A Tar-Heel Baron
A Tar-Heel Baron
Mabell Shippie Clarke Pelton
With Illustrations by
Edward Stratton Holloway
Philadelphia & London J. B. Lippincott Company 1903
COPYRIGHT, 1903 BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
Published February, 1903
Electrotyped and Printed by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, U.S.A.
F. A. P.
"One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, Sleep to wake."
I FRIEDRICH VON RITTENHEIM 7 II THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER 22 III A WEAK MAN'S STRENGTH 38 IV "THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR'S WIFE" 47 V A STRONG MAN'S WEAKNESS 61 VI "I WARRANT THERE'S VINEGAR AND PEPPER IN'T!" 74 VII IN THE SOUTHERN APPALACHIANS 85 VIII SYDNEY RIDES AGAINST TIME 105 IX "IT NEEDED ONLY THIS!" 118 X THROUGH THE MIST 132 XI IN THE CORN 146 XII ILLUMINATION 156 XIII RECONCILIATION 171 XIV THE FOURTH OF JULY 179 XV THE GANDER-PULLING 193 XVI ON THE BRIDGE 202 XVII OUT OF A CLEAR SKY 216 XVIII BUSINESS PLANS 230 XIX HILDA 242 XX SACRIFICE 255 XXI A POKE PARTY 267 XXII VON RITTENHEIM COLLECTS HIS RENT 285 XXIII THE 'POSSUM-HUNT 299 XXIV "FOUGHT THE FIGHT" 312 XXV CARL VON STERNBURG 322 XXVI SURRENDER 335 XXVII DIXIE 348
List of Illustrations
A FENCE AT THE TOP OF A SHARP ASCENT 109
TO THE FRENCH BROAD, WHERE FLETCHER'S BRIDGE CROSSES THE RIVER 204
PINK ROSES AND RED SWUNG TO AND FRO IN THE SUNSHINE AS THEY CLIMBED THE DOCTOR'S WHITEWASHED PORCH 242
"IT IS NOT FITTING THAT A VON RITTENHEIM SHOULD LIVE IN A CABIN LIKE THAT" 269
A Tar-Heel Baron
Friedrich von Rittenheim
The incongruity of his manner of life was patent to all who saw. The mountaineers around him recognized it, but they attributed it to the fact of his being a foreigner. The more cultivated folk realized that a man of the world who bore every mark of good birth and breeding was indeed out of place in the gray jeans of the North Carolina farmer, guiding the plough with his own hand.
At first no one knew just how to take him, even to the calling of his name. Baron Friedrich Johann Ludwig—and a half-dozen more—von Rittenheim was a good deal to compass. The farmers and the negroes finally settled upon "Mr. Baron."
As to "taking him," it was he who took them, and by storm. He was as poor as his poorest neighbors, that was evident, so they felt no jealousy, and laid aside the mistrust which is the countryman's shield and buckler. He asked agricultural instruction from the men, was courteously respectful to the women, and played with the children. Among those of more gentle birth there was little question of their reception of him after once he had ridden to their doors, making the first visit, as in the old country. To be sure, he had appeared astride a mule, but neither his mount nor his dress could conceal a soldierly bearing that made him the envy of every man who saw him. And he had but to click his heels together and make his queer foreign bow that displayed the top of his fair head, and to kiss the fingers of the "gnaedige Frau," to win the hearts of all the women. His English, in itself, was no small charm, for, though he had conquered his w's and th's, his use of idiom was ever new.
It was of the Baron that Dr. Morgan and his wife were talking as they drove towards home at sunset of a late March day.
"Hanged if Ah know how the fellow gets on," said the Doctor. "It was fall when he came here, and that farm he bought from Ben Frady hadn't any crop on it but a mahty little corn. He did his winter ploughing and killed the pig he took with the place, but how he's pulling through Ah don't know."
The Doctor spat in a practised and far-reaching manner into the red clay mud, and shook the reins over the backs of the horse and mule, which plodded on unheeding.
"This is 'starvation time,' too. Ah noticed yesterday our bacon was getting low," returned Mrs. Morgan, with the application to self that a country life induces. "The Baron never did tell any one about his money affairs, did he, Henry?"
It would be hard to say why she asked, unless for the sake of continuing the conversation, for, had there been any such bit of gossip, it would have been the Doctor's exclusive property only so long as it took him to drive from the place where he had heard it to his own house.
"Not a word," he replied. "Hi, Pete, what are you doing?"
Always a careless driver, the Doctor was more than ever so when the state of the roads precluded travelling faster than a walk. He had not noticed the mud-hole which the mule had tried to jump. In his harnesses, twine, rope, and wire played as prominent a part as leather. In fact, most of the points of responsibility were guarded by those materials rather than by the original. Pete's jump and his mate's consequent shy proved too much for long-worn traces, and two of them snapped.
"Hang those things! That outside one popped just yesterday, Sophy," said the Doctor, in a tone of grievance, as if the fact of its having broken yesterday ought to have rendered him free from the liability of a similar annoyance to-day.
"Ah reckon you-all 'll have to get a new harness some time," returned Sophy, placidly, holding the reins which her husband transferred to her as, with no great relish, he lowered his long, lean person into the red sea of mud below.
"Rather juicy down here. Got any string, wife?"
"Not a bit. You'll have to take a piece out of the lines," suggested Mrs. Morgan, with resource born of long experience.
"Ah 'low Ah will, though they're pretty short now from doing the same thing befo'."
He examined them gravely.
"They ain't very strong, either," he added. "Let's see, where are we at?" He looked about him for landmarks. "Oh, there's the road that leads to the Baron's over yonder. Give me yo' handkerchief fo' this other trace now, and we'll try and get there befo' it pops again."
Friedrich von Rittenheim was standing on the porch in front of his cabin, gazing at the western sky. A royal mantle of purple enwrapped the shoulders of mighty Pisgah against a background of lucent gold. The expression of anxiety and of spiritless longing left the man's face as he watched the melting glory.
"Wunderschoen!" he murmured. "I wonder if she, too, is seeing it, also."
The Doctor's buggy came laboring into sight around the corner of the house.
"Ach, here are my so good friends, who are ever welcome. I kiss your hand, gr-racious Madam," he cried, as he went to the side of the carriage, and unshrinkingly saluted an old fur glove, from which the gracious madam's every finger was protruding.
"Ah've broken mah traces, Baron. Can you-all let me have some wire or string?"
"With delight, my dear Doctor. And will you not do me the honor to enter herein, dear lady, while the Herr Doctor and I r-repair the har-rness?"
He helped her from the buggy with a courtesy that induced a responsive manner in her, and she sailed ponderously into the cabin, displaying an elegance that caused her husband to chuckle and say to himself,—
"He certainly does fetch the women!"
The Baron stirred the fire, whose light fell on a scar, the mark of a student duel, that crept out from under his hair. He left Mrs. Morgan stretching her plump feet and puffy hands to enjoy the flames' warmth, while her keen eyes examined every corner of the bare room, its tidily swept hearth, and the bunch of galax leaves on the table.
"You-all keep pretty neat fo' a bachelor," she said, when the two men came in after their task was done. "Ah always tell the Doctor it's lucky he's married and has some one to look after him. You see he's no great shakes at keeping clean now;" she looked him over with an eye made critical by his proximity to the German, who was a model of soldierly neatness; "and if he wasn't married, Ah don't know what he'd be!"
Von Rittenheim didn't know, either, so he said, "That is one advantage of an ar-rmy tr-raining, Mrs. Mor-rgan."
"Well, Ah don't know as Ah agree with you there, Baron," she replied. "Henry was in the army all through the Civil War, and Ah don't think his habits were a bit improved at the end of it."
Henry grinned appreciatively, but the Baron's features betrayed only such interest as incited Mrs. Morgan to further conversation.
"Where's the rocking-chair you had when Ah was here befo'? That was Ben Frady's mother's chair. Ah've seen the old woman sitting out on the po'ch in it many a time."
She waited for an answer, and Friedrich colored to the roots of his hair. It was on his tongue's tip to say that it was in the next room, but Mrs. Morgan was quite capable of penetrating there; and, besides, telling the truth was another result of army training. He stammered something about having disposed of it, and hastened to ask if Madam would not like a cup of coffee.
It was a natural pride that deterred von Rittenheim from confessing to these friends of not many months' standing that he had sold the chair, the only thing in the house worth selling, and had sold it from necessity. The Doctor was right in his suspicions that the Baron was not getting on comfortably. Ten days ago he had spent his very last cent, and he was learning the true meaning of the word "poverty." The crop of corn that he had bought with the farm had served him until now as feed for the mule, as meal and hominy, and, by the alchemy of the alembic, as whisky. The end of the bacon from Ben Frady's pig was on the shelf in the cupboard before which he was standing, and he had just offered to his guest the last of the coffee with which the sale of old Mrs. Frady's chair had provided him. It was this anxiety that had clouded his brow as he looked at the sunset. He had nothing to send to market, not even wood, for his bit of forest yielded only enough for his own use. He had sold his cow, and had let a man have his mule for its keep.
It had not hurt his pride to live on this little mountain farm. He was as independent there as at home; more so, because the social demands upon him were as nothing. But no money and no food meant that he must work for a wage, and that galled him. Then, at this season of the year, what work was there to be done? No one needed extra laborers.
It looked very much as if he were brought face to face with starvation, and a man of thirty-five does not encounter such a prospect as gayly as a youth.
Fortunately for his further catechism, the idea of coffee appealed to Mrs. Morgan, and von Rittenheim set about making it, secretly wondering what his breakfast would be like without it, but preparing it none the less cheerfully.
"I gr-rieve, dear Frau Mor-rgan," he said, as he offered her the cup, "that I have not cr-ream for you,—or sugar, either," he added, peering into a bowl that he knew to be empty. He brightened as he picked up a little pitcher. "But molasses; may I give to you molasses?"
"Yes, indeed," returned Mrs. Morgan, cordially. "Ah like them just as well as sugar. Just a few, now," as she held out her cup.
"Shall it be coffee for you, Herr Doctor, or whisky? See, I have a jug of corn whisky which I myself made."
"No need to ask me, sir. Whisky, of course," and the Doctor's eyes twinkled under their shaggy brows. "Not bad fo' new whisky," he commented, as he swallowed the fiery stuff. "How do you make it, Baron? Ah didn't know you had a still."
"Nor have I, except a little affair in a bucket, with a bit of r-rubber hose for a worm. It makes enough for me. It is not a pleasant drink," he added, quaintly.
"But better than nothing, eh?" returned the Doctor, jovially, and then was sorry that he had said it, for his glance had fallen within the cupboard, and had spied out the emptiness of the larder. To cover his mistake, he added,—
"Mind you-all don't sell any. It's against the law, you know."
"A very str-range law. If I from my corn make meal or hominy, or what you call 'r-roughness,' for the cattle to eat, I may sell them. But if I make whisky, I must dr-rink it all myself, eh?"
"Yes, or give it to me! You see they must tax us on something, and while they class whisky as a luxury—"
"Cor-rn whisky?" interrupted Friedrich, incredulous.
"—they know it's enough of a necessity with us North Carolina mountaineers, at any rate, to return some revenue."
"My sympathy is with the moonshiners, I confess, Herr Doctor; though it is also with men who think such a bever-rage good to dr-rink! You go? Ah, dear lady, I hope it will be soon again that you honor my house."
The Baron looked after the buggy as it disappeared in the dusk, and then turned back into the cabin, once more to face the harsh reality of his thoughts.
It grew clear to him that he must seek work in Asheville, the nearest large town, a dozen miles away. He must walk there and beg for employment like any tramp. Such straits as this he had not anticipated when he had made the sacrifice that had forced him to leave the Fatherland, though he did not for a moment regret that sacrifice.
What he could not formulate was just how he had been brought to his present pass. It was with stinging honesty that he owned it to be through some lack of foresight or of energy. But how should he have energy when he had no purpose in life?
To be sure, there was Sydney Carroll, who might supply purpose to any man who loved her, if that man were not a broken-spirited craven. The hopeless longing that had been in his eyes while he gazed at the sunset filled them once more. What had he to offer her but devotion,—the one capacity that was mighty within him? No, not even Love could endow him with Purpose.
Always he completed the circle of his thoughts. He must work for somebody else. That would be, indeed, a new experience and a bitter.
He was fighting with his pride when a call outside summoned him. It was the cry that has brought many a man to his door to be shot to death; but von Rittenheim had no feuds, and went forward without hesitation.
"Can you-all give me some supper?" asked a man who loomed big in the darkness as he sat on his horse. "Ah must have taken the wrong turn back yonder and wandered off the county road."
"This r-road goes only by my house like a bow of which the county r-road is the str-ring," explained the Baron. "Dismount, I beg, and with much pleasure will I give you what I can."
It was little enough, though to the bit of bacon was added a couple of apples roasted in the ashes. It was to the credit of the visitor's powers of perception that he did not ask for other than was set before him, and compel his host to disclose his poverty. He was a man of middle age, with a shrewd face whose expression was spoiled by an occasional look of slyness or glance of suspicion.
"Very fair whisky," approved the stranger. "Do you get it round here?"
"I make it."
"You do?" with a sudden contraction of the eyelids.
Von Rittenheim saw nothing but his own regret at his necessarily meagre hospitality, for which he tried to make amends by being increasingly agreeable.
"You will like to see my little affair?" he asked, after describing the primitive manufacture of his still.
"Ah'm afraid Ah must be going on; Ah'm obliged to get to Asheville to-night. But if you'd sell me a quart of yo' whisky to keep me warm on the way, Ah'd like it."
He opened the door and looked out.
"It's right smart cold," he added.
Friedrich made no reply. He had checked his first impulse, which was to offer to give the fellow all the whisky he wanted, and he looked with a sort of fascination at the coin which the other drew from his pocket and tossed on to the table. Undoubtedly he was hungrier than ever he had been in his life, and not only had he seen his supper devoured before his eyes, but there would be nothing to eat in the morning before his long walk to town. With this money he could buy something at the store which he must pass on his way.
His recent conversation with Dr. Morgan went through his mind. He glanced at his guest, who was buttoning his coat and tightening a spur preparatory to starting.
"I think he will not tell," thought von Rittenheim, and he found an empty bottle and filled it from the jug. Then he helped the stranger with his horse, and after his departure returned to look ruefully into the fire.
"Never before," he mused, "did one of my race commit so petty a wrong."
The Snare of the Fowler
It was at the early hour when the morning brings to the earth no warmth and but a dim and grudging light, that a sharp rap summoned von Rittenheim to his cabin door. Three men stood outside in the grayness, their horses tied to trees behind them. To his surprise, Friedrich recognized his guest of the previous evening.
"Ach, my good friend, you did not reach Asheville last night?"
Unconsciously he frowned as he realized that if these men wanted breakfast he would have to confess that there was nothing to eat in the house. At the thought his instinct of hospitality and his pride both suffered.
"Yes, Ah got to Asheville, and Ah've come back—fo' you."
The man entered the cabin and motioned to his companions, who stepped one to each side of the Baron.
"What do you mean?" Von Rittenheim spoke with amazement born of entire lack of understanding. His mind could not compass the treachery of the man to whom he had given his last mouthful.
"Ah mean that Ah'm a United States deputy-marshal, and that Ah 'rest you fo' retailing."
Von Rittenheim started, a motion that caused three hands to seek as many pistol-pockets.
"You mean for selling to you last night that whisky to keep the cold from you?"
"Correct. Of co'se you-all took yo' chances, 'n you struck the wrong man."
Deputy-marshal Wilder chuckled complacently. He had made few captures lately, and he counted on this to look well at headquarters. Besides, he was having less trouble with the "big Dutchy" than he had expected. Indeed, he had prepared his assistants for a hard fight.
"You mistake—I did not str-rike you—yet," said Friedrich, misunderstanding. "But I compr-rehend that you arrest me, and for what."
Von Rittenheim looked at Wilder with so much contempt that the man turned away shamefaced. Still, the justice of his capture appealed to the German, trained in the soldier's school, for it was true that he had transgressed the law, and knowingly. That he should have yielded to the weakness aroused his irritability.
"I am a fool," he ejaculated.
"You-all needn't say anything to incriminate yo'self," said the deputy, more from habit than because the remark was appropriate.
"I go with you."
Von Rittenheim put on his hat. One of the men tinkled a pair of handcuffs in his jacket-pocket, and raised his brows inquiringly at Wilder. The latter nodded, though doubtfully. As he picked himself up from the floor a little later he realized that his doubt was justified. At the mere sight of the irons the Baron had flashed into fury. He flung one man across the table with a violence that brought him several minutes' quiet. The other rolled into a corner, and Wilder fell altogether too near for comfort to the bricks of the fireplace.
As the deputy-marshal rose he felt von Rittenheim's grasp on his throat.
"You understand not," he cried, his usually good English almost unintelligible in his excitement, "You understand not—how, indeed, should you?—that I am a gentleman. When I say I go with you, I go."
Giving him a shake as a final relief to his feelings, he added, imperatively,—
"Come, pick up your fr-riends and let us start. You have a horse for me?"
No one was disposed to make another attempt to handcuff the captive, and the little detachment set out, headed by the prisoner, who had much more the appearance of a leader than did any one of the crestfallen group behind him.
The miles passed but slowly, so heavy was the road's deep mud, and it seemed to von Rittenheim that he had been travelling for hours when they crossed the Six Mile Branch that measured but half their journey done. The keen air of the early morning, whose cold was accentuated by a drizzling rain, chilled him to the bone, unfortified by food as he was. He experienced the physical misery that forces to submission men of large build more quickly than those of lighter make.
His mind suffered in sympathy, and his thoughts were of the bitterest. Never had his experience known an act of perfidy like that of Wilder. To have betrayed his hospitality was bad enough,—to have lured him on to selling the whisky was the act of a villain. He cursed the chance that had brought the fellow to his door. How had it happened?
The scoundrel had said that he had missed the way, but that was not probable. The county road was plain enough. He must have passed Dr. Morgan, too, who would have set him right.
A pang of suspicion came into his mind. One had betrayed him, why not the other? The Doctor was aware that he had the whisky. He must have stopped Wilder, knowing him to be an officer, and told him about it.
As a matter of fact, the deputy's story was true. In the dusk he had turned into the Baron's road without noticing that he had left the highway. He had passed the Doctor, and had spoken to him, but it was on the State Road, before he had found himself to be out of his way.
Von Rittenheim, faint from lack of food, sick at heart over his position, and filled with disgust at his betrayal, was in a mood to accept any suspicion, and the evil thought grew fat within him. He pondered every word of his conversation with the Morgans, and fancied that he saw indisputable evidence of the Doctor's falseness in his talk about whisky.
The course of affairs in Asheville was brief. Wilder rode beside his prisoner when they came to the town, not because he feared Friedrich's escape, but that he might have the appearance of being in command of the troop. Von Rittenheim was too closely absorbed in his own painful thoughts to pay any attention to this enforced companionship. He dismounted wearily as the squad drew rein before the Federal Building, and followed the deputy-marshal into the commissioner's office.
It was early, but Mr. Weaver was at his desk, for he happened to be pressed with work.
He was a nervous, bustling man, with an expression of acuteness, and a trick of rubbing his head with a circular motion, as if he were trying to effect a tonsure by force of friction. He nodded a recognition of Wilder and his men, and sent a look of surprise at Von Rittenheim, whose appearance was not what was usual in the prisoners brought before him, although his dress seemed to indicate the mountaineer.
"What for?" he asked Wilder, gruffly, when he was at liberty to attend to them.
"Retailing," returned the deputy-marshal, and proceeded to tell a story in which the details of his method of purchasing the liquor were meagre, but the account of the German's resistance to the officers was full.
Baron von Rittenheim pleaded guilty to the charge against him, and listened to the exaggerated tale of the arrest without comment, though with a look of disgust that did not escape Mr. Weaver. Perhaps he knew his man in Wilder. At any rate, a few trenchant questions brought out the fact that Friedrich had resisted only when an attempt was made to handcuff him.
"Really, Wilder," said the commissioner, sharply, "you make me tired. Haven't you got good sense? Do you suppose a fellow like that is going to run away?"
"No knowing what these cussed foreigners won't do," growled Wilder, and added something about being blown up before his prisoner, that brought a frown to Mr. Weaver's brow.
He was puzzled about von Rittenheim, and he felt sure that there was something in the case that was not in evidence; but the man had pleaded guilty, and there was nothing to do but to hold him for the Grand Jury.
"Who'll go on your bond?" he asked, taking up his pen.
"You must give a justified bond for your appearance before the United States Court in May."
"Oh, I see. I do not know. I have no fr-riends."
"It's only two hundred dollars."
"It might be only two hundred cents, still would it be the same. Yesterday I thought I had fr-riends, but to-day——"
He broke off abruptly, and again Weaver gave a perplexed rub to the top of his head. He opened a door and spoke to a negro boy who passed a waiting life in the anteroom.
"Sam, ask Mr. Gudger to step here, if he's in the building."
Mr. Gudger was a professional bondsman who added this calling to that of real-estate dealer and insurance agent, and interwove the three occupations with some talent and much success.
Von Rittenheim's farm served to secure Gudger against loss, while the mention of its existence caused the commissioner again to rub his head. Why in the world should a man——? He gave up the conundrum in despair, and applied himself to the necessary business.
Friedrich took but a passive part in the transaction, whose detail, with its rapid interchange of technicalities, he did not attempt to understand. His courteous dignity and submission to the justice of the legal procedure told nothing of the caldron of feeling boiling within him at the in-justice that had brought him to a pass where this thing was right.
As he walked away from the Federal Building, his mind began to leave these thoughts and to dwell on the almost equally disagreeable subject of what he should do next. His immediate need was of something to eat. He was sick with hunger, and he found himself even casting a regretful thought after Wilder's quarter of a dollar. His hand had happened to touch it in his pocket during his morning ride, and he had flung it from him as far as he could into the woods beside the road.
"But, no," he thought, "rather would I starve than buy food with that."
He went up Patton Avenue, and eyed the signs on the buildings in the hope of seeing one that would suggest to him some way of making money.
The early morning's rain had turned into snow, that beat into the open place from the north, and drove the loafers from their accustomed haunts. The pavement was whitening rapidly.
"The first of April to-morrow," thought von Rittenheim, disgustedly. "What will happen to those pease that I put into the gr-round last week?"
As he stood, sheltered from the storm by a projecting building, he reflected that it was useless for him to go back into the country. There was no planting to be done as early as this, except that of a few garden vegetables, and he had no seeds to plant even if he went.
He remembered as if it were long ago that he had meant to come to Asheville to-day, and thought with grim humor that after all he had not been obliged to walk.
Yes, he must find some occupation in town that would support him during the month that intervened before the sitting of the court. He knew that the usual sentence for moonshining was "A hundred dollars or three months," and, since he had no money, he must submit to the degradation of imprisonment. May, June, July. That would bring him to August, and it would be time enough then to consider the future.
A von Rittenheim in prison! A shudder went through him with the thought, and a wild desire to avert the evil. If only he had not pledged his farm to that bondsman!
Friedrich's life had not been one to promote business knowledge. At home he had known but little of affairs—in America, nothing. He did not realize that he might have raised on his place ten times the amount of his fine without affecting Mr. Gudger's interests. He thought that his negotiation with that excellent person had put his estate out of his hands for all similar uses. Vaguely he thought that the bondsman would be released when his trial came on, and that at that time the land would be free again, and that perhaps it might be arranged then. But he did not see how, for they would not allow him to go out to do it, and he did not know any one who would take a mortgage on it. And, oh, how sleepy he was—and how hungry—and how the cold bit through him!
He bestirred himself and walked around the square. He was studying the window of a harness-shop which appealed to him as having to do with the subject he knew most about—horses; and he was pondering in what capacity he would offer his services to the proprietor, when he was accosted by a negro boy.
"The boss wants you-all over yonder," he said, grinning affably.
"The—who?" asked the Baron, to whom the appellation was new.
"The boss in the revenue office, Mr. Weaver. He wants you. Ah'm his boy Sam."
Friedrich supposed that some form had been omitted, and returned with docility to the Federal Building. Mr. Weaver nodded pleasantly as he entered.
"This German was brought in here just after you went out, von Rittenheim. I want you to interpret, if you will."
Friedrich's breakfast seemed now more nebulous than ever, but even this hour's tedium came to an end, and Weaver, with a "Thank you," pushed a half-dollar along the table towards him.
"No, no. It is a pleasure, my dear sir," began the Baron, when suddenly he brought his heels together, made his low bow, and took the money. "I thank you, mein Herr. I need it. I will take it."
Mr. Weaver looked at him with the provincial American's amusement at foreigners' ways, mingled with shrewdness.
"By the way, do you mind telling me how you-all got into this scrape?"
The German flushed and tossed back his head. Then he controlled himself, and said, gently,—
"But perhaps you have a r-right to know. If you will excuse me for a time, however, I will r-return after a breakfast. I left my house very early this morning."
Weaver noticed the sudden pinched look of faintness that turned von Rittenheim's ruddy face ashy.
"He's missed more than one meal," he thought, but said aloud only, "Any time before two o'clock."
It was not much that the commissioner learned from von Rittenheim after all, for food brought back self-reliance and courage, and he felt that the whole story of his trouble would be an appeal for sympathy that he could not make. However, he told enough to cause Weaver to say under his breath a few condemnatory things about the deputy-marshal, and then he asked,—
"What are you going to do?"
"I hope to find some occupation in Asheville until the time of my tr-rial."
"What do you want to do?"
"I care not. I am well, str-rong. I fear not labor."
Mr. Weaver compared with a glance von Rittenheim's figure with his own puny proportions, and said,—
"No, I should think not!"
Then he rubbed his head and asked,—
"Can you teach?"
"I know not. Never have I done such a thing. I am a soldier."
"That's easily seen. Still, you're a university man."
He touched his forehead just where on Friedrich's the tip of his scar was visible.
"Oh, yes. I was at Heidelberg."
"I suspect you'll do if you-all are willing to try. My boy's fitting for college, and he's getting badly behind in his German. If you'd tackle his instruction for a few weeks, I'm sure it would be of great value to him. Will you do it?"
"If you will accept a novice, I shall be gr-rateful." And again Friedrich made his low bow.
"Then be at my house at five this afternoon, and here's a week's salary in advance. You'll be wanting it, perhaps."
So was Baron von Rittenheim established as Tommy Weaver's tutor, and fortunate he thought himself.
Fortunate he was, in that this engagement secured to him his simple living; but most unlucky in that it left him with too much spare time. Had he worked at a task that occupied seven or eight hours a day, his thoughts would have filtered through the weariness of his body, and been purified thereby. But his leisure was abundant, and he spent it in brooding over his troubles.
To those that had wrung him before was added his present shame. And his shame was embittered by his suspicion of Dr. Morgan. He held Wilder of no account. He was beneath a gentleman's notice. But Dr. Morgan had pretended to be his friend. He dwelt on all his intercourse with him, and weighed every conversation that he remembered. There came to him half a hundred trifling circumstances that seemed to substantiate his distrust.
The lack of his accustomed exercise told on his health. He grew moody and irritable, and daily the wish for revenge grew stronger. Satisfaction was due him, and satisfaction he would have.
A Weak Man's Strength
It was three weeks later. Bud Yarebrough, going rabbit-hunting, pondered, as he trudged along the road, upon the freaks of an April that had come in with snow, and alternately had warmed and chilled the swelling hopes of bud and blossom, until the end of the month showed trees and shrubs but a trifle farther advanced than at its beginning.
"Jus' like M'lissy used to treat me!"
He made the comparison with a breath of relief that that time of wretchedness and rapture was past.
He heard the sound of hoofs approaching from behind, and whistled to heel his three scrawny hounds. When he made sure of the rider's identity, he shifted his gun to his other shoulder, and pulled off his remnant of felt in salutation of Miss Carroll. As she stopped to speak to him, he stared earnestly at her horse's neck; but kind Nature permits even a shy man's vision to take a wide range, and Bud by no means was unobservant of the brilliant skin framed by a glory of red hair; of the velvet dark eyes with their darker lashes; and of the corduroy habit, brownly harmonious with the sorrel horse and the clay road, as with its wearer's coloring.
"How is Melissa, Bud?"
Some of Sydney Carroll's friends thought her voice her greatest charm.
"And the baby? She's a dear baby! I think she looks like Melissa, don't you?"
"She's tol'able—they's tol'able. Yes, Miss Sydney, they says so," replied the lad, whose condition as the father of a family seemed to cast him into depths of bashfulness.
"It's a great responsibility for you, Bud. I hope you feel it. And I hope that you won't let this happen often."
Sydney gravely tapped her eye with her finger, while Bud stole a shamed hand over his own visual organ, which was surrounded by the paling glories of a recent contusion. The color mounted to his hair as he stammered,—
"Hit wasn't that—that what you think, Miss Sydney. Hit was a stick o' wood——" But his voice trailed off into nothingness before the girl's gaze.
"Bud, I know—I heard how it happened. Don't tell me what isn't true."
Bud kicked a stone that lay at his feet.
"You-all always does find out," he murmured, with unwilling admiration. "You see Ah was right smart glad about the baby, 'n 'bout M'lissy bein' so well, 'n Ah jus' took a little; 'n Pink Pressley was awful aggravatin', 'n Ah jus' 'lowed Ah didn' want nothin' t' interrup' mah joy," he ended, looking up with a humorous twinkle that brought a responsive smile to the severe young face before him.
"But Ah know hit ain' right to M'lissy," he went on hurriedly, for he realized that the smile was only transitory, "'n Ah'm goin' to try, Ah sho' am," he added, stepping out of the way of the horse, grown uneasy at this long colloquy. "Ah certainly am goin' to get out the tools 'n look 'em over to-morrow," he finished, as Sydney gathered up her reins.
"I hope so, Bud; but why don't you do it to-day?" she called back, saying to herself, as Johnny broke into a canter, "As if poor Bud ever could do anything to-day! He should have been born in the land of manana."
The horse lengthened his stride into a sweeping gallop where the condition of the road permitted, slackening his pace and betaking himself to the side, and even to the footpath on the bank, when the mud grew too deep for speed. The girl paid little attention to him, for, like all mountain horses, he was accustomed to pick his way with a sagacity that man cannot assist.
On Sydney's face rested a shade too heavy to have been brought there by the failings, customary to the country, of Melissa's husband. But twenty years are not proof against the joint attack of sunshine and fresh, sweet air and the glorious motion of a horse, and she seemed a happy, care-free girl to Bob Morgan, sitting in the sun on his father's porch.
Unlike the Carroll house, which was of stone and surrounded by roofed verandas, Dr. Morgan's dwelling presented an unabashed glare of whitewashed weather-boarding. It needed only green shutters to be a hostage from New England. In summer a rose climbed over the portico and broke the snowy monotony, but at this season the leafless stems served only to enhance the bareness.
As he heard Sydney's approach Bob raised his aching head from his hand and sprang unsteadily to his feet. She was quick to notice his condition, for she knew only too well the weakness that was wringing the heart of the good old Doctor and lining "Miss Sophy's" face. Bob was their only son and only child, "'n hit do seem strange," the country women said, "that a man who's done's much good's the ol' Doctor shouldn' have better luck with his boy."
Sydney flushed as Bob ran unevenly along the path to take her from the saddle. Her experiences seemed to be like history this morning. A little sigh escaped her as she looked about for the Doctor, and then resigned herself to be lifted down by Bob's strong and eager, though shaking, hands.
To him her manner was quite the reverse of her attitude towards the other victim of a weak will from whom she just had parted. If to Yarebrough she was straightforward, to this man she was diplomatic. If to Bud she was Mentor, to Bob she was Telemachus. If Bud stared at her in puzzled surprise at her "always finding out," Bob exerted himself to appear before her a man on whom she could rely, because he was sure that she never had thought of him otherwise.
"Yes, it is a lovely day," she replied, in answer to his salutation. "Is your mother at home? And what in the world is the matter with your face?"
He was holding open the gate for her to pass, and she saw that it would be absurd any longer to ignore his appearance.
"The calf got mixed up in the rose-bush, and while I was getting him out he kicked me," explained Bob, glibly, shamelessly loading upon the back of a tiny and unoffending little bull-calf nibbling in front of the door the burden of his scratched and bruise-stained countenance.
Sydney averted her eyes as he told this unblushing lie, and sighed again as she thought of the poor mother, for she knew how long a Carolinian can stay on a horse, and that Bob must have been bad, indeed, to have rolled off, as it was evident that he had done.
"You must let me do it up for you," she said. "Go and get me the witch-hazel and something for a bandage."
She sat and waited for him in the living-room, where modern taste had made use of the blue-and-white homespun coverlets of the Doctor's grandmother as door curtains and couch covers. She noticed the kettle swung over the fire from the same crane that had balanced its burden thus for a hundred years, and she listened to Bob knocking about up-stairs in the room over her head.
"Now, sit down," she cried, when he returned. "You're so dreadfully tall. Towels! That won't do at all! Here, I'll wet my handkerchief and put that on first."
"May I keep it?"
Bob's good eye twinkled merrily, and what was visible of the other showed some amusement.
"Of course not. You'll return it to me as soon as you can."
Sydney's mouth twitched in appreciation of his audacity.
"I'm afraid I can't very soon," he replied, gravely. "I expect to need it for a long, long time."
He turned to the mirror and gazed therein at his shock of black hair rising above the linen, and at the one rueful eye visible below.
"It makes me look rather a fool, doesn't it? But it's awfully sweet of you to do it, Sydney. I say, Sydney." Suddenly he wheeled about and seized both her hands. "Is it always going to be this way? Are you never going to care for me? You know I'd give my life for you. You never asked me to do anything yet that I didn't do," he hurried on, yearning for an answer from her, yet knowing well that when she raised those white lids the eyes would not give him the reply that he wanted. "Truly, I'll do anything you say, if only you'll care a little, just a little, dear!"
He drew her to him, and she raised to his her eyes, warm, brown, swimming in tears. He let fall her hands, realizing that she knew—that she always had known—and feeling how empty were his words when he had never tried to do for her sake the one thing that might touch her.
Letting fall her hands, he sank speechless upon his knees, and buried his head in the blue-and-white coverlet of the couch.
With tear-laden eyes Sydney walked to the gate, her hands outstretched before her, like a blind man feeling his way. Johnny rubbed his nose in sympathy against her shoulder as she unfastened his chain. It was the first time in Bob's fond, foolish, generous life that ever he had allowed Sydney to do for herself anything that he could do for her.
As Johnny carried his mistress down the State Road, and the "bare, ruined choirs" of the trees became clear to her eyes once again, she realized that a new pain and a new pity had come into her life—and a new responsibility.
"Thou Shalt Not Covet thy Neighbor's Wife"
It was fortunate that Johnny needed no guiding hand, for his mistress was far too absorbed in her thoughts to give him any attention. She did not see the ranks of gray tree-trunks through which peered glimpses of blue as the land fell away against the background of the sky; the heavy bunches of mistletoe in some leafless top failed to attract her attention; and she was blind to the beauty of the coarse green pine-needles against the brown masses of the oak-leaves that cling to the branches all winter to cheat the Devil of his bargain, the Earth, which is to be his when all the boughs are bare.
Her whole soul was filled with a longing to help Bob Morgan,—Bob, her dear old playfellow, so lovable and, alas! so weak. Already she had tried to foster his self-respect and to encourage his firmness by indirect means. It seemed now as if the chance were given her to act more openly. If only she could do so without rousing in the boy's breast a hope that she could not fulfil, for she knew that never could she love him as he wanted to be loved!
It was not that a difference of birth, of rearing, of tradition placed her apart from him. She even had a fondness for him, but love—no!
She had been thinking a great deal about love of late. She knew what it was to have men in love with her. Her grandmother, with whom she lived at fine old Oakwood, had introduced her in Baltimore, where she revived many old-time connections; and she had had another season in New Orleans. Her striking beauty had brought her a success that pleased Mrs. Carroll more than Sydney herself. The haughty old lady approved the girl's coldness, and nodded in agreement with Aunt Frony, who watched her young mistress's path with proprietary satisfaction.
"She cert'nly do favor her paw; 'n she walks along tru all dem gen'lemen like Joseph tru dat co'nfiel' wif de sheaves a-bowin' befo' him, 'n he never pay no mo' 'tention to 'em 'n if dey jus' common roughness—'n no mo' do she!"
"My son's daughter demeans herself as one of her family should," had been Mrs. Carroll's reply; but she was really gratified at this aloofness that seemed to excite the attention which she felt to be her granddaughter's due, without inducing a surrender of her heart. Sydney's marriage would take from her her only companion, and was an evil that the old lady recognized as necessary, but to be put off as long as possible.
Sydney regarded the various love-affairs in which she had had a part as the usual incidents in every woman's career. They had touched her little. She was extraordinarily lacking in conceit, and she could not realize, since her sympathy was unquickened by a responsive affection, that a love of short growth could mean much to its possessor. This lack of appreciation of love's intensity was increased by the fact that her own simplicity of thought and straightforwardness of character always had prevented her from taking seriously any man's attentions until they resolved themselves definitely into intentions.
None of her experiences had moved her like this with Bob Morgan. When, in the autumn, she had given up her season in town on account of her grandmother's feebleness, it had been one of her consolations that at least she would be free from that sort of complication. And here was something worse than anything that had gone before, because her real fondness for Bob gave her an insight into his pain, and a pity for the sorrow that she knew she must inflict upon him.
She felt vaguely into the darkness for a realization of what love was. She had lain awake many a night that winter, waiting for her grandmother's call, listening to the rain as it dripped upon the roof from the twig-tips of the oaks, and dreaming a waking dream of what a love would mean that would make any sacrifice a joy, any pain a rapture. And, like all women from Time's beginning, she had cried into the shadow, "Oh, that I, too, may have this joy, this sacrifice, this pain!"
At the cross-roads Johnny fell into a walk until he should learn his rider's wish. He preferred to go home; but if she chose the right-hand road he was willing to carry her over it, mistaken as he felt her decision to be.
Sydney roused at the change of gait and turned the horse into the homeward way; but, just as he was settling down gleefully to his work, she remembered that she had failed entirely to accomplish the errand upon which her grandmother had sent her; the errand that had clouded her brow with anxiety.
Mrs. Carroll was very fond of Baron von Rittenheim. He interested her, he amused her, he aroused her curiosity, and his formal manners recalled to her memory the gallants of her youth. He called upon her frequently, and the old lady looked forward to his visits with agreeable anticipation. For three weeks he had not been to Oakwood, and she was determined no longer to endure such neglect,—at any rate, to investigate it. To this end she had sent Sydney to Dr. Morgan's to inquire of him news of the recreant German. And Sydney had not stayed to see the Doctor or Mrs. Morgan!
Obedient to the rein, Johnny stopped and looked about with an air of inquiring patronage. His mistress was not given to abrupt changes of intention, but he was willing to humor her when they appeared.
"I can't go back to the Doctor's, of course," thought Sydney. "I'll go to Melissa Yarebrough's,—she'll know."
Off from the State Road, just beyond the cross-roads, a rough trail led into the woods. Sydney turned into it, and rode between bushes of laurel and rhododendron, whose glossy leaves shone dark above her head even as she sat upon her horse. Patches of vivid green moss crept confidingly to the foot of the oaks, and a bit of arbutus, as pink as the palm of a baby's hand, peered from under its leathery cover. A few daring buds tentatively were opening their tiny leaves to the world, and some stray blades of grass pricked, verdant, through the general brownness.
This was but a deserted lane, which Sydney had chosen as affording a short cut to Melissa's, and, of a sudden, the passage was closed by a snake fence eight rails high. It was beyond Johnny's jumping powers, but his rider was undaunted. Leaning over the right side of the horse she dexterously pulled apart the top rails where they crossed, and Johnny cleverly stepped back in time to avoid their hitting his legs in their fall. Pressing forward again, she dislodged the next pair, and then Johnny took the breach neatly, and picked his discriminating way through the brush on the other side.
Though their cabins were a mile apart, the Yarebroughs were Baron von Rittenheim's nearest neighbors, and Sydney thought that Melissa would know if he were ill, as she feared.
But as she rode on in sinuous avoidance of protruding boughs and upstart bushes, she was seized by a shyness quite new to her. It seemed as if she could not bear to question Melissa about the Baron. She fancied she saw the girl's possible look of amusement. It became suddenly a position which she stigmatized as "horrid!"
Beside her a big white pine spread an inviting seat of heaped-up tags, and she slipped off the horse and leaned against the broad trunk. Johnny, at the bridle's length, nibbled at the enamelled green of the lion's tongue with equine vanity,—for he knew that it would beautify his coat,—and pushed his muzzle down among the dry leaves beyond the radius of the pine-needles, lipping them daintily in search of something more appetizing beneath.
The sunshine forced its way through the thick branches of the pine and frolicked gayly with Sydney's ruddy hair, as she tossed aside her hat and sat down to recover her composure, so suddenly and extraordinarily lost. Perhaps five minutes, perhaps ten, had passed thus in reflection which she called to herself "disgustingly self-conscious," when Johnny lifted his head and pointed his ears towards that side where the undergrowth was thickest. Sydney sprang to her feet and put on her hat, for she had no desire to be caught day-dreaming.
Having taken this precaution, however, she stood quite still, and Johnny, with satisfied curiosity, renewed his search among the fallen leaves.
The approaching sounds betrayed that there was a path on the other side of the thicket. Indeed, Sydney remembered that one ran from Melissa's cabin to a spring not far off, and she realized that she must be nearer to the house than she had appreciated. The voices were those of a man and a woman in no good humor with each other. In fact, a lively quarrel seemed to be in progress.
"Ah certainly wish you-all wouldn' come here no mo'." It was Melissa. "Ah don' wan' to see ye; 'n you are so aggravatin' to Bud."
"Ye used to like to have me come, ye know ye did, M'lissy. Don' you-all remember the time Ah kissed ye behin' the big oak in yo' daddy's pasture? Ye liked me well enough then."
"You shut up, Pink Pressley. Ah was a silly girl then, 'n Ah'm a married woman now, 'n hit's time you-all stopped foolin' roun' here."
The voices lessened in the distance, and a jay-bird which had screamed lustily at their approach turned his attention once more to Sydney, and found her still standing, bridle in hand.
She was shocked at the trouble that seemed to threaten the happiness of Bud Yarebrough's household, and she stood uncertain whether to turn back from the encounter upon which unwittingly she had intruded, or whether to go on in case Melissa needed her help or her comfort. Johnny pushed against her invitingly, and she mounted him from a near-by stump, and, breaking through the scrub, turned his head along the path in the direction of the cabin.
The house proved, indeed, to be close at hand; it had been hardly worth while to mount the horse, so near it stood to the pine-tree of Sydney's ambush. The mud daubing between the logs shone bright through the hazy spring atmosphere, and a thick white smoke, betokening a handful of chips newly tossed upon the fire, ascended slowly into the air as if eager to explore the dulled blue sky above.
As Sydney came around the corner of the cabin, for the path debouched at the rear, a terrified white rooster came running from the front, his outstretched wings lengthening the stride of his sturdy yellow legs, and his wattles swinging violently from side to side. At the same moment angry voices again struck Sydney's ears.
"Never, never, never!"
Melissa was tremulously insistent.
"Ah'll make you-all sorry you ever married Bud Yarebrough," the man responded, and Sydney turned the corner just in time to see him seize Melissa by the waist and lean over to kiss her. The girl took advantage of the loosening of his hold as he caught sight of Miss Carroll, and delivered him a resounding slap upon his cheek, when she turned panting to her opportune visitor.
"You-all saw, Miss Sydney, he didn' do hit! He's that hateful, he won' let me alone,—always pesterin' roun' here when Bud ain' to home. Ah 'low Ah jus' hate him!"
Stricken still with surprise, Sydney sat upon her horse, her face scarlet with distress and stern with disapproval. Pink glanced up at her, and began to sidle off, abashed. He could not forbear, however, throwing back a parting threat.
"You-all remember what Ah said. Ah'll make you sorry you ever married Bud Yarebrough."
"What does it mean, Melissa?" asked Sydney, dropping from the saddle and turning her face, now colorless, upon the weeping little wife crouching in a corner of the doorway.
"Jus' what you-all heard, Miss Sydney. He's always comin' here when Bud's away; 'n when he meets Bud anywheres they's always quar'lin', 'n Ah'm jus' wore out with him."
Sydney hung the horse's bridle over the end of an upturned horseshoe nailed to a tree before the cabin, and sat down on the door-step beside her humble friend.
"Melissa, tell me,"—she was very grave,—"did he ever before—does he——?"
She sought vainly for some phrase less bald than that which seemed so uncompromisingly full of embarrassment.
"Did he ever try to kiss me, ye mean? No, indeed, Miss Sydney; he sho' didn'. Only one time when Ah was a girl we kep' company fo' a right smart bit, 'n one night, when a lot of us was playin' tag in the pasture, he caught me 'n kissed me. That's the only time, hones', Miss Sydney. He never done a thing like this befo' to-day since Ah been married; jus' hung roun' 'n been aggravatin'."
Sydney took the hard hand between her own soft palms and stroked it gently.
"Hush, dear, don't sob like that. Can't Bud keep him away? Can't he forbid him to come here?"
"Ah'd be afraid to tell him about this, he's that fiery-tempered, Bud is. He goes along jus' as easy, 'n then some day he jus' natchelly goes rarin'. When Ah've tol' him how Pink comes botherin' me, he jus' says, 'Pore feller, he didn' get ye. Ah'm sorry fo' him.' But 'f Ah tell him this he might shoot him, 'n Ah couldn' bear that!"
Melissa ended with a shuddering cry, and Sydney remembered pityingly how the girl's brother had been brought home dead two years ago, shot in a quarrel whose primary cause was corn whisky.
"Tell me, Melissa, what did he mean by that threat,—that he'd make you sorry you'd married Bud? How can he harm him?"
"Ah don' know, oh, Ah don' know," sobbed the poor girl; "only hit's somethin' mahty mean fo' sho'. He's that low-down 'n sneaky hit's sho' to be somethin' mean," she reiterated.
"It seems to me, Melissa, that if I were married, I shouldn't want to have a secret that my husband didn't know. Of course, you understand Bud best; but be sure, quite sure, that it is right before you keep anything from him, won't you?"
A wail from within the cabin brought both the girls to their feet. The fortunate rule that most women who have to worry over their husbands have children to divert their minds was unbroken in Melissa's case. She wiped her eyes, took the morsel from the bed, and kissed it passionately, while Sydney looked on with avid gaze.
"May I take her for a little while, Melissa?" she asked, humbly. "She's so sweet!"
A Strong Man's Weakness
Through all the year's round of weather, good and bad; through the snow of January and the wind of March; through the glare of the warm April days before the foliage casts its protective shade over the earth; through the heat of midsummer and the glorious wine-clear air of October, round again to the rigors of Christmas,—through all the circle of the twelvemonth Melissa's door stood open.
To all appearance, ventilation is a hobby ridden and overridden in the Carolina mountains, but the doors are not left open for hygiene's sake, or even in hospitality's good name. It is to promote the performance of the ordinary duties of life, more comfortably carried on in the light than in the dark; for since the shuttered openings that serve as windows are unglazed, the door must be left open to admit the sun's bright rays.
The one room of Melissa's cabin was scrupulously clean. Pictures of the President and of one of the happy victims of Somebody's Pleasant Pain-Killer were tacked upon the walls beside long strings of dried red peppers and of okra. A gourd, cut into the shape of a cup, hung upon a nail by its crooked neck. The bed was covered neatly with a blue-and-white homespun coverlet, and a kettle steamed upon the fire at the opposite end of the room.
The sunlight swept across the floor as far as Sydney's feet, and glinted upon the silver spur at her left heel. It crept up to her radiant face and glowing hair. As she held the little baby in her strong young arms, she stood transfigured like an angel of old in the eyes of Friedrich von Rittenheim as he walked up the trail that served as an approach to the cabin.
"Himmlisches Maedchen," he whispered, and pulled off his cap with a feeling of guilt that he was bringing into this pure presence his thoughts of hatred and revenge.
Little Miss Yarebrough had a narrow escape from a fall as her temporary nurse's eyes fell upon the figure outside the door.
"Ah, Baron, it is you!" cried Sydney, tucking the baby into the hollow of one arm and extending her hand. "Grandmother has been disturbed about you. Have you been away? It is a long time since you were at Oakwood."
"Has it seemed so to you?" he said, tenderly. "I have been to the town, and I am but now r-returned within a pair of minutes. I have come to ask Mrs. Yare-brough to put into order my house for me."
The unexpected sight of Sydney was like the sudden breaking out of sunshine through a bank of stormy cloud to the man whose whole mind had been filled for days with poisonous thoughts. He beamed upon Melissa and shook hands with her cordially.
"Yes, sir, Ah'll go this mo'nin'. You-all wants yo' flo's mopped up, Ah suppose."
She took the baby from Sydney and laid her on the bed, and began to get together what paraphernalia she needed.
"Bud ain' comin' home to dinner, so Ah c'n stay 'n cook yo's 'f ye want," she called, cheerily, breaking in upon the silence that had fallen between her two guests; a silence fraught with happiness for the man, and with a return of that terrible shyness for the girl. Why she, the belle of two seasons, whose composure always had been the envy of the girls of her age, should stand overcome with embarrassment before this jeans-clad German she truly did not know. All power of initiative seemed to have passed from her, and von Rittenheim stood before her and feasted his eyes upon her in a way that she had been wont to condemn as "horridly foreign," and she did nothing to relieve the situation.
At last the happy idea of flight suggested itself. She pinned her hat more securely and unlooped her skirt.
The glow died from von Rittenheim's face.
"You go? So goes ever-ything from me—love and fr-riendship—and even hope," he added, in a whisper. Then, as Sydney looked at him curiously, "Let me bring Yonny for you."
Sydney kissed a "good-by" upon the fat hand of the baby, now hooded for her journey to the Baron's, and murmured to Melissa,—
"You will think of what I said? You will be quite sure?"
She turned and surrendered her slender, booted foot to the Baron's palm, and was tossed deftly into the saddle. She had no realization of the thrill that went through him at the touch; he had no notion of the admiration that his dexterity roused in her.
"I came by a path through the woods and tore down some of Bud's fence. Will you go with me and put it up? It is only a little way."
Von Rittenheim was delighted at the prolongation of his happiness. To walk with his hand on her horse's neck; to do her a trifling service! It was heaven!
"You will come soon to Oakwood, won't you? Grandmother is eager to see you, and we are expecting some guests from New York on this afternoon's train—the Wendells; I want them to know you."
The words were as sweet as the voice, and he repeated them in a whisper as he put together the rails of Bud's fence after Johnny's surmounting heels had cleared them.
Then the chill swept around his heart again. It did seem to him as if he were losing everything that made life good. In the old country he had yielded up the little that was left after happiness had been stolen from him. Here he had yearned for friendship, and it had played him a scurvy trick; he had begun to see a faint glimmer of hope at the end of the black cavern—just a point of light that gave promise of a land of sun and cheer beyond. And now he felt that he had no right to travel towards that point of light, to strive to reach it and make that land his own, while shame hung over him, and black and bitter thoughts filled his heart.
His was a simple nature, von Rittenheim's,—one that yielded easily to the common thralls of love and life. He should have been the happy head of a family with the daily round of duties on a large estate to occupy his thoughts. It was one of the freaks of fate that the kindly outpourings of his heart always had been flung back at him. Unkind chance had done her best to ruin a gentle and trusting disposition.
He was musing on his wrongs as he tramped along the path between Bud's cabin and his own. His high-flung head was bent and his gaze downcast. He struck ruthlessly at the dry stalks of goldenrod on the bank, nodding southward before the prevailing wind. He still was brooding as he approached his cabin; brooding so darkly as to bring over his judgment the dim mists of error and of injustice with their attendant cloud of revenge.
A mud-spattered buggy before the door drew his attention. It must be—yet how would he dare? Still it was Dr. Morgan's buggy. That long-haired black mule was unmistakable. The sight of it shook von Rittenheim as a breeze drives through pine-boughs. He felt choked, and put his hand to his throat.
The old man had come to exult over him, and what could he do in his own house? Ah, there was only one thing to be done. Everything pushed him towards it.
But now—he would not be so cowardly as not to face the man he hated, though a step into the brush beside the road would have concealed him. As he approached he saw the Doctor's tall figure filling the height of the doorway, though there was plenty of room to spare on each side. He was talking to Melissa Yarebrough, who was within making a fire as a preliminary to her cleaning and cooking operations.
"He sent you-all over, did he? Well, Ah 'low that means he's coming along in a little bit. He's been away? Is that so? Ah wonder where. Oh, here he is. How are you, Baron? Pretty day, isn't it? Melissa tells me you-all've been away."
"Yes," curtly. "I have been away, as no one should know better than you."
"Better'n me? Ah never knew it till this minute when Melissa told me. Ah was at Mrs. Carroll's this morning, and she commissioned me to find out where you-all were at, and why you hadn't been to see her. She had sent Sydney to my house for news, but Ah missed her on the road somehow. The old lady put me through mah catechism, and Ah couldn't tell her anything about you since the day Sophy and Ah were here, so Ah came by to find out."
"Do you dare say to me, sir, that you do not know where I have been?"
"Ah certainly do say it! How in the world should Ah know all the movements of people in God-forsaken coves like this?"
The German's persistence was beginning to irritate the Carolinian, grown autocratic and unaccustomed to question by long years of practice among a country-folk submissive to the dictation of a leader.
"You are under my r-roof there where you stand. Come you down here where only heaven's blue covers you, and I will tell you some things which it is well that you should know."
To keep them out of mischief Friedrich thrust his clinched hands into his pockets. Morgan did not see the application of von Rittenheim's words about the sky, but he felt a threat in his tone, and, being no coward, he came down the steps promptly. He even went so far as to dispense with his quid.
A sharp contrast they presented,—the German, erect, well-poised, plainly a soldier in spite of his ill-fitting clothes; the American, lank and stomachless, yet taller than the other in spite of his bent shoulders. His tawny beard was guiltless of care. Of all his slack body only his eyes showed alertness as they looked sidewise from under his old felt hat.
"Ah don't know what you-all are driving at, but Ah'm thirsting fo' that information you're advertising to present me with free!" he drawled.
Von Rittenheim now had himself under control, though his feet and hands were cold because of the retreat to his head of the fighting fluid.
"Let me ask you—after you were here with Mrs. Morgan—it is now three weeks ago—did you not meet a man who asked you the way?"
"Asked the way? Let me see. Yes, Ah 'low we did. White horse?"
"A white horse. Exactly," returned von Rittenheim, dryly. "You directed him on his road only too well."
"What do you mean? He asked if there was any cut that would shorten the way to Asheville, and Ah told him the shortest he could do was to stick to the State Road."
"Allow me to tell you, sir, that you lie."
Dr. Morgan flung up his head angrily. But he was loath to think that von Rittenheim, whom he liked, was trying to pick a quarrel with him. Besides, English spoken with a foreign accent fails to carry conviction to ears unaccustomed to hearing it, and Morgan thought the German unfortunate in his choice of a word.
"You mean Ah'm mistaken, and there is a short cut? If there is, Ah don't know it. Where do you leave the State Road?"
"I mean, sir, that you tell not the truth, that you lie, when you say that that was your conversation with that man. You lie, I say!"
Now there could be no mistake. The Doctor's sixty years fell from him like a mantle. He looked a young man, and his face unfurled the banner of wrath that knows no nation, but calls all the earth its own. The two men glared at each other like dogs leaping against their collars, eager to bury their teeth in each other's throats.
"By God," growled the elder man, "if you-all weren't a damned foreigner Ah'd kill you! But Ah suppose you don't know any better, and Ah've got to let you alone."
He turned and walked to his buggy. He did not forget to pat the noses of the horse and mule that drew his equipage. He clambered into the carriage, which protested, creaking, against his weight, and he jogged slowly out of sight.
"Oh, my Lawd," he whispered to himself, gently rocking from side to side,—"oh, my Lawd, why ain't he an American? Oh, why ain't he? But a foreigner! He ain't responsible!"
Friedrich watched the retreating buggy with mingled disgust and surprise.
"Why did he not r-resent that? If not that, what? He is br-rave, that is clear; then why does he not fight? Ah, these Americans, I compr-rehend them not!"
A furnace of indignation, he walked into the house. He passed through his living-room, where Melissa was scrubbing the floor and singing a doleful hymn as an encouragement to exertion, and went into his bedroom. There, in the glass, he suddenly came upon his own face, filled with bitterness, scowling.
He paused, shocked that this mask of hatred should be his. Abashed, he turned away from the too truthful mirror of his tell-tale features. A gurgling sound fell upon his ear, and he saw, lying contentedly upon his bed, babbling inexplicable nothings, waving meaningless gestures, rosy, happy, a baby—Melissa's baby.
The soldier looked down upon her solemnly. His face grew less stern and his whole form seemed to relax.
Glancing guiltily towards the open door of the other room, he leaned over the bed, and, turning the little head to one side with the tip of his forefinger, he kissed the baby's cheek just on the rosiest spot.
"I Warrant There's Vinegar and Pepper In't!"
A heavy rain was beating against the windows with intermittent bursts of fury. Dr. Morgan, sitting in front of the fire in the room in which Sydney and Bob had had their painful interview on the previous morning, heard a mandatory whoop from without. Thrusting his stockinged feet into his slippers, and laying down the Pickwick Papers with a sigh for the probability of his having to make a visit in such a storm, he opened the door. A blast of wind brought in a sheet of rain that dampened the ashes swept from the fireplace by the sudden draught.
"O-oh, Doctor!" came a voice from the rider on the other side of the fence.
"Hullo! Who are you?"
"Bud Yarebrough. Ah got a letter fo' you."
"Well, light, ye fool, and put yo' beast under the shack."
The Doctor slammed the door and shivered back into the range of the fire's glow.
"Come in," he shouted, when he heard Bud's stamping feet on the porch. "Come in and warm. Who's sick, Melissa or the baby?"
Bud unwound the scarf that protected his ears, shook the water from his jacket, and began to untie the strings that secured pieces of sacking to his feet.
"Ne'er one. M'lissy's tol'able, 'n the baby's right smart. Doctor, Ah don' know's Ah ever knew a baby 's was 's lively 's Sydney M'lissy."
"Common failing o' first babies," grunted the Doctor.
"Now mos' babies," pursued Bud, spreading out his scarf and the pieces of burlap to dry before the blaze,—"mos' babies ain' overly interestin', but Ah 'low Ah never saw a baby suck her thumb no prettier'n Sydney M'lissy!"
"Did you-all say something about a letter?"
The Doctor was torn between a desire to be hospitable and a yearning to return to Sam Weller.
"Yes, Ah got a letter fo' ye."
Bud began to hunt in the inner recesses of his apparel.
"'N Ah 'low he cain't be well."
The Doctor's hopes of picking up his book again, which had risen when he heard of the admirable physical state of Melissa and the baby, sank once more.
"Mr. Baron. He sho' mus' be crazy to go out in such weather's this, 'n what's mo', to expect me to."
"He seemed to know the right person to apply to."
"That's the trouble with me. Ah'm that lackin' in good sense Ah do anythin' anybody asts me to 'cos Ah'm flattered to be ast!"
"Does he say he's sick?"
"He don' say so, but he looks powerful res'-less 'n wild-like. He came over 'bout noon 'n ast me would Ah carry you this letter."
Here Bud's prolonged search resulted in the discovery of the letter's outline under his sweater, and he extracted it by way of the neck of that elastic garment.
"Ah said, no, Ah wa'n' no fool to go out in such weather, 'n then he cut loose 'n talked the most awful language. Ah couldn' understan' a word of hit; Ah reckon hit's his foreign words or somethin', but Ah never heard anythin' like hit befo'. 'N then he ast me again, mahty quiet like, wouldn' Ah take this letter to you-all fo' him, 'n Ah jus' natchelly thought Ah would!"
The boy grinned sheepishly. The Doctor nodded and ran his finger under the flap of the envelope.
"So you think he's sick."
"M'lissy does. When Ah was puttin' the saddle on the mule she come out to the stable with them bits o' crocus sack fo' mah feet, 'n she said Mr. Baron'd jus' gone, 'n she 'lowed he had a fever comin' on, he looked so bad."
Dr. Morgan was reading the letter for the second time, frowning heavily over it.
"What do you-all think yo'self?"
"Well, Ah don' see how he can be right to walk a mile to our house in this weather, not needin' to, 'n to in-sist on mah comin' here. Is they e'er an answer?"
The older man rose and put a log on the fire, while Bud gathered together his primitive panoply and began to arm himself against the elements.
"You tell him, Bud, that Ah'll attend to it when the mud dries after this rain. Ah get enough hauling round to do in the mud, without anything extra," he added.
Bud's curiosity was suffering.
"Ain' you-all goin' to see him?"
"You tell him what Ah say." The Doctor picked up his book with an air of dismissal. "Shut the do' tight," he called, and then read the same page three times over with unthinking mind, until he heard Bob's step coming down the stairs.
The young man looked out of the window, wondering how soon the rain would stop enough for him to go to see Sydney.
Bob took the letter.
"The Baron," he said, studying the small, foreign hand.
"Read it aloud."
Bob began obediently:
"MY DEAR SIR,—It is now more than three weeks that you played upon me a trick most treacherous. What it was I will not relate, for it would be needless. This I do assert, and more, that when you tell me you do not know what I mean, as you told me yesterday, you say not the truth. When I demand that you give to me the satisfaction that a gentleman should offer to another under such circumstances, I feel that I am treating you with a courtesy which you do not deserve. I think a whipping would suit better your contemptibility. Still, nevertheless, I conceal my pride, and I beg that you will meet me at whatever place you may appoint, and that you will fight with me with any weapon that you may choose.
"My unfriended condition in this country makes it not possible that I should be accompanied by a person who shall be suitable to be my second. But I entreat that my poverty in this respect will not deter you from bringing a friend with you.
"I am, sir,
"Yours with faithfulness,
"FRIEDRICH JOHANN LUDWIG V. RITTENHEIM."
Bob whistled,—a long sibilation of amazement,—and then laughed and laughed again.
"What have you-all been doing to the old fellow?"
"Ah haven't any idea."
"He says you talked it over yesterday."
"You hardly could say we discussed it," said the Doctor, dryly. "He insisted that Ah knew the drift o' his remarks, which Ah didn't, and rung in something about a man on a white horse."
"Who was he?"
"Blamed if Ah know. Ah begin to think, like Bud, the man's sick. He certainly was angry over something, and he used pretty strong language."
"No. Told me Ah lied."
Bob whistled again.
"That warmed you under the collar, I suspect?"
"It did wilt mah linen a trifle. However, Ah took it that, being a foreigner, he didn't know just how strong a word he was employing, so Ah drove off and left him."
"I reckon from this," holding up the letter, "he did know, and meant just what he said. It looks as if you'd been too lenient. You ought to have given him a biff or two on the spot."
"Maybe Ah had oughter."
Morgan pulled his beard thoughtfully.
Bob read the letter through once more.
"Quaint English, isn't it? The idea of a regular challenge gets me. I don't know when I've come across anything funnier."
"The notion ain't so novel to me, but duels are scarce nowadays. The State ain't so overly encouraging to them. Hand me down those Statutes and let me see exactly how they fix us."
Bob took the book from the shelf against the wall, and the Doctor turned over the pages.
"Here it is, in the Constitution. 'Article XIV., Section 2. Penalty for fighting a duel. No person who shall hereafter fight a duel, or assist in the same as a second, or send, accept, or knowingly carry a challenge therefor, or agree to go out of the State to fight a duel, shall hold any office in this State.' H'm," sniffed the Doctor. "Strikes me that won't prevent a lot of people from fighting. It discriminates against the would-be office-holder, but not against me, who wouldn't swallow an office if you put it in mah mouth."
"Or von Rittenheim, who wouldn't know one if he saw it! Perhaps it's a delicate tribute to the desire of all North Carolinians to serve their State."
"What disturbs me," said Dr. Morgan, shutting the book, "is that Ah like the fellow, and Ah don't want to shoot him all up fo' nothing. And, as Ah said befo', Ah sho' do think the fever's coming on him."
"What are you going to do?"
"Blest if Ah know!"
"What answer did you send?"
"Ah told Bud to tell him Ah'd attend to it when the mud dried."
"Good. That'll give you two or three days to find out what's the matter with him. Oh, what a joke, what a joke!"
Bob subsided into a chair, overcome with joy at the idea of his father as a participant in a formal duel.
"Let me know how it comes on, won't you, sir? May I be your second?"
"No," returned the Doctor, hunting his place in the discarded novel. "Ah'm laying off to have you governor some day, and Ah don't want to have you disqualified this early!"
Bob grinned appreciatively, and again explored the clouds.
"I'm going to see Sydney. May I show her this?"
Bob took his father's "H'm" for an assent, and went out to saddle his horse.
Von Rittenheim, sitting before the fire with Wallenstein's Lager on his knee, but with eyes bent upon the flames that burst with tiny explosions from the logs, and with mind wandering far from thoughts of Schiller,—von Rittenheim was waiting with what patience he could command for Bud's return.
With the falling of the wind at dusk the rain ceased. Friedrich lighted his lamp and opened his door to look up the road, a view not commanded by his single window.
He prepared his evening meal of coffee and bread and the batter-cakes that he had learned to like and then to make in this land of the frying-pan. Still Bud did not come. At eleven o'clock he went to bed, for he knew that no countryman, unless he were going for the doctor, would be abroad at that hour, with such mud under foot.
The next day's noon brought no news of the recreant messenger, and von Rittenheim went to the Yarebroughs' cabin in search of him.
"He ain' home," Melissa said, in the raised voice that she felt to be necessary to the German's understanding of her English. "He's gone to shoot cotton-tails. Ah 'low Ah'll make you-all a pie, 'f ye like," she added, offering this practical sympathy to the suffering that she saw written on his face.
"A pie of cotton-tails! Delightful! It will give me pleasure," said von Rittenheim, politely, with vague notions of birds floating through his brain. "Did he—Bud—br-ring no message for me yesterday in the afternoon?"
"No. He said the Doctor 'lowed he'd 'tend to hit—what yo' letter was about—when the mud dried, 'n Bud reckoned that wasn' no message, 'n hit wasn' no use goin' over to tell you jus' that."
"When the mud dried," repeated Friedrich. "Remarkable! Good-morning, Mrs. Yarebrough. Most remarkable!" he kept repeating to himself as he walked home. "He is not afraid, of that I am certain. Why, then, does he delay? Remarkable!"
In the Southern Appalachians
It was five o'clock, and a pretty girl, Katrina Wendell, was standing at one of the long windows of the drawing-room at Oakwood, looking out upon the storm.
She had not Sydney's unusual beauty, nor had she her imperious manner, the heritage to Southern women from generations of slave-holding ancestors; but she had charm and a certain distinction, and she had the stamp with which New York seals her daughters imprinted upon every tuck and frill of her clever gown.
"Katrina, it isn't polite to look so bored," said her brother John, who was amusing himself with Sydney's help by drawing caricatures of the men of the day.
Katrina flushed. She was bored, but John was a beast to mention it. She had just brought her first season to an ignominious close by falling in love with the worst match of the year,—Tom Schuyler, handsome, irrepressible, and penniless. Mrs. Wendell promptly had refused her consent to the engagement, and, with equal decision and what Tom called "disgusting alacrity," had sent her daughter South under her brother's care to accept the hospitality of Mrs. Carroll, a life-long friend.
Under the circumstances it was not strange that the prospect from the window did not appeal to Katrina.
John, on the other hand, was reaping his reward for the self-sacrifice that had made him accept the duty of escorting his sister to North Carolina. Unlike the martyrs of old who went unprotesting to their doom, he had obeyed his mother's commands in no submissive spirit. It was a relief to the keenness of his martyrdom to kick against the pricks, and kick he did from New York to Flora, during all such parts of the twenty-four hours as were not occupied in attending to the wants of his admirable appetite, or in yielding to the refreshment of such repose as a sleeping-car can offer. Even he felt that his recompense was undeservedly great when he found himself welcomed at the little Flora flag-station by Sydney. He was twenty-eight, and at that age a pretty girl still stands far up on the list of diversions. No, decidedly, John was not bored.
Katrina made no answer to her brother's accusation.
"Poor Katrina," said Sydney, going to the window and standing beside her guest. "It is an abominable day for your first one. Just look at that!"—she summoned John by a glance over her shoulder; "pouring! And usually we pride ourselves on our view."
Sheets of rain were driving across the field at the foot of the knoll upon which the house stood. At times the mountains beyond were shut off entirely. Again the clouds overhead blew past, and through a leaden light the storms in the distance could be seen, thickening under some canopy of blackness, or ceasing as the upper mist grew thin.
"What an advantage it gives you to have such a stretch of open country," said John. "Here you can see a storm coming when it is yet twenty miles away, and make your plans accordingly; but in New York, with the horizon line on the roofs of the houses across the street, you may be caught by a shower that was lurking over the Battery when you left your own door."
"I can't understand the foliage being so little advanced," said Katrina. "It's the last of April, and yet the leaves hardly are starting. They aren't much ahead of the Park."
"You expected a Florida climate, perhaps. We never cease to have winter letters from people in the North who lament their cold, and wish they were with us on our 'rose-covered veranda in the Sunny South,' and it may be zero when we are reading their flights of imagination."
"Is it really ever as cold as that?"
"Not often, but quite often enough. I've known snow as late as the twentieth of April, and I've been to a picnic on Buzzard Mountain in January."
"We're always hearing about this wonderful climate. It sounds as if it were remarkable chiefly for eccentricity."
"Oh, the average temperature is very even. The summers are delightful, too,—a long warm season instead of a short hot one. Though you may have fires now and then, it's not cool enough to close the windows, night or day, from the first of May to the first of October, and yet it seldom goes over eighty-five."
"It's the equilibrium between altitude and latitude, showing what it can do, isn't it?" asked John. "The fact that we are half a mile above the booming waters of the deep, my dear Katrina, counterbalances the nine hundred miles that lie between us and that large and noisy city to which I have no doubt your heart is turning fondly."
"Here are some men on horseback, Sydney," said Katrina, again ignoring her brother.
The wind was dying and the rain was lessening with each fitful gust.
"Are they cavaliers approaching the presence, or hinds of the estate coming to crave an audience?" demanded John, who professed much amusement at what he had seen of the semi-feudal manner of life at Oakwood, and at Sydney's responsibilities with regard to the work of the farm and to the tenants.
The girl peered into the gathering gloom.
"It must be Bob Morgan. Yes, it is; and that looks like Patton McRae's black mare."
"By their nags ye shall know them," said John. "Who are these estimable youths? I look upon them with the eye of jealousy."
"Bob Morgan? Oh, he's Dr. Morgan's son. You passed his house near the post-office. And the McRaes live at Cotswold; there's a big family of them. Will you ring for tea, Mr. Wendell?"
"I fly to do your bidding, even though it be to succor my rivals, for such I feel they are," and he slapped his chest melodramatically.
Much stamping of feet and shaking of garments heralded the announcement of the two young men by Uncle Jimmy, the old colored butler.
"How good of you both to come in this weather," said Sydney, flashing a greeting at each one in turn. "You are just in time to prevent Miss Wendell from being bored to death."
"Delighted to prevent your demise," said Patton, promptly, and attached himself at once to Katrina's following.
"Uncle Jimmy," said Sydney to the old man who was poking the fire with an assiduity born of a desire to stay in the room as long as possible, "tell Mrs. Carroll that tea is just coming in, and that Mr. Bob and Mr. Patton are here."
"See what you've brought us, Mr. McRae," Katrina was saying, as a ray of sunshine broke the twilight darkness.
The mountains stood a deep and penetrable blue against a golden break behind the Balsams. Fierce black clouds hurried across the upper sky, dragging after them ragged ends of mist, and beneath this roofing the setting sun aimed its luminous shafts across the rest made by Pisgah's rugged peak.
No one broke the spell of beauty by a word, but Wendell saw a glance pass between Sydney and Bob,—the look of sympathy sure of its fellow.
The sound of Mrs. Carroll's cane brought them all to their feet. She entered, tiny, autocratic, keen, leaning upon Uncle Jimmy's faithful arm.
"Good afternoon, Bob. Good afternoon, Patton. You are doubly welcome on this stormy day. Put my chair a little more to the side of the fireplace, Bob. Yes, Patton, the footstool, if you please. You may go, James. John, the hook for my cane is on the left of the mantel-piece. Katrina, tell Sydney to put a shade less cream in my tea than she did yesterday. No cake, thank you, John, but a rusk,—yes, a rusk appeals to me. Bob, what wild thing did you do on that horse of yours on your way here?"
"Not a thing, Mrs. Carroll. He came along like a Shetland pony. Gray Eagle doesn't like rain. It depresses him."
"Patton is riding the black mare to-day, grandmother," called Sydney from behind her tea equipage.
The old lady raised her eyes in comical despair and shook her head mournfully.
"You certainly have courage, my dear child."
"Only the courage of a Cotswold lion, I'm afraid. But you mustn't be distressed about her, she's really beginning to do Sydney credit."
"You see, Mr. Wendell, Black Monday was raised on the place here, and she's been the hardest colt to break of any we ever had. Patton owns her now, but I feel a personal responsibility for her because he took her out of my hands before she was thoroughly quiet."
"I see," nodded John, gravely, in accord with Sydney's seriousness. "You fear some burst of girlish exuberance."
"Did you see her roll in her saddle just as we were coming out of church Sunday?" asked Patton, turning eagerly to Sydney.
"How do you dare to use such half-broken creatures?" cried Katrina.
"My dear," said Mrs. Carroll, "when you've been with us a little while you'll realize how close we are to primitive conditions. To-day you break the horse you mean to ride next week. To-morrow you kill the steer or the pig or the chickens that were your pets to-day."
"I suppose it must be so always in the country, but you can't be very primitive here with a large town near by and a railroad."
"In reality we are only as far from the Asheville Court House as the people on the upper boundary of the Bronx are from Castle Garden; but in point of convenience, owing to the scarcity of trains and their poor arrangement, we are almost as near to Washington."
"Still, the railroad has opened the country and given the farmers new markets," asserted John.
"Undoubtedly; but that is not an unmixed good, in my opinion," said Mrs. Carroll, stoutly. "They sell more cabbages and apples, but they buy cheap fabrics and ready-made clothing in place of the stout homespun that the women used to weave."
"You'd be surprised," said Patton, "to know how little the country people use the railroad. There was an example of it day before yesterday. A man from McDowell's Creek, about six miles from Flora, took his first train-ride since the road was put through, fifteen years ago."
"How extraordinary that seems! It was the day of his life, I suppose." Katrina's eyes were large with amazement.
"In a way it was," said Bob, dryly, "for in Asheville he celebrated his adventures not wisely, but too well, and on the way out he fell from the platform and was killed."
"Bob, how can you be so flippant?" objected Sydney to the crestfallen young man. "It seems a terrible end."
"All sudden deaths seem terrible to us who are left behind," said Mrs. Carroll; "but even such an ending does not give us the shock that it would if we did not live in a community accustomed to the accidents consequent upon every man's carrying a revolver. It's a bad habit. I hope you boys don't do it."
"No, indeed, Mrs. Carroll," they both replied, with suspicious promptness, and they sat up very straight, so that the backs of their coats presented an unbroken line.
John smiled at them.
"Are they often used?" he asked.
"Quite too often," answered Sydney, gravely. "As grandmother says, we do, indeed, live close to nature. If a man is angry with his neighbor, he calls him to his door on some moonless night and shoots him."
"In primitive society the primitive wants of man are satisfied in primitive ways," remarked Bob.
"Moses ought to have put the Ten Commandments on something stronger than stone if he meant them to be unbroken," added Patton.
Mrs. Carroll shook her head at him.
"I don't see how you can be so very primitive," insisted Katrina. "Now this——" She glanced expressively about the room, where old portraits surmounted the dark panelling and heavy rugs glowed warmly in the firelight.
"Oh, we are as composite in our mountains as are the people of any other part of these composite United States," said Sydney. "The mountaineers themselves are a mixture. There are men in coves distant from the railroad who are living on land to which their ancestors drove up their cattle from the low country three or four generations ago. These men are a law unto themselves. They have no opportunities for educating their children, and once in a while you hear of a family that never has heard the name of God."
"My great-grandfather came here in the early eighteen hundreds," said Bob, "and a queer lot he must have found. They say that there was a crop of younger sons of good English families which had been planted here as a good country for the culture of wild oats."
"I suppose that in the eighteenth century this was as remote a place as any to lose black sheep in, if losing was their desire," suggested John.
"It's quite true, quite true, what Bob says," Mrs. Carroll took up the explanation. "Mr. Carroll used to tell me that he knew it to be a fact that Bud Yarebrough's father—Bud is a ne'er-do-weel who lives in a cove not many miles from here, Katrina, my dear—was a great-grandson of one of the Dukes of Calverley."
"Then Melissa's baby is the Lady Sydney Melissa Something-or-other!" laughed Sydney.
"There's a legend of a penal colony, too," said Patton.
"That is disputed," replied Mrs. Carroll.
"If there was one, Pink Pressley is of its lineage, I am sure," said Sydney.
"If heredity counts for anything, I should think that a colony of black sheep whose diet had been wild oats would account for all the lawlessness of the community," offered John.
"For a great deal of it, undoubtedly, and their life of freedom from restraint for so many years would be responsible for more."
"But these people are not close about you here," exclaimed Katrina.
"Indeed, they are. They are our neighbors and our friends. Why, there's a tenant on our place who has been tried twice for murder."
"Bob and I found a deserted still in the woods over the creek the other day," said Sydney. "That suggests another of our friends' occupations."
"But your influence must be at work among them constantly."
"We hope it is, and that is why we lay stress upon the compositeness of our settlement," said Mrs. Carroll. "There are the country people we've been telling you about, and there's a group of what we call Neighborhood people, for distinction's sake. The Delaunays at the Cliff were originally from New Orleans, and the Hugers were from Charleston, and we came from Virginia. Before the war we used to come over the mountains every summer in carriages to take refuge from the heat of the lowlands, and after the war we were glad to live here permanently."
"It was post-bellum poverty that drove us here from the Scotch-Presbyterian settlements in the middle of the State," said Patton. "We're another element."
"And is there really fusion going on as there is in other parts of the country?" asked Katrina.
"My people have assimilated with the peasantry, as I suppose Mrs. Carroll calls them, ever since they came," said Bob.
"This settlement must be unique," said John.
"No. I know of two not very far from here, and I've heard of others. The more fortunate people consider themselves as closely allied to the country as do the mountaineers. We are integral parts, and we insist on being so considered."
"We aren't a wholly bad lot, we mountaineers," said Bob. "I speak as of the soil, you see. Too much whisky and tobacco and hog-meat have deprived us of physical beauty, and we are sadly lacking in moral strength, but the life of freedom and lawlessness developed good traits, too. We don't lie,—that is, about important things," he added, hastily, putting his hand under his coat; "and we don't steal, and we are loyal to our friends."
"Especially when the minions of the law are after them," grinned Patton.
"Ah, you've betrayed yourselves," cried Sydney. "I know it was you two boys who hid Pink Pressley when the revenue men were chasing him the last time."
"The last time?" John asked the question.
"Oh, Pink used to be a chronic moonshiner. He seems to be a reformed pirate now," said Patton. "He must be in love."