A ROSE OF THE CUMBERLANDS
By ELIOT H. ROBINSON
"SMILES": A Rose of the Cumberlands . . . $1.90
SMILING PASS: Being a Further Account of the Career of "Smiles": A Rose of the Cumberlands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $1.90
MARK GRAY'S HERITAGE . . . . . . . . . . $1.90
THE MAID OF MIRABELLE: A Romance of Lorraine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $1.90
MAN PROPOSES; or, The Romance of John Alden Shaw . . . . . . . . . . . . . $1.90
GO GET 'EM! The True Adventures of an American Aviator of the Lafayette Flying Corps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $1.50 By Eliot H. Robinson and Lieutenant William A. Wellman.
WITH OLD GLORY IN BERLIN; or, The Story of an American Girl's Life and Trials in Germany and Her Escape from the Huns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $2.00 By Eliot H. Robinson and Josephine Therese.
THE PAGE COMPANY
53 BEACON STREET, BOSTON
A ROSE OF THE CUMBERLANDS
BY ELIOT H. ROBINSON Author of "Man Proposes"
ILLUSTRATED BY H. WESTON TAYLOR
THE PAGE COMPANY BOSTON—PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1919, by The Page Company
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London
All rights reserved
First Impression, May, 1919 Second Impression, June, 1919 Third Impression, July, 1919 Fourth Impression, August, 1919 Fifth Impression, September, 1919 Sixth Impression, October, 1919 Seventh Impression, December, 1919 Eighth Impression, February, 1920 Ninth Impression, September, 1920 Tenth Impression, August, 1921
TO MY BOYS This Story of a Girl Who Loved Children IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
The Keynote of Life is Love— Lacking it, naught is worth while— The Symbol of Service, the Cross And the Sign of Courage, A Smile.
I wish to acknowledge, most gratefully, the valuable assistance rendered to me, in the preparation of the chapters dealing with the medical and hospital incidents, by Robert W. Guiler, M.D.; by Alonzo J. Shadman, M.D., to whom I am indebted for my description of the unusual operation in Chapter XXI; and by Miss Elizabeth E. Sullivan, Superintendent of Nurses at the Boston Children's Hospital. And, above all, I desire to make acknowledgment of the debt of gratitude that I owe to Mr. Henry Wightman Packer for his helpful criticism throughout the writing of this story.
ELIOT HARLOW ROBINSON.
I. DONALD MACDONALD, M.D. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
II. ENTER BIG JERRY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
III. AN INNOCENT SERPENT IN EDEN . . . . . . . . . . . 25
IV. "SMILES" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
V. GIVING AND RECEIVING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
VI. AN UNACCEPTED CHALLENGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
VII. "SMILES'" GIFT AND THE "WRITING" . . . . . . . . . 66
VIII. SOME OF SEVERAL EPISTLES . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
IX. THE HIGH HILLS, AND "GOD'S MAN" . . . . . . . . . 91
X. "SMILES'" CONSECRATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101
XI. ADOPTION BY BLOOD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
XII. THE THREE OF HEARTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
XIII. GATHERING CLOUDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
XIV. SOWING THE WIND . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
XV. REAPING THE WHIRLWIND . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
XVI. THE AFTERMATH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164
XVII. THE PARTING PLEDGE AND PASSING DAYS . . . . . . . 171
XVIII. THE ADDED BURDEN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179
XIX. "SMILES'" APPEAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190
XX. THE ANSWER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200
XXI. A MODERN MIRACLE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216
XXII. VICARIOUS ATONEMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 225
XXIII. TWO LETTERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
XXIV. NEW SCENES, NEW FRIENDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . 241
XXV. THE FIRST MILESTONE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 256
XXVI. THE CALL OF THE RED CROSS . . . . . . . . . . . . 264
XXVII. THE GOAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 277
XXVIII. "BUT A ROSE HAS THORNS" . . . . . . . . . . . . . 294
XXIX. AN INTERLUDE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 309
XXX. DONALD'S HOMECOMING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 316
XXXI. THE VALLEY OF INDECISION . . . . . . . . . . . . . 329
XXXII. THE STORM AND THE SACRIFICE . . . . . . . . . . . 341
XXXIII. WHAT THE CRICKET HEARD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 350
XXXIV. A LOST BROTHER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 361
XXXV. THE HALLOWED MOON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 370
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS PAGE
"A man and a woman—as it was in the beginning" (See Page 374) . . . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece
"One dusty, but dainty, foot was held between her hands" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
"She was kneeling beside a low, rounded mound" . . . . . . 48
"Read the brief article twice, mechanically, and almost without understanding" . . . . . . . . . . . . . 298
"Holding the girl in clinging white close to him" . . . . . 347
DONALD MACDONALD, M.D.
The man came to a stop, a look of humiliation and deep self-disgust on his bronzed face. With methodical care he leaned his rifle against the seamed trunk of a forest patriarch and drew the sleeve of his hunting shirt across his forehead, now glistening with beads of sweat; then, and not until then, did he relieve his injured feelings by giving voice to a short but soul-satisfying expletive.
At the sound of his deep voice the dog, which had, panting, dropped at his feet after a wild, purposeless dash through the underbrush, looked up with bright eyes whose expression conveyed both worship and a question, and, as the man bent and stroked his wiry coat, rustled the pine needles with his stubby tail.
The picture held no other animate creatures, and no other sound disturbed the silence of the woods.
By the hunter's serviceable nickeled timepiece the afternoon was not spent; but the sun was already swinging low over the western mountaintop, and its slanting rays, as they filtered through the leafy network overhead, had begun to take on the richer gold of early evening, and the thick forest foliage of oddly intermingled oak and pine, beech and poplar, was assuming deeper, more velvety tones. There was solemn beauty in the scene; but, for the moment, the man was out of tune with the vibrant color harmonies, and he frankly stated the reason in his next words, which were addressed to his unlovely canine companion, whose sagacity more than compensated for his appealing homeliness.
"Mike, we're lost!"
City born and bred though he was, the man took a not unjustifiable pride in the woodcraft which he had acquired during many vacations spent in the wilds; hence it was humiliating to have to admit that fact—even to his dog. To be sure, the fastnesses of the border Cumberlands were new to him; but his vanity was hurt by the realization that he had tramped for nearly an hour through serried ranks of ancient trees and crowding thickets of laurel and rhododendron—which seemed to take a personal delight in impeding the progress of a "furriner"—and over craggy rocks, only to find, at the end of that time, that he was entering one end of a short ravine from the other end of which he had started with the vague purpose of seeking the path by which he had climbed from the valley village.
Moreover, a subtle change was taking place in the air. Faint breezes, the sighing heralds of advancing evening, were now beginning to steal slowly out from the picturesque, seamed rocks of the ravine and from behind each gnarled or stately tree, with an unmistakable warning.
There was clearly but one logical course for him to pursue—head straight up the mountainside until he should arrive at some commanding clearing whence he could recover his lost bearings and establish some landmarks for a fresh start downward. With his square jaw set in a decisive manner, the man picked up his gun, threw back his heavy shoulders, and began to climb, driving his muscular body forcibly through the underbrush.
The decision and the action were both characteristic of Donald MacDonald, in whose Yankee veins ran the blood of a dour and purposeful Scottish clan. Aggressive determination showed in every lineament of his face, of which his nearest friend, Philip Bentley, had once said, "The Great Sculptor started to carve a masterpiece, choosing granite rather than marble as his medium, and was content to leave it rough hewn." Every feature was strong and rugged, which gave his countenance an expression masterful to the point of being almost surly when it was in repose; but it was a face which caused most men—and women over thirty—to turn for a second glance.
To-day, the effect of strength was further enhanced by a week's growth of blue-black beard. But his eyes, agate gray and flecked with the green of the "moss" variety, were the real touchstones of his character, and they belied the stern lines of his mouth and chin and spoke eloquently of a warm, kindly heart within the powerful body, a body which, to the city dweller, suggested the fullback on a football team. Indeed, such he had been in those days when great power counted more heavily than speed and agility. Not but that he possessed these attributes as well, in a degree unusual in one who tipped the scales at one hundred and ninety.
To some it seemed an inexplicable anomaly that a man of his type should have selected, as the work to which he had dedicated his life, the profession of medicine, and still more strange that he had become a specialist in the diseases of children. Yet such was the case, and many a mother, whose heartstrings were plucked by the lean fingers of Despair, had cause to bless the almost uncanny surgical skill which his highly-trained brain exercised through the medium of his big, spatulate, gentle fingers.
As "Mac" had, in the old days, smashed his way through the opposing line of blue-jerseyed giants on the football field, and as he now plowed through the laurel and rhododendron, so had he won his way to the forefront of the younger generation of his profession until, at the age of thirty-five, he had become recognized as one of the most able children's specialists in America. A "man's man," blunt of speech to the point of often offending at first the cultured women with whom his labors brought him into contact, he was worshipped in hundreds of homes as an angel of mercy in strange guise, and was the idol of hundreds of little folk to whom he had brought new health and happiness.
The toilsome upward climb brought its reward at length, and Donald's eye caught sight of a clearing, and unmistakable signs of near-by civilization, if a scattering mountain settlement of primitive dwellers in that feudal country which lies half in West Virginia, half in Kentucky, may be so designated.
No sooner had he stepped into the partially cleared land, and caught sight of a small, isolated cabin beyond, so toned by wind and weather that it seemed almost an integral part of its natural surroundings, than his own presence was detected, as the sharp and surly barking of an unseen dog evidenced. Mike made answer to the challenge, and instantly other, more distant, canine voices joined in the growing clamor.
As man and dog advanced across the clearing, not one, but half a dozen gaunt curs, summoned to the spot by a warning which meant the approach of a stranger, much as their clannish masters might have been in other years, mysteriously appeared from all sides and rushed forward, their lips drawn back from threatening teeth, their bristling throats rumbling ominously.
Donald sharply commanded the likewise bristling Mike to keep to heel, threw his rifle to hip and backed hastily toward the cabin. He had no wish to employ his weapon, and as retreat was the other alternative, for his companion's sake, if not his own, indeed, discretion seemed to be, by all odds, valor's better part.
A noisy and exciting moment brought him to the cabin's door, still face to the enemy. Fumbling behind him with his left hand, Donald found and lifted the latch. The door swung suddenly open under his weight, Mike scurried between his legs, and the combination resulted in his downfall, precipitate and sprawling.
Simultaneously came a startled exclamation in a treble voice, the clatter of a fallen kettle and then a quick cry of pain.
In an instant Donald had scrambled ungracefully to his feet and found himself face to face with a picture that he was destined never to forget.
Backed by a big stone fireplace, in which the embers were glowing ruddily, stood a young girl clad in a simple one-piece dress, which left neck, arms and legs bare. One dusty, but dainty, foot was held between her hands, while she balanced on the other. A tumbling mass of rich brown curls, shot with gleaming threads like tiny rays of captive sunshine, fell, unbound, over her shoulders, and partly veiled a childlike face, tanned to an Indian brown and now twisted with pain, but nevertheless so startlingly sweet and appealing that the man gasped in astonishment.
As it is with many who wear bluntness like a cloak, Donald possessed a deep-seated appreciation of the beautiful, without being capable of expressing it. But now he vaguely realized that here, where he would last have looked for it, he had blundered upon a child whom Mother Nature had designed lovingly and with painstaking care, perhaps in order to satisfy herself that, in the bustle of creation which nowadays left her little time for attention to fine detail, her hands had not wholly lost the cunning which was theirs when the world was young and women were few and fair.
Her face had the qualities of a sweet wild-flower, delicate of form yet hardy enough to stand up under the stress of a storm. A critic might have declared the sensitive mouth a shade too broad for the tapering lines which formed the firmly rounded chin; he might have said that the upper lip, against which its companion was now tightly pressed to check its trembling, was too short for classic beauty; but he would hardly have been able to find a flaw in the molding of the straight, slender nose or the broad forehead, or the cheeks which curved as symmetrically as the petals of a damask rose, or—if he were human—with the faint shadows at the corners of the lips which were not dimples, but fascinatingly suggested them. But, above all, it was the child's eyes, heavy with a sudden rush of unshed tears that merely added to their appealing charm, which left the strongest impression on the man. They were remarkable eyes, long of lash and of a deep blue with limpid purple shadows and golden highlights.
Her form, untrammelled by confining clothing and bending naturally, was slender and lithesome, but full of curves which told that the bud of childhood was just beginning to open into the blossom of early maturity—about fifteen or sixteen years old, Donald guessed her to be.
At her feet lay an overturned kettle the contents from which, a simple stew, was sending up a cloud of steam from the rough floor, and explained the reason for the misty eyes and tenderly nursed ankle.
The whole picture was graven on his mind in a single glance; but, the next instant the sunniest, most appealing of smiles broke through the girl's pain-drawn tears.
"Yo' ... yo' looked so funny a-fallin' over thet thar dawg, an' a-rollin' on the floor," her words bubbled forth.
"I'm glad that you have something to laugh about, but dev ... deucedly sorry that I made you burn yourself, child," answered Donald, awkwardly. "It must hurt like the ... the mischief," he added, as he stepped forward to examine the injury with a quick return to his professional manner.
"Wall, hit do burn, kinder. But taint nothin'." She sniffed bravely, but a tear overflowed its reservoir and made a channel through a smudge on her cheek.
"Well, I happen to be a doctor—when I'm not on a vacation—so I can do a little toward repairing the damage I caused." He was already unfastening the small first-aid kit which experience had taught him never to go without.
"Taint nothin', sir, really. I'll jest put some lard on hit, an' ..." began the girl, timidly backing away.
Donald did not stop to argue, but placed his strong hands on either side of her slender waist and lifted her lightly to the homemade table, while she gasped and again the wonderful smile, more shy this time, transformed her tear-stained face. In silence, and with flying, experienced fingers, the physician applied a soothing salve to the blotchy red, fast-swelling burn on the ankle, and deftly bandaged it.
"There," he said. "You won't know, in a few minutes, that anything has happened."
"Thank ye, sir," said the girl, as he lifted her again and allowed her to slip gently to the floor. "Yo' shore knows how ter do up a foot."
She hopped gingerly over to the fireplace, and began to clear up the wreck of supper, first calmly lifting the dog away from the steaming hot meat which his quivering nose was inquisitively approaching.
"Be careful. Mike might ..."
"Oh, he won't bite me." She broke into his warning, and gave a playful tug at the coarse hair on the animal's neck. Somewhat to Donald's surprise, the dog wiggled ecstatically at the friendly advances and paid his lowly homage by licking her bare foot.
"Never mind that mess, I'll clean it up if you'll get me a shovel. And of course I mean to pay for it," said Donald hastily.
"In course yo' won't do no sech thing. We-all's got plenty uv pertaties,—I growed 'em myself,—this yere meat haint hurt a mite, an' water's cheap," she responded. "Yo' jest take a cheer, mister, an' yo' kin hev supper along with us as soon as grandpap comes, which'll be right soon, I reckon. We-all don't see stranger folks much up yere, an' he'll be plumb glad thet ye drapped in." She tossed a morsel of meat to the expectant Mike; then added shyly, "An' so be I."
"Well, I certainly 'drapped,'" laughed Donald. "It looked as though all the dogs south of the Mason-Dixon line had gathered to give Mike and me a warm, if not cordial, welcome, so we didn't stop to knock before coming in."
"Lucky fer ye thet yo' struck a cabin whar the latch string air allus out," she answered, her silver laughter echoing his. "I hadn't a' ought ter hev been so skeered, but I warn't payin' no attention ter all the barkin', fer I jest allowed thet the dawgs hed treed a coon, er somep'n. Yo' see they haint exactly fond o' strangers, an' they be powerful fierce. I reckon they'd hev gobbled Mike right up."
Donald glanced affectionately at the wiry mass of bone and sinew which went to make the police dog every inch a warrior, and doubted it. The child had finished her task, and started the stew to heating again over the fire, and now she turned, swept back the mass of curls from her heated face with a graceful motion of her shapely arm, and stood regarding him with frank curiosity. Donald had no intention of remaining longer, or accepting the hospitable invitation, but there was a touch of romance in the adventure, and a strong appeal in the girl herself, which caused him to hesitate, and linger to ask a few questions about the neighborhood and her life. When he did regretfully pick up his cap and rifle, and call the dog, who turned protestingly from her-who-dispensed-savory-pieces-of-meat, he found that he had suffered the fate of all who hesitate, for a glance through the window showed him that, although the glowing, iridescent reflection from the western sky still lingered in the mountain top, embroidering its edge with gold, it was fast fading, and already Night had spread her dusky mantle over the eastern slope. Already darkness had blotted out the lower reaches.
ENTER BIG JERRY
As Donald stopped, uncertain, there came the sound of measured, heavy footfalls on the beaten dirt path outside the cabin. The girl's face lighted up joyfully; she hopped to the door, flung it open, and a slightly stooping, but gigantic, form stepped in out of the darkness, caught her up in his huge arms and submitted with a quizzical smile while she pulled his face toward hers by tugging at his long beard, and kissed him.
Across the tumbled masses of her hair the newcomer's still piercing dark eyes, blinking a little under their shaggy brows as the fire leaped in the draft from the open door, caught sight of Donald as he stood back among the shadows. He straightened up suddenly, and his brows drew together in a suspicious scowl.
The city man knew enough of the primitive code of the mountain people to understand that the presence of a man,—especially a strange man,—alone in the house with a young woman, was fraught with unpleasant possibilities. But, before he could speak, the child-woman had launched into a vivacious, if ungrammatical, explanation and story of what had occurred. In substantiation she now raised her short skirt and lifted the bandaged foot, with utter freedom from embarrassment, and laughed deliciously until an answering smile crept slowly into the eyes of the old mountaineer.
With a simple courtesy, which seemed to hold something of innate majesty, he stepped forward, and extended a weatherbeaten hand, several sizes larger than Donald's, and boomed out in a deep voice that matched his physical proportions, "Yo're suttinly welcome, stranger. What happened warn't no fault o' yourn, and I'm plumb obleeged ter ye fer fixin' up my granddarter's hurt. Draw up a cheer fer the stranger, Smiles, he'll jine us in a bite er supper. The fare's simple, but I war raised on't, and 'pears ter me thet I top ye some."
"I should say that you did. You make me feel small, and it's not often any man does that ... physically, I mean."
The two clasped hands, and Donald winced as his own powerful fingers cracked under the crushing pressure of those of the older man, who seemed to take a boyish delight in this display of his tremendous strength.
"What a colossus he is," thought Donald, as he gritted his teeth to keep back the involuntary exclamation of pain, for, although the massive shoulders and Jovian head of the mountaineer were stooped forward, he towered fully three inches above the six foot city athlete, and his iron-gray beard, rusted with tobacco juice about his mouth, swept over his chest almost to his waist.
"Thanks for the invitation," he said aloud, as he covertly nursed his right hand. "It's mighty kind of you, but I don't want to impose longer, and, besides, I'd better start back to Fayville before it gets dark altogether. If you'll just tell me the most direct way, ..."
"Wall, I reckon the most deerect way air ter go straight through the woods thar a piece, an' then jump off'n a four hundred foot cliff," the old man chuckled titanically. "But I likewise reckon taint pra'tical; leastwise, not onless yo' happen ter be one o' them new-fangled aviationeers I've hearn tell on. However, here ye be, an' here yo're goin' ter stay twill atter supper. Come, child. Sot on another plate fer the doctor man."
"Donald MacDonald's my name, sir."
"Peers like yo'r paw stuttered when he give yo' thet name," laughed the giant. "Mine's Jerry Webb—'Big Jerry,' they mostwise calls me hyarerbouts." There was simple pride in the nickname evident in his voice.
"Of course, if you really want me to stay, I'd be glad enough to do it, Mr. Webb, although I don't like to cause any more trouble for Miss ..."
"'Rose' air the given name of my leetle gal, but folks gener'ly calls her Smiles, fer short." The old man spoke with a noticeable tenderness toning his big voice.
"And there's no need of explaining the reason," answered Donald in a low aside so that the child, who was busy over the stewing kettle on its primitive crane, might not hear. "I never expect to see another to equal hers."
His host sent a sharp glance at him, then, softening, it travelled to the graceful form of the girl silhouetted against the ruddy glow of the open fire, whose reflection outlined her warm flesh with a tint of burnished copper.
"Yes," he responded simply. "Seems like, when thet leetle gal's sweet face lights up with a smile, hit's like a sunbeam a-breakin' through the leaves an' playin' on a waterpool in the quiet woods."
"Oh," interrupted Rose with a cry. "I done plumb ferget ter git the milk from Uncle Perly's, but 'twon't take more'n a minute. Kin I take Mike?" she added, pleadingly, as she buried her slim fingers in the rough hair on the dog's neck, while he stood sniffing acquaintance with the huge boots and homespun pantaloons of the giant.
"Sure; that is if you're not still afraid that the neighbors' dogs will make a meal of him," smiled Donald, and the object of the conversation, who seemed to sense its meaning, sprang eagerly erect and placed his forepaws on the girl's breast.
"No dawg haint a-goin' ter tetch him whilst he's with me," she responded with quiet assurance. "Come, Mickey."
"Which air a fact," supplemented her grandfather, as girl and dog disappeared with a rush and a bark. "Dumb beasts an' children worships Smiles—an' hit haint scarse to be wondered at, fer she love 'em all. An' she's more rememberful than her grandpappy. Yo' see, we don't gener'ly hev milk fer our coffee, 'ceptin' when company comes."
In some distress at this frank announcement, Donald said, "But I don't like to have you put yourselves out for me. I wouldn't have stayed if...."
"Now, don't let thet idee disturb ye a mite. We're glad ter hev ye with us, an' what fer air friends ef hit haint ter be an excuse fer a leetle extry celebration? Set down, set down thar."
Donald obeyed, and, while his host moved ponderously about, depositing the contents of a bundle which he had brought, studied his surroundings curiously. It was his first experience within a real "feud country" cabin, and he was interested to see how closely its appearance coincided with what his imagination had painted from reading fiction woven about them. To his quiet delight he found that it might almost have served as an illustration for such a book, as, one by one, he mentally checked off the salient features. There were the hand-hewn timbers of wall and unsheathed ceiling; the yawning rough stone fireplace with its wrought iron crane, and, above it, a rifle whose unusual length proclaimed its ownership; the strings of dried herbs and red pepper pods—few, to be sure, and dusty with age—suspended from the rafters; and, in one corner, a crude ladder leading into the loft.
Only one thing was missing, the wall-beds or bunks, for the hand of civilization had pointed to one improvement, and doors, obviously not a part of the original simple structure, opened into a small addition, roughly partitioned into two sleeping rooms. They were of equal size, but there was no need of labels to proclaim their occupants, for one was so nearly filled with a bed which would have served for Golden Locks' biggest bear, that the rough clothing which was suspended from wooden pegs on the opposite wall hung against it, whereas the other contained, besides a narrow bed, a small chest of drawers with a cheap mirror above it, and a chair. The one window was draped with a daintily-flowered material, which Donald decided was calico, a cover of the same material lay across the chest, and on it—in the place of honor between an old comb and brush stood a small blue-and-white jar, whose cheaply glazed surface caught the flicker of the fire and winked at him as though it were aware of the absurdity of anything so trivial being held in such high esteem. More of the "calico," which really was an inexpensive but tasteful chintz, hung against the wall and served to hide from prying eyes the child's meagre wardrobe, and a bow of it was perkily tied to the back of the chair.
Donald smiled his amusement and caught an answering grin on Big Jerry's face. "She haint like we-all," he said. "Wants ter hev bright an' purty things erbout, an' ..." he lowered his voice, "durned ef she didn't make me a necktie of thet thar stuff—seen one on a 'furriner' once." The visitor felt a warm satisfaction over the thought that his own costume didn't include such excess adornment.
"I put hit on ... once, ter please her, but I reckon hit didn't make much of a showin' under this." He ran his fingers reflectively through his heavy beard for a moment; then, with his voice still a forte whisper, he added, "Say, stranger, I've got a leetle drap o' white liquor hid out in the woodshed whar Smiles kaint find hit, an' ef yo'd delight ter wet yo'r throat afore she comes back, why ..."
The door flew open with a bang, and Rose and Mike tore in, panting and a-glitter with diamond drops of rain. Instantly the expression of simple guile on the old man's face changed so ludicrously to one of overdone innocence that it was all Donald could do to keep from laughing.
"Storm's a-comin'," cried the girl, gayly, while the dog rushed madly around the room, with his nose to the floor and barking hilariously, until his master seized him by the back and held him, squirming. A flash of distant lightning substantiated the announcement, and a few seconds later their ears caught the crescendo reverberations of thunder as it echoed down the valley.
Mike growled uneasily and crouched close to his master's legs, but Rose ran again to the door and stood, heedless of the rain which beat in upon her wind-whipped skirt, peering out with evident delight. A still more vivid, zigzag flash rent the serried masses of black storm-clouds which were rolling up over the mountain's top, edging the nearer one with fire, and she laughed merrily and clapped her hands like a child.
"Shet thet door, yo' young vixen," bellowed Big Jerry, plainly disturbed. The girl obeyed, and gave him a kiss, and the whining dog a reassuring pat, as she hurried back to finish setting the table—a simple matter, for there was no spotless damask, glittering silver and cut glass to deck the white-scoured top of the plain slab which formed a substantial table for many purposes.
In a moment she had announced, quite informally, that supper was served; but, just as the two men arose to take their places, there came a long "hulloo-oo" above the sound of wind and rain. Again Rose dashed to the door, with the cry, "Why, thet's Judd Amos; I knows his call."
Without reason or warning Donald experienced a quick tightening about his heart, the absurdity of which caused him to smile. What on earth was it to him if this mountain child's color heightened a shade at a familiar call in a masculine voice?
The next instant a tall youth, as lean and sinewy as an Indian, stumbled into the room, with his rough coat about his head, and water streaming from his drenched clothing and the barrel of a gun, which was every whit as modern and efficient as Donald's own.
"Gosh a'mighty," he said. "Thought I'd be drownded, shore. Hit's a-goin' ter be a rip-snorter ... worst storm er the summer, by the way hit's started." Then, as he dashed the rain from his eyes, and, for the first time caught sight of the visitor, he stopped short in none too pleased surprise, if the black look which went toward Donald from beneath his lowering brows meant anything.
"Make ye acquainted with Donald MacDonald, a doctor man from the city, Judd," boomed the giant's hearty voice. "Doc, shake hands with a neighbor uv ourn, Judd Amos."
As Donald stood up he managed to silence Mike's throaty growl with a warning shove with his foot. The men formally clasped hands, their eyes looking steadily into each other's from the same level, and this time, primed by his earlier experience, the city man exerted all of his strength, and felt a glow of childish satisfaction as the other winced.
"Set ye down, Judd. Draw a cheer up by the fire, yo're soaked," said Big Jerry. "Honey-rose," he added, addressing the girl in a wheedling tone, "Judd 'pears ter be powerful soaked an' cold. Kaint he ... kaint we-all hev jest a drap o' white liquor?"
He stroked his beard and pushed aside his drooping mustache in anticipation, but to no avail, for her answer, uttered firmly and with no suggestion of a smile in her deep eyes this time, was, "'Deed yo' kaint; nary a drap. Yo' know, an' Juddy, he knows ..." to Donald there seemed to be some special significance in her words, "thet thar haint a-goin' ter be nary a drap o' thet devil's brew in house o' mine. Why, I be plumb s'prised at ye, grandpap."
The tremendous old man rubbed his whiskers faster and hemmed apologetically. "In course I haint got none ... in the cabin ..." he glanced quickly at Donald, "an' I didn't mean nothin', Smiles. Come, swing yo'r cheer erround ter the table, Judd, we'll jest fergit the eeliments, an' enjoy a dry celebration in the doctor's honor ... all 'cept Judd, he air plenty wet," he added, in a jocose attempt to turn his mistake into a jest. "Rose hurted her foot, an' doc, he done hit up fer her real nice."
More bashfully than before, the girl extended the injured member in its now mud-bedraggled bandage for the newcomer's inspection.
Donald had been watching the scene with quiet amusement over the child's assurance, and had noticed not only the look of sorrowful resignation on her grandfather's face, but the dull flush which mounted the swarthy cheeks of the younger man. Judd's mouth retained the straight line for some time, but a quick burst of light-hearted song on Smiles' lips, as she turned to dish up the savory stew, showed that the incident was forgotten by her as soon as it was ended.
"Better let me lift it down for you," said Donald, as she swung the crane with its heavy iron kettle from the fire. "We don't want any more burns here to-night."
He jumped up and acted on the words without giving the matter a thought, but it seemed to him that the girl's pleased, "Thank ye, sir," was a bit embarrassed, and that the men regarded him with blank surprise. Not for a minute did it dawn upon him that his act had not been according to the code of the mountains.
They were all seated at last, but yet another surprise was in store for the visitor, for Rose folded her hands, bent her head until the curls veiled the glowing face, and began a simple blessing. Big Jerry sat bolt upright with his eyes screwed up ludicrously, and, although Judd bent his head the merest fraction, it was with obvious embarrassment, and his flashing optics kept sending suspicious glances at the "furriner" as though to discover if he were laughing at them all. In fact, nothing was further from Donald's mind. It had been long since he had partaken of a meal at which grace was said, but the simple, homely words touched a chord of memory and made it vibrate to a note which brought both pain and pleasure.
The host's stentorian "Amen" was the signal for attack, and for a time the business of satisfying the demands of healthy hunger was paramount to all things else. It was no feast of wit and wisdom, but of something, for the time being, more desirable, and the application of the other three gave Donald an opportunity to study covertly the unusual group of which he had so unexpectedly become a part.
Although he was essentially a man of action, his brusqueness of manner was, in part at least, a pose which had become unconscious, and, deep within his heart, in a chamber carefully locked from the gaze of his fellow men, dwelt Romance and Imagination—the spirit gifts of a mother, whose death, five years before, had brought him his first black grief. Had this visioning power been lacking in him he could never have accomplished the modern miracles which he had already wrought many times in constructive and restorative surgery. Now, the spirit of imagery in his soul was stirred by something in the romantic unreality of his surroundings—the rude, yet interesting room which served all family purposes save that of slumber; the mellow radiance from a crude lamp and the ever-changing light of the open fire; the long, wavering shadows within the cabin; and, without, the banshee wailing of the storm wind around the eaves, the occasional crash of thunder, the creaking of limbs and fitful dashes of rain. He found himself leaning back in his chair and mentally attempting to dissect and study not the bodies, but the personalities, of the three who were the representatives of a type, in manners and customs at least, new to him.
In his boyhood, and before the pressing demands of his profession had enslaved him, Donald had been an insatiate reader, and now he endeavored to recall to memory some of the stories which he had read about this strange people, whose dwelling place was within the limits of the busy, progressive East, yet who were surprisingly isolated from it by natural barriers, and still more so by traditions slow to perish. Pure of stock he knew them to be, for their unmixed blood had had its fountain source in the veins of some of America's best and earliest settlers; primitive in their ideals, strong in their simple purposes and passions, the products of, and perhaps even now factors in, blood feuds whose beginnings dated back generations. And, although he laughed at himself for his imaginings as he remembered that the twentieth century was ten years old, he found himself assigning both the men places in his memory picture.
Big Jerry, slow of speech, patriarchal in looks and bearing, powerful in body, became, to his mind's eye, the venerable chieftain of a mountain clan. Judd, with his aquiline face, which was undoubtedly handsome in a dark, brooding way, beneath its uncombed shock of black hair which swept low over his forehead, sinewy with the strength, quickness and muck of the natural grace of a panther, was the typical outlaw of the hills.
AN INNOCENT SERPENT IN EDEN
Donald turned his appraising gaze upon the child, and here the illusion yielded to another, quite different.
Even her primitive dress, her unbound hair, her crude forms of speech and soft, drawling intonation—such as the throaty, unvarying pronunciation of "the" as though it were "ther," and "a" like "er"—which sounded so deliciously odd to his New England ears, could not erase from his mind the impression that she did not belong in the picture. To be sure he had, during his tramps, already seen many a wild mountain flower so delicately sweet that it seemed out of place amid its stern environment. But Rose affected him differently, although the difference was subtle, indefinable.
In the company of the men he was conscious of the reserve which one of his type instinctively feels when first in the presence of people of another race or class. With her he was already wholly at his ease. Donald finally attributed this to the fact that she was, after all, merely a child—one of a class which is akin the world over, and which he understood better than any other.
As the simple meal progressed, Big Jerry began to ply the visitor with questions, and press him to talk on many subjects connected with the wide world of men; and, as Donald's natural reticence yielded to the naive interrogations, he answered with a readiness which somewhat surprised even himself. The child ate little; but sat with her elbows on the table, her firmly rounded chin resting on her clasped hands, and drank in his words. Her luminous eyes were fixed on his face, and expressions of wonder and delight chased each other across her own countenance, like wavering light and shade on a placid pool.
Judd, too, remained silent, ill at ease, and his dark, morose eyes ever shifted from the face of the man to that of the girl. Once, while Donald and his host were engaged in an animated discussion, he awkwardly attempted to draw Rose into personal conversation; but he relapsed again into moody silence when he received a frank, though smiling, rebuff. Clearly the meal was not an enjoyable one for him.
All things of human invention come to an end, and at last Big Jerry lifted his towering frame from his chair to indicate that the supper was over. With obvious relief Judd crossed to the door and, opening it, announced that the storm had nearly passed. It was still raining, however.
"Ef yo' air goin' back ter the village, stranger, I'll be pleased ter sot ye on yo'r way," he announced as he drew on his coat, and to Donald's mind the sentence carried an unmistakable double entente.
Nevertheless he answered promptly, "Thanks, I'd be much obliged if you would. Perhaps Mr. Webb can spare me a lantern, too, since these paths are unfamiliar to ..."
"Sho, yo haint a-goin' out er this house ter-night, friend," broke in the old man. "Leastwise, ef yo'r willin' ter put up with sech accommodations as the loft room offers ye. Thar haint no sense of yer takin' er five-mile walk through them drenched bushes, an' gittin' soaked yerself."
"In course yer goin' ter stay," echoed the girl, with childlike delight. "Besides, I wants ter hear lots more erbout the city an' city folks."
"But I have already imposed enough on your hospitality," protested Donald, hesitatingly, since the invitation held a strong appeal for him.
"Yo' haint imposed at all. Set yo'rself down. I shore appreciates yo'r company."
Judd scowled from the doorway, then flung back over his shoulder a short, "Wall, I reckon I'll be startin' home now," and, without further words, he went out, closing the door behind him with unnecessary violence. Donald said nothing, but he was frankly amused; for it was very apparent that the young mountaineer felt that he had a proprietary interest in Rose, and was undisguisedly jealous of the stranger who was held in such high favor.
Rose, however, lost no time thinking of her lover,—if lover she regarded him,—but flew about the final household duties, humming happily, and now and then breaking into unfinished snatches of song like a wild wood bird. Evidently the slight burn no longer troubled her and was already forgotten.
Her work finished, she joined the two men, who were smoking their pipes before the blazing fire, and seated herself crosslegged at her grandfather's feet. Mike got up leisurely from his post beneath his master's chair, stretched forward and back, yawned prodigiously, and then lay down with his shaggy head on the girl's bare legs. As Donald talked, Rose played with the dog, rolling him over and rubbing his underbody until his mouth opened in a grotesque animal imitation of her own wonderful smile, which constantly flashed to her lips like a ray of light, only to vanish as swiftly, and leave its slowly fading afterglow in her deep eyes.
"Dr. Mac," said the child timidly, during a moment of contented silence, her natural use of his intimate nickname, both startling and pleasing Donald, "yo-all allowed thet yo' doctored children mostly. I loves babies more'n anything else in the world, 'ceptin' only grandpap; they're so purty an' sweet an' helpless-like, thet I reckon the Lord loves 'em powerful, an' the' haint nothin' finer then takin' keer of 'em."
Donald nodded with pleasure, and the girl continued, dreamily:
"I allows thet, when God made people an' put the breath o' life inter them, he hadn't quite got outer his mind what he done on an earlier day, an' was jest improvin' on hit; fer hit sorter seems ter me thet big men an' women air like growin' trees, fashioned fer ter stand up agin ther eliments an' storms most times; but babies air like tiny leetle flowers—so weak an' tender thet we hev ter take mighty good keer of 'em. Don't yo' never feel, somehow, like yo' was tendin' a gyarden of purty flowers, an' a-drivin' away the grubs an' bugs what would make 'em wilt an' die?"
"To be sure I do, my child," he answered, wondering if she realized how apt was her simile, since most disease is, indeed, caused by "bugs an' grubs." "And many people, with imaginations like yours, have felt exactly the same. Did you ever read a poem called 'The Reaper'? No, I suppose not," he added, as the girl shook her curls, while a wistful look crept into her eyes.
"It was written by Longfellow, a very famous poet who used to live near my home city of Boston, and no man ever loved little children better than he did. I had to learn the verses years ago when I was a schoolboy, and I remember the first of them still:—
"'There is a Reaper, whose name is Death, And, with his sickle keen, He reaps the bearded grain at a breath, And the flowers that grow between.'
"For—he has the Reaper say—the Lord has need of the pretty flowers to make his garden in Heaven more bright and fair."
"I never thought er thet," said the girl seriously, "but I reckon hit's so. Grandpap's bearded like the grain, but somehow he 'pears ter me more like er big pine tree, fer grain bends before ther wind, an' he haint never bent ter no storm."
"And I? Am I a tree, too," queried Donald with amusement.
She studied him judiciously and then answered with quiet assurance, "Yo're the oak. Hit don't bend, neither."
"Why," she laughed, "I'm jest a rose like my name. A rose jest growrn' inter er bush."
"To be sure you are. Except that roses have thorns."
"I hev thorns, too," she said with conviction, and Donald doubted it—then.
"I should plumb love ter take keer of babies an' make 'em well an' strong like yo' do," she went on pensively.
"Perhaps you may, someday. You'll have babies of your own."
"Yes," was her simple reply, "I shall have babies ter love an' keer for, but I meant thet I wanted ter help all little children."
"A children's nurse, perhaps, like those who work with me," and he went on to tell her graphically of the wonderful things done at the Children's Hospital, upon the staff of which he was.
Rose listened, as enchanted as a child with a fairy story,—and indeed such it was, a modern fairy tale wherein medicine was a magic potion, and the merciful knife a magic wand. Told in simple language which she could understand, his story of the work in which his very life was bound up seemed to her like an epic, and, when he paused, she drew her breath with a sigh of keen delight, and cried, "Oh, granddaddy. Haint thet a wonderful thing fer ter do? I shorely wants ter be a trained nurse like thet when I grows up."
"Perhaps you will, some day, who knows?" said Donald thoughtlessly.
"An' what would this hyar old pine do without the rosebush blossomin' close beside him? What would the leetle wild mountain flowers hyarabouts do without thar Smiles ter take keer o' them?" asked the old man tenderly, but with a hidden undercurrent of distress.
"But ef I could larn ter take better keer o' them ..." began the girl.
The old man moved uneasily, then said, "Wall, yo're only a leetle rosebud yerself now, an' hit's more'n time yo' closed up fer the night. Run erlong ter bed, hon."
Obedient, but a little rebellious, Rose got up slowly, kissed the strong, weather-scarred cheek of the old man and turned toward the door of her room.
"Good night, Smiles," called Donald. She hesitated a moment, then ran back to him with childish impetuosity, flung her slender arms about his neck and kissed him, too, whispering, "I loves ye, Dr. Mac, fer thet yo' loves little children."
The frank embrace embarrassed him a little, and he felt the thrill of an almost unknown glow in his heart. Many a time his patients—even those as old as Rose—had kissed him thus; but something in her act left a new impression. Judged by the standards of the mountain folks she was almost a woman, and he knew it.
Mike pattered to her door as it closed, scratched upon it with a low whine, and then lay down close against it.
There was a moment's silence in the room as the men, each busy with his own thoughts, puffed steadily. Then Big Jerry carefully knocked the ashes from his pipe and remarked, "Hit haint no fault er yourn, stranger; but I haint altergether pleased at ther thoughts yo'r comin' hes placed in my leetle gal's head. She won't easy ferget what yo' done told her, an' ... an' I couldn't bear fer ter lose her."
"I'm sorry. I spoke without thinking that it might result in her becoming discontented," answered Don. "To-morrow I'll try to make her understand—what is a fact—that although her loving heart might be ever so eager, her ways and those of the city are so utterly different that she couldn't possibly hope to go there and become a nurse such as I described. You understand what I mean."
"Yes, an' I'd be powerful obleeged ter ye, friend," replied the old man with evident relief. "Hit's es yo' say. Rose air er mountain gal by bringin' up, ef not by birth, an' 'tis hyar thet she rightfully belongs now."
"'Not by birth?'" echoed Donald, in surprise. "But I thought that she was your granddaughter?"
"An' so she be—or perhaps my darter," hastily answered Jerry, realizing his error too late. "I reckon I shouldn't hev told ye," he added in distress.
"Don't let any such idea worry you, Mr. Webb. Where she came from is nothing to me, and, indeed, after to-morrow I shall probably never see her again. I've got to admit, though, that you have aroused my curiosity, and I'd like to hear the story that's behind her presence here, if you are willing to tell it."
The giant hesitated, then said slowly, "Wall, I kaint think of no reason why yo' shouldn't hyar hit. Hit happened this erway.
"Twar one mornin', thirteen summers ergone, an' I war ergunnin' down in ther woods er piece, not fur from ther Swift River. I rekerlect hit war er purty mornin', with ther dew still er-clingin' ter ther grass, an' sparklin'—like jewels, an' ther wood birds war singin' like they war special happy. I clumb erround er big rock, an' all of er sudden I seen—I seen er leetle mite of er gal, standin, thar, jest es still es still. She warn't more'n three year old, I jedged, an' she suttinly come from ther city, fer her leetle dress warn't like none I'd ever seen—hit hed sorter loose panterloons ter hit, an', although her legs war bare—an' all scratched an' bleedin'—thar war tiny socks an' shoes on 'em. Thar war tears in her big blue eyes an' on her purty cheeks, but she warn't cryin' none, then. No, sir; she war jest erstandin' an' erlookin' up ter whar a robin war singin' in an oak tree, an' her leetle mouth war open fer all ther world like a rosebud. Wall, es I stood thar, erwatchin' like I'd seen er fairy, she smiles—yo' know thet smile of her'n, like a rainbow breakin' fer er minute through the rain, an' then fadin' erway slow?
"I calls ter her sorter soft-like, an' dang me ef she didn't come walkin' right up ter me, not a mite erfeered. She made a funny leetle bow, held out her chubby hand an' says, 'How do ye do, big man. Hev ye seen my pappa an' mamma?'
"I tuck her on my knee, an' leetle by leetle—fer she couldn't talk much—she told me thet they come from a great, big city whar war 'lectric and steam cyars an' policemen, fer ter play in the woods, an' thet her pappa an' mamma hed gone out on the water in a boat ter ketch a fish fer baby's breakfast. Thar boat hed runned erway with her pappa an' mamma, she said, an' they war settin' in hit cryin'.
"I reckoned what hed happed ter them, fer tharerbouts the Swift River air a most deceevin', treetcherous stream, what looks innocent, but hes a powerful swift current what don't show. City folks haint no business ter go campin' in woods thet they don't know nothin' erbout," he interpolated.
"Wall, I left the leetle gal ersettin' on the rock, an' runned es fast es ever I could down stream ter the rapids. Her folks warn't nowhar ter be seen, but I found part of thar canoeboat, smashed ter splinters, an' I guessed the rest." He paused, and smoked steadily for some time before continuing.
"In course the baby couldn't tell us much, 'ceptin' thet her name war Rose. She didn't remember the name of the city whar they come from, but she said thet erfore they come inter the woods, she slept all night on a train.
"We found ther campin' outfit of her paw an' maw, an' whar hit stood I built up a leetle mound with a sorter cross on hit, in thar memory.
"In course, I tried ter find out arterwards whar they come from, but hit warn't no sorter use. Thar war no address on anything in the tent or thar spare-close, and no one hed seen them in Fayville or tharerbouts, so I reckoned thay come clar ercross the mountains from Kentuck. Mebbe, ef I hed hed more money, I mought hev found out erbout them; but us war powerful po'r them days. An'—mebbe, again, hit war wrong—but maw an' me couldn't holp thinkin' thet the leetle gal war sent us by the good Lord, fer we didn't hev no children, hevin' lost a leetle gal jest erbout es old es Smiles, ten years back."
"I don't think that you have any cause for reproaching yourself, Mr. Webb," broke in Donald, reassuringly. "It seems to me that you did all you could do, under the circumstances. Certainly the child was fortunate, for you have been very kind to the little waif."
"We war mostly kind ter ourselves," was Big Jerry's simple rejoinder. "She shorely hes been a ray of sunshine in this hyar cabin—'specially since maw died three years ergone, since when Rose hes taken keer of hit, an' me. She air a leetle mite of a tyrant, et times, but I reckon I'm ther better fer hit.
"Wall, we brung her up like our own flesh an' blood, but altho' she called my woman 'Maw', she allus called me 'Grandpappy.' An' we didn't never try ter make her fergit her real paw an' maw, an' every birthday—leastwise we calls ther day she come ter us her birthday—she puts wild flowers on the mound I made. She's growed up like the other children hyar, and 'twar them what fust called her Smiles; but 'twarnt long erfore maw an' me sorter got inter the habit of doin' hit too, fer hit suits her right well."
The speaker became silent, his memory dwelling in scenes of the dimming past, while Donald's thoughts were busy with the story which he had just heard. The inherent difference between her personality and that of the average mountain girl was explained. The curtsy which she—a three-year-old baby—had made Big Jerry, seemed to indicate that she had been a flower of city hothouse culture before being transplanted to the wilds, and there growing up, in outward semblance at least, in conformity with her environment. But, Donald felt, within the child lay an ineradicable strain of breeding, making her different from these others, an inherited fineness of soul of which her peculiar charm was evidence.
A little later his host arose, and said with native courtesy, "I reckon yo're tired enough ter want ter go ter bed, stranger, an' I'll show ye ter yo'r loft room."
The pair bade each other good-night, and Donald climbed the homemade ladder to his resting place beneath the roof, on which the rain was still keeping up a continuous patter. He felt that he was weary enough so that no rocking was needed to induce slumber, but it was nevertheless some time before he really fell asleep. And when he did it was with the mental picture of the child's smile, like a quickly vanishing sun-rift in the mist, before his closed eyes.
* * * * *
Donald was awakened the next morning by the sound of laughing voices, and Mike's hilarious barking, outside his little window. Looking through it he beheld a delightful picture. On the dew-sprinkled grass of the little clearing about the cottage were merrily romping the dog, Rose and a small child. Beyond, lay the mountain's wooded descent, rich in variegated greens and seemingly rising like an island shore from a sea of pearly vapor, tinted with delicate mauve, rose and amber by the sun, which had itself not yet risen above the valley mist. Scrambling into his outer garments, the man ran down to join them in their game.
"Look out, er yo'll git yo're feet wetted, Mr. doctor man," cried Rose gayly, as she drew her own bare foot through the grass and held it forward shining with dew.
"Do you think a little thing like wet feet would stop me from getting into the game?" he answered. "And you called me a sturdy oak! Who is the little buttercup?" he added, looking at the child whose shock of bright golden curls made his nickname an apt one.
"She's Lou, Judd's leetle sister, an' her house air jest over thar beyond ourn. Yo' guessed rightly, she air one er my flower children, ain't ye, honey-sweet?" Rose dropped to her knees in the wet grass, and gathered the bashful child against her tenderly. The baby buried her face in her friend's neck without speaking, and in a moment Rose stood up, saying, "We-all thinks a heap er Lou, 'specially Judd."
"I've got a little niece at home just about Lou's age. Her name is Muriel. Would you like to hear about her and her playthings? She's got a tiny pony and cart," he said, and soon the child was sitting in his lap, listening wide-eyed to the description of dolls who opened and shut their eyes, and wonderful mechanical toys which walked and turned somersaults, monkeys which climbed poles and other equally incredible things.
"He air a funny man, an' he tells funny stories," giggled the child, when Donald had exhausted his memory and imagination. "In course thar hain't no sech things."
"Indeed thar air, ef he says thar air," chided Rose with implicit faith in her friend.
"What, doll babies thet open an' shet thar eyes, an' say 'maw' an' 'paw' like weuns, Smiles?" asked the baby, unconvinced.
"Wait until I go back home, and I'll send you one that can do every one of those wonderful things," laughed Donald. "I mean to send Rose a present, too."
"Oh," cried the latter, "I shall be more'n obleeged ter ye."
"What would you like best," he asked.
She thought seriously a moment, then said, "I reckon I should like best a white dress an' cap, like the nurses wear."
Donald experienced a pang of regret, but responded lightly, "Very well, that shall be yours, and I'm also going to send you a little book of poems called 'The Child's Garden of Verses', written by another man who looked on babies as flowers, too."
At this moment the sound of quick footsteps caused them to look up. Judd Amos was coming around the side of the cottage, and the night had apparently not taken the black look from his countenance.
"Oh, Juddy," cried the baby, wriggling free of Donald's arms. "Thet man thar air er goin' ter send me er doll baby thet opens an' shets hits eyes, Juddy."
"We're obleeged ter ye; but I reckon thet I kin buy Lou all the presents she needs," said Judd gruffly. "Yo' maw wants ye ter come ter breakfast, sis," he added, and picked the baby up in his long arms, giving her an undoubtedly affectionate hug as he saw that the tears had sprung to her eyes.
"That's nonsense," snorted Donald angrily, as Judd disappeared with his burden. "I'll send the doll to you—along with the dress and book—and he can't stop you from giving it to her."
"I reckon he kaint," Rose responded with eyes flashing. "I kin make Judd Amos do jest whatsoever I tells him." And Donald thought that she probably spoke the truth.
"Haint we a-goin' ter hev no breakfast this mornin'?" came Big Jerry's deep voice, toned to assumed anger, as he appeared with an armful of wood, and, laughing merrily, Rose blew him a kiss and disappeared within-doors.
During the morning meal, which was quickly prepared, the girl talked continually of the delights of being a children's nurse, and as he observed the look of worry on the old man's face, Donald determined to put an end to the child's rosy, but impossible, dream as soon as possible. His duty was plain enough, even if he had not given his promise to Rose's grandfather; yet the more he saw of her the stronger grew the unbidden thought of what a wonderful woman she would make if she could be taken to the city and given the advantages of education.
His opportunity came when, breakfast over, Big Jerry started for the door, announcing that he would be back in a few moments.
"I'll wait for you to return before I go, and talk to the child as I agreed," said Donald, in an undertone. The old man nodded his understanding.
Hardly knowing how to commence, Donald turned to the girl and said hesitatingly, "Little Rose, I've got to go along in a few moments, but first I must tell you something which I'm afraid will cause you disappointment."
Smiles stepped close to him, with her large eyes filled with a surprised question.
"It is this. I wish, indeed, that you might grow up to be a nurse for little children, such as my story last night set you to dreaming of being, but, although I'm sure you would be a splendid one, it is impossible, you know, dear."
"Why haint hit possible?" she demanded.
"Well, you see, dear child, nurses of that sort have to study and know almost as much as doctors. They have to train—go to school in the hospital, that is—for three years."
"But I haint erfeered ter work. I wants ter study, an' larn," she cried eagerly.
"Yes, I know, but ... well, it costs a lot of money in the first place; nurses don't get any pay while they're learning, and they have to deposit three hundred dollars before they can take the course, one hundred each year. Besides that, they have to have a good education to start with. Probably you don't know what is meant by a 'High School,' but a girl must have gone through one—studied steadily for twelve or thirteen years—or at least have an equivalent amount of education, before she can hope to enter the Children's Hospital."
"Wha ... what do 'equivalent' mean?" she asked, with her lips beginning to tremble a little from disappointment.
"It means that you would have to know as much as though you had gone through a High School, and be able to pass an examination proving that you do."
Very slowly Rose turned back to recommence her work, and Donald sensed, rather than saw, that the tears were very near to the surface. Another roseate dream of childhood had been ruthlessly shattered, and he hated himself for having witlessly engendered it in her mind, since it could only be born to die unrealized.
When she spoke again, it was to say with a telltale quaver in her subdued voice, "I reckon thet us mountain folks kaint never do worthwhile things, fer all sech take er mighty lot er larnin'."
"There are two kinds of learning in this world, Rose, one of the mind, and the other of the heart. And without the benefits which come from the latter, the things of the former would be of little use. You may be sure that helping one's neighbors, as you are always helping yours; being happy yourself and making others contented and happier, and bringing smiles to the lips of friends by the example of your own sweet smile; are things very much worth while," said Donald, haltingly, but with sincerity. He placed his arm about her slender shoulder, with the half-hope that she would accept his comfort, and perhaps cry out the last of her disappointment with her head on his breast. Instead, she turned sharply away and went on with the work she had started, and the man followed her grandfather outside, realizing that hers, like most battles within the soul, must be fought out alone.
In a few moments, and while he was still talking to Big Jerry, Rose joined them on the stoop. A quick glance at her flowerlike face told Donald that her childish—but none the less real—grief was banished, for a smile of victory curved her lips.
"Ef ye haint a-goin' ter the city right away, doctor," said his host, "we would be downright pleased ter hev ye come up ergin. I've come ter like ye right well."
"Indeed I shall—come every day if I may, for you and little Rose seem like old friends of mine already. And, when I do go back next week, you may be sure that I shall not forget either of you, or your hospitality."
He picked up his rifle regretfully, whistled to Mike, who came bounding to him, but whose tail drooped ludicrously when he understood by canine instinct that the call meant separation from his new comrade, and with a final good-bye wave, struck off into the woods.
GIVING AND RECEIVING
The call of the Jungle Folk, "Good hunting," was not fulfilled during Donald's day in the forest. Game there was aplenty, but he made clumsy work of following the fresh tracks in the wet wood mould, and missed the one wild creature that he saw, for he shot at it rather by instinct than design, and was not sorry that his bullet went wide. Indeed, love of the out-of-doors and the thrill of the chase, rather than the wish to slay, drew him into the woods for his brief respites from work and for recreation each summer. He seldom killed except for food; the convulsive pain-drawn death struggle, the cry of mortal agony, and the despairing look in the glazed eyes of dumb, stricken animals held no fascination for him. He saw too much of such things among human beings.
The day, truly, was a glory. The storm of the previous night had cleared and revivified the air, which, for many days, had been oppressively sultry; the irregular patches of sky, glimpsed through the branches, were a transparent blue; the springy ground was bright with wild blossoms and colorful berries,—dogwood and service berry,—adder's tongue, bleeding heart and ferns in rich profusion. His subconscious senses drank in the manifold beauties, but his active mind was otherwise engaged.
To-day the solitude, usually so appealing, so restful after fifty work-filled weeks amid the noisy turmoil of the city's life, lacked something of its customary charm and satisfaction. The man found himself with a real longing for the companionship of the simple old man and the intimate appeal of the child, whose acquaintance he had enjoyed for a few hours only. It was on them, rather than on his present occupation, that his thoughts were bent.
At last approaching night found him safely back in the valley village, where the keeper of the primitive boarding house expressed her solicitation over his prolonged absence, as she handed him several letters which had arrived the day previous. One epistle, from his associate physician, Dr. Bentley, carried a pressing plea that he return to Boston as soon as possible, and perform a difficult operation. The call was so urgent that Donald regretfully concluded that duty demanded his compliance.
He determined, however, not to leave without paying a final visit to his new friends, and, soon after sun-up the following morning, set forth for Big Jerry's cabin, carrying, as a present for Rose, a woven sweetgrass basket filled with such simple confections as the general store afforded. Nor had he forgotten a generous supply of pipe tobacco for her grandfather.
Donald plunged into the woods and headed for Swift River, whose broken, winding course he followed upward until he reached the rapids of rushing molten silver and the low, but dangerous, fall which marked the spot of the early tragedy in the child's life. As he stood there, cap in hand, the sound of a low treble voice in song fell on his ears, coming from a place not far distant.
Some one, alone under the cathedral arches of the forest, was softly chanting the words of the simple, familiar hymn, "Nearer, My God, to Thee," and, impelled by the unusualness of the thing at such an hour and in such a place, Donald moved quietly forward until the solitary singer was in view.
It was Rose. She was kneeling beside a low, rounded mound covered with fresh-gathered forest vines, and sprinkled with wild flowers.
The meaning of the picture flashed at once into the man's mind. This was the "birthday" of little Smiles—the anniversary of her advent to a new life—and this her yearly pilgrimage of love and filial homage to those barely remembered two who had given her being.
Donald waited in silence, leaning against a concealing tree trunk, until the child had ended her act of simple devotion by throwing an unaffected kiss from her finger tips, not towards the dead earth, but upwards to the spirit world above.
Then, as she arose and moved slowly away, her light step barely disturbing the grass, Donald followed and overtook her. The girl's greeting, although more subdued than on the morning before, was none the less delighted, and, with her hand snuggled warmly in his, they made their way to the cabin.
"I bids ye welcome, doctor," sang out Big Jerry, as he caught sight of them. "Hit shor' air a fine day fer ter spend in ther woods."
"And I cannot spend it there," answered Donald, ruefully. "I've been called back to the city to attend a little sick patient, and leave Fayville on the noon train."
"Wall, now, thet air too bad, an' hit's mighty kind er ye ter come way up hyar erfore yo' left," said the old man, while the girl's new disappointment, caused by the announcement, was evident enough without verbal expression.
"I brought you a package of tobacco, a little token of my appreciation for your kindness to me night before last, Mr. Webb; and Rose a 'birthday' gift, just a few sweets in a basket which I found at the store, and which struck me as pretty."
Jerry stumblingly expressed his gratitude for the present, and Rose unconsciously curtsied, much as she must have thirteen years before. Her lips and eyes smiled her shy thanks, but it appeared to Donald that mischievous amusement struggled with appreciation in her look.
"Something seems to be amusing you, little lady. Let me into the secret," said Donald.
Her silvery laughter broke from her lips, as she answered, "I'm shor' obleeged fer the compliment yo' paid thet basket. I made hit myself."
"You did? Why, it's wonderful, but it looks as though I'd been carrying coals to Newcastle. Newcastle is the name of a town in England where a great deal of coal comes from," he hastened to add, in explanation.
"Like kerryin' water ter the river. I makes them leetle baskets odd times, an' sells 'em ter the storekeeper in Fayville, but I never hev none fer myself, somehow, an' I haint never a-goin' ter part with this hyar one, leastwise ef I kin keep hit."
"Of course you may. It's my present to you just the same; but don't be afraid that it is meant to take the place of the other things I have promised you."
While he had been talking to the child, Big Jerry had picked up Donald's rifle, and now stood caressingly running his hand down the blue-black barrel, and over the polished black walnut stock.
Its owner watched him with inward amusement, yet fully understanding the woodman's love for a perfect weapon. As an ordinary man would lift a child's airgun, the giant tossed the rifle to a firing position, snuggled the butt against his shoulder, and leaned his gray-bearded cheek on it affectionately. Finally he lowered it regretfully to the ground, and remarked, with the suggestion of a sigh, "This hyar shor' air a mighty purty weepon, doctor. I reckon she'll drap a bullet purty nigh whar hit's aimed ter go."
"Try it," encouraged Don, catching a look of almost boyish delight cross the old man's face.
"Air she loaded? I haint right familiar with these hyar repeatin' guns, with thar leevers an' sich."
The other threw a cartridge into the breech, and handed the weapon over, with the remark, "She shoots a trifle high, compared with the average rifle, I've found—perhaps an inch at a hundred yard range."
"Thank ye, sir," replied Jerry, and added simply, "I reckon I'll jest chip the top off'n thet big rock erfore the oak tree, yonder." With the last word came the gun's flash, and to Donald's amazement he saw a tiny cloud of white dust rise from the peak of the boulder.
Rose was already running lightly towards the target accompanied by the excited Mike, and her twinkling legs held such fleetness that the trained athlete barely caught up with her as she finished the dash, and triumphantly laid her finger on a leaden mark across the stone.
"Good Lord," gasped Donald, as Big Jerry approached more sedately, "I thought that I could shoot some, but that ... that beats anything I ever saw in the West, or on the stage. And with an unfamiliar gun, too."
"She shoots erbout ther same ter the left, too," commented the marksman judiciously. "But et thet she air a moghty fine rifle-gun, an' I shor' would be pleased ter own her, only I reckon yo' haint anxious ter sell."
"I'd as soon think of selling Mike, or any other of my good friends," promptly responded Donald, whereat a quick shadow of disappointment crossed the old man's countenance.
"I erpreciates the feelin' thet ye hev fer hit," he said as he handed it back. "Er gun air mighty nigh like blood kin ter a hunter."
"But we sometimes part even with certain of our kindred when the right man comes along whom we can trust to love, honor and cherish them," laughed the younger man. "And, since I feel that I would be insulting that gun to fire it again after the way you fired it, I'm going to honor it by giving it to you."
"Why ... why, in course I'm mightily obleeged ter ye, doctor; but I jest couldn't think of acceptin' hit from ye," stammered Big Jerry, struggling between the dictates of honor and insatiate desire.
"Don't say another word, my good friend; she's yours and I have several others at home. Only please don't use it in any shooting feuds—if there are such things still in existence nowadays. Since my profession is to save human lives, I mustn't have a part in the taking of them even by proxy, you know." Don's eyes were laughing.
"Yo' hev no cause fer worriment erlong thet line," earnestly answered Jerry, as he patted the rifle, cradled in the crook of his arm like a child. "My fightin' day air over, praise ter Gawd. Thar war a time when I war sorter proud of ther notch thet's cut in the stock er my fust gun; but now ... wall, I'd give a good deal ef 'twarn't thar. I figgers, nowerdays, thet hit haint the Lord's purpose thet humans should spill each other's blood, leastwise onless thar's somethin' bigger et stake then spite er revengement."
"Tell him erbout the shootin' matches at the County Fairs whar yo' used allus ter bear erway the prize, grandpap," interposed Smiles hurriedly, with the obvious design of changing the current of the old man's thoughts.
The latter seated himself on the rock, his face lighting with reminiscence, as he complied, with the words, "Wall, ef I does say hit, thar warn't many in Kentuck er West Virginny could handle a shootin' iron with Big Jerry in them days, an', come County Fair time, I mostwise allus kerried off the money prize an' the wreath give by ther queen. 'Twarn't fancy shootin', like they hes on the stage yo' war er-speakin of, p'raps, but hit took a stiddy hand an' a clar eye ter do the trick. Gener'lly the spo't ended with the pick er the rifle shooters a-trying ter cut down ten weighted strings et a hundred paces, an' more times then once I done hit in as many shots."
Then, as though somewhat ashamed at the boastfulness in his words, he added hastily, "But I take no credit fer thet Gawd give me the skill ter do hit, an' I might hev used hit ter better purpose then ofttimes I did, fer I was overproud er my skill.
"I shor' thanks ye fer this hyar rifle-gun, an', come Thanksgiving time, I hopes ter send ye a wild turkey bird killed by hit."
"If you do that I shall be more than repaid," responded Donald. "Well, good friends of mine, I must be on my way; but don't think that you have seen the last of me. I've found the ideal spot in which to spend a vacation, and next summer I'll be back here again, D. V."
"What's 'D. V.'?" asked the girl, curiously.
"It stands for Deo Volente—Latin words which mean, 'God willing.'"
"I hopes thet yo' does come back, an' we-all will be here ter welcome ye, D. V." said Rose; then added, shyly, "I hev a gift fer yo' ter take back home ter leetle Muriel, ef yo're willin'. Hit's in the cabin, an', ef yo'll wait, I'll run an' git hit fer ye."
"Of course I'll be glad to take it to her, my child, and I know that she'll be delighted both with it and the stories I shall tell her about Smiles. But wait, I will go with you, for there is one thing more I want to do before I leave, if you can find me a piece of string."
With a question in her wide-eyed glance, Rose led him back to the little mountain homestead and, as soon as they were inside, hurried to produce the desired article.
"Now then, hold up your arms," commanded Donald lightly.
Rose obeyed, and, slipping the string about her yielding waist, he drew it taut and tied a knot to mark the resultant measurement. Following the same procedure, he took the circumference of her chest, the length of her arm, and from her neck to a few inches above her slender ankle. Suddenly her puzzled expression gave place to one of understanding, and the starry smile broke over her countenance.
"You've guessed," cried Donald with feigned disappointment.
"Ef hit's a secret, I won't even whisper hit ter no one," the child responded gayly.
"Good. It is a secret, but not a dark one."
"I reckon thet hit's all white," she gurgled. "An' now I hev a secret fer yo' ter keep—leastwise till ye gits ter the city. Yo' promise, too?"
"I solemnly swear," said Don, and, breaking away, the girl ran into her own room and bashfully brought out a paper bundle through the top folds of which protruded the twisted reed handle of a basket, somewhat similar to the one of her own manufacture which he had given her. "This hyar basket's fer the little girl; but, inside hit's something fer yo' ter remember leetle Rose by. Also thar's a writin', askin' ye ter do something fer me an' ef yo' kin do hit I will shor' be mightily obleeged ter ye."
"I can't guess what on earth it is, but you may be sure that I will do it if it can be done," he answered earnestly. "Good-by, Smiles. Even without your gift as a reminder I shouldn't have forgotten you, and I shall not think of the Cumberlands without seeing your dear little face."
Donald took both her small hands in his big ones, and, yielding to a sudden impulse, bent down and drew her towards him. For just an instant she held back slightly, and the color swiftly mantled her cheeks. Then, as he was on the point of releasing her, a little ashamed of his intention, she freed her hands and, flinging them about his neck, kissed him warmly again.
With the fresh, childlike pressure of her young lips on his, Donald went hurriedly out, and, after a last hearty handclasp from Big Jerry, turned towards the woods, an unaccustomed song in his heart.
AN UNACCEPTED CHALLENGE
"I wants ter hev speech with ye, stranger."
The words, spoken in a harsh voice, fell gratingly on Donald's ears, and brought to an abrupt end the happy thoughts with which his mind was occupied. He stopped, forcing the growling Mike behind him, as Judd stepped out from the bushes, squarely across his path.
"I would be glad to stop and talk with you, Judd, but I'm due in Fayville before noon, and have already stayed too long at Big Jerry's."
"Yo' hev," was the prompt and surly reply.
"What the devil do you mean by that?" snapped Donald, with rising ire.
"What I says, goes," was the reply. "This hyar place air a powerful good one fer yo' ter keep erway from, stranger."
"Indeed? Well, you don't own it."
The younger man's color heightened, and his lean jaws clamped together.
"I warns ye fair," he said, after a brief pause.
"And I don't accept such a warning from any one," shot back Donald, momentarily growing more angry. "It's no business of yours, whether I go or stay."
"I makes hit my business," replied the other sullenly. "Big Jerry air growin' old an' foolish, I reckon; but I seen what I seen, an' thar haint no city man ergoin' ter come up hyar an' make trouble fer a gal uv our'n."
"Judd, it's you who are the fool. I don't admit your right to discuss this, or any matter, with me, but Rose is nothing to me but a very good friend. Besides, she's only a child."
"She's nigh onter old ernough ter wed," was the uncompromising answer. "An' ef she haint nothin' ter ye, the more shame on ye fer tryin' ter make her love ye, an' mayhaps break her heart."
"But I haven't tried to make her love me," broke in Donald impatiently.
"Then fer what did yo' put yer arms erbout her an' kiss her, like I seen ye through the winder awhile back, I wants ter know?" demanded the other, as he hastily frustrated Donald's attempt to step by him.
The man felt his own face flush hotly, and was angry over this visible display of feeling.
"I tell you she's only a child. I kissed her as I would any little girl of whom I was fond."
"Yo' love her, an' yo' haint the man ter say hit."
"Very well, then. Supposing I admit that I love her, what is it to you?" replied Donald, with a flash of heat.
"I loves her, too. I've loved her since she come ter these hyar mountains, a leetle baby; an' I don't calkerlate ter hev yo', er any city man, make a plaything uv her. Hit's man ter man, now. Air yo', er haint yo', a-goin' ter leave hyar, an' keep erway?"
"As I told you before, it's none of your business," replied Don shortly.
"An' es I told ye before, hit air. Now I tells ye thet yo' haint a-comin' back."
"That ... remains to be seen," Donald answered wrathfully as he stepped past Judd, this time unimpeded.
He had not gone more than a score of swinging strides, keeping the bristling dog close beside him, when he heard the staccato crack of a rifle, and simultaneously the high-pitched whine of a bullet past his head.
Once before, in the Maine woods, he had been an unwilling target, on that occasion for an overanxious deer hunter. Then he had sprung up, waving his arms and shouting a warning, but now instinct told him that the opposite procedure was the proper one, and he threw himself precipitately into the enveloping rhododendrons. As he did so, from the path above him came a derisive laugh which set his blood boiling.
It awakened in Donald all the blind, fighting spirit which, in gridiron days, had driven him with clinched teeth into the thick of the battering melee. He sprang into a crouching posture, face turned toward the taunting sound, every muscle taut, every nerve tingling, and with but one thought surging through his brain—the desire to charge back and attack Judd, barehanded.
Slowly the red demons of primitive passion vanished before the returning light of wisdom, born of maturity and the restraining power of civilization. He quickly realized that he had no right to make a fool of himself for the sake of such a cause, and in such a childish manner. His duty was paramount to the satisfaction of an atavistic impulse, and, placing a strong mental grasp upon his nerves, which cried for drastic action, Donald turned downward into the footpath again, and broke into a run.
Haste was doubly essential, for little time remained before the hour for the departure of his train, and, even in Virginia, it might leave according to schedule. As he crashed impetuously through a bush whose branches blocked the path, he heard again the laughter from above him and caught a new note therein—that of exultation.
Donald stifled an oath, while an additional reason for returning to the mountain burned its way into his heart.
* * * * *
On the path above, Judd deliberately blew the fouling smoke from his rifle barrel, turned about, and, with a satisfied smile mingling with the expression of hate on his lips, climbed back towards Jerry's cabin.
In its doorway stood Rose. The happy flush still lingered delicately on her cheeks, and her limpid eyes were full of a soft, dreamy light.
"What war yo' ershootin' at, Judd?" she cried, as the man came into view, carelessly swinging his long weapon.
"Et a pole-cat," was his brief reply, as he removed his broad straw hat and sank with the unconscious grace of a wild animal onto the stoop at her feet.
Neither broke the silence for several minutes, but the man scarcely took his burning gaze from the child's lovely face. At length she sighed ever so gently, and, seating herself beside him, dropped her firm chin into her cupped hands.
"Smiles," began Judd, with all the harshness gone from his voice, "I don't enjoy fer ter hear yo' sigh thet erway, er ter see ther fur-off look in yo'r purty eyes, 'cause I fears thet hit means thar's some one else then me in yo'r heart."
Instantly she sat up straight, and turned her eyes, full of surprise, upon him. "Why, Juddy!" she said.
"Ef hit's thet doctor man, I likes hit least uv all, Smiles," the man continued, speaking bitterly. "He haint come fur no good, leetle gal, an' I don't want fer yo' ter think on him."
"I reckon I thinks on whom I likes," she responded briefly.
"Don't go fer ter git angry with me, Rose gal. Hit aint thet I wants ter be selfish er onreasonable, but ..." Judd stopped. Words of passionate love trembled on his lips, but were held there by a barrier of inherited reticence in matters of the heart. Iron reserve and laconic speech were essentially typical of his breed; but, at length, the eager utterances strained against the fetter of his will, and broke them.
"I kaint speak as I desires to, Smiles. I fears I kaint make ye understand what's in my heart; but I've keered mightily fer ye, dear, ever since yo' war a smilin' leetle baby gal, an' now ... now yo'r most a woman grown, an' I love ye, want ye more come each new day an' each new night. Thar haint one ef them passes but thet I make excuse fer ter see ye, an' jest ther sight o' yo'r sweet face somehow kindles a light inside me that burns, 'thout scarcely dimmin', till I sees ye agin. Thet's ther reason I said what I done, a moment back.
"I jest kaint bear fer ter think uv yo' lovin' some one else then me. I ... I keers so much thet I believes I'd rather see ye dead then thet, Rose gal."
Fairly trembling with the sweep of his unloosed emotion, the reserved, strong-willed man paused, and, as the girl stood up hastily, she was trembling, too.
"Why, Juddy," she cried softly, distress in her voice, "I didn't rightly understand thet yo' felt thet erway. I likes ye, in course, but I'm only a leetle gal, an' I haint keerin' fer any one ... thet erway. I ... I don't enjoy fer ter hyar yo' say sech words ter me now, Juddy."
"I reckon yo'r right, an' I shouldn't hev told ye yet, Rose," answered the man, almost humbly. "I kin bide my time, but I wants ye ter know thet I feels es I does. I'm a-goin' ter keep right on lovin' ye more an' more, and, when yo'r older, I plans ter ask ye ter marry with me."
"I likes ye ... indeed I likes ye, Judd, but ... oh, please don't ever go fer ter do that. I kaint never marry ye, Judd."
The man stiffened, and his face grew black again. "I believes thet yo' air in love with thet doctor man, atter all," he shot out.
"I haint neither," cried the girl, angrily stamping her bare foot, "I does love him, but I haint in love with nobody, 'ceptin' grandpap."
"Yo' submitted ter his takin' ye in his arms an' kissin' ye," burst out the mountaineer.
"Judd Amos, yo'r a mean, spyin' sneak, an' I hates ye!" stormed Rose, while her eyes filled with angry tears.
"I didn't go fer ter spy on ye, Smiles," he protested, "I seen ye by chance. But, whether yo' love him er not, yo' might jest as well fergit him. He keered fer ye jest because yo' air er purty mountain flower, an' he haint never ercomin' back hyar ergin."
"He air, too," contradicted the girl rebelliously. "He air ercomin' back an' he's promised ter help me git edercation."
Judd laughed shortly.
"I warned him fair ter keep erway, an' p'inted my warnin' with a rifle ball."
Rose's eyes widened in horror.
"Yo' ... yo' means yo' shot him, Judd?" she whispered, with both hands pressed to her breast.
"Shot him? No. I didn't aim fer ter hurt him, an' 'twarn't in nowise necessary. I jest put a bullet past his head an' he run like a skeered rabbit."
"Taint so. He never run from no one," she cried staunchly.
"Wall, hit shor' appeared like hit ter me," was the gloating answer.
Feminine instinct gave Rose an intuitive insight into the real reasons which underlay Donald's apparent flight; but pride sealed her lips, just as she was on the point of explaining triumphantly that the doctor had been called back home that day, and that it was the following summer when he would return.
"Juddy," she said gently, after a moment, "yo' hed no reason fer doin' what yo' done. Hit war mighty wrong, but I fergives ye. I wants ter still be friends with ye. I wants ye ter help me, Juddy."
The last words were breathed softly, and the naive appeal in her voice brought the hostile man quickly back to submissive and worshipful fealty.
"Yo' know thet I'd do enything in the world fer ye, Smiles," he answered simply.
"I believes thet yo' think yo' would, Judd, but I wonders ef, deep in yo'r heart, yo' really keers ernough fer me ter ... I kaint scarcely explain what I means. I reckon I air powerful ignerrant in speecherfyin'."
"I don't rightly know what yo' means, Smiles, but I give ye my promise ter do whatsoever yo' wants, ef hit takes my life," he declared earnestly, his former selfish desire to bend her will into compliance with his own for the moment yielding to his blind eagerness to prove his love.
Youthful and unsophisticated in worldly wiles as she was, the eternal feminine in Rose sensed her victory and power, and, still maintaining her half commanding, half tenderly appealing tone, she outlined her plan, for the accomplishment of which his aid was all essential.
Judd protested, pleaded and stormed—all to no avail. He felt himself like a man caught in a snare of his own weaving—a snare strengthened by fair, yet unbreakable, silken threads added by the child.
Finally, miserable at heart, he yielded, and departed with his hand tingling from the impulsive affectionate pressure of Smiles' fingers upon it. But, as the conscious thrill which it caused in his being lessened, his thoughts became immersed in gloom, through which no encouraging light made its way. He realized that he had lost the first battle for her heart, and the loss brought closer the dark spectre of ultimate defeat.
"SMILES'" GIFT: AND THE "WRITING"
"Now, my boy, let us hear an account of your trip. Did you enjoy it, and find anything of especial interest in the mountains of the feud country?"
The doctor's father lighted his after-dinner cigar, and leaned back with the indolent satisfaction which a man ripe in useful years may feel when surrounded by his family. Since the death of his wife, he and his children had been more inseparably attached one to another than ever, and each drew a full measure of happiness from these all-too-infrequent reunions, when Donald could be with them. Even little Muriel was not left out of the group, for she had been granted the exceptional privilege of sitting up an extra hour, and listening to the wonderful hunting tales told by her beloved Uncle Don, upon whose lap she was now contentedly curled. Her mother and father sat near by.
"Yes, to both questions," responded Donald.
"Did you shoot any bears?" queried his little niece, expectantly.
"No bears this trip, although I almost scalded to death a bare-legged little girl," was the reply. And with Rose thus made the central figure of his recital at the very outset, Donald proceeded to tell of his experiences and new friendships; but consciously refrained from mentioning the unpleasant incident with which his trip ended, and Smiles' parting embrace.
His faithful reproduction of the soft mountain dialect brought frequent smiles from his listeners, and filled the child with delighted amusement.
"I just love Smiles," she cried, as he finished his story.
"Indeed, so does every one who knows her. You do, don't you, Mike?" added Donald, and the dog beat a tattoo on the rug with his stumpy tail.
"Witchery," laughed his father. "Even your clumsy description has strangely stirred my youthful blood, and 'I longs fer ter see this hyar wonderful child dryad of ther primeval forest.' If you ever go back there, you had better wear magic armor as protection against that illusive smile which seems to have cast a spell of enchantment over your civilized senses."
"Pshaw, you needn't be concerned about my feelings for her. She's no siren, but a very real little person. I'll admit that she's amazingly attractive; but she's merely a child."
"Children grow up," teased his sister.
"I'm aware of that natural phenomenon," answered Donald, somewhat curtly. "But ... Great Scott, can't I describe a fifteen—no, sixteen-year-old little savage, without all you people imagining that I'm going to be such a fool as to fall in love with her?"
"Sometimes it isn't what one says, but the way he says it, that incriminates," put in his brother-in-law, adding his voice to the general baiting which had apparently disclosed a tender spot.
"Hang it all, I believe that I'll go back and ask Smiles to marry me, if only to put an end to your teasing," cried Don with a laugh not entirely natural. "At least I might perhaps succeed in frustrating your obvious designs, Ethel. Oh, I'm not blind!"