
strength of words. But Cabarreux stood deferential, indolent. "I must go
home: it is late," she said, hurrying across the field.
"One moment, Miss Isabel. This will be my home," stopping by the porch
of the little house. "If you would only look at it or walk through it
once—just once! It will be something for me to remember—when you are
When she was gone? This was the last time. She went hesitatingly up on
to the porch, and stood in the empty room by the bare hearth, Cabarreux
beside her. Once or twice he tried to speak, but the words died on his
lips: when he gave her his hand as she went down the steps his fingers
were icy cold and trembled. Perhaps she guessed the pain that the man
felt at the time, and was quite willing that he should feel it. She
said coolly as they walked through the woods to the road, "It's quite a
pretty little house, and this is very good soil indeed. I shall think of
you as very comfortable here, Mr. Cabarreux, when I am in the North."
"When you are in the North? Great God! do you know what you are sayin'?
Stay! you shall hear me! It's a poor hovel—I know how wretched it looks
in your Northern eyes—but as I lay there this morning I was
plannin'—plannin' how to make a palace of it for you—for you. Why, I'd
work like a slave—"
He stopped short. Dave Cabarreux had never done an honest stroke of work
in his life. Nothing but planning. He remembered that in this imminent
moment, and laughed. "Miss Isabel, I've been a good-for-nothing dog:
that's the truth. Everybody knows it: you know it. But there's a woman
that I love who could put a new soul into my body. If she would."
They had halted by the fence now, and Isabel's hand was on the mossy
rail. He put his own over it. "If she would? Isabel, do you care for
She looked up at the dark face full of tenderness and power. It seemed
as if the gods were coming very close to her indeed. "Yes, I care for
you," she said gently. "But I must go home—I must have time—I will not
hear more to-day."
But she waited to hear more. He only stooped and reverently kissed her
lips without a word. His brain reeled as it had done when he was going
into battle in the Wilderness. He had never worked, but he would—to win
her! He had not borne himself so badly in that other fight.
He lifted her into the buggy and walked beside her, his hand on the
reins, as the mule crept drowsily along the five miles between the
valley and the Calhoun farm. He spoke little. He was in a rapturous
dream, in which the warm sunlight, the woods, the soft fingers which he
touched now and then, bore a part.
Isabel talked or sang softly to herself, as she always did when she was
happy. Once he heard her say, "I should try oats in that meadow, if I
were you. And I should not be surprised if corundum could be found in
those rocks back of the house."
Oats and corundum?
Tears of vexation stood in her eyes as he looked at her perplexed. "It
is the farm I mean. You don't seem to have heard me. My father is so
practical! Indeed, indeed, it is only by hard work that you can gain his
"Oh, I understand perfectly," gazing dreamily into her eyes. "I shall go
to work upon that place: I shall tear it all up—next spring." He walked
on beside her. The golden light deepened in the west; the air was full
of delicious resinous odors from the pine forest; now and then he
pressed his lips to the warm, rose-tinted hand. Surely, he thought, this
divine draught which they had just begun to taste was not as sweet to
her as he found it, or she would not care to talk of oats and corundum.
When he left her he sauntered leisurely up the mountain wrapt in a
delirious ecstasy. Suddenly he quickened his steps: "I must go and hear
Uncle Scroope's will. A chance of something thar. No need of grubbing
out my life then in that old sheep-pasture." But he soon slackened his
pace again, thinking with a glow of exultation how true and tender he
would be to his love—how he could fight for her if need be. He wished
there were some foes to fight. No doubt if there had been, Dave would
have done his devoir, for he was as gallant a gentleman as any Sidney of
Isabel sat on the porch alone that evening. The women, with the men,
were at work ploughing corn on the upland, and her father would not
return from Sevier until late. The sun was going down, throwing the
shadow of a great peak of the Balsam Range over the house and the neat
farm with its Pennsylvania barn and fences. High up on the mountain
heaps of mica outside of the gaping black mouth of a deserted mine
glistened like silver.
A queer little figure was coming up the lonely road. Isabel saw it, and
laughed. Nobody could mistake the consequential strut, the flapping
linen suit, the white hat with its band of crape. But Isabel was in a
happy, tender mood toward all the world to-night; and she had always
been gentle with the poor little major. She only, of all the people in
Sevier, saw beneath the drunken braggart a man who had been sorely
worsted, and that perhaps not fairly, in the long fight. He was quite
sober this evening. But as she rose to meet him she saw signs of an odd
change in him. The linen clothes were scrupulously clean, costly ruby
buttons blazed in his shirt-front, on his fore finger was a curious
antique ring never seen there before: the usual defiant jauntiness of
the man had given way to a more significant self-assertion, as if he had
at last found secure ground beneath his feet.
"My father is not at home, Major Fetridge: I am sorry," said Isabel,
offering him a chair.
But he remained standing, leaning airily against a pillar, looking down
at her. "I am not sorry, Miss Calhoun. It was you that I came to see,"
he said pointedly. A nervous smile showed his teeth; his pale blue eyes
shone: the little man was, she saw, aflame with some secret exultation
as with wine.
"I fancy that you bring me good news, major?" said Isabel, humoring his
"News? Yes, I bring you news. The will is read—Judge Scroope's will."
"Who is the heir?"
"Peter Marmaduke Boyer, if he is alive. If he is dead, young Cabarreux."
Isabel made no reply for a moment: the work she held fell from her hand.
She had not known of this chance. If David Cabarreux were the heir he
would have every virtue in her father's eyes.
"I hope," she said at last, taking up her work again with a soft,
complacent little laugh, "Mr. Cabarreux may live long to enjoy his good
"The fortune is not his," cried Sam excitedly. "You don't understand.
Boyer is the heir—the Honorable Peter M. Boyer. A man who stood in the
Senate of the United States, Miss Calhoun. A man who knows the
world—who will know how to give his wife place and power, and who will
have money now to buy both."
"I thought you said he was dead?"
"No. I—" He paused, grew suddenly pale, and went on hurriedly: "I know
the man. He is alive."
"Then—It does not matter. It is all just as it was before," said Isabel
with a proud smile. But, her thoughts going to her lover in his
disappointment, she almost forgot that the major was there until he
His altered tone startled her into attention. It was sharp with
repressed passion and pain. The poor sot was in earnest—more in
earnest, it seemed to her, even than Cabarreux had been when he had told
her that he loved her to-day. "Miss Calhoun, do you remember one day
three or four years ago, when I was knocked down in a drunken fight at
Sevier, and lay like a beast on the roadside?"
"Hush! I must tell you: I never spoke to you about it before. You passed
by. You were a little thing then—the people in Sevier had left me there
like a dead dog—but you tried to rouse me, to take me home; and when
you could not do it, you spread your handkerchief over my face to hide
it. I have it yet. Look there! Such a scrap of a thing!" opening it out.
"Any girl would have done it. Why do you bring up this miserable story
now?" cried Isabel.
"Because on that day I swore before Almighty God that if ever I reached
my place in the world you should stand beside me. Oh!" pacing up and
down with a bitter laugh, "I wasn't always the drunken bummer Sam
Fetridge. I have within me great capabilities—even yet, yet. You saw
that. You saw the man I might have been, and never was. Every word you
have ever spoken to me has showed me that you saw it."
The words and the uncontrollable excitement of the man had a singular
effect upon Isabel. Something in the voice, the words, came from a
strong soul in desperate strait—belonged to a man with intellect and
energy, for whom she could have near sympathy, a sense of alliance; but
before her eyes was only ridiculous Sam Fetridge, the butt of the
village, vaporing up and down.
"It is true," she said frankly, "that your life in Sevier has been
wretched enough. I thank God that you are going to change it. What can I
do to help you?"
"Don't you know? Don't you understand even yet?" The little man came up
before her and took both her hands in his: the tears stood in his
blinking eyes. Isabel looked into them steadily, and she did not take
her hands away. "You see it is a sort of crisis to-night with me, Miss
Calhoun. I've thought for a good while the game was played out for body
and soul. But there's one thing that could make a man of me again, and
to-night I feel as if I had some right to put out my hand and take it."
Her lips moved, but she said nothing.
"It is your love. I've loved you a long time. I'm old enough to be your
father, but I never loved any woman but you, Isabel."
"I thought you meant that," she said under her breath.
"It is not drunken Sam Fetridge that loves you. I have culture,
intelligence, energy. I am a better man at bottom than Dave Cabarreux,
and one nearer akin to yourself."
"I love him: I do not love you." She said it mechanically, her eyes
fixed on his with a frightened, curious look of recognition. It followed
him as he left her, half staggering across the porch: it was on him
still as he came back, and, leaning against the pillar, held out his
hand again to her.
She did not take it now.
"Miss Calhoun, there is not in the United States a man with more
ambition than I have, nor one with a better chance to take his place
among other men if—if I had your hand to hold. Give it to me: be my
wife. For God's sake, don't take the chance from me!"
"Major Fetridge," she said resolutely, but with a strange quaver in her
voice, "I love David Cabarreux. I never can marry you. If there is
anything else that I can do—"
"No, there is nothing you can do," he cried vehemently. "It would have
been better you had thought me a drunken brute like the others, and had
not recognized me. For you did recognize me, you know."
He turned without another word, and walked down the hill with slouching
step and head bent. Isabel tried to think of him as the tippling major,
but it seemed as if she had talked to another man.
Mr. Calhoun met Major Fetridge as he came home, but he was in an
ill-humor and did not speak to him. Late that evening Sam lay on a bench
by the pump. He had been drinking heavily, but he was sober. The squire
and Grayson were discussing the event of the day, the will.
"Calhoun is savagely disappointed," said the squire. "If Cabarreux had
had the money, he would have allowed him to marry Isabel, he says. Now
he means to send her North at once."
"Are you sure that this Boyer is alive?" said Grayson.
"Sam says so. He says he is going to bring the man up soon. Well, it's
all up with poor Cabarreux. I'm sorry for them. Bel is a good girl: she
ought to have been a happy wife."
The men went home to bed, leaving the major on the bench. He lay there
for an hour or more. The village had gone to sleep for the night. Dense
fogs wrapped the mountains that shut in the little hamlet, but overhead
the stars were shining in the near heaven.
He rose at last. He was ghastly pale, as if the blood had ceased to flow
in his body, but he stood up, drawing himself to his little height with
a sudden triumph. "Damned if I don't do it! the time has come for the
great deed!" He went with a swagger, as though he walked on air, down
Two days later young Cabarreux, sauntering leisurely, as usual, across
the square, met the squire and Sam Fetridge coming out of Grayson's
office. Both men were greatly excited, but Sam was silent, while the
squire talked volubly. He grasped Dave by the hand: "Cabarreux, I
congratulate you! You are a lucky dog! I was just saying to Fetridge
hyar, 'What is there that fellow hasn't got?'"
"What's the matter? what have I got?" said Cabarreux.
"The major here hes heerd about that fellow Boyer. He's dead."
"Is this true?" turning to Fetridge.
The major did not answer.
"Of course it's true," said the squire. "Sam has the letter in his
pocket.—Show it to him, Fetridge."
Sam looked up at the handsome, eager face for a full moment. "Boyer is
dead," he said.
"The proputty's yours, Cabarreux," cried the squire.—"By George, he's
off already! Straight for the Calhoun farm! Thar will be as fine a
couple as there is in Carolina. Come, let's drink their health, major.
I'll stand treat."
"Drink their health? No. Good-night. I'm going out of town a bit," he
replied, nodding shortly; and without another word of farewell he turned
his back on Sevier for ever.
There is no couple better beloved in all that mountain-region than David
Cabarreux and his wife. They live on the farm. Dave lies in the fern a
good part of every day smoking and planning, but as his wife is
satisfied that his dream is one of love for her, she is content:
besides, she wishes him to rest, being careful of his health and in
constant terror lest he may fall a victim to cerebral disease from
overwork, which is so common an ailment in the North. Oats and corundum
both came according to prophecy. The Cabarreux property is turning out
better than any other in that part of the State, both as to soil and
mineral products: there is some talk of a gold-mine, indeed, lately.
"And Bel," her father tells the squire, "will find out the latest
improvements in working it. Bel can bring the best profit out of any
ground, however poor. Even out of Cabarreux himself."
Mr. Calhoun is a little prejudiced still against his Southern
Peter Marmaduke Boyer is dead. He died at home, in the mountain-hut. The
way it came about was this: The two brothers sat alone one night by the
fire after a day's hunting. Suddenly Richard stood up. His practised ear
heard a step far off down the mountain. Then Hugh rose: they looked at
each other. "It is he," they said, and went out into the night to meet
him. Their watch of half a lifetime was over.
Their brother, when they brought him into the house, was very poor and
weak, and looked as if he were an older man than either of them. But he
was full of triumph and good cheer.
"Boys," he said, "I told you I would not come back to you until I had
done a great deed. I have done it."
He never told them what it was, and they were contented with knowing
that he had taken rank above all other men down in the great world
He lived for more than a year. It was a very happy year. The brothers
had waited long for it. They listened from morning until night to his
boastful little stories with undoubting faith and pleasure. As for their
hero, he felt that he had made his mark: he had his circle of admirers
and limitless applause: what could life give him more?
The little man wasted away gradually. Just at the last he looked up with
an assuring nod to Richard and Hugh: "You'll not be long behind me,
boys. But I'll be there before: I'll straighten matters a bit for you."
And so he went out with an airy swagger into the other world.
Rebecca Harding Davis.