Southern Lights and Shadows
Edited by William Dean Howells & Henry Mills Alden
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Stan Goodman and PG Distributed Proofreaders
SOUTHERN LIGHTS AND SHADOWS
William Dean Howells
Henry Mills Alden
Table of Contents
Grace MacGowan Cooke
THE CAPTURE OF ANDY PROUDFOOT
Abby Meguire Roach
THE LEVEL OF FORTUNE
Mrs. B.F. Mayhew
IN THE PINY WOODS
William L. Sheppard
MY FIFTH IN MAMMY
Sarah Barnwell Elliott
A SNIPE HUNT
THE COURTSHIP OF COLONEL BILL
THE BALANCE OF POWER
The most noticeable characteristic of the extraordinary literary
development of the South since the Civil War is that it is almost entirely
in the direction of realism. A people who, up to that time, had been so
romantic that they wished to naturalize among themselves the ideals and
usages of the Walter Scott ages of chivalry, suddenly dropped all that, and
in their search for literary material could apparently find nothing so good
as the facts of their native life. The more "commonplace" these facts the
better they seemed to like them. Evidently they believed that there was a
poetry under the rude outside of their mountaineers, their slattern country
wives, their shy rustic men and maids, their grotesque humorists, their
wild religionists, even their black freedmen, which was worth more than the
poetastery of the romantic fiction of their fathers. In this strong faith,
which need not have been a conscious creed, the writers of the New South
have given the world sketches and studies and portraits of the persons and
conditions of their peculiar civilization which the Russians themselves
have not excelled in honesty, and hardly in simplicity. To be sure, this
development was on the lines of those early humorists who antedated the
romantic fictionists, and who were often in their humor so rank, so wild,
so savage, so cruel, but the modern realism has refined both upon their
matter and their manner. Some of the most artistic work in the American
short-story, that is to say the best short-story in the world, has been
done in the South, so that one may be reasonably sure of an artistic
pleasure in taking up a Southern story. One finds in the Southern stories
careful and conscientious character, rich local color, and effective
grouping, and at the same time one finds genuine pathos, true humor, noble
feeling, generous sympathy. The range of this work is so great as to
include even pictures of the more conventional life, but mainly the writers
keep to the life which is not conventional, the life of the fields, the
woods, the cabin, the village, the little country town. It would be easier
to undervalue than to overvalue them, as we believe the reader of the
admirable pieces here collected will agree.
The Capture of Andy Proudfoot
By GRACE MACGOWAN COOKE
A dry branch snapped under Kerry's foot with the report of a toy pistol. He
swore perfunctorily, and gazed greedily at the cave-opening just ahead. He
was a bungling woodsman at best; and now, stalking that greatest of all big
game, man, the blood drummed in his ears and his heart seemed to slip a cog
or two with every beat. He stood tense, yet trembling, for the space in
which a man might count ten; surely if there were any one inside the
cave--if the one whose presence he suspected were there--such a noise would
have brought him forth. But a great banner of trumpet-creeper, which hid
the opening till one was almost upon it, waved its torches unstirred except
by the wind; the sand in the doorway was unpressed by any foot.
Kerry began to go forward by inches. He was weary as only a town-bred man,
used to the leisurely patrolling of pavements, could be after struggling
obliquely up and across the pathless flank of Big Turkey Track Mountain,
and then climbing to this eyrie upon Old Yellow Bald--Old Yellow, the peak
that reared its "Bald" of golden grass far above the ranges of The Big and
Little Turkey Tracks.
"Lord, how hungry I am!" he breathed. "I bet the feller's got grub in
there." He had been out two days. He was light-headed from lack of food; at
the thought of it nervous caution gave way to mere brute instinct, and he
plunged recklessly into the cave. Inside, the sudden darkness blinded him
for a moment. Then there began to be visible in one corner a bed of bracken
and sweet-fern; in another an orderly arrangement of tin cans upon a shelf,
and the ashes of a fire, where sat a Dutch oven. The sight of this last
whetted Kerry's hunger; he almost ran to the shelf, and groaned as he found
the first can filled with gunpowder, the next with shot, and the third
containing some odds and ends of string and nails.
He had knelt to inspect a rude box, when a little sound caused him to turn.
In the doorway was a figure which raised the hair upon his head, with a
chilly sensation at its roots--a tall man, with a great mane of black locks
blowing unchecked about his shoulders. He stood turned away from Kerry,
having halted in the doorway as though to take a last advantage of the
outer daylight upon some object of interest to him before entering. He was
examining one of his own hands, and a little shivering moan escaped him. A
rifle rested in the hollow of his arm; Kerry could see the outline of a big
navy-pistol in his belt; and as the man shifted, another came to view;
while the Irishman's practised eye did not miss the handle of a long knife
in its sheath. It went swiftly through his mind that those who sent him on
this errand should have warned him of the size of the quarry. Suddenly,
almost without his own volition, he found himself saying: "I ask your
pardon. I was dead beat an' fair famished, an' I crawled in here to--"
The tall figure in the doorway turned like a thing on a pivot; he did not
start, nor spin round, as a slighter or more nervous person might have
done; and a strange chill fell upon Kerry's heat when the man, whom he
recognized as that one he had come to seek, faced him. The big, dark eyes
looked the intruder up and down; what their owner thought of him, what he
decided concerning him, could no more be guessed than the events of next
year. In a full, grave voice, but one exceedingly gentle, the owner of the
cave repaired the lack of greeting.
"Howdy, stranger?" he said. "I never seen you as I come up, 'count o'
havin' snagged my hand on this here gun."
He came toward Kerry with the bleeding member outstretched. Now was the
Irishman's time--by all his former resolutions, by the need he had for that
money reward--to deftly handcuff the outlaw. What he did was to draw the
other toward the daylight, examine the hand, which was torn and lacerated
on the gun-hammer, and with sundry exclamations of sympathy proceed to bind
it up with strips torn from his own handkerchief.
"Snagged!" he echoed, as he noted how the great muscle of the thumb was
torn across. "I don't see how you ever done that on a gun-hammer. I've
nursed a good bit--I was in Cuby last year, an' I was detailed for juty in
the hospital more'n half my time," he went on, eagerly. "This here hand,
it's bad, 'cause it's torn. Ef you had a cut o' that size, now, you
wouldn't be payin' no 'tention to it. The looks o' this here reminds me o'
the tear one o' them there Mauser bullets makes--Gawd! but they rip the men
up shockin'!" He rambled on with uneasy volubility as he attended to the
wound. "You let me clean it, now. It'll hurt some, but it'll save ye
trouble after while. You set down on the bed. Where kin I git some water?"
"Thar's a spring round the turn in the cave thar--they's a go'd in it."
But Kerry took one of the tin cans, emptied and rubbed it nervously,
talking all the while--talking as though to prevent the other from
speaking, and with something more than the ordinary garrulity of the nurse.
"I got lost to-day," he volunteered, as he cleansed the wound skilfully and
drew its ragged lips together. "Gosh! but you tore that thumb up! You won't
hardly be able to do nothin' with that hand fer a spell. Yessir! I got
lost--that's what I did. One tree looks pretty much like another to me; and
one old rock it's jest the same as the next one. I reckon I've walked
twenty mile sence sunup."
He paused in sudden panic; but the other did not ask him whence he had
walked nor whither he was walking. Instead, he ventured, in his serious
tones, as the silence grew oppressive: "You're mighty handy 'bout this sort
o' thing. I reckon I'll have a tough time here alone till that hand heals."
"Oh, I'll stay with you a while," Kerry put in, hastily. "I ain't a-goin'
on, a-leavin' a man in sech a fix, when I ain't got nothin' in particular
to do an' nowheres in particular to go," he concluded, rather lamely.
His host's eyes dwelt on him. "Well, now, that'd be mighty kind in you,
stranger," he began, gently; and added, with the mountaineer's deathless
hospitality, "You're shorely welcome."
In Kerry's pocket a pair of steel handcuffs clicked against each other. Any
moment of the time that he was dressing the outlaw's hand, identifying at
short range a dozen marks enumerated in the description furnished him, he
could have snapped them upon those great wrists and made his host his
prisoner. Yet, an hour later, when the big man had told him of a string of
fish tied down in the branch, of a little cellarlike contrivance by the
spring which contained honeycomb and some cold corn-pone, the two men sat
at supper like brothers.
"Ye don't smoke?" inquired Kerry, commiseratingly, as his host twisted off
a great portion of home-cured tobacco. "Lord! ye'll never know what the
weed is till ye burn it. A chaw'll do when you're in the trenches an'
afraid to show the other fellers where to shoot, so that ye dare not smoke.
Ah-h-h! I've had it taste like nectar to me then; but tobacco's never
tobacco till it's burnt," and the Irishman smiled fondly upon his stumpy
They sat and talked over the fire (for a fire is good company in the
mountains, even of a midsummer evening) with that freedom and abandon which
the isolation, the hour, and the circumstances begot. Kerry had told his
name, his birthplace, the habits and temperament of his parents, his
present hopes and aspirations--barring one; he had even sketched an outline
of Katy--Katy, who was waiting for him to save enough to buy that little
farm in the West; and his host, listening in the unbroken silence of deep
sympathy, had not yet offered even so much as his name.
Then the bed was divided, a bundle of fern and pine boughs being disposed
in the opposite corner of the cave for the newcomer's accommodation. Later,
after good-nights had been exchanged and Kerry fancied that his host was
asleep, he himself stirred, sat up, and being in uneasy need of information
as to whether the cave door should not be stopped in some manner, opened
with a hesitating, "Say!"
"You might jest call me Andy," the deep voice answered, before the
mountain-man negatived the proposition of adding a front door to the
Kerry slept again. Mountain air and weariness are drugs potent against a
bad conscience, and it was broad daylight outside the cave when he wakened.
He was a little surprised to find his host still sleeping, yet his
experience told him that the wound was of a nature to induce fever,
followed by considerable exhaustion. As the Irishman lifted his coat from
where he had had it folded into a bundle beneath his head, the handcuffs in
the pocket clicked, and he frowned. He stole across to look at the man who
had called himself Andy, lying now at ease upon his bed of leaves, one
great arm underneath his head, the injured hand nursed upon his broad
breast. Those big eyes which had so appalled Kerry upon a first view
yesterday were closed. The onlooker noted with a sort of wonder how
sumptuous were the fringes of their curtains, long and purple--black, like
the thick, arched brows above. To speak truly, Kerry, although he was a
respectable member of the police force, had the artistic temperament. The
harmony of outline, the justness of proportion in both the face and figure
of the man before him, filled the Irishman with delight; and the splendid
virile bulk of the mountain-man appealed irresistibly to the other's
masculinity. The little threads of silver in the tempestuous black curls
seemed to Kerry but to set off their beauty.
"Gosh! but you're a good-looker!" he muttered. And putting his estimate of
the man's charm into such form as was possible to him, he added, under his
breath, "I'd hate to have seen a feller as you tryin' to court my Katy."
This was the first of many strange days; golden September days they were,
cool and full of the ripened beauty of the departing summer. Kerry's host
taught him to snare woodcock and pheasants--shoot them the Irishman could
not, since the excitement of the thing made him fire wild.
"Now ain't that the very divil!" he would cry, after he had let his third
bird get away unharmed. "Ef I was shootin' at a man, I'd be as stiddy as a
clock. Gad! I'd be cool as an ice-wagon. But when that little old brown
chicken scoots a-scutterin' up out o' the grass like a hummin'-top, it
rattles me." His teacher apparently took no note of the significance
contained in this statement; yet Kerry's very ears were red as it slipped
out, and he felt uneasily for the handcuffs, which no longer clinked in his
pocket, but now lay carefully hidden under his fern bed.
There had been a noon-mark in the doorway of the cave, thrown by the shadow
of a boulder beside it, even before the Irishman's big nickel watch came
with its bustling, authoritative tick to bring the question of time into
the mountains. But the two men kept uncertain hours: sometimes they talked
more than half the night, the close-cropped, sandy poll and the unshorn
crest of Jove-like curls nodding at each other across the fire, then slept
far into the succeeding day; sometimes they were up before dawn and off
after squirrels--with which poor Kerry had no better luck than with the
birds. Every day the Irishman dressed his host's hand; and every day he
tasted more fully the charm of this big, strong, gentle, peaceful nature
clad in its majestic garment of flesh.
"If he'd 'a' been an ugly, common-looking brute, I'd 'a' nabbed him in a
minute," he told himself, weakly. And every day the handcuffs under the
dried fern-leaves lay heavier upon his soul.
On the 20th of September, which Kerry had set for his last day in the cave,
he was moved to begin again at the beginning and tell the big mountaineer
all his affairs.
"Ye see, it's like this," he wound up: "Katy--the best gurrl an' the
purtiest I ever set me two eyes on--she's got a father that'll strike her
when the drink's with him. He works her like a dog, hires her out and takes
every cent she earns. Her mother--God rest her soul!--has been dead these
two years. And now the old man is a-marryin' an' takin' home a woman not
fit for my Katy to be with. I says when I heard of it, says I: `Katy, I'll
take ye out o' that hole. I'll do the trick, an' I'll git the reward, an'
it's married we'll be inside of a month, an' we'll go West.' That's what
brought me up here into the mountains--me that was born, as ye might say,
on the stair-steps of a tenement-house, an' fetched up the same."
Absorbed in the interest of his own affairs, the Irishman did not notice
what revelations he had made. Whether or not this knowledge was new to his
host the uncertain light of the dying fire upon that grave, impassive face
did not disclose.
"An' now," Kerry went on, "I've been thinkin' about Katy a heap in the last
few days. I'm goin' home to her to-morry--home to Philadelphy--goin' with
empty hands. An' I'm a-goin' to say to her, 'Katy, would ye rather take me
jest as I am, out of a job'--fer that's what I'll be when I go
back,--'would ye rather take me so an' wait fer the little farm?' I guess
she'll do it; I guess she'll take me. I've got that love fer her that makes
me think she'll take me. Did ye ever love a woman like that?"--turning
suddenly to the silent figure on the other side of the fire. "Did ye ever
love one so that ye felt like ye could jest trust her, same as you could
trust yourself? It's a--it--well, it's a mighty comfortable thing."
The mountaineer stretched out his injured hand, and examined it for so long
a time without speaking that it seemed as though he would not answer at
all. The wound was healing admirably now; he had made shift to shoot, with
Kerry's shoulder for a rest, and their larder was stocked with game once
more. When he at last raised his head and looked across the fire, his black
eyes were such wells of misery as made the other catch his breath.
Upon the silence fell his big, serious voice, as solemn and sonorous as a
church-bell: "You ast me did I ever love an' trust a woman like that. I
did--an' she failed me. I ain't gwine to call you fool fer sich; you're a
town feller, Dan, with smart town ways; mebby your gal would stick to you,
even ef you was in trouble; but me--"
Kerry made an inarticulate murmur of sympathy.
The voice went on. "You say you're goin' home to her with jest your two
bare hands?" it inquired. "But why fer? You've found your man. What makes
you go back that-a-way?"
Kerry's mouth was open, his jaw fallen; he stared through the smoke at his
host as though he saw him now for the first time. Kerry belongs to a people
who love or hate obviously and openly; that the outlaw should have known
him from the first for a police officer, a creature of prey upon his track,
and should have treated him as a friend, as a brother, appalled and
"See here, Dan," the big man went on, leaning forward; "I knowed what your
arrant was the fust minute I clapped eyes on you. You didn't know whether I
could shoot with my left hand as well as my right--I didn't choose you
should know. I watched fer ye to be tryin' to put handcuffs on me any
minute--after you found my right hand was he'pless."
"Lord A'mighty! You could lay me on my back with your left hand, Andy,"
The big man nodded. "They was plenty of times when I was asleep--or you
thort I was. Why didn't ye do it? Where is they? Fetch 'em out."
Unwilling, red with shame, penetrated with a grief and ache he scarce
comprehended, Kerry dragged the handcuffs from their hiding-place. The
other took them, and thereafter swung them thoughtfully in his strong brown
fingers as he talked.
"You was goin' away without makin' use o' these?" he asked, gently.
Kerry, crimson of face and moist of eye, gulped, frowned, and nodded.
"Well, now," the mountain-man pursued, "I been thinkin' this thing over
sence you was a-speakin'. That there gal o' yourn she's in a tight box.
You're the whitest man I ever run up ag'inst. You've done me better than my
own brothers. My own brothers," he repeated, a look of pain and bitterness
knitting those wonderfully pencilled brows above the big eyes. "Fer my
part, I'm sick o' livin' this-a-way. When you're gone, an' I'm here agin by
my lonesome, I'm as apt as not to put the muzzle o' my gun in my mouth an'
blow the top o' my head off--that's how I feel most o' the time. I tell you
what you do, Dan: you jest put these here on me an' take me down to
Garyville--er plumb on to Asheville--an' draw your money. That'll square up
things fer you an' that pore little gal. What say ye?"
Into Kerry's sanguine face there surged a yet deeper red; his shoulders
heaved; the tears sprang to his eyes; and before his host could guess the
root of his emotion the Irishman was sobbing, furiously, noisily, turned
away, his head upon his arm. The humiliation of it ate into his soul; and
the tooth was sharpened by his own misdeeds. How many times had he looked
at the great, kindly creature across the fire there and calculated the
chances of getting him to Garyville?
Andy's face twisted as though he had bitten a green persimmon. "Aw! Don't
_cry!_" he remonstrated, with the mountaineer's quick contempt for
expressed emotion. "My Lord! Dan, don't--"
"I'll cry if I damn please!" Kerry snorted. "You old fool! Me a-draggin'
you down to Garyville! Me, that's loved you like a brother! An' never had
no thought--an' never had no thought--Oh, hell!" he broke off, at the
bitter irony of the lie; then the sobs broke forth afresh. To deny that he
had come to arrest the outlaw was so pitifully futile.
"So ye won't git the money that-a-way?" Andy's big voice ruminated, and a
strange note of relief sounded in it; a curious gleam leaped into the
sombre eyes. But he added, softly: "Sleep on it, bud; I'll let ye change
your mind in the mornin'."
"You shut your head!" screeched Kerry, fiercely, with a hiccough of
wrenching misery. "You talk to me any more like that, an' I'll lambaste
ye--er try to--big as ye are! Oh, damnation!"
The last night in the cave was one of gusty, moving breezes and brilliant
moonlight, yet both its tenants slept profoundly, after their strange
outburst of emotion. The first gray of dawn found them stirring, and Kerry
making ready for his return journey. Together, as heretofore, they prepared
their meal, then sat down in silence to eat it. Suddenly the mountain-man
raised his eyes, to whose grave beauty the Irishman's temperament responded
like that of a woman, and said, quietly,
"I'm a-goin' to tell ye somethin', an' then I'm a-goin' to show ye
Kerry's throat ached. In these two weeks he had conceived a love for his
big, silent, gentle companion which rivalled even his devotion to Katy. The
thought of leaving him helpless and alone, a common prey of reward-hunters,
the remembrance of what Andy had said concerning his own despair beneath
the terrible pressure of the mountain solitude, were almost more than Kerry
"Fust and foremost, Dan," the other began, when the meal was finished, "I'm
goin' to tell ye how come I done what I done. Likely you've hearn tales,
an' likely they was mostly lies. You see, it was this-a-way: Me an' my wife
owned land j'inin'. The Turkey Track Minin' Company they found coal on it,
an' was wishful to buy. Her an' me wasn't wed then, but we was about to be,
an' we j'ined in fer to sell the land an' go West." His brooding eyes were
on the fire; his voice--which had halted before the words "my wife," then
taken them with a quick gulp--broke a little every time he said "she" or
"her." Kerry's heart jumped when he heard the mention of that little
Western farm--why, it might have been in the very locality he and Katy
looked longingly toward.
"That feller they sent down here fer to buy the ground--Dickert was his
name; you've hearn it, I reckon?"
Kerry recognized the murdered man's name. He nodded, without a word, his
little blue eyes helplessly fastened on Andy's eyes.
"Yes, Dickert 'twas. He was took with Euola from the time he put eyes on
her--which ain't sayin' more of him than of any man 'at see her. But a town
feller's hangin' round a mounting-gal hain't no credit to her. Euola she
was promised to me. But ef she hadn't 'a' been, she wouldn't 'a' took no
passin' o' bows an' complyments from that Dickert. I thort the nighest way
out on't was to tell the gentleman that her an' me was to be wed, an' that
we'd make the deeds as man an' wife, an' I done so."
Kerry looked at his host and wondered that any man should hope to tamper
with the affections of her who loved him.
"Wed we was," the mountain-man went on; and an imperceptible pause followed
the words. "We rid down to Garyville to be wed, an' we went from the
jestice's office to the office of this here Dickert. He had a cuss with him
that was no better'n him; an' when it come to the time in the signin' that
our names was put down, an' my wife was to be 'examined privately and
apart'--ez is right an' lawful--ez to whether I'd made her sign or not,
this other cuss steps with her into the hall, an' Dickert turns an' says to
me, 'You git a thousand dollars each fer your land--you an' that woman,' he
"I never liked the way he spoke--besides what he said; an' I says to him,
'The bargain was made fer five thousand dollars apiece,' says I, 'an' why
do we git less?'
"'Beca'se,' says he, a-swellin' up an' lookin' at me red an'
devilish,--'beca'se you take my leavin's--you fool! I bought the land of
you fer a thousand dollars each--an' there's my deed to it, that you jest
signed--I reckon you can read it. Ef I sell the land to the company--it's
none o' your business what I git fer it.'
"Well, I can't read--not greatly. I don't know how I knowed--but I did
know--that he was gittin' from the company the five thousand dollars apiece
that we was to have had. I seen his eye cut round to the hall door, an' I
thort he had that money on him (beca'se he was their agent an' they'd
trusted him so far) fer to pay me and Euola in cash. With that he grabbed
up the deed an' stuffed it into his pocket. Lord! Lord! I could 'a' shook
it out o' him--an' the money too--hit's what I would 'a' done if the fool
had 'a' kep' his mouth shut. But I reckon hit was God's punishment on him
'at he had to go on sayin', 'Yes, you tuck my leavin's in the money, an'
you've tuck my leavin's agin to-day.' Euola was jest comin' into the room
when he said that, an' he looked at her. I hit him." He gazed down the
length of his arm thoughtfully. "I ort to be careful when I hit out, bein'
stronger than most. But I was mad, an' I hit harder than I thort. I reached
over an' grabbed open the table drawer jest fer luck--an' thar was the
money. I tuck it. The other cuss he was down on the floor, sorter
whimperin' an' workin' over this feller Dickert; an' he begun to yell that
I'd killed 'im. With that Euola she gives me one look--white ez paper she
was--an' she says, 'Run, Andy honey. I'll git to ye when I kin.'" The
mountain-man was silent so long that Kerry thought he was done. But he
"She ketched my sleeve, jest ez I made to start, an' said: 'I'll come,
Andy. Mind, Andy, _I'll come to ye, ef I live_.'" Then there was the
silence of sympathy between the two men.
So that was the history of the crime--a very different history from the
one Kerry had heard.
"Hit's right tetchy business--er has been--a-tryin' to take Andy
Proudfoot," the outlaw continued; "but, Dan, I'd got mighty tired, time you
come. An' Euola--"
Kerry rose abruptly, the memory hot within him of Proudfoot's offer of the
night before. The mountaineer got slowly to his feet.
"They's somethin' I wanted to show ye, too, ye remember," he said. They
walked together down the bluff, to where another little cavern, low and
shallow, hid itself behind huckleberry-bushes. "I kep' the money here,"
Proudfoot said, kneeling in the cramped entrance and delving among the
rocks. He drew out a roll of bills and fingered them thoughtfully.
"The reward, now, hit was fifteen hundred dollars--with what the State an'
company both give, warn't it? Dan, I was mighty proud ye wouldn't have
it--I wanted to give it to ye this-a-way. I don't know as I've got any
rights on Euola's money. I reckon I mought ax you fer to take it to her, ef
so be you could find her. My half--you kin have it, an' welcome."
Fear was in Kerry's heart. "An' what'll you be doin'?" he inquired,
"Me?" asked Andy, listlessly. "Euola she's done gone plumb back on me," he
explained. "I hain't heard one word from her sence the trouble, an' I've
got that far I hain't a-keerin' what becomes of me. I like you, Dan; I'd
ruther you had the money--"
"Oh, my Gawd! Don't, Andy," choked the Irishman. "Let me think, man," as
the other's surprised gaze dwelt on him. Up to this time all Kerry's
faculties had been engrossed in what was told him, or that which went on
before his eyes. Now memory suddenly roused in him. The woman he had seen
back at Asheville, the woman who called herself Mandy Greefe, but whom the
police there suspected of being Andy Proudfoot's wife, whom they had twice
endeavored, unsuccessfully, to follow in long, secret excursions into the
mountains. What was the story? What had they said? That she was seeking
Proudfoot, or was in communication with him; that was it! They had warned
Kerry that the woman was mild-looking (he had seen her patient, wistful
face the last thing as he left Asheville), but that she might do him a
mischief if she suspected he was on the trail of her husband. "My Lord! Oh,
my Lord! W'y, old man,--w'y, Andy boy!" he cried, joyously, patting the
shoulder of the big man, who still knelt with the roll of money in his
hands,--"Andy, she's waitin' fer you--she's true as steel! She's ready to
go with you. Yes, an' Dan Kerry's the boy to git ye out o' this under the
very noses o' that police an' detective gang at Asheville. 'Tis you an' me
that'll go together, Andy."
Proudfoot still knelt. His nostrils flickered; his eyes glowed. "Have a
care what you're a-sayin'," he began, in a low, shaking voice. "Euola!
Euola! You've saw me pretty mild; but don't you be mistook by that, like
that feller Dickert was mistook. Don't you lie to me an' try to fool me
'bout her. One o' them fellers I shot had me half-way to Garyville, tellin'
me she was thar--sick--an' sont him fer me."
Kerry laughed aloud. "Me foolin' you!" he jeered. "'Tis a child I've been
in your hands, ye black, big, still, solemn rascal! Here's money a-plenty,
an' you that knows these mountains--the fur side--an' me that knows the
ropes. You'll lend me a stake f'r the West. We'll go together--all four of
us. Oh Lord!" and again tears were on the sanguine cheeks.
The Level of Fortune
BY ABBY MEGUIRE ROACH
She was the ambition of the younger girls and the envy of the less
fortunate. Bessie Hall had _everything_, they said.
Her prettiness, indeed, was chiefly in slender plumpness and bloom. But it
served her purpose as no classic mould would have done. She did not
overestimate it. But she was probably better satisfied with it than with
most of those conditions of her life that people were always telling her
were ideal. They spoke of her as the only child in a way that implied
congratulations on the undivided inheritance--and that reminded her how she
had always wanted a sister. They talked of her idyllic life on a blue-grass
stock-farm--when she was wheedling from her father a winter in Washington.
They envied her often when they had the very thing she wanted--or, at
least, she didn't have it. They enlarged on her popularity, and she
answered, "Oh yes, nice boys, most of them, but--"
She had always said, "_When_ I marry," not "_if_," and had said it much as
she said, "When I grow up." And, yes, she believed in fate: that everybody
who belonged to you would find you out; but--it was only hospitable to
meet them half-way! So her admirers found her in the beginning hopefully
interested, and in the end rather mournfully unconvinced. Her regret seemed
so genuinely on her own account as well as theirs that they usually carried
off a very kind feeling for her. She was equally open to enlistment in any
other proposed diversion. For Bessie lived in a constant state of great
expectation that something really nice would really happen to-morrow. There
was always something wrong to-day.
"It's not fair!" she complained to Guy Osbourne, when he came to tell her
good-by, all in the gray. "I'm positively discriminated against. If _I_
have an engagement, it's sure to rain! And now just when I'm beginning to
be a grown young lady, with a prospect _at last_ of a thoroughly good time,
a war has to break out!"
Her petulance was pretty. Guy laughed. "How disobliging!" he sympathized.
"And how modest!" he added--which the reader may disentangle; Bessie did
not. "_At last!_" he mocked her.
For Bessie Hall, whose community already moved in an orbit around her, and
whose parents had, according to a familiar phrase, an even more
circumscribed course around her little finger--for Bessie Hall to rail at
fate was deliciously absurd, delightfully feminine!
When Bessie was most unreasonable one only wanted to kiss her. Guy's
privileges in that line had passed with the days when he used to pick up
bodily his lithe little playfellow to cross a creek or rain-puddled road.
But to-day seemed pleasantly momentous; it called for the unusual. "I say,
Bibi, when a knight went off to fight, you know, his lady used to give him
a stirrup-cup at good-by. Don't you think it would be really sweet of
She held off, only to be provoking. She would have thought no more of
kissing Guy than a brother--or she thought she wouldn't. To be sure, she
hadn't for years; there was no occasion; and then, of course, one didn't.
She laughed and shook her head, and retreated laughing. And he promptly
captured her.... She freed herself, suddenly serious. And Guy stood
sobered--sobered not at going to the war, but at leaving her.
"There now, run along."
"Well, good-by." But he lingered. There was nothing more to say, but he
lingered. "Well, good-by. Be good, Bibi."
"It looks as if that was all I'd have a chance to be." The drawl of the
light voice with its rising inflection was so engaging, no one called it
nasal. "And it's so much more difficult and important to be charming!"
He was sobered at leaving her, but he never thought of not going with the
rest. He went, and all the rest. And Bessie found herself, just when nature
had crowned her with womanhood, a princess without a kingdom. To be sure,
living on the border gave her double opportunities, and for contrasting
romances. There were episodes that comforted her with the reflection that
she was not getting wholly out of practice in the arts. And there was real
adventure in flying and secret visits from Guy and the rest--Guy, who was
never again just the same with her; but, for that matter, neither was she
just the same with him. But, on the whole, as she pouted to him afterward,
she wouldn't call that four years' war exactly entertaining!
The Halls personally did not suffer so deeply as their neighbors except
from property loss. All they could afford, and more, they gave to the
South, and the Northern invader took what was left. When there was nothing
left, he hacked the rosewood furniture and made targets of the family
portraits, in the mere wantonness of loot that, as a recriminative
compliment, cannot be laid to the charge of any one period or section. Most
of the farm negroes crossed the river. Funds ran low.
There had been ease and luxury in the family always, and just when Bessie
reached the time to profit by them she remarked that they failed.
Even if the Halls were not in mourning, no one lives through such a time
without feeling the common humanity. But Bessie, though she lingered on the
brink of love as of all the other deeps of life--curious, adventurous, at
once willing and reluctant--was still, in the end, quite steady.
When the war was over, the Halls were poor, on a competence of land run to
waste, with no labor to work it, and no market to sell it. And Mr. Hall,
like so many of his generation, was too hampered by habit and crushed by
reminiscence to meet the new day.
It was the contrast in Guy's spirit that won Bessie. His was indeed the
immemorial spirit of youth--whether it be of the young world, or the young
male, or the young South--to accept the issue of trial by combat and give
loyalty to one proved equally worthy of sword or hand.
"We're whipped," he told her, "and that settles it. Now there's other work
for us than brooding over it. All the same, the South has a future, Bibi,
and that means a future for you and me."
"Not in the manufacture of poetry, I'm afraid," she laughed. "You dropped a
She did not seem to take his prowess, either past or to come, very
seriously; and her eyebrows and her inflection went up at the assumption of
the "we" in his plans. But--she listened.
His definiteness was itself effective. She herself did not know what she
wanted. Something was wrong; or rather, everything was. She was finding
life a great bore. But what would be right, she couldn't say, except that
it must be different.
Guy looked sure and seasoned as he poured out his plans; and together with
the maturing tan and breadth from his rough life, there was an
unconquerable boyishness in the lift of his head and the light of his eyes.
"This enthusiasm is truly beautiful!" she teased.
It was, in truth, infectious.
Why! it was love she had wanted. The four years had been so empty--without
She went into it alert, receptive, optimistic. But it nettled her that
everybody should be so congratulatory, and nobody surprised. It wasn't what
_she_ would call ideal for two impoverished young aristocrats to start life
on nothing but affection and self-confidence.
It did seem as if the choicest fruit always came to _her_ specked.
"Never mind," Guy encouraged her. "Just give me ten years. It will be a
little hard on you at first, Bibi dear, I know, but it would be harder at
your father's now. And it won't be long!"
There was only one comment of whose intention Bessie was uncertain: "So Guy
is to continue carrying you over the bad places, Bessie?"
Hm! She had been thinking it rather a fine thing for _her_ to do. And that
appealed to her.
"And think what an amusing anecdote it will make after a while, Guy,--how,
with all your worldly goods tied up in a red bandanna, and your wife on
your arm instead of her father's doorstep, you set out to make your
fortune, and to live meanwhile in the City of Un-Brotherly Love!"
But Bessie had the standards of an open-handed people to whom economy was
not a virtue. There had always been on her mother's table for every meal
"salt-risin' light bread" and corn pone or griddle-cakes, half a dozen
kinds of preserves, the staples in proportion. Her mother would have been
humiliated had there been any noticeable diminution in the supply when the
meal was over; and she and the cook would have had a council of war had a
guest failed to eat and praise any single dish.
Bessie had not realized how inglorious their meagreness would be, until
Mrs. Grey, at the daughter's table, grew unctuously reminiscent about the
"Dear me!" Guy tried afterward to comfort the red eyelids and tremulous
lips, "do you want a table so full it takes your appetite at sight?"
"I'm afraid I can't joke about disgrace!" Bessie quivered.
"But, Bibi dear, Mrs. Grey is simply behind the times. The _rationale_ of
those enormous meals was not munificence, but that a horde of
house-servants had to be fed at a second table."
Certainly Guy and his good spirits were excellent company. And Bessie came
of a race of women used to gay girlhoods and to settling down thereafter,
as a matter of course, into the best of house-mothers.
But there was a difference between the domestic arts she had been taught as
necessary to the future lady of a large household and the domestic
industries she had to practise. Supervising and doing were not the same.
For her mother, sewing and cooking had been accomplishments; for her they
were work. She had to do things a lady didn't do.
However, she was as fastidious about what she did for herself as about what
was done for her. She was quick and efficient. People said Bessie Osbourne
had the dearest home in town, was the best housekeeper, the most nicely
dressed on nothing. You might know Bessie Hall would have the best of
And when Bessie began to wonder if that was true, she had entered the last
circle of disappointment.
The fact was that, after the first novelty, things seemed pretty much the
same as before. Bessie Osbourne was not so different from Bessie Hall. She
might have appreciated that as significant; but doubtless she had never
heard the edifying jingle of the unfortunate youth who "wandered over all
the earth" without ever finding "the land where he would like to stay," and
all because he was injudicious enough to take "his disposition with him
everywhere he went." It was as if she had been going in a circle from right
to left, and, after a blare of drums and trumpets and a stirring
"About--face!" she had found herself going in the same circle from left to
right. It all came to the same thing, and that was nothing. Guy was
apparently working hard; but, after all, in real life it seemed one did not
plant the adepts' magic seed that sprouted, grew, bloomed, while you looked
on for a moment. For herself, baking and stitching took all her time,
without taking nearly all her interest, or seeming to matter much when all
was said and done. If she neglected things, they went undone, or some one
else did them; in any case Guy never complained. If she did what came up,
each day was filled with meeting each day's demands. All their lives went
into the means and preparation for living. Other people--Or was it really
any different with them? Nine-tenths of the people nine-tenths of the time
seemed to accomplish only a chance to exist. She had heard women complain
that such was the woman's lot in order that men might progress. But it
struck her very few men worked beyond the provision of present necessities,
either. Was it all a myth, then--happiness, experience, romance? Was this
all there was to life and love? What was the sense, the end? Her
dissatisfaction reproached the Cosmos, grew to that _Weltschmerz_ which is
merely low spirits and reduced vitality, not "an infirmity of growth."
She constantly expected perfection, and all that fell below it was its
opposite extreme, and worthless. She began to suspect herself of being an
exceptional and lofty nature deprived of her dues.
Guy was a little disappointed at her prudent objection to children until
their success was established. Prudence was mere waste of time to his
courage and assurance. And he believed, though without going into the
psychology of the situation, that Bessie would be happier with a child or
"Oh, how can we do any more?" she answered, in her pretty, spoiled way.
"We're trying to cut a two-yard garment out of a one-yard piece now." At
least, she was; and so Guy was.
Well, it wasn't a great matter yet. It is not in the early years of
marriage that that lack is most felt. And Bessie was not very strong; she
never seemed really well any more. She developed a succession of small
ailments, lassitudes, nerves. She dragged on the hand of life, and
complained. The local physician drugged her with a commendable spirit of
optimism and scientific experiment. But the drawl of the light voice with
its rising inflection became distinctly a whine.
She got a way of surprising Guy and upsetting his calculations with
unannounced extravagances. "What's the good of all this drudgery? We're
making no headway, getting nowhere; we might as well have what good we can
as we go along."
There was a negro woman in the kitchen now, and in the sitting-room one of
the new sewing-machines. And Guy, who, so far, had been only excavating for
the cellar of his future business house, was beginning to feel that good
foundation walls were about to start.
But, even when peevish, Bessie had a way of turning up her eyes at him that
reduced him to helplessness and adoration. And she was delicate! "I know,"
he sympathized with her loyally, "it's like trying to work and be jolly
with a jumping tooth; or rather, in your case, with a constant buzzing in
The jumping tooth was his own simile. The headaches that had begun while he
was soldiering were increasing. He had intermittent periods of numbness in
the lower half of his body. It was annoying to a busy man. He could offer
no explanation, nor could the doctors. "Overwork," they suggested, and
advised the cure that is of no school--"rest." That was "impossible."
Besides, it was all nonsense. He put it aside, went on, kept it from
The end came, as it always does, even after the longest expectation, with a
rush. He was suffering with one of his acute headaches one night, when
Bessie fell asleep beside him. She woke suddenly, with no judgment of time,
with a start of terror, a sense of oppression, or--death?
"Guy!" she screamed.
The strangeness of his answering voice only repeated the stab of fear. She
was on her feet, had made a light....
He was not suffering any more. He was perfectly conscious and rational. But
from the waist down he could not move nor feel.
The doctors came and talked a great deal and said little; they reminded
them that not much was known of this sort of thing; they would be glad to
do what they could....
"You don't mean to say this is permanent? Paralyzed? I? Oh, absurd!" Awful
things happened to other people, of course--scandal, death--but to one's
self--"Oh, it doesn't sound true! It can't be true. Paralyzed? _I_?"
And Bessie wondered why this had been sent on _her_.
The explanation was hit on long afterward, when in one of his campaign
stories Guy mentioned a fall from his horse, with his spine against a rock,
that had laid him unconscious for twenty-two hours.
And so the war, which had been responsible for their starting together with
only a past and a future, was responsible for their having shortly only a
past. Guy was not allowed his ten years.
Though he had now less actual pain, the shock seemed to jar the foundations
of his life, and the sharp change in the habits of an active and vigorous
body seemed to wreck his whole system. For months and months and months he
seemed only a bundle of exposed nerves--that is, where he had any movement
or sensation at all.
Now a past, however escutcheoned and fame-enrolled, is even more starvation
diet than a future of affection and self-confidence. No help was to be had
from either of their homes; it was the day of self-help for all.
Bessie wondered why this had been sent on _her_, but she took a couple of
boarders at once, she sold sponge-cake and beaten biscuit, she got up
classes in bread-making. And Guy stopped her busy passing to draw her hand
to his lips, or watched her with dumb eyes.
Several of her friends, after trying her sewing-machine, then still
something of a novelty, ordered duplicates. Guy suggested as a joke that
she charge the makers a commission.
"The idea of trading on friendship?" Bessie laughed.
"Oh, I don't know," Guy reflected, more seriously. "How about these
boarders, then? That's trading on hospitality."
It was one of those minute flashes of illumination that, multiplied and
collected, become the glow of a new light, the signal of a revolution. The
country was full of them in those days. The old codes were melting in the
heat of change. Standards were fluid. Personally, it ended in Bessie's
selling machines, first in her town, then in neighboring ones.
In the restlessness that youth thinks is aspiration for the ideal,
particularly for the ideal love, is a large element of craving for place
and interest. After her marriage, at least, Bessie might have had enough of
both; but the obvious purpose was too limited to appeal to her. Now two
appetites and the four seasons supplied motive enough for industry. There
was nothing magnificent in this manifest destiny, but it had the advantage
of being imperative and constant. It was no small tax on her acquired
delicacy, but it gave less time for hunting symptoms. It did not answer the
_Whence, Whither, and Why;_ it pointedly changed the subject. Her work
began to carry her out of herself.
"Bibi dear, what a sorry end to all my promises!"
She had been thinking just that herself with a sense of injury and
imposition; and she was used all her life to having people see everything
as she saw it, from her side only. But Guy had just turned over to his few
creditors the hole in the ground into which so far most of his work had
gone. "Bibi dear, what a sorry end to all my plans!" was what she expected
him to say. And what he did say and what he didn't, met surprised in her
mind and surveyed each other.
"Oh, Guy!" she deprecated, suddenly ashamed. For the first time it occurred
to her to wonder why this had been sent on _him_. With a rush of remorseful
sympathy and appreciation, she slipped down beside his chair. "My poor old
He clung to her like a drowning man--Guy, who, after the first single cry
at the blow, had been so self-contained (or self-repressed?) through it
She remembered that she had omitted a good many things lately.
"You're tired to-day," he said.
"Yes, I am." She caught at it hurriedly with apologetic self-defence. "I'm
pretty constantly tired lately. And this morning Mrs. Grey was so trying.
She doesn't understand her machine, and she doesn't understand business,
and she was _too_ silly and stupid. I don't wonder you men laugh at us and
don't want us in _your_ affairs!"
"It's all hard on you, Bibi." There was a lump in his voice. It was the
first time he had been able to speak of it.
"Yes;" her own throat was so strained that for a moment she could not go
on. "But," it struck her again, "I don't suppose an unbiased observer would
think it exactly festive for you."
And, to be sure, when one came to think of it, how, pray, was he to blame?
From that day there began to be more than necessity to her work, and more
than work to carry her out of herself.
In the present of commercial femininity we have two types--one, the
business man; the other, an individual without gender, impersonal, capable.
She never does anything ill-bred, certainly, but one no more thinks of
specifying that she is a lady than that her hair is black; it isn't the
Mrs. Osbourne, however, was always first of all a lady. With her, men kept
their hats off and their coats on, and had an inclination to soften
business with bows, and bargains with figures of speech. She was at once so
patrician and so gracious that women felt it a kind of social function to
deal with her. The drawl of the light voice with its rising inflection was
only gently plaintive. The pretty way was winning, and rather pathetic in
her position; it drifted about her an aroma of story, and that had its own
appeal. The unvarying black of dress and bonnet, with touches of white at
neck and wrist, was refined, and made her rosy plumpness look sweeter. It
was all an uninventoried part of her stock in trade. And she came to take
the same satisfaction in returns in success and cash that she had taken as
a girl in results in valentines and cotillion favors.
Mrs. Osbourne had all the traditions of her class and generation. She let
her distaste of the situation be known. If it had been possible, she would
have concealed it like a scandal. As it was, with very proud apology, she
made the necessity of her case understood: her object was bread and butter,
not any of these new Woman's Rights--unwomanly, bourgeoise!
Nevertheless, it was not only true that it suited her to be doing something
with some point and result, but that the life of action and influence among
people suited her. The work came to interest her for itself as well as for
its object; that interest was a factor in her success; and the success
again both stimulated and further equipped her.
As she got into training and over the first sore muscles of mind and body,
work began to strengthen her. The nerves and small ailments grew secondary,
were overlooked, actually lessened. There need be nothing esoteric in
saying that a vital interest in life is as essential to health as to
happiness. One need consider only the practical and physical effects of
interest and self-forgetfulness, serenity and self-resource.
Sometimes her increasing trade took her away for two or three days, as far
as Louisville or Cincinnati. The thought of Guy followed her, a sweet pain.
She found herself hurrying back to her bright prisoner, and because of both
conditions the marvel of that brightness grew on her, together with certain
embarrassed comparisons. More than anything else, she admired his strength
where she had been weak.
His brightness seemed to her the most pathetic thing about him; it was so
sorry. It was indeed the epitome of his tragedy. To be as unobtrusive as
possible, and, when necessarily in evidence, as pleasant as possible, was
the role he had assigned himself. It was the one thing he could do, the
only thing he could do for her.
Doubtless the very controlling of the nervousness helped it. Moreover, his
revolting organization was gradually adapting itself somewhat to the new
conditions. Sensitive and uncertain tendrils of vitality began to creep out
from the roots of a blighted vigor.
Bessie, increasingly perceptive, began to suspect that what she saw was the
brightness after the storm. She wondered what his long solitary hours were
like when she was away. What must they be, with him helpless, disappointed,
lonely, liable to maddening attacks of nerves? But he assured her that he
was perfectly comfortable; Mammy Dinah was faithful and competent; and he
was really making headway with the German and French that he had taken up
because he could put them down as need was, and because--they might come
in, in some way, some time. "In heaven?" Bessie wondered secretly, but,
enlightened by her own experience, saw the advantage of his being
"You're too much alone," she said, feeling for the trouble. "And so am I,"
she added, thoughtfully. She should have noticed his eyes at that last. He
had developed a sort of controlled voracity for endearment, but he never
asked for it. In the old days he had taken his own masterfully, with no
doubts. Now he waited. He did not starve. She cajoled him and coaxed his
appetite and patted the pillows, and made pretty, laughing eyes at him and
fate quite in her habitual manner. Her touch and tone of affection had
never been so free. But in that very fact he found another sting.
"The better I do on the road, the more they keep me out," she was saying.
"We can't go on this way. I've been thinking lately--Could you bear to go
North, Guy, and to live in a city, among strangers? Perhaps at headquarters
there might be an opening for me that would let me settle down."
"What! Cincinnati! Is there any such chance?"
"You'd _like_ it? Why on earth--Are you so bored here?"
"Oh, Bibi, have you never thought of it? In a city there'd be some chance
of something I could do!"
"You? Oh, Guy!" After she had accepted the care of him, and that so
pleasantly, he wasn't satisfied! "Is there anything you lack here?" She was
It was replaying the old parts reversed. Once _he_ had grieved that he
could not give her enough to content her.
"A--h--" He turned his head away and flung an arm up over his eyes.
She understood only that he was suffering. "But, Guy, there's nothing you
could do, possibly. It's not to be expected. Have I complained?" She fell
back on the kindly imbecility of the nurse. "Now you're not to worry about
that, at least until you're better--"
"Better?" He forgot the lines in which he had schooled himself. The man
overrode the amateur actor. "That's not the thing to hope for. Why couldn't
it have killed me--that first fall?" ("My dear, my dear!" she stammered.)
"There would have been some satisfaction in getting out of the way, and
that in decent fashion; like a charge of powder, not like a rubbish-heap. I
can't accept it of you, Bibi. I'm enraged for you. I can't be grateful. I'm
She understood now.
What could she say? A dozen things, and she did; things about as satisfying
as theology at the grave. He did not answer nor respond. When he relaxed at
last it was simply to her arms around him, his head on her bosom, her
wordless notes of tenderness and consolation.
He was suffering, and chiefly for her, and what a fighter he was! Who but
he would ever have thought of _his_ doing anything?
So there might be cases in which it was really more helpful and generous
not to do things for people, but to let them do for themselves. She
couldn't fancy his doing enough to amount to anything. He oughtn't to! But
if it would make him any happier he should have his make-believe--yes, and
without knowing it was make-believe. Doing things that were of no value to
any one was so disheartening. She knew. Like perfunctory exercise for your
Her own business in Cincinnati proved so brief as to take her breath. His
was more difficult. The plough was still mightier than either sword or pen.
Few markets were open to an inactive man whose hours must be short and
irregular, and whose chief qualifications seemed to be a valiant spirit and
a store of reminiscences, in a time when reminiscences were as easy to get
She was delayed in her return, growing more and more anxious at the thought
of his anxiety. When she boarded the south-bound train, she went down the
aisle, looking for a seat, with her short steps hurried as if it would get
her home sooner.
Mrs. Grey leaned over and motioned her, and as she sat down, looked
critically at the bright eyes and pink cheeks. "You certainly do look well
Doubtless Bessie's color was partly excitement and rush.
"Oh, I'm well," absently.
"Funny kind of dyspepsia, wasn't it, to be cured by eating around, the way
you have to do."
"Oh, dyspepsia!" The nettles brought back her attention. People needn't
belittle her troubles! "I still have that dyspepsia. But if you had to be
as busy as I, Mrs. Grey, you'd know that there are times when nothing but
sudden death can interfere." Even Mrs. Grey's prickings, however, were
washed over to-day by Balm of Gilead. "Still, it has come to something. The
company has given me Cincinnati for my territory."
"Really?" Not that Mrs. Grey doubted her veracity. "Well, you always did
succeed at anything you put your hand to. It has been the most surprising
thing! You know, I tell everybody, Bessie, that you deserve all the credit
in the world for the way you have taken hold." Bessie stiffened; neither
need they sympathize too much! "A girl brought up as you were, who always
had the best of everything." _The best of everything!_ The familiar phrase
was like a bell, sending wave after wave of memory singing through Bessie's
mind. "And still I never saw any one to whom the wind has been so tempered
as to you: when you were sick you could afford it, and now that it's
inconvenient--Things always did seem to work smoother with you, and come
out better, than with any of the rest of us."
Bessie sat looking at her, and, in the speech, saw her own petulance of a
moment before--any number of her own speeches, in fact, inverted, as things
are in a glass. Indeed, Mrs. Grey had held up a reflector. Bessie had met
herself. And she saw herself, as in a mirror-maze, from all angles, down
diminishing perspectives, from the woman she was to the girl she had been.
She had been quite unconscious of the slow transformation in her habits of
thought. It is so in life. One toils up the thickly wooded hillside, intent
only on the footing, and comes suddenly on a high clearing, overlooking
valley and path, defining a new horizon.
"I never had the best of everything, Mrs. Grey," she said. "Nobody has.
Every life and every situation in life has its bad conditions--and its good
ones. I haven't had any more happiness--nor trouble than most people. It
strikes me things are pretty equally divided. We only think they aren't
when we don't know all about it. We see the surface of other people's
lives, not their private drawbacks or compensations. There are always both.
But other people's troubles are so much easier to bear than our own, their
good luck so much less deserved and qualified! With all I had as a girl I
didn't have contentment. And now, with all I lack, I don't know any one
with whom I'd change places."
What was the use with Mrs. Grey?
But alone, the thought kept widening ring after ring: How little choice
there was of conditions in life; how fortune tends to seek its level; how
one man has the meat and another the appetite; and another, without either,
can find in the fact the flavor of a joke or chew the cud of reflection
over it. Of the three, Bessie thought she would rather be the one with the
disposition. But that could be cultivated. Look at hers! Circumstances had
started it in a sort of aside, but she would take the hint.
The cure for dissatisfaction was to recognize one's balance of good.
Guy was watching for her at the window. She was half conscious that he
looked unusually haggard, but there were so many other thoughts at sight of
him that they washed over the first.
She swung her reticule. "It's all right!" and she ran up the walk, a most
feminine swirl of progress. She got to him breathless. "I've found a house
that will give you its German correspondence to translate and write, and it
won't be so much but that you can do it as you're able, within reason. Now,
For a minute it seemed as if Guy's whole body was alive. The weak and
shaken invalid still had something of unconquerable boyishness in the lift
of his head and the light of his eyes. "Good! That will do for a start."
The old spirit, to which hers always answered. If she didn't believe he
would actually do something worth while in the end! Then promptly, of old
habit, he thought of her. "Bibi! You took your time for that."
"Not all of it, in good sooth, fair lord." She spread out her skirts,
lady-come-to-see fashion, and strutted across the room. "Mrs. Osbourne has
a new 'job' and a 'raise.'" (Incidentally Mrs. Osbourne had never before
been so advanced in her language.)
"Bully for you!" he shouted, so genuinely that she ran back to him and
shook and hugged his shoulders. How she _liked_ him!
"What a thorough girl you are, Bibi!"
"Oh, and to-day I've been laughing at myself; as silly as I used to be,
counting so much on a mere change of circumstances. Of course something
unpleasant will develop there too. But at least the harness will rub in a
different place. On the whole, it will be better. Guy, do you know, I have
just gotten rid of envy and discontent, and that without endangering
ambition. I'll give you the charm; it's a sort of cabalistic _spell_--the
four P's--Occu_p_ation, Res_p_onsibility, _P_urpose, and _P_hilosophy."
"Yes," he said, "the most worth-while thing in life is to feel you are
accomplishing something--doing your work well and getting proportionate
The tone touched her. "Poor old Guy!" so generously congratulatory of her
flaunted advantages. How stupid she was! Poor Guy! her pretty creed
scattered at a breath like a dead dandelion-ball. Envy she had disposed of,
but what about pity? What had he to make up? "The idea of my talking of
happiness, with you caged here!"
"Perhaps that was the point of it all," he said, "to give you your chance."
"That would be a beautifully humble thing for me to think, now wouldn't
it?" Yet she had once complained that the point of it all was to interfere
with her. "And so sweetly generous. Your chance being--?"
"To serve as a means of grace to you?" He smiled. "I am glad to be of some
use--and honored to be of that one!" he hurried to add, elaborately
But what she was noticing was the flagging effort of his vivacity. Her
half-submerged first impression of him was coming to the surface: he did
look unusually haggard. "You haven't been good while I was away. Now don't
tell stories. Don't I know you? No more storms, Guy!" she warned.
His eye evaded hers. "I am seriously questioning whether you ought to make
this change. All your friends are here."
"Oh, as to that! There might be advantages in working among strangers. Mrs.
Grey fairly puts herself out to let me understand that she is a friend in
need!" She reined herself up, recollecting, but too late. "Oh, Guy, don't
mind so for me. Why, the South is full of women doing what I am, only so
many of them are doing it--without--the Guys who never came back!"
"Lucky dogs!" subterraneously. Then, seeing her apprehensive of a second
flare-up of that volcanic fire: "So gentlemanly of them, too, Bibi. How can
those few years of love be worth a life of this to you?"
"Those few years? why, Guy! of love? Is that how _you_ feel?" Her eyes
filled; her whole face quivered. "Oh, Guy--be willing for my sake. I never
knew what love could mean until lately."
His grasp hurt her knuckles. "Yes, dear, I have seen. It's very sweet. It's
the mother in you, Bibi, and my helplessness. Of course! What could a woman
_love_ in a dependent, half-corpse of a no-man?"
For a moment she was too surprised to speak. She stared at him. "What a
notion! and it isn't true! You never were any more a man than you've been
through these two dreadful years." She sounded fairly indignant. "And for
my part, I never appreciated what you were half as much."
"Love doesn't begin with a _P_," he remarked to the opposite wall.
"But what do you suppose the _purpose_ was?"
"You never told me." That strange voice and averted face!
"How should I fancy you wouldn't know? I had never thought it out myself
until just now. It has simply been going on from day to day, as natural and
quiet as growing--" A bewildering illumination was spreading in her mind.
"Look here, young man"--she forced his face around to see it,--"what
goblins have you been hatching in the night-watches?" The raillery broke.
"Dear, is that what has been troubling you? Is there anything else?"
He looked at her now. "Anything else trouble me, if I really have you, and
a chance to do a little something for you?"
It was their apotheosis. They had never known a moment equal to it before;
could never know just another such again. In a very deep way it was the
first kiss of love for them both.
Bessie came back to herself with that sense of arriving, of having been
infinitely away, with which one drops from abstraction.
Where had they been in that state of absent mind?
It was as if they had met out of time, space, matter.... And as she thought
of his words, in the light of his eyes, pity too was qualified, and that
without endangering helpfulness. He, too, had his balance of good. Yes,
things squared in the end.
Her creed was quick. The scattered dandelion seed sprouted all around her.
BY ALICE MACGOWAN
Up and down the long corn rows Pap Overholt guided the old mule and the
small, rickety, inefficient plough, whose low handles bowed his tall, broad
shoulders beneath the mild heat of a mountain June sun. As he went--ever
with a furtive eye upon the cabin--he muttered to himself, shaking his
"Say I sha'n' do hit. Say he don't want me a-ploughin' his co'n. My law!
Whut you gwine do? Thar's them chillen--thar's Huldy. They got to be
fed--they 'bleeged to have meat and bread. Ef I don't--"
Again he lifted his apprehensive glance toward the cabin; and this time it
encountered a figure stepping from the low doorway--a young fellow with an
olive face, delicately cut features, black curling hair, the sleep still
lingering in his dark eyes. He approached the fence--the sorry, broken
fence,--put his hands upon it, and called sharply, "Pap!"
The old man released the plough-handles and came toward the youth,
shrinking like a truant schoolboy called up for discipline.
"Pap, this is the way you do me all the time--come an' plough in my co'n
when I don't know nothin' about hit--when I don't want hit done,--tryin' to
make everybody think I'm lazy and no 'count. Huldy tellin' me I ought to be
ashamed of myse'f, in bed while my po' old pappy--'at hain't ploughed a row
of his own for years--is a-gittin' my co'n outen the weeds."
The father stood, a chidden culprit. The boy had worked himself up to the
"You jest do hit to put a shame on me. Now, Pap, you take that mule--"
"W'y, Sammy,--w'y, Sammy honey, you know Pappy don't do it fer nair sech a
reason. Hit don't look no sech a thing--like you was shif'less an' lazy.
Hit jes look like Pappy got nothin' to do, an' love to come and give you a
turn with yo' co'n; an', Sammy honey,"--the good farmer for the moment
getting the better of the timid, soft-hearted parent,--"hit is might'ly in
the weeds, boy. Don't you reckon I better jes--"
The other began, "I tell you--"
"There, there! Ne'mine, Sammy. Ef you don't want Pappy to plough no mo',
Pappy jes gwine to take the plough right outen the furrow and put old Beck
up. Pappy gwine--"
The boy turned away, his point made, and strolled back to the cabin. The
old man, murmuring a mixture of apologies, assurances, and expostulations,
went pathetically about the putting up of the mule, the setting away of the
Nobody knew when Pap Overholt began to be so called, nor when his wife had
received the affectionate title of Aunt Cornelia. It was a naming that grew
of itself. Forty years ago the pair had been married--John, a sturdy,
sunny-tempered young fellow of twenty-one, six feet in his stockings, broad
of shoulder, deep of chest, and with a name and a nature clean of all
tarnish; Cornelia Blackshears, a typical mountain girl of the best sort.
When, at the end of the first year, old Dr. Pastergood, who had ushered
Cornelia herself into this world, turned to them with her first child in
his arms, the young father stood by, controlling his great rush of primal
joy, his boyish desire to do something noisy and violent; the mother looked
first at her husband, then into the old doctor's face, with eyes of
passionate delight and appeal. He was speechless a moment, for pity. Then
he said, gently:
"Hit's gone, befo' hit ever come to us, Cornely. Hit never breathed a
breath of this werrisome world."
A man who had practised medicine in the Turkey Tracks for twenty-five years
--a doctor among these mountain people, where poverty is the rule, hardship
a condition of life, and tragedy a fairly familiar element, would have had
his fibre well stiffened. The brave old campaigner, who had sat beside so
many death-beds and so many birth-beds, and had seen so many come and so
many go, at the exits and entrances of life, met the matter stoutly and
without flinching. His stoic air, his words of passive acceptance, laid a
calm upon the first outburst of bitter grief from the two young creatures.
Later, when John had gone to do the chores, the old doctor still sat by
Cornelia's bed. He took the girl's hand in his--an unusual demonstration of
feeling for a mountaineer--and said to her, gently,
"Cornely, there won't never be no mo'--there'll be nair another baby to
The stricken girl fastened her eyes upon his in dumb pain and protest. She
said nothing, the wound was too deep; only her lips quivered pitifully and
the tears ran down upon the pillow.
"Now, now, honey, don't ye go to fret that-a-way. W'y, Cornely, ye was made
for a mother; the Lord made ye for such--an' do ye 'low 'at He don't know
what He's a-gwine to do with the work of His hands? 'For mo' air the
children of the desolate'--don't ye know Scripter says?--than of them that
has many. Lord love ye, honey, girl, you'll be mother to a minny and a
minny. They air a-comin'; the Lord's a-sendin' 'em. W'y, honey,--you and
John will have children gathered around you--"
The one cry broke forth from Cornelia which she ever uttered through all
her long grief of childlessness: "Oh, but, Dr. Pastergood, I wanted
mine--my own--and John's! Oh, I reckon it was idolatry the way I felt in my
heart; I thought, to have a little trick-bone o' my bone, flesh o' my
flesh--look up at me with John's eyes--" A sob choked her utterance, and
never again was it resumed.
In the years that followed, the pair--already come to be called Pap
Overholt and Aunt Cornely--well fulfilled the old doctor's prophecy. The
very next year after their baby was laid away, John's older brother, Jeff,
lost his wife, and the three little children Mandy left were brought at
once to them, remaining in peace and welfare for something over a year
(Jeff was a circumspect widower), making the place blithe with their
laughter and their play. Then their father married, and they were taken to
the new home. He was an Overholt too, and shared that powerful paternal
instinct with John. Three times this thing happened. Three times Jeff
buried a wife, and the little Jeff Overholts, with recruited ranks, were
brought to Aunt Cornelia and Pap John. When Jeff married his fourth
wife--Zulena Spivey, a powerful, vital, affluent creature, of an unusual
type for the mountains,--and the children (there were nine of them by this
time) went to live with their step-mother, whose physique and disposition
promised a longer tenure than any of her predecessors, Pap and Aunt
Cornelia sat upon the lonely hearth and assured each other with tears that
never again would they take into their home and their lives, as their very
own, any children upon whom they could have no sure claim.
"Tell ye, Cornely, this thing o' windin' yer heart-strings around and
around a passel o' chaps for a year or so and then havin' 'em tore
out--well, hit takes a mighty considerable chunk o' yer heart along with
'em." And the wife, looking at him with wet eyes, nodded an assent.
It was next May that Pap Overholt, who had been doing some hauling over as
far as Big Turkey Track, returned one evening with a little figure perched
beside him on the high wagon seat. "The Lord sent him, honey," he said, and
handed the child down to his wife. "He ain't got a livin' soul on this
earth to lay claim to him. He is ourn as much as ef he was flesh and bone
of us. I even tuck out the papers."
That evening, the two sitting watching the little dark face in its sleep,
Pap told his story. Driving across the flank of Yellow Old Bald, beyond
Lost Cabin, he had passed a woman with five children sitting beside the
road in Big Buck Gap.
"Cornely, she looked like a picture out of a book," whispered Pap. "This
chap's the livin' image of her. Portugee blood--touch o' that melungeon
tribe from over in the Fur Cove. She had a little smooth face shaped like a
aig; that curly hair hangin' clean to her waist, dark like this baby's, but
with the sun all through it; these eyebrows o' his'n that's lifted in the
middle o' his forred, like he cain't see why some onkindness was did him;
and little slim hands and feet; all mighty furrin to the mountains. I give
'er a lift--she was goin' to Hepzibah, huntin' fer some kind o' charity
she'd heard could be got there; and this little trick he tuck to me right
The woman bent over and looked long at the small olive face, so delicately
cut, the damp rings of hair on his forehead, the tragic lift of the brows
above the nose bridge, the thin-lipped scarlet mouth. "My baby," she
murmured; then lifted her glance with the question: "An' how come ye to
have him? Did she--did that womern--"
"No, no. 'Twas this-a-way," Pap interrupted her. "When I came back from Big
Turkey Track, I went down through Hepzibah--I couldn't git this chap's
eyes--ner his little hands--out o' my head; I found myse'f a-studyin' on
'em the hull enjurin' time. She was dead when I got thar. She'd died to
Squire Cannon's, and they was a-passellin' out the chillen 'mongst the
neighbors. No sooner I put foot on the po'ch 'n this little soul come
a-runnin' to me, an' says: W'y, here's my pappy, now. I tole you-all I did
have a pappy. Now look--see--here he is.' Then he peeked up at me, and he
put up his little arms, an' he says, jest as petted, and yit a little
skeered, he says, 'Take me, pappy.' When I tuck him up, he grabbed me round
the neck and dug his little face into mine. Then he looked around at all
the folks, and sort o' shivered, and put his face back in my neck--still ez
a little possum when you've killed the old ones an' split up the tree an'
drug out the nest."
Both faces were wet with tears now. Pap went on: "I had the papers made
right out--I knowed you'd say yes, Cornely. He's Samuel Ephraim Overholt.
A-comin' home, the little weenty chap looks up at me suddent an' axes, 'Is
they a mammy to we-all's house whar we goin' now?' Lord! Lord!" Pap shook
his head gently, as signifying the utter inadequacy of mere words.
Little Sammy grew and thrived in the Overholt home. The tiny rootlets of
his avid, unconscious baby life he thrust out in all directions through
that kind soil, sucking, sucking, grasping, laying hold, drawing to him and
his great little needs sustenance material and spiritual. More keen and
capable to penetrate were those thready little fibres than the irresistible
water-seeking tap-root of the cottonwood or the mesquite of the plains;
more powerful to clasp and to hold than the cablelike roots of the
rock-embracing cedar. The little new member was so much living sunshine,
gay, witching, brilliant, erratic in disposition as he was singular and
beautiful in his form and coloring, but always irresistibly endearing,
dangerously winning. When he had been Sammy Overholt only two weeks, he sat
at table with his parents one day and scornfully rejected the little plate
that was put before him.
"No!" he cried, sharply. "No, no! I won't have it--ole nassy plate!"
"W'y, baby! W'y, Sammy," deprecated Cornelia, "that's yo' own little plate
that mammy washed for you. You mustn't call it naisty."
"Hit air nassy," insisted young Samuel. "Hit got 'pecks--see!" and the
small finger pointed to some minute flaw in the ware which showed as little
dots on the white surface.
Cornelia, who, though mild and serene, was possessed of firmness and a
sense of justice, would have had the matter fairly settled. "He ort not to
cut up this-away, John," she urged. "He ort to take his little plate and
behave hisse'f; 'r else he ort to be spanked,--he really ort, John, in
jestice to the child"
But John was of another mould. "Law, Cornely! Hit's jest baby-doin's. The
idee o' him a-settin' up 'at yo' dishes ain't clean! That shore do beat
all!" And he had executed an exchange of plates under Cornelia's
deprecating eyes. And so the matter went.
Again, upon a June day, Sammy was at play with the scion of the only negro
family which had ever been known in all the Turkey Track regions. The
Southern mountaineers have little affinity, socially or politically, with
the people of the settlements. There were never any slaveholders among
them, and the few isolated negroes were treated with almost perfect
equality by the simple-minded mountain dwellers.
"Sammy honey, you an' Jimmy mus' cl'ar up yo' litter here. Don't leave it
on mammy's nice flo'. Hit's mighty nigh supper-time. Cl'ar up now, 'fo'
Sammy stiffened his little figure to a startling rigidity. "I ain't a-goin'
to work!" he flung out. "Let him do it; _he's a nigger_!" And this was the
last word of the argument.
This was Sammy--handsome, graceful, exceedingly winning, sudden and
passionate, disdaining like a young zebra the yoke of labor, and, when
crossed, absolutely beyond all reason or bounds; the life of every
gathering of young people as he grew up; much made of, deferred to, sought
after, yet everywhere blamed as undutiful and ungrateful.
"Oh, I do p'intedly wish the neighbors would leave us alone," sighed Pap
Overholt, when these reports came to him. "As ef I didn't know what I
wanted--as ef I couldn't raise my own chile;" and as he said this he ever
avoided Aunt Cornelia's honest eye.
It was when Sammy was eighteen, the best dressed, the best horsed--and the
idlest--to be found from Little Turkey Track to the Fur Cove, from Tatum's
to Big Buck Gap--that he went one day, riding his sorrel filly, down to
Hepzibah, ostensibly to do some errands for Aunt Cornelia, but in fact
simply in search of a good time. The next day Blev Straly, a rifle over his
shoulder and a couple of hounds at heel, stopped a moment at the
chopping-block where Pap was splitting some kindling.
"I was a-passin'," he explained--"I was jest a-passin', an' I 'lowed I'd
drap in an' tell ye 'bout Sammy. Hit better be me than somebody 'at likes
to carry mean tales and wants to watch folks suffer." Aunt Cornelia was
beside her husband now.
"No, no," Blev answered the look on the two faces; "nothin' ain't the
matter of Sammy. He's jest married--that little Huldy Frew 'at's been
waitin' on table at Aunt Randy Card's _ho_-tel. You know, Aunt Cornely, she
is a mighty pretty little trick--and there ain't nothin' bad about the gal.
I jest knowed you and Pap 'ud feel mighty hurt over Sammy doin' you-all
like you was cruel to him--like he had to run away to git married; and I
'lowed I better come and tell you fust."
The "little Huldy gal" was, as Blev Straly had described her, a mighty
pretty little trick, and nothing bad about her. The orphan child of poor
mountaineers, bound out since the death of her parents when she was ten
years old, she had been two years now working for Aunt Randy Card, who kept
the primitive hotel at Hepzibah. Even in this remote region Huldy showed
that wonderful--that irrepressible--upward impulse of young feminine
America, that instinctive affinity for the finer things of life, that
marvellous understanding of graces and refinements, and that pathetic and
persistent groping after them which is the marked characteristic of
America's daughters. The child was not yet sixteen, a fair little thing
with soft ashen hair and honest gray eyes, the pink upon her cheek like
that of a New England girl.
At first this marriage--which had been so unkindly conducted by Sammy, used
by him apparently as a weapon of affront--seemed to bring with it only
good, only happiness. The boy was more contented at home, less wayward, and
the feeling of apprehension that had dwelt continually in the hearts of Pap
and Aunt Cornelia ever since his adolescence now slept. The little
Huldy--her own small cup apparently full of happiness--was all affectionate
gratitude and docility. She healed the bruises Sammy made, poured balm in
the wounds he inflicted; she was sunny, obedient, grateful enough for two.
But a new trait was developed in Sammy's nature--perversity. Life was made
smooth to his feet; the things he needed--even the things which he merely
desired--were procured and brought to him. Love brooded above and around
him--timid, chidden, but absolute, adoring. Nothing was left him--no
occupation was offered for his energies--but to resent these things, to
quarrel with his benefits. And now the quarrel began.
Its outcome was this: Toward the end of the first year of the marriage,
upon a bleak, forbidding March day--a day of bitter wind and icy
sleet,--there rode one to the Overholt door who called upon Pap and Aunt
Cornelia to hitch up and come with all possible haste to old Eph'm
Blackshears, Cornelia's father--a man who had lived to fourscore, and who
now lay at his last, asking for his daughter, his baby chile, Cornely.
For days Sammy had been in a very ill-promising mood; but he brightened as
the foster-parents drove away in the bleak, gray, hostile forenoon, Huldy
helping Aunt Cornelia to dress and make ready, tucking her lovingly into
the wagon and beneath the thick old quilt.
The elder woman yearned over the girl with a mother's compassionate
tenderness. Both Aunt Cornelia and Pap John looked with a passionate,
delighted anticipation to when they would have their own child's baby upon
their hearth. It was the more notable marks of this tenderness, of this
joyous anticipation, which Sammy had begun to resent--the gifts and the
labors showered upon the young wife in relation to her coming importance,
which he had barely come short of refusing and repelling. "Whose wife is
she, I'd like to know? Looks like I cain't do nothin' for my own
woman--a-givin' an' a-givin' to Huldy, like she was some po' white trash,
some beggar!" But he had only "sulled," as his mother called it, never
quite able to reach the point he desired of actually flinging the care, the
gifts, and the loving labors back in the foster-parents' faces.
Pappy Blackshears passed away quietly in the evening; and when he had been
made ready for his grave by Cornelia's hands, her anxiety for the little
daughter at home would not let her remain longer.
"I'm jest 'bleeged to go to Huldy," she explained to the relatives and
neighbors gathered at the old Blackshears place. "I p'intedly dassent to
leave her over one night--and not a soul with her but Sammy, and he nothin'
but a chile--and not a neighbor within a mild of our place--and sech a
night! Pap and me we'll hitch up an' mak' 'as'e back to Huldy. We'll be
here to the funeral a Sunday--but I dassent to stay away from Huldy nair
another hour now." And so, at ten o'clock that bitter night, Pap and Aunt
Cornelia came hurrying home.
As the wagon drove up the mountain trail to the house, the hounds came
belling joyously to meet them; but no light gleamed cheerfully from the
windows; no door was flung gayly open; no little Huldy cried out her glad
greeting. Filled with formless apprehensions, Pap climbed over the wheel,
lifted Cornelia down, and dreading they knew not what, the two
went,--holding by each other's hand,--opened the door, and entered,
shrinking and reluctant. They blew the smouldering coals to a little flame,
piled on light-wood till the broad blaze rolled up the chimney, then looked
about. No living soul was in any room. Finally Cornelia caught sight of a
bit of paper stuck upon the high mantel. She tore it down, and the two read
slowly and laboriously together the few lines written in Sammy's hand:
"I ain't going to allow my wife to live off any man's charity. I ain't
going to be made to look like nothing in the eyes of people any longer.
I've taken my wife to my own place, where I can support her myself. I had
to borrow your ox-cart and steers to move with, and Huldy made me bring
some things she said mother had give her, but I'll pay all this back, and
more, for I intend to be independent and not live on any man's bounty.
"Respectfully, your son,
The two old faces, pallid and grief-struck, confronted each other in the
shaken radiance of the pine fire.
"Oh, my po' chile, my po' little Huldy! Whar? His own place! My law!--whar?
Whar has he drug that little soul?"
An intuition flashed into Pap Overholt's mind. He grasped his wife's arm.
"W'y, Cornely," he cried, "hit's that cabin on The Bench! Don't ye know,
honey? I give him that land when he was sixteen year old,--time he brung
the prize home from the school down in the settlemint."
"The Bench! Oh, Lord--The Bench! W'y, hit 'll be the death of her. John, we
cain't git to her too quick." And she ran from cupboard to press, from
press to chest, from chest to bureau drawer, piling into John's arms the
flask of brandy, the homely medicines, the warm garments, such bits of food
as she could catch up that were palatable and portable. Pap, with more
vulnerable emotions and less resolute nature, was incapable of speech; he
could only suffer dumbly.
Arrived at the abandoned cabin on The Bench, the picture that greeted them
crushed Pap's soft heart to powder, but roused in Aunt Cornelia a rage that
would have resulted in a sharp settlement with Sammy, had it not been that,
now as always, to reach the offender a blow must go through that same
pitiful heart of John's. The young people had not long been at the cabin
when the parents arrived. The little Huldy, moaning piteously, with a
stricken, terrified look in her big, childish eyes, was crouched upon the
floor beside a rickety chair. Sammy, sullen and defiant, was at the
desolate hearth, fumbling with unskilled hands at the sodden chunks of wood
he had there gathered.
The situation was past words. Pap, after one look at Huldy, went about the
fire-building, the slow tears rolling down his cheeks. While Aunt Cornelia
brought the bedding, the warm blankets and wrappings, and made the little
suffering creature a comfortable couch, Pap wrought at the forlorn, gaping
fireplace like a suffering giant. When the leaping flames danced and
shouted up the chimney till the whole cabin was filled with the physical
joy of their light and warmth, when steaming coffee and the hastily fetched
food had been served to the others, and the little wife lay quietly for the
moment, the two elders talked together outside where a corner of the cabin
cut off the driving sleet. Then Sammy was included, and another council was
held, this time of three.
No. He would not budge. That was _his_ wife. A fellow that was man enough
to have a wife ought to be man enough to take keer of her. He wasn't going
to have his child born in the house of charity. There was no thoroughfare.
Sammy was allowed to withdraw, and the council of two was resumed. As a
result of its deliberations, Pap John drove away through the darkness and
the sleet. By midnight two trips had been made between the big double log
house at the Overholt place and the wretched cabin on The Bench, and all
that Sammy would suffer to be brought to them or done for them had been
brought and done. The cabin was, in a very humble way, inhabitable. There
was food and a small provision for the immediate present. And here, upon
that wild March night of screaming wind and sleet, and with only Aunt
Cornelia as doctor and nurse, Huldy's child was born.
And now a new order of things began.
Sammy's energies appeared to be devoted to the thwarting of Pap Overholt's
care and benefits. There should be no cow brought to the cabin; and so Pap
John, who was getting on in years now, and had long since given up hard,
active work, hastened from his bed at four o'clock in the morning, milked a
cow, and carried the pail of fresh milk to Huldy and the baby, furtively,
apologetically. The food, the raiment, everything had to be smuggled into
the house little by little, explained, apologized for. The land on The
Bench was rich alluvial soil. Sammy, in his first burst of independence,
ploughed it (borrowing mule and plough from a neighbor--the one neighbor
ever known to be on ill terms with Pap Overholt), and planted it to corn.
He put in a little garden, too; while Pap had achieved the establishment of
a small colony of hens (every one of whom, it appeared, laid two or three
eggs each day--at least that was the way the count came out).
The baby thrived, unconscious of all the grief, the perverse cruelty, the
baffled, defeated tenderness about her, and was the light of Pap Overholt's
doting eyes, the delight of Aunt Cornelia's heart. When she was eighteen
months old, and could toddle about and run to meet them, and chattered that
wonderful language which these two hearts of love had all their lives
yearned to hear--the dialect of babyhood,--the twin boys came to the cabin
on The Bench. And Pap Overholt's lines were harder than ever. Cornelia had
sterner stuff in her. She would have called a halt.
"Oh, John!" she expostulated finally, when she saw her husband come home
crestfallen one day, with a ham which Sammy had detected him smuggling into
the cabin and ordered back,--"John honey, ef you was to stop toting things
to the cabin and let it all alone--not pester with it another--"
"Cornely, Cornely!" cried Pap John, "you know Sammy cain't no mo' keep a
wife and chillen than a peckerwood kin. W'y, they'd starve! Huldy and the
chaps would jest p'intedly starve."
"No, they won't, John. Ef you could master yo' own soft heart--ef you could
stay away (like he's tole ye a minny a time to do, knowin' 'at you was safe
not to mind him)--Sammy would stop this here foolishness. He'd come to his
senses and be thankful for what the Lord sent, like other people. W'y,
"Cornely honey--don't. Don't ye say another word. I tell ye, this last year
there's a feelin' in my throat and in my breast--hyer,"--he laid his hand
pathetically over his heart,--"a cur'us, gone, flutterin' feelin'. And when
Sammy r'ars up and threatens he'll take Huldy and the chaps--you know,"--he
finished with a gesture of the hand and a glance of unspeakable
pain,--"when he does that 'ar way, or something comes at me sudden like
that--that we may lose 'em, hit seems like--right hyer,"--and his hand went
again to his heart,--"that I can't bear it--that hit 'll take my life."
This was the last time Cornelia ever remonstrated with Pap John. She had a
little talk with the new doctor from Hepzibah who bad succeeded old Dr.
Pastergood; and after that John was added to the list of her anxieties. He
might carry the milk to the cabin on The Bench; he might slip in, when he
deemed Sammy away--or asleep--and plough the corn; she saw the tragic folly
of it, but must be silent. And so on that particular June morning, when Pap
had put up the mule, clambered down the short-cut footway from The Bench to
the old house, stopping several times to shake his head again and murmur to
himself--"Whut you gwine do? There's them chaps; there's Huldy. Mustn't
plough his co'n; mustn't take over air cow. Whut you gwine do?"--Aunt
Cornelia's seeing eye noted his perturbation the moment he came in at the
door. With tender guile she built up a considerable argument in the matter
of a quarterly meeting which was approaching--the grove quarterly, in which
Pap John was unfailingly interested, and during which there were always
from two to half a dozen preachers, old and young, staying with them. So
she led him away--ever so little away--from his ever-present grief.
It was the next day that he said to her, "Cornely, I p'intedly ain't gwine
to suffer this hyer filchin' o' co'n them Fusons is a-keepin' up on me."
"Is the Fusons a-stealin' yo' co'n, John?" she responded, in surprise.
"W'y, they got a-plenty, ain't they?"
"Well, no, not adzactly, that is to say, Buck Fuson ain't got a-plenty. He
too lazy and shif'less to make co'n of his own; and he like too well to
filch co'n from them he puts his spite on. Buck Fuson he tuck a spite at
me, last time the raiders was up atter that Fuson hideout; jes set up an'
swore 'at I'd gin the word to 'em. You see, honey, he makes him up a spite
that-a-way--jes out o' nothin'--'cause hit's sech a handy thing to have
around when he comes to want co'n. Thar's some one already purvided to
steal from--some one 'at's done him a injury."
"Pappy! W'y, Johnny honey, sakes alive! What air ye ever a-gwine to do
'long o' that there thing?" For the old man had laboriously fetched out a
rusty wolf-trap, and was now earnestly inspecting and overhauling it.
"Whut am I a-gwine to do 'long o' this hyer, Cornely? W'y, I am jes
p'intedly a-gwine to set it in my grain-room. Buck Fuson air a bad man,
honey. There's two men's blood to his count. They cain't nothin' be done to
him for nair a one of 'em--you know, same's I do--'ca'se hit cain't be
proved in a co't o' law. But I kin ketch him in this meanness with this
hyer little jigger, and I'm a-gwine to do hit, jest ez sure ez my name's
"Oh, Pappy! A leetle bit o' co'n fer a man's chillen--"
"Now, Cornely honey, that's a womern! Buck Fuson is the wrong kind o' man
to have round. He's ben a stealin' my co'n now fer two weeks and mo'. Ef I
kin ketch him right out, and give him a fa'r shamin', he'll quit the Turkey
Tracks fer good. So fer as Elmiry and the chaps is consarned, they'll be
better off without Buck 'n what they is with him."
At this moment Aunt Cornelia cried out joyously, "Oh, thar's my chile!" and
ran to meet her daughter-in-law. The little girl--Cornelia the
second--could navigate bravely by herself now, and Huldy was carrying the
lusty twin boys. In the flutter of delight over this stolen visit, the ugly
wolf-trap threat was forgotten. It had been a month and more since Sammy
had set foot in his parents' house. It had gone all over both Turkey Tracks
that Sam Overholt declared he would never darken Pap Overholt's door
again--Pap Overholt, who had tried to make a pauper of him, loading him
with gifts and benefits, like he was shif'less, no-'count white trash! The
little Huldy reported him gone to Far Canaan, over beyond Big Turkey Track,
in the matter of some employment, which he had not deigned to make clearer
to his wife. He would not be back until the day after to-morrow; and
meantime she might stay with the old folks two whole days and nights! In
the severe school to which life had put her, the little Huldy had developed
an astonishing amount of character, of shrewdness, and perception, and a
very fair philosophy of her own. To the elder woman's sad observation that
it was mighty strange what made Sammy so "onthankful" and so "ha'sh" to his
pappy, who had done so much for him, Huldy responded,
"No, Aunt Cornely, hit ain't strange, not a bit."
"Ain't strange? Huldy child, what do you mean?"
"W'y, don't you know, Aunt Cornely, ef he do Pappy that-a-way, when Pappy
do so much fer him, then he don't have to be thankful. When everybody's
a-tellin' him, 'Yo' pap's so kind, yo' pap does everything for you; look
like you cain't be good enough to him,' he 'bleeged to find some way to
shake off all that thankfulness 'at's sech a burden to him. And so when
Pappy come a-totin' milk, an' a-totin' pork, an' a-ploughin' his co'n outen
the weeds, w'y, Sammy jest draw down his face an' look black at Pappy, and
make like he mad at him--like he don't want none o' them things--like Pappy
jest pesterin' round him fer nothin'. but meanness. Now mind, Aunt Cornely,
I ain't say Sammy knows this his own se'f. But I studied Sammy mighty well,
an' _I_ know. Sammy gittin' tell he do me the same way. I wait on him hand
and foot; I cook his bacon jest like he tol' me you did it fer him. I fix
everything the best I kin (and mebby all three of the chillen a-cryin'
after me); and when he come in and see it all ready, and see how hard I got
it, and seem like there's a call fer him to be thankful, then Sammy jest
turns on hit all. He draw down his face at me and he say, black like: 'I
don't want no bacon--what did you fix that shirt for that-a-way? Take away
that turnip sallet--I cain't git nothin' like I want it.' Then, you know,"
with a little smile up into the other's face, half pitiful, half
saucy,--"Then you know, Sammy don't have to be thankful. Hit was all done
It was the next evening--Saturday evening. The entire household (which
included Elder Justice and two young preachers from Big Turkey Track, with
Brother Tarbush, one of the new exhorters) had returned from the
afternoon's meeting in the grove. Supper had been eaten and cleared away.
The babies had been put to sleep; the two women and the five men--all
strong and striking types of the Southern mountaineer--were gathered for
the evening reading and prayer. Elder Justice, now nearly eighty years old,
a beautiful and venerable person, had opened the big Bible, and after
turning the leaves a moment, raised his grave, rugged face and read:
"'Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide
the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto
He paused, and on the intense stillness which followed the ceasing of his
voice--the silence of evening in the deep mountains--there broke a long,
shrill, agonized scream.
As every one of the little circle leaped to his feet, Aunt Cornelia's eyes
sought her husband's face, and his hers. After that grinding, terrible cry,
the stillness of the night was unstirred. Pap Overholt sprang to the
hearth--where even in the midsummer months a log smoulders throughout the
day, to be brightened into a cheery blaze mornings and evenings,--seized a
brand, one or two of the others following his example, and ran through the
doorway, across the little chip-yard, making for the low-browed log barn
and the grain-room beside it.
None who witnessed that scene ever forgot it. Each one told it afterward in
his own way, declaring that not while he lived could the remembrance of it
pass from his mind. Pap Overholt's tall figure leaped crouching through the
low doorway, and next instant lifted the blazing brand high above his head;
the others followed, doing the same. There by the grain-bin, with ashy
countenance and shaking limbs, the sweat of anguish upon his forehead, his
eyes roving dumbly around the circle of faces revealed by the flickering
light of the brands--there with the dreadful wolf-trap (locked by its chain
to a stanchion) hanging to his right arm, its fangs bitten through and
through the flesh, stood Sammy.
Pap Overholt's mind refused at first to understand. He had known (with that
sort of moral assurance which makes a thing as real to us as the evidence
of the senses themselves) that it was Buck Fuson who had been stealing his
grain. He had set his trap to catch Buck Fuson; not instantly could the
mere sight of his eyes convince him that the trapped thief was the petted,
adored, perverse son, who had refused his father's bounty when it had
seemed the little wife and babies must starve. When he did realize, the cry
that burst from his heart brought tears to all the eyes looking upon him.
Down went the tall, broad figure, down into the dust of the grain-room
floor. And there Pap Overholt grovelled on his knees, his white head almost
at the thief's feet, crying, crying that old cry of David's: "Oh, Sammy, my
son! My son, Sammy! An' I wouldn't 'a' touched a hair o' his head. My God!
have mercy on my soul, that would 'a' fed him my heart's blood--an' he
wouldn't take bite nor sup from my hand. Oh, Sammy! what did you want to do
this to yo' po' old pappy fer?"
Elder Justice, quick and efficient at eighty years, had sprung to the lad's
right arm, two of the younger men close after. Aunt Cornelia held her piece
of blazing light-wood for them while they cut away the sleeve and made
ready to bear apart the powerful jaws of the trap. The little Huldy had
said never a word. Her small, white face was strained; but it did not bear
the marks of shock and of horror that were written on every other
countenance there. When they had grasped jaws and lever, and Elder
Justice's kind voice murmured, "Mind now, Sammy. Hold firm, son; we air
a-gwine to pull 'em back. Brace yo'se'f," the boy's haggard eyes sought his
"Le' me take it, Aunt Cornely," whispered Huldy, loosing the light-wood
from the elder woman's hand and leaving her free. And the next moment
Sammy's left hand was clasped tight in his mother's; he turned his face
round to her broad breast and hid it there; and there he sobbed and shook
as the savage jaws came slowly back.
* * * * *
That strange hour worked a complete revolution in the lives of the little
family in the cabin on The Bench and those in the big, hospitable Pap
Overholt home. Sammy had "met up with" punishment at last; he had
encountered discipline; and the change it wrought upon him was almost
beyond belief. The spell which this winning, wayward, perverse creature had
laid upon Pap Overholt's too affectionate, too indulgent nature was
dissolved in that terrible hour. He was no more to the father now than a
troublesome boy who had been most trying and not very satisfactory. The
ability to wring the hearts of those who wished to benefit him had passed
from Sammy; but it is only fair to say that the wish to do so seemed to be
no longer his. While his arm was still in a sling, before he had yet raised
his shamed eyes to meet the eyes of those about him, Pap Overholt
cheerfully put old Ned and Jerry to the big ox-wagon and bodily removed the
little household from The Bench to the home which had been so long yearning
Now, at last, he was Pap Overholt indeed. The little Huldy, whose burden of
gratitude for two had seemed to Aunt Cornelia so grievous a one, was a
daughter after any man's heart, and her brood of smiling children were a
wagon-load which Pap John hauled with joy and pride to and from the
settlement, to the circus--ay, every circus that ever showed its head
within a day's drive of Little Turkey Track,--to meetin', to grove
quarterlies, in response to every call of neighborliness, or of mere
In the Piny Woods
BY MRS. B. F. MAYHEW
A sparsely settled bit of country in the piny woods of North Carolina. A
house rather larger than its neighbors, though only a "story and a jump" of
four rooms, two upper and two lower, and quite a commodius shed on the back
containing two rooms and a small entry; and when Jeems Henry Tyler
increased his rooms as his family grew, his neighbors "allowed" that "arter
er while he'd make er hotel out'n it." Several out-houses stood at
convenient distances from the house. A rough board paling enclosed the
yard. A clearing of twenty-five or more acres lay around three sides of the
house, and well-to-do Industry and Thrift plainly went hand in hand about
A Saturday in early autumn was drawing near its close, and the family had
finished supper, though it was not yet dark. Like all country folk of their
station in life, they ate in the kitchen, a building separate from the
house. There were "Grandmother Tyler," a sweet-faced old woman, with
silvery hair smoothed away under a red silk kerchief folded cornerwise and
tied under her chin; and her son, "Father Tyler," with his fifty-odd years
showing themselves in his grizzled hair and beard; and "Mother Tyler," a
brisk stout woman, with great strength of character in her strong features,
black eyes, and straight black hair. Her neighbors declared that she was
the "main stake" in the "Tyler fence."
The children were "Mandy Calline," the eldest, and her mother's special
pride, built on the same model with her mother; Joseph Zachariah, a
long-legged youth; Ann Elisabeth, a lanky girl; Susan Jane, and Jeems
Henry, or "Little Jim," to distinguish him from his father; and last, but
by no means least in the household, came the baby. When she was born Mrs.
Tyler declared that as all the rest were named for different members of
both families, she should give this wee blossom a fancy name, and she had
the desire of her heart, and the baby rejoiced in the name of Elthania
Mydora, docked off into "Thancy" for short.
They had risen from the table, and Father Tyler had hastened to his
mother's side as the old lady moved slowly away, and taking her arm, guided
her carefully to the house, for the eyes in the placid old face, looking
apparently straight before her, were stone-blind.
"Come, now, gals," said Mother Tyler, briskly, with the baby in her arms,
"make er hurry 'n' do up th' dishes. Come, Ann Elisabeth, go ter scrapin'
up, 'n', Mandy Calline, pour up th' dish-water."
"Ya'as, yer'd better make er hurry," squeaked "Little Jim," from his perch
in the window, "fer Mandy Calline's spectin' her beau ter-night."
"Ye'd best shet up yer clatter, Jim, lest ye know what yer talkin' erbout,"
retorted Mandy Calline, with a pout, making a dash at him with the
"Yer right, Jim," drawled Joseph Zachariah, lounging in the doorway. "I
heerd Zeke White tell 'er he was er-comin' ter-night."
"Mar--" began Mandy Calline, looking at her mother appealingly.
"Shet up, you boys," came in answer. "Zachariah, ha' ye parted th' cows 'n'
"Then be erbout it straight erway. Jim--you Jeems Henry!"
"Ya'as, 'm," from outside the window.
"Go 'n' shet up the hen-'ouse, 'n' see ef th' black hen 'n' chickens ha'
gone ter roost in there. She'll keep stayin' out o' nights till th' fox 'll
grab 'er. Now, chillen, make 'er hurry 'n' git thee in here. Come, Thaney
gal, we'll go in th' house 'n' find pappy 'n' gra'mammy. Susan Jane, come
fetch th' baby's ole quilt 'n' spread it down on th' floor fer 'er"; and
Mother Tyler repaired to the house with the baby in her arms.
"Why, mother, ye in here by yerself? I tho't Jeems Henry was with yer."
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