THE HEART'S KINGDOM
MARIA THOMPSON DAVIESS
Author of The Melting of Molly, etc.
Illustrated by W. B. King
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers Copyright, 1917 by The Reilly & Britton Co. Made in U.S.A. Published September 12, 1917 Second Printing October 1, 1917
I The World and the Flesh 9
II The Harpeth Jaguar 27
III The Gauntlet 41
IV To Turkey Gulch 61
V Having It Out 92
VI Deep Digging 109
VII The Tristan Love Song 132
VIII Breasting the Gale 146
IX Into Brambles 161
X Water and Oil 181
XI A Bit of Raw Life 195
XII The Tenacious Turtle 211
XIII The Short-Circuit 227
XIV Abide With Me 241
XV A Clandestine Adventure 258
XVI The Jewel in the Matrix 283
XVII The Pageant 297
XVIII Light—Into Darkness 312
XIX The Spark and the Blaze 327
XX The Covert of Wings 344
The Heart's Kingdom
THE WORLD AND THE FLESH
"A beautiful woman is intended to create a heaven on earth and she has no business wasting herself making imaginary excursions into any future paradise. The present is her time for action; and again, Charlotte, I ask you to name the day upon which you intend to marry me," said Nickols Powers, as he stood lounging in the broad window of Aunt Clara's music room and gazing down into the subdued traffic of upper Madison Avenue.
"I wish you had never taken me across that ferry and into that room crowded with redolent humanity to hear an absurd little man string together vivid, gross words about religion, words that made me tingle all over," I answered as I threw my coat on a chair, lifted my hat from my head and sat down on the seat before the dark old piano. "I think religion is the most awful thing in the world and I am as afraid of it as I am of—of death. I'm going home to my father."
"Oh, don't be afraid of it. Religion is the most potent form of intoxication known to the human race. That's why I took you over to hear the little baseball player. I wanted you to get a sip. But don't let it go to your head." And Nickols mocked me with soft tenderness in his smile.
"Well, it frightened me, and I don't like it. I'm going home to my father and forget it," I reiterated with a kind of numbness upon me, the like of which I had never before experienced.
"I'll protect you from any religious danger just as effectively as Judge Powers. I'm younger—slightly—than he, but I know just as many of the wiles of the world and the flesh as he does and maybe a few more," Nickols assured me, with a flash in his dark eyes that was both wicked and humorous, as well as very delightful.
"And the devil, too! But you don't understand. I must go home to my father," I answered still again.
"You don't understand yourself," returned Nickols. "There are strange hieroglyphics imprinted on every woman's heart and a man can read only an unconnected word here and there when he can get his flashlight thrown into the depths—if he dares adventure into her life at all. I feel that I take my own life in my hands when I allow you to talk to me as I am allowing you to-night."
"How do you know that those hieroglyphics might not mean the salvation of the world if she could spell them out herself, or some great and good person took a steady lamp and went down into her heart and—"
"It takes a very wicked man to read a woman; good men are blinded by them and stumble," Nickols assured me as he came over, stood beside me and ran his long, slender, artist's fingers up and down the keys of the piano, which evoked a strange, diabolical sort of harmony from them. "I understand about it all, so please come tell me you'll marry me." This time his arms almost encircled me, but I slipped between them as he laughed at me with his adorable pagan charm.
"No, Nickols, that would be an easy—and—and delightful way out, but I am really frightened down in some queer part of my anatomy that lies between my breast bone and my spinal column. Something is stirring in my heart and I'm afraid of it. I've got to get out in a wilderness and fight with it."
"Take it out on me," offered Nickols, with a laugh that was both wistful and provoking.
"No, I've got a home panic and I must go."
"Then when do I get my answer from what is left of you after the battle?"
"I'll let you know when to come and get it—under the roof of the Poplars," I answered him from the doorway.
And the very next morning I went down into the Harpeth Valley, driven I knew not by what, nor to what. I only knew that I felt full of a living, smothered flame and I was sure that it was best to let it burst forth in my ancestral abiding place.
I was born of a man who has the most evolved brain in the Harpeth Valley, who has been a drunkard for twenty years, and of a very beautiful and haughty woman whose own mother, to the day of her death, shouted at Methodist love feasts. Is it any wonder that when I was tried by fire I burned "as the cracklings of thorns under a pot?"
"How could you set that ridiculous little Methodist meeting house on the very doorstep of my garden, father?" I demanded, as I stood tall and furious before him in the breakfast room on the morning after my return home from my winter in the East with Aunt Clara. "Cousin Nickols has spent many months out of three years on the plans of restoration for that garden, and he is coming down soon to sketch and photograph it to use in some of his commissions. What shall I—what will you—say to him when he finds that the vista he kept open for the line of Paradise Ridge has been cut off by that pile of stones to house the singing of psalms?" And as I raged I had a feeling of being relentlessly pursued—by something I didn't understand.
"Madam," returned father, with a dignity he always used with me when he encountered one of my rages, "you will find that the chapel does not in any way interfere with Nickols' carefully planned view. Gregory Goodloe spent many days of thought in seeking to place it so that it would not intrude itself upon your garden, and he built his parsonage completely out of view, though it gives him only one large southern window to his study and only northern ones to his bedroom."
"Does the creature also sleep and eat and have his being right there behind my hollyhocks?" I demanded, and my rage began to merge into actual grief, which in turn threatened to come to the surface in hot tears.
"Now, Charlotte, my daughter," father was beginning to say with soothing in his voice instead of the belligerence that from my youth up had always just preceded my floods of tears. Dabney, the shriveled black butler, who had always devotedly sympathized with my exhibitions of temperament, to which he had, from my infancy, given the name of "tantrums," set the platter of fried chicken before father's place at the damask and silver-spread old table by the window, through which the morning sun was shining genially. Then, with a smile as broad and genial as that of the sun, he drew out my chair from behind the ancestral silver coffee urn, which was puffing out clouds of fragrant steam.
"Breakfast am sarved, honey chile," he crooned soothingly, "an' yo' Mammy done put the liver wing right ag'in yo' fork."
Dabney had many times stemmed my floods with choice food and was trying his favorite method of pacification.
I faltered and wavered at the temptation. I was hungry.
"Just wait until you see Goodloe and talk it over with him," father said, as he seized the advantage of my wavering and seated himself opposite me as Dabney pushed in my chair and whisked the cover off the silver sugar bowl and presented one of his old willow-ware cups for father's two lumps and a dash of cream. "I asked him to—"
"See him? You don't expect me to discuss Nickols' and my garden with an ignorant bucolic Methodist minister, who probably doesn't know a honeysuckle from a jimson weed, do you?" I asked with actual rage rising again above the tears as I literally dashed the cream into his cup and deluged the boiling coffee down upon it so that a scalding splatter peppered my hand. "I never want to see or hear or speak to or about him. I'll build a trellis as high as his church, run evergreen honeysuckle on it and go my way in an opposite direction from his. I'll—" Just here I observed consternation spread over Dabney's black face, then communicate itself to father's distressed countenance as he glanced out the window. Quickly he pushed his morning julep behind the jar of roses in the center of the table, while Dabney flung a napkin over the silver pitcher with frost on its sides and mint nodding over its brim.
And then, as I was about to pour my own coffee and launch forth on another tirade on the subject of my neighbor, I heard a rich tenor voice singing just outside the window in the garden beside the steps that led down from the long windows in the dining room to the old flagstone walk. Nickols and I had searched through volumes of dusty antique prints to see just how we wanted that walk to lead out to the sunken garden beyond the tall old poplars. I also saw the handle of a rake or hoe in action across the window landscape and heard unmistakable sounds of vigorous gardening.
I rose to my feet with battle in my eyes and then stopped perfectly still and listened—unwillingly but compelled.
"Drink to me only with thine eyes And I will pledge with mine,"
were the words that floated in at the window on the fragrant morning sunbeams, in a voice of the most penetrating tenderness I had ever felt break against my heartstrings.
"I—I—he sometimes demolishes a—a few weeds," father faltered, while Dabney ducked his cotton-wool old head and slipped out of the door.
"You allow him to work in my—garden—and—" I faltered, just recovering from the impact of the words of my favorite song of songs hurled at me by the unseen enemy, when I was interrupted by his appearance in the open door and we stood facing each other.
I am a woman who has very decided tastes about the biological man. I know just how I want the creatures to look, and I haven't much interest in one that isn't at least of the type of my preferred kind. Because I am very tall and broad and deep-bosomed and vivid and high colored, and have strong white teeth that crunch up about as much food in the twenty-four hours as most field hands consume, and altogether I am very much like one of the most vigorous of Sorolla's paintings, that is the probable pathological reason I have always preferred an evolved Whistler masculine nocturne that retreats to the limits of my comprehension and then beckons me to follow. All other men I have grouped beyond the border of my feminine nature and sought to waste no thought upon them. It was a shock to come, suddenly, in my own breakfast room, face to face with a type of man I had never before met. The enemy was astonishingly large and lithe and distinctly resembled one of the big gold-colored lions that live in the wilds of the Harpeth Mountains out beyond Paradise Ridge. His head, with its tawny thatch that ought to have waved majestically but which was sleek and decorous to the point of worldliness, was poised on his neck and shoulders with a singularly strong line that showed through a silk soft collar, held together by an exquisitely worldly amethyst silk scarf which, it was a shock to see, matched glints from eyes back under his heavy gold brows with what appeared to be extreme sophistication. After the shock of the tie the loose gray London worsted coat and trousers made only a passing impression; and from my involuntary summary of the whole surprising man, which had taken less than an instant, my dazed brain came back and was held and concentrated by the beauty of the smile that flooded out over me in welcome after my father's hurried introduction.
"The Reverend Mr. Gregory Goodloe—my daughter Charlotte," father announced, as he rose and waved in my direction a hand that was cordial to the point of bravado.
"I'm so glad you came in time to see your crocuses and anemones, Miss Powers," the Jaguar said as he took my hand in his. "Dabney has let me help him hand-weed them and they are a glory, aren't they?" While he spoke he still held my hand and I was still too dazed to regain possession of it. Father saved the situation.
"Sit down, sit down, Parson, and let Charlotte give you a cup of coffee while it is on the simmer," he urged with hasty hospitality as if intent upon effectively bottling me up, at least for the immediate present. "She was just pouring my cup. Will you say grace before I take my first sip?" was the high explosive he further proceeded to hurl in my face.
And as he spoke I sank dumbly into my chair and helplessly bowed my head to a ceremony so obsolete in the world from which I had come that I felt as if I was slipping back into the days of the pioneer, when the customs of life were still primitive and dictated by emotion rather than mental science.
And there, with father's concealed mint julep right against his interlaced fingers, the mountain lion bowed his crested head and involved me in prayer for the first time since chapel-service in my college days.
"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof ... for which we give thanks, thy children, with Lord Jesus, Amen!"
"Amen," mumbled father as if from the depths of embarrassment, and against my will, as it were, a queer sort of a croon of an echo came from my own throat.
Also that was the first time I had ever heard words of prayer under the roof of the Poplars. It embarrassed me and I hated it and the cause of it. The spell which had possessed me since the entrance of the Reverend Goodloe, vanished, and the rage that had been in me at the discovery of the intrusion of his chapel and himself upon my life when I had come home to be free to be wicked, boiled up within me and then sugared down to a rich—and dangerous—syrup. While I poured his coffee I again took stock of him, this time coldly and with deadly intent. The reasons for his entry into my hitherto satisfactory family life, even at breakfast time, I did not know, any more than I knew the reason for the chapel on the other side of the hollyhocks, but I felt that I feared both and intended to get rid of them. If the enemy had been what one could reasonably expect a young Methodist preacher to be, I would have routed him and his meekness within the hour and had the chapel moved to a lot on a side street in town within the week. However, when a hunter comes suddenly upon a Harpeth jaguar he is glad to use his best repeater and he is careful how he shoots, though if he is very skillful he may tease the lion aloft with a few nipping shots. I felt suddenly very strong for the fight that I knew was on, though the lion didn't possess that knowledge as yet. Deliberately I fired a preliminary bullet that seemed to graze father, though it left the Parson unharmed.
"Will you have your mint julep before I pour your coffee, Mr. Goodloe?" I asked, with seemingly careless friendliness. "Dabney, put fresh ice in father's glass and fill mine and Mr. Goodloe's."
"I was feeling a little under the weather this morning," said father hastily, as he set his glass from behind the rose jar upon Dabney's waiter and motioned it all away from him, thus denying the morning friend of his lifetime. I had never drunk a julep before breakfast in my life, only tasted around the frosty edges of father's, but I held my ground, and held out my glass to Dabney, who falteringly, almost in terror, took the frosted silver pitcher from the sideboard and poured me an unusually large draft of the family beverage.
"Will you have yours now, Mr. Goodloe?" I asked again with still more of the sugared solicitation.
"No, I believe I prefer the coffee, but don't pour it until you have drunk your julep; you know frost is a thing that soon passes," was the cheerful answer, though a suspicion of an amethyst glint made me know that the Jaguar had at least heard the zip of the bullet.
I loathed that mixture of ice and sugar and mint and whiskey but I had to drink it, and it heated me up inside both physically and mentally, and took away all the queer dogging fear. And because of it I don't remember what else happened at that breakfast except that I wanted to clutch and cling to the warm, strong hand that I again found mine in at the time of parting. But I didn't; at least, I don't think I did. After it was taken away from me I went very slowly up to my room and again went to bed, Mammy caressingly officiating and rejoicing that I was going to "nap the steam cars outen my bones."
I fell asleep with the continued strains of "Drink to me only" in my ears, and wondering if I ought to put it down as insult added to injury, and I awoke several hours later to find Letitia Cockrell, one of the dear friends whom many generations had bestowed upon me, sitting on the foot of my bed consuming the last of the box of marrons with which Nickols had provisioned my journey down from New York. I was glad I had tucked the note that came in the box under my pillow the night before. I trust Letitia and she is entirely sophisticated, but she has never had a lover who lives in Greenwich Village, New York, America.
"Is this the open season for two-day hangovers, in New York?" she demanded as she sniffed me suspiciously at the same time she dimpled and smiled at me.
"No, this is not a metropolitan hangover. It was acquired at breakfast, Letitia," I answered her as I sat up and stretched out my bare arms to give her a good shake and a hug. "'You may break, you may shatter the glass if you will, but the scent of the julep will hang 'round you still,'" I misquoted as I drew my knees up into my embrace and took the last remaining marron.
"Why, Mammy said Mr. Goodloe had breakfast with you. Did you sneak it from the judge's pitcher?" demanded Letitia, as she likewise drew her knees up into her arms and settled herself against one of the posts of my bed for the many hours' resume of our individual existences in which we always indulged upon being reunited after separation.
"I did not," I answered. "I drank it before his eyes, and then I don't remember what happened and I don't care."
"Just that. I never have been drunk because I never could drink enough. I've always felt that there isn't enough liquid in the world to faze me, and I don't like it anyway, but Dabney was so impressed by His Worship that he poured it double for me before I had had breakfast. I hope I staggered or swore but I don't think I did. The Reverend Goodloe can tell you better than I. Ask him."
"Gregory Goodloe? Oh, Charlotte!"
"That's the point I was coming to, Letitia: Just who is this Reverend Goodloe that I shouldn't drink a quart of mint julep before him if I want to? I had well over a pint of champagne with a Mr. Justice two nights before I left New York and I stopped then out of courtesy to one of the generals whom we expect to defend us from the Kaiser. Who is your Gregory Goodloe? Tell we all about him, unexpurgated and unafraid."
"Didn't you know about him—and the chapel before you came?" Letitia queried cautiously, as if fearing the explosion she felt was sure to result.
"I did not," I answered. "I met him and his chapel and the mint julep all in the same five minutes, and is it any wonder I went down? Go on. Tell me the worst or the best. I'm ready." And as I spoke I settled my pillows comfortably, getting a little thrill from the crumpled letter underneath the bottom one.
THE HARPETH JAGUAR
"It is beautifully romantic, but I don't know what we are going to do about it," answered Letitia with genuine trouble, puckering her brow under one of her smooth waves of seal-brown hair. Letitia is one of the wonderful variety of women who patch out life, piece by piece, in a beautiful symmetrical pattern and who do not have imagination enough to admire anything about a riotous crazy quilt. She is in love with Clifton Gray, has been since she wound her brown braids about her head, and is piecing strips of him into her life-fabric by the very sanest love—courtship—marriage design.
"We just can't go on as we have been doing lately," she continued. "We all decided that you would know what to do about him, and would do it when you came home. We suspected Judge Powers hadn't written you all the facts when you didn't come and the building went on up. You will be able to do something about him, won't you?"
"I think it is likely," I answered, with the brittle sugar in my voice that Letitia only half knows the flavor of. "But don't try to sketch things, Letitia. Begin at the beginning and go straight to the end; I'll pick up the pieces."
"Well, of course you remember the Bishop Goodloe romance, don't you?" asked Letitia, hopeful that she could get a small start ahead on her chronicle.
"I don't remember anything about any bishop, ever. I forget things about that kind of people. What did, or didn't he do?"
"Charlotte!" remonstrated Letitia. "He was the last of the Goodloes who built that old Goodloe home on exactly the place where the first Goodloe set the stakes of the first stockade put up in the Harpeth Valley, right here in Goodloets. It burned down the night he married that Miss Gregory in New York, before we were born. Don't you remember we used to play in the ruins, just over here beyond the garden where the chapel stands now? Your father bought the property. Part of your garden is old Madam Goodloe's garden and that's why it was so wonderful for Judge Powers to give the lot and let Mr. Goodloe build the chapel there. We all felt that, though some of us were scared when we thought about what you might do when you came home. Still, after we saw that wonderful little stone chapel that Mr. Goodloe had one of the greatest architects in New York design, after he had sent him packages of sketches of your garden and the Poplars, so it would only make it all the more beautiful, we felt better. You don't really mind about it, do you, dear?" Letitia's voice was beseechingly enthusiastic, though keyed down with a note of anxiety.
"Go on!" I commanded, packing down the rage in the dark corners of my inmost heart.
"Nobody ever knew why Bishop Goodloe never came back after he married while on a mission from the Southern Methodist Conference to the Northern Methodist Conference. He severed his relations with his own Conference, and he never preached again though he was one of the most wonderful and eloquent preachers the South has ever known. He was the youngest bishop the church had ever ordained. Nobody ever knew what happened, and all we know now is that this perfectly beautiful man, who is the bishop's son, came down to the General Conference in Nashville, was examined and ordained, and the presiding bishop sent him out here to Goodloets last November. We don't know anything about him except that he has been fighting in the trenches in France for a year and has had a bullet cut out of his left lung. Everybody adores him, and we all sit spellbound listening to him preach, I think mostly on account of his voice, because none of us ever seems to remember what he is preaching about. He's been having services in the ballroom at the Country Club but he is going to dedicate the chapel soon and we are all relieved. It has been fun to go out to church at the Club twice every Sunday and to prayer meeting on Wednesday night all winter, and we've danced in the long parlor at home and in the double parlors at Jessie Litton's so as not to disarrange the pews, I mean the chairs, in the ballroom, but now that the spring has come we—we need the Club. I'm glad you will be here for the dedication, and you will help us kind of—kind of—"
"Taper off from your religious spree?" I asked with a laugh that Letitia echoed shamefacedly.
"That's an awful way to put it—but—"
"We've all tried hard, but—but it is such a—a bore. It doesn't seem fair to enjoy Gregory Goodloe so much at dinners and parties and not show our respect and—and admiration by being good church members. Jessie joined his study workers and she took a class of the awful little children from down in the Settlement beyond the Phosphate Mills, who all smelled terribly. She worked hard with them twice a week for a month, and then Mother Spurlock, who is the front pillar of his congregation, found that she had taught all the dirty little things to sew with their left hands. She came in one morning and found them all stitching away industriously backwards, just because Jessie is left-handed herself. Mother Elsie laughed until she lost her breath and Mr. Goodloe had to help unloosen her belt for her. The meeting broke up with ice cream on Jessie for everybody. We all belong to home mission societies and sewing circles and—"
"You want me to get you out of your purgatory and let you backslide to—"
"Don't say it!" exclaimed Letitia with a laugh. "But we just want not to hurt his feelings and—"
"We won't," I said grimly. "Now let's talk about the ball out at the Club we are going to give Nickols when he comes down the first of May."
"That's just what I mean. I knew you'd understand and I am so relieved that you are not angry about the chapel and things. We can leave it all to you and we'll have the times of our lives. Billy Harvey says his ankles are getting stiff, it's been so long since he has fox-trotted. Do call Mammy or Sallie and let's look at your clothes." With which Letitia descended from her spiritual heights into the realm of the material and plunged with both Mammy and Sallie into a riot of clothes.
For an hour or two I lay back in my pillows and watched the two black women and the white one indulge in primitive decorative orgies, and from their delight my eyes would glance out and fix themselves wistfully on the dim line of Paradise Ridge which was cut by the square steeple of weathered stone just where Old Harpeth humps itself up above the rest of the Ridge; and something sore and angry and trapped hurt under my breast.
"The earth is the Lord's—" chanted itself in my mind to the tune of "Drink to me only," and my hand curled around the letter under my pillow as if for comfort and—defense.
"It is just as you told me that night at the piano, Nickols dear: 'Religion is the most potent form of intoxication known to the human race,' and apparently all my friends have been getting the drink habit badly. I'll rescue the poor dears and have an interesting time doing it," I said to myself after Letitia had departed with my most choice millinery creation fastened down upon her sleek braids because she found she could not live without it.
And then a strange thing happened, as I lay prone between the lavender-scented sheets spread on the four-poster bed of my foremothers, ready to drift off into another "bone resting" nap. The flood of tears that had risen from my heart when I had sat that night a week ago and listened to that remarkable little baseball evangelist, the tide of which had been rolled back when Nickols had bent his beautiful dark head against mine in Aunt Clara's music room and whispered above the roar of New York, "religion is the most potent form of intoxication" to me, again welled from my heart and this time flooded my lashes and my cheek and my pillow. What was strangest of all, they seemed to wash away all the tears of anger and fear that I had been pressing back into my depths from breakfast time, and left me weak and again ready for sleep. And like a comforted little child, I slept.
It was sunset when I awoke, and I felt as strong as two women and ready for action, the call for which was upon me by the time Sallie had put me into her favorite creation, selected from the ones she had hung in closets and wardrobe.
"Mister Billy Harvey and Mister Hampton Dibrell is down on the front porch ready to gallivant you, honey-bunch, and I seen Miss Letitia and her Mister Cliff Gray coming in one direction and Miss Jessie in another, so I reckon Sallie had better hurry with that New York twilight she's fixing on you," Mammy announced as she stood in my doorway and beamed upon me. "An' I expects the parson will be stepping over likewise fer a few words, seeing you was so sweet and showed sich pretty manners to him this morning," she added with reverent delight.
"Sweet? Showed such pretty manners?" I gasped, as Sallie fastened the last hook and eye and stood beside Mammy to admire me.
"'Twas no more than you oughter done to the preacher, and I was proud of my raising of you when you helt on to him and begged him to stay to dinner. I was sho' disappointed that he had to leave us. I'm a Colored Methodist, I am, and if I do say it, I knows how to shake a young pullet in the skillet fer a preacher's taste, black or white. Now go on down and stop that buzzing fer you on the front porch. Sallie, come and carry out the tea and cakes to the guests," with which command to both of us Mammy rolled her two hundred and fifty pounds down the hall with great majesty, while Sallie meekly followed in her wake.
"Sweet! Showed such pretty manners!" I quoted to myself as I slowly descended the steps and went out on the wide porch to find my friends assembled under the budding rose vine that wreathed the tall white pillars of the Poplars.
The parson was not there.
"Rescued!" exclaimed Billy as he grasped one of my hands and hung on with a very good imitation of a drowning man seizing a lifeline. They all laughed and Hampton Dibrell held my other hand as ardently, though not in quite such light vein. I had to rescue it to accept Clifton Gray's nosegay of huge violets from his greenhouse, and I embraced Jessie with the nosegay pressed to her pink cheeks.
"Oh, Charlotte, I could fox-trot with you a week and not hesitate," exclaimed Billy, still clinging to me.
"Let's begin to-night," I assented warmly. Billy is contagious and to dance with him is a high art.
"Let's motor out to the Club in Hamp's car and mine, have a chicken supper and dance until sun-up," suggested Billy.
"We can stop by and get Mark Morgan and Nell, and I believe Harriet Henderson will come along, if everybody asks her—all the men, I mean," Letitia added with enthusiasm to match Billy's. Harriet Henderson is the latest emerged widow in Goodloets and consequently is most interesting to the masculine world at present.
"Let's start now, so as to give the chicken plenty of time to get into the frying pan and over the fire," said Hampton, who is always the practical member to bring up the details of any situation.
"I'm just from the tennis courts and I'll have to stop to dress, I'm afraid," said Letitia meekly, as if she felt sure of a storm of remonstrance.
"People don't dress to dance these days, Letitia," said Billy, with the greatest innocence of mien and expression, a manner he always uses in speaking to Letitia's rather literal directness and in which he delights greatly. "They undress. You are unclothed enough as to ankles and if you roll the sleeves of your tennis shirt to your shoulders, take off your collar and tuck in the flaps, it will be enough to satisfy our cravings for fashionable and suitable attire. We really want fried chicken rather than chicken—"
"That will do, Billy," Letitia answered him with gentle firmness.
"That was just what I remarked, Letitia dear. That will do, for we want chicken dressed with cream gravy and don't care about any swathed in chiffon. And furthermore—"
"Do hush, Billy; look who's coming," Jessie interrupted him, and there before my eyes I saw my entire group of friends begin to preen themselves into new beings. Letitia smoothed down her skirts a fraction of an inch, rolled down her sleeves another fraction and pushed back into her braids a brown lock that was rioting across her brow. Jessie shook out her muslin ruffles, reefed a fold of net higher across her neck, and pinned it in place with a jeweled pin, while Hampton's and Billy's and Cliff's expressions and poses of countenance and bodies suddenly fell into lines of decorum.
"Great Smokes! We all forgot it was prayer meeting to-night, and it'll be no trotting the fox for ours," Billy groaned, while he rose to his feet with a smile of angelic sweetness. "Hello, Parson! We were just beginning to think about you," was his greeting to the Sacred Jaguar who had come through the garden and around the house. I felt sure that he had heard Billy's plaint of disappointment about the dance, for there was a quick glint of the amethysts as he halted and stood on the walk below us and smiled up at us.
"I welcomed Miss Powers for breakfast, and now I find I want to come over and do it again for tea," he said, and as I was perfectly cool, sober and in my right mind at the moment he spoke, I had to concede that his voice was the most wonderful I had ever heard, and something in me made me resent it as well as the curious veneer that had spread over my friends at his entry upon the scene. There they stood and sat, six perfectly rational, fairly moral, representative free and equal citizens, cowed by the representative of something that they neither understood nor cared about, and it made me furious. They all wanted to go to the Club to dance, to do the natural, usual, perfectly harmless thing, and they were being constrained. If they had wanted to go to the prayer meeting as they wanted to dance, they would have been natural and joyful and eager about it.
"I resent, even I resent people's being bored with the God they think exists, and I think it is disrespectful to go into His presence like that," I said to myself, and then I suddenly determined to begin my rescue work for the religiously involved, and now I felt was the appointed time. Also I felt the excitement that comes from turning and facing the foe which has pursued.
"I'm glad you came over, Mr. Goodloe," I said with nice, cool friendliness in my voice. "Billy was just planning a glorious fox-trot for this evening and then suddenly remembered with dismay that you were to have your—entertainment at the Club to-night. Couldn't we—we make some sort of compromise? Or at least couldn't you cut your—prayers short so he can get in an hour or two of his favorite pleasure after—after duty well done?" As I spoke I had come to the edge of the steps and thus stood alone above him, looking down on him with a kind of cool aloofness as if he belonged to another world, while I heard all of his recent converts grouped back of me give little gasps of dismay.
Was that young Methodist minister crushed by my plainly intended gauntlet flung down to him? He was not.
"I'm glad I came over in time to put Billy out of his misery," he answered, smiling up at me with a quick comprehension that was enraging. "I'm going to have informal services in the chapel to-night to try out the acoustics before the contractor turns over the building. I am not satisfied about the sounding board he has put in, and the only way is to try it with at least part of the seats occupied. We'll sing a bit and plan the dedication; not have a formal service. So then, Billy, you can have your fox-trotting and a good time to all of you, bless you, my children." As he spoke he smiled at the entire group with the most delightful interest and pleasure. He was dressed in a straight black coat with a plain silk vest cut around a white collar that buttoned in the back, and his dull gold mane was brushed down sleek and close to his beautiful head. Not a flash of expression in his strong face showed that he felt any resentment or dismay at thus having some of his most prominent church members backslide from his prayer meeting into a fox-trot, and yet I knew—knew that he fully appreciated the situation and laid the blame of it where the blame was due.
"Of course we will come to the services first—that is, if you—if you don't object," Letitia said with her usual directness and lack of any kind of finesse, thus bringing the situation to a decided head.
"Why not come over for the songs and then not stay for the conference?" was the genial answer that positively astonished me, and as he spoke he came up the steps and stood beside me. "Dabney and I found the first Star of Bethlehem when we were weeding this afternoon. I brought it to you carefully, and can I have a cup of that tea he has been trying to make you serve for the last five minutes?" With these words the Reverend Mr. Goodloe turned me around and sent me to the tea tray that Dabney and Sallie had put on a table under the rose vine; but not before he had taken up my hand, put the star flower in it and curled my fingers over it. "I'll pass the muffins, Billy, and you take the cakes for Miss Powers, and be more careful than you were last Sunday with my collection plate for the poor." Billy feigned confusion, accepted the plate and was just about to begin a defense, when a diversion occurred to stop him.
"There comes Mark and Mrs. Mark," he exclaimed, "but they have got an offspring apiece in their embrace and several trailers. Somebody ought to remonstrate with Nell Morgan or have the firmness to apply the superfluous blind kitten treatment every spring. Three children are patriotic, but five are populistic and ought to be frowned upon," and Billy grumbled all the while the Morgans were flocking up the front walk. When they came to the steps the Jaguar descended and held out his clerically befrocked arms so that the gurgler from Mark's shoulder and the giggler from Nell's arms both fell into his embrace at one time. "You young marplots, you!" he said as the gurgler printed a wet kiss on his left ear and regarded him with rapture while the small cooer, proclaimed as feminine by neck and sleeve ribbons, cuddled against his shoulder with soft confidence. "They're going to take you both down to the river and drown you," he confided with a soft note in his voice that was an answer to the coo.
"I wish you would," said Mark, as, with a laugh, he shook my hand extended from the group around me, composed of Nell and the other three kiddies, all crowded together in one passionate greeting. "Nurse and Julia and the house and garden man have all gone to a wedding, so we have fed 'em and are now starting out for a razoo, and we don't care whether it lasts until midnight or not. Young Charlotte, you hug one side of your Aunt Charlotte and let Jimmy get his innings on the other side. Here, break away, all of you!" and while everybody laughed, Mark disentangled the greetings, and seated the separated juvenile members in a row on the steps beside the parson and the two babes. Nell he left in the hollow of my arm.
"Oh, it is so good to have you at home, Charlotte," she said, with another hug. "We miss you terribly. We depend on you for everything. Things don't go right without you. I had a terrible time with—that is, you haven't seen baby yet. Give her to me, Mr. Goodloe," and as she spoke Nell leaned over to get the cooer out of the Jaguar's arms for my inspection.
"You'll get neither Babe nor Suckling," was his answer as he cuddled the two closer and hunched his shoulders in Nell's direction. "Don't you know enough to let well enough alone? If they have got to go out to the Club and fox-trot until midnight they ought to have repose now."
"We promised to be good at church, but we didn't promise anything about the Country Club, and if we go there we are going to be as bad as anybody out there is," announced small Charlotte with determined composure. "Dabney says that fox-trotting is a devil's dance and we want to see you all do it with him."
"Help!" exclaimed Billy, while Mr. Goodloe put his arm around Charlotte and drew her to him with a kind of fierce tenderness.
"Isn't she awful?" exclaimed Nell. "We meant to ask you if we could take them with us out to the Club to prayer meeting. Some of the Settlement women bring their babies and I know mine will be as good. Charlotte and Sue and Jimmy promised, and the sound of your voice bewitches the babies as it does all of us."
As Nell finished speaking and bent to pat the head of the Suckling on his shoulder, the Reverend Mr. Goodloe looked straight into my eyes and laughed, perfect comprehension of me and my revolt in his direct amethyst glances which shot into my depths.
"They are all going over to listen to Mr. Goodloe sing hymns at his chapel, Nell, and then all of you are coming by here for me to go out to the Club to dance a few hours," was my answer to the shot as I calmly refused the invitation into the fold that had been given me with the rest of the backsliding flock.
"We can't go—the babies would never in the world—" Nell was beginning to exclaim.
"Drat 'em!" exclaimed Billy, looking down aggrievedly at the small crew of marplots. "A pair of perfectly good chaperons are hard to get, and to think of that bunch of little miseries getting in the way of a good old fox—"
"They'll all go to sleep during the services and I'll keep them on my bed in the parsonage until the fun is over, and agree to deliver them on claim," Mr. Goodloe interrupted Billy to say with quiet decision.
"Now that is what I call some church relation, nursery and parsonage combined," said Billy with the deepest gratitude. "The rest of you hurry over those muffins, even if you haven't had any of Mammy's for six months, and, since the chicken fry is off, go home to get suppers and ready for psalm-singing and foxing. Parson, you are some sport, and I'll hold both of those puppies while you drink your tea from the hands of fair Charlotte."
"Thank you, I don't believe I want any tea after all, and I think I'll take these 'puppies' on home with me through the garden, for they are both dying to the world." As he spoke the parson rose to his feet and stood with the two drowsing babies in his arms, looking down at me as I stood with his cup of tea in my hand. And as he looked I felt my whole rebellious heart and mind laid bare and I knew that he knew that I was ready to fight him to the last ditch in the battle for possession of the souls of my friends. I would fight for their independence of thought and sincerity of life, and he would fight to lead them off into a far country in quest of what I considered a tradition, a shibboleth, "a potent agent for intoxication" of the reason by which man must progress. I also knew that I faced a foe versed in the warfare between religion and modern scientific decisions about it and that he would be one worthy of my metal. His refusal of my cup of tea, for which he had announced that he came, was his gauntlet and I accepted it as I turned with the queer sugared rage in my heart and set the cup on the table.
And as I had planned, and the Jaguar directed, the evening came to pass. While I slipped into some dancing fluff, the strains of the most wonderful hymn that the Christian religion possesses floated across my garden and into my window and again beat against my heart. The parson was singing with the rest of them, but his voice seemed to lift theirs and bear them aloft on the strong, wide wings that went soaring away into the night, even up to the bright stars that gleamed beyond the tips of the old graybeard poplars. A queer tight breath gripped my heart for a second as his plea, "Abide with me, fast falls the eventide," beat against it, then I laughed it away.
"It is 'a potent agent for intoxication' when brewed by the Reverend Mr. Goodloe, and here's where I run, both physically and mentally," I said to myself as I ran down the steps and out to the two cars that stood honking impatiently by the gate.
I don't think I ever enjoyed a dance more, and I am sure that my pleasure was partly due to the wild spirits of the religiously released who were having the first joy fling for six months.
"I'll not get enough until I wilt upon the floor and have to be carried out," said Billy, as he held me closer and slid two steps to the right and then back to get me out of the way of Hampton and Harriet Henderson, who were dancing with regardless joy.
"Will you feel that way about church next Sunday?" I asked him, but my demand made no apparent dent, for he danced on without answering.
At an hour after that of midnight the revelers came home and left me at my gate, by request, to walk alone in the brilliant spring moonlight through my garden to the wide door back of the white pillars. After they had seen me safely started, they glided away and I stood on the steps and watched Nell and Mark reclaim their family from a tall dark figure that carried out two loads to the parental arms. Then the hush that comes upon the world in the midnight hours fell over the Poplars and I stood leaning against one of the tall pillars and reveled in it.
Goodloets is one of the tradition-grayed old towns that are rooted deep in the Harpeth Valley since the days of the Colonies, and in it can be found perhaps the purest Americanism on the American continent. The Poplars, under whose broad roof I made the seventh generation nested and fledged, spreads out its wings and gables upon a low hill which is the first swell of the Harpeth hills, and the rest of the old town stretches out on the hillside before it down to the valley, in which runs the Harpeth River, curving around the town and flowing out of the valley to the Mississippi. Behind the Poplars roll the fields and meadows of the Home Farm, which has given food and sustenance to the Poplars' brood since the days of the redskins, when it was cleared by the first Powers and his servants, with muskets ready to fire into the surrounding forests. To the left of the Poplars and beyond the chapel lies the Settlement, in which those lacking in worldly goods have lived for generations in a kind of semi-poverty, which is about the only poverty known in the Harpeth Valley. Lately, the Settlement has taken unto itself a measure of prosperity, because of the great tannery and harness works in its midst on the banks of the river, which is bringing in gold from Russia and France. Everybody has made money in the last few years, and the fashionable wing of Goodloets to the left of the Poplars shows improvements and restorations that are both costly and sometimes amazing. However, fortunately the inhabitants of the old village are conservative, and very little of the delicious moss of tradition has been scratched off; it has only been clipped into prosperous decorum, and antiquity still flings its glamour over the town.
"I feel as much rooted as one of the old poplars," I said to myself as some whim made me go down the steps and out into the garden, along the walks with their budding borders of narcissus and peonies, down through Nickols' sunken garden to the two oldest of all the poplars that now seemed to be standing sentinel to prevent any raid from me on the little stone meeting house over the lilac hedge. "You dear old graybeard," I said to the one on my left, as I looked up and saw a faint feathering of silver on its branches. And as I spoke I took the old trunk into my embrace and laid my cheek against the rough bark.
And then something happened. Afterwards I was glad that I was leaning against the strength of the old graybeard poplar and hidden behind it.
Suddenly from out the shadows beyond the lilac hedge, through whose bare branches any movement in the yard of the chapel showed plainly, a woman came stumbling along towards the gate and beside her walked the parson with his arm supporting hers. She was sobbing the hard, dry sobs that any woman knows are those of despair, and which call any other woman who hears them. My first impulse was to run to the hedge and speak to her; then I stopped, for I was arrested by what the parson was saying to her.
"What does it matter, Martha? You have your Master's forgiveness and His permission to go and sin no more, even though those sins be as scarlet." And as he spoke his voice was that of quiet authority as if he felt fully his apostolic right to unloose sins upon this earth.
"He'll come back now that she has, and he'll come to me again. I can't fight him. I'll slip back into hell. Just give me the money to go out into the city and I'll not bother anybody any more. I'll take the child and I'll die for all anybody in Goodloets ever knows. Lend me the money; I'll send it back!" The girl's voice was hard and defiant and she turned and faced the minister as if at bay. "Give me that money, if all that praying and singing and preaching that you've done is true. I want to go in the morning before he follows her here and puts me in hell again. God won't clean me twice."
"You shall go," came the calm answer in the apostle's beautiful voice, "but I will have to have a few days to provide a place of safety for you in the city, where the child can be cared for while you get suitable work."
"I won't wait. He'll follow her and he'll look down on me and the child and damn me again. I won't wait. I'm weak and I dasn't. Give me that money to-night!" And the demand was passionate and savage.
"Then I'll meet you at the morning train with it and rush you to a place of safety if there is no other way. You must go back home now, and it will be best not to tell anyone where you are going until you no longer fear your weakness, for they might betray your hiding place. Strength will be given you, Martha, if you only ask."
"I'll pray, Parson, I'll pray, now that you are going to give me my chance to get strong enough to be good. I'll work and I'll pray, but hide me until I do get strong." And the hard, dry sobs melted as the girl put her head down upon the gate a moment and then went out through it.
"God bless you, child, and keep you ever in thought of Him," were the words that she carried away with her as she hurried down the street toward the Settlement.
Then for a second some awful fear came across my heart that I did not understand. I now know that it was a premonition of what was to wring my own heart and I cowered against the old tree in agony. Gregory Goodloe was not more than six feet away from me on the other side of the budding, fragrant hedge, and in the moonlight I could see the beautiful strength of his golden head and strong placid face, on which lines of pain were drawn, and I had to restrain myself from crying out to him in my own pain. I wanted to go quickly and cling to his strength. Then I stopped and listened.
He had raised his face to the stars and was praying.
"O Father," he asked, as if speaking to someone with whom he walked in the cool of the midnight, "help the weak on whom the strong prey."
Then he went into the dark door of the little chapel and left me out in the cold midnight alone. The fear was gone, and comforted I went back through my budding garden and arrived at the front door just as old Mr. Pate, the telegraph operator at the little station down the street, turned in at the gate.
"Miss Charlotte," he puffed, as he fairly flung the telegram at me, "this come fer you at ten o'clock and I risked it and run up here with it after I heard them ottermobiles go by. I'm courting Mrs. Jennie Hicks myself and I understands about courtings." And before I could speak he had run on back down the street.
As I stood and looked at the yellow envelope fear again gripped my heart, and without opening it I walked into the house, locking the great door behind me with trembling fingers, and went toward a light I saw shining from the trellised back porch and which I did not understand. I have never in my life been the least bit afraid of anything, except something within my own body, from the hideous pain of my green-apple days to the pain I had felt as I talked beside the piano with Nickols in New York, a thousand miles away; but something made me pause just for a second in the pantry doorway before I stepped into the light upon the porch. I shall never forget the scene that was enacted before my wondering eyes in the dim light of a candle burning upon a table near the refrigerator.
Father stood with a bowl of ice in his hand and his fingers were just closing around a squat, black bottle that I knew contained the rarest and choicest whiskey ever run from a distillery. His iron-gray hair was rampant, his dressing gown fell away from his throat and showed the knotting of the great cords that ran down into his shoulders, and his dark eyes glittered under their heavy, black brows, while his mouth was twisted and white. Then, as I looked, something happened. A stealthy padding of feet came around the house from the garden and up the back steps, under the budding rose vine that was climbing through the trellis as if to clutch at the light, and a huge figure loomed up from out the shadow.
It was the powerful Harpeth Jaguar out hunting, and his weapon was a hoe, while under his arm he carried a roll that looked like a contribution to a rag man of bedding and old clothes.
"I tell you, Mr. Powers, there is frost in the air and I have collected everything in the parsonage that would cover those late anemones. I saw your light and I thought you might add to the collection. Now what would we do if they should be wilted by the frost just as they are ready to burst bud? Our honor is involved with Graveson, who brought the seeds all the way from Guernsey through the trenches of France and trusted them to me for propagation. Why, they represent a man's life work, and that life may be put out by a bullet any moment! We'll have to rescue them." As he spoke, the great jeweled eyes shone with excitement under the dull gold brows and he seemed not to see at all the incriminating ice and bottle.
"Could you get into Mrs. Dabney's linen closet? We've got to have something." He shivered in a little wind that blew under the rose vine with a frosty gust. I was just observing that he was attired in his pajama jacket and gray flannel trousers, and that his bare heels and ankles declared themselves above and at the back of his slippers, when my eyes were drawn to my father's face and rested there. My heart stood still while I watched it change. All the pain and appetite, straining as a beast strains at a leash, faded from his face. The deathly pallor vanished and the color of human blood returned. The glitter in his deep old eyes changed in a second from that of ferocity to that of anxious excitement.
"I do not know where the household linen is kept and I hesitate to disturb Dabney, as he retired with an aching tooth; but I observed a box of my daughter's apparel beside a trunk in the back hall which Dabney had not carried up on account of its weight and which he was requiring his wife to unpack piece by piece. I'll raid it for enough to save our treasures and accept whatever is my just chastisement in the morning," he said in a voice of guilty stealth.
And there I stood in the shadow of the pantry and saw my father take two armfuls of my costly linen and lace out into the garden. Nothing was spared me, for from the window I could see him and the marauding Jaguar weight their perfumed whiteness down with sticks and stones and clods of earth. I suffered, but silently.
"Good night, sir. God's blessing," I heard the rich voice calling as the half-bare feet padded away as swiftly as they had come through the garden, leaving father standing under the rose vine watching him go. And I watched father—and for some reason my breath seemed suspended in my lungs.
For a very long minute he stood looking at the ice bowl and the bottle; then with a queer wry smile he walked over and put them both in the refrigerator, though the bottle's place was in the sideboard, and closed the door carefully. Then he paused again and said under his breath, "You, Judge Nickols Morris Powers!" He smiled at himself with humorous pity and tiptoed past me into the front hall and up the stairway to his rooms above.
I seemed to feel strange padding footsteps down in my depths and I also tiptoed up to my room after I had heard his door shut.
After I had switched on my light (for under the roof of the Poplars electricity had come to aid the candles of hallowed tradition, and was called by Mammy, in deep suspicion, "ha'nt light") I discovered clutched in my cold fingers the yellow envelope the romantic Mr. Pate had brought to me in the midnight. It read:
"Am coming down on Friday. Am afraid to trust the world and the flesh and think the third member of the carnal firm ought to be on the job. N."
"Now I am frightened really," I confided to myself as I slipped between the scented sheets and drew a corner of the rose-colored blanket over my head. "I don't know what to do."
TO TURKEY GULCH
The next morning I was very late in descending to my breakfast, but arrived in time to witness Mammy's arraignment of my father, which was conducted in perfect respect, but with great severity.
"I know, Jedge, that menfolks don't know lace that costs a million dollars a yard from a blind woman's tatting, and that's what makes me say what I does, that it sure am dangersome fer 'em to go on a rampage in womenfolks' trunks. I ain't never goin' to git the stains from them clods of earth outen my lambs' clothes, even if the minister did help you put 'em on 'em."
"But, Melissa, those anemones were more valuable than any lace ever manufactured, and I am sure that Charlotte will absolve me when she hears of the exigencies of the case," father pleaded over the top of his morning paper. Mammy was pretending to dust his study, as a blind to the lecture she was administering.
"Yes, sir, I knows all that; but that lace was a heap more valuable than that toothache in that wuthless Dabney's jaw, which he could er wropped up, and hunted out all the old sheets for you instid of that petticoat with them real lace ruffles," was Mammy's firm rejoinder, while she passed a feather duster over the table and rolled her eyes at Dabney.
"Let's let them both off this time, Mammy. Dabney can take the trunks where they belong and lock them up," I said, as I went toward the dining room, while she followed to minister upon my tardiness.
"Them was all your finest lingerings," she said as she plied me with breakfast. "And they was all lost on menfolks. They hasn't even one lady rode by while I had 'em on the line in the sunshine," she grumbled as she finally retired to the kitchen.
After finishing my coffee I sauntered to the front of the house, led by a chorus of hearty laughter in a fluty tenor voice, accompanied by a bass growl, in which I was sure that father was recounting the scrape in which his and the Reverend Mr. Goodloe's anemone adventure had got them. I assured myself that I was annoyed by this repeated early morning invasion of ministerial calls and intended to retire to my room until it was over, but without knowing why, I found myself in the library and greeting the enemy.
"Please forgive us. The case was one of dire necessity," the Reverend Mr. Goodloe pleaded, as he rose and took my hand in his, and held it in such a way that I was forced to look in his face and smile, whether I wished it or not.
"From ambush I saw you take them, and I was powerless to prevent," I answered with a smile at father.
"I came over to ask you if you wouldn't like to go away out into the Harpeth Hills on a mission with me this wonderful morning. I don't know exactly whether I am called to officiate at a birth or a death or that intermediate festivity, a wedding. This is the summons from an old friend of mine:" As he spoke he held out to me a greasy paper on which were a few words scrawled with a pencil.
"Parson we need you in the morning bad. Please come with Bill as brings this. Bring a bible and liniment and oblige your true friend Jed Bangs and wife."
"Isn't your friend Bill able to elucidate?" I asked, as I passed the paper on to father.
"Bill seems to be dumb without being deaf and has no histrionic talent to act out the necessity, so I'm going with him. The Bangs family live up on old Harpeth at Turkey Gulch, and Jed has shot partridges with me all winter. Please, you and the Judge, come with me. I can get the car over Paradise Ridge if I turn it into a wildcat. The morning is delicious, and I feel that I'll need you both." Never in the world have I heard a man's voice with such compelling notes in it that range from a soft coax to a quiet command.
I had not the slightest idea of going with him and I was about to refuse with as much sugary hauteur as I dared use to him, when I looked into father's face and accepted. I had never been on a picnic with my father in my life and I could not understand the pleading in his eyes for my acceptance of this invitation to an adventure in his company, but then, several times since I had come home, I had seen a father I had never known before, and he fascinated me.
"The mountain laurel is in bloom and the rhododendron, and you are a very gracious lady," the Reverend Mr. Goodloe assured me with a deep bow over my hand, which he kissed in a very delightful foreign fashion which made Mammy, who had come to the door to hear my decision, roll her eyes in astonishment which, however, held no hint of criticism, for with her the spiritual king could do no wrong.
"I got a snack fixed up jest's soon as that Dabney tol' me about the junket," she announced. "And I'll put a little wine jelly and flannels in if it am a baby and a bunch of white jessimings in case it am a death."
"Suppose it is a wedding?" I asked her.
"I don't take no notice of weddings. It was a wedding that got me into all the trouble of that Dabney and his wuthless son, Jefferson, what ain't like me in no way." With which fling at Dabney—who was hovering at the door—she rolled herself back to her kitchen.
"What have you been doing to her now, you rascal?" father demanded of Dabney, who was handing him his hat and holding out his light overcoat to put him into it.
"I jist stepped into the kitchen while her light rolls fer supper was raisin' and got a ruckus fer it," was his mild answer. Dabney lived his connubial life mildly in the midst of the storms of his better half.
"Well, don't do it again. And put that spade in Mr. Goodloe's car, for I'm going to bring in some honeysuckle roots and a laurel sprout or two to try out in the garden," father commanded, as I took my coat and hat from the chair where I had thrown them the afternoon before, and went out to the very unministerial-looking car which stood before the parsonage.
Of course, I had accepted the Reverend Mr. Goodloe's invitation for the journey out into the hills in order to sit beside this very new kind of father I was dimly discovering myself to possess, but I do not to this day know how it happened that I was crushed against the arm steering the gray racer as we sped through Goodloets toward Old Harpeth, while the judge sat beaming, though silent, beside the more silent Bill—who did not beam, but looked out at the road ahead with the shadow in his face of the fatalism that so many of the mountain folk possess.
We were just turning out from the edge of the town, past the last house with its stately white pillars, when a bunch of pink-and-white precipitated itself directly in front of the car—which made the first of the wildcat springs that its master had prophesied for it and then stood with its engine palpitating with what seemed like mechanical fear, while I buried my head on the strong arm next to me, which I could feel tremble for an instant as the Reverend Mr. Goodloe breathed a fervent, "Thank God." Father rose from his seat with a good round oath and silent Bill snorted like a wild animal.
"Why didn't you stop when you saw me coming?" an imperious young voice demanded in tones of distinct anger, and Charlotte, my name daughter of the house of Morgan, calmly climbed up on the running board, over the door next to father, and settled herself in between him and the silent Bill. "Now you can go on," she calmly announced, in a very much mollified tone of voice as she shook out her ruffles into a less compressed state and wiped her face with her dirty hand, much to the detriment of the roses in her cheeks.
"Where are you going, Charlotte, may I inquire?" asked the Reverend Mr. Goodloe in a cheerful and calm voice, though I saw that his fingers still trembled on the steering wheel as he held back the enraged gray engine. I was still speechless and I saw that father was in the same condition.
"You said I might go 'next time' when my Auntie Harriet didn't want me to go with you last Tuesday on account of my stomach from the raw potato Jimmy dared me to eat. This is that time," she calmly answered, as she gave an interested look at the silent Bill and again settled the short, pink skirts.
"Yes, I did say that," admitted Mr. Goodloe, as he turned in his seat as far as he could and began to argue the question. "But we shall be gone almost all day and I am afraid your mother wouldn't want you to be gone that long."
"Is it true for you to say that when you know that she will be mighty glad for you to keep me safe with you all day?" Charlotte demanded of him, looking directly into his smiling, friendly face.
"No, that wasn't quite honest, I'll admit," he answered her gravely with the guilt of conviction showing in his face just as plainly as it would have shown if one of his deacons had caught him evading a question of grave moment. "And as it is the fulfillment of a promise which you claim, I am going to ask Miss Powers and the judge if they will permit me to add you to the party, and then go and get permission from your mother to take you with us."
"My mother told me to go and bother Auntie Charlotte an hour or two and that was when I met you. I ran into the car just minding my mother," Charlotte answered him with calm pride at her near achievement of death through literal obedience.
"Just drive by and we'll call to Nell. I am afraid the case must have been desperate, for I am seldom the victim," I said in an undertone to our host, who acquiesced with a laugh. "Harriet Henderson must be dead, for Nell usually sends the worse one to her," I added under my breath.
"My Auntie Harriet is having a man cut the ache out of one of her teeth," Charlotte remarked, apropos of nothing, as the huge car swung around into the street in which the Morgans reside. "And, besides, I don't like her any more, because, when she said Sue had to have part of the doll house she bought for us to play in down at her home, and I said then Sue would have to take the outside because I wanted the inside, she locked it up for all this week."
"The modern business acumen of the feministic persuasion," father remarked, as we all laughed at this candid revelation of an egocentric attitude of mind in small Charlotte.
After a few whirls of the gray wheels we paused a moment at the Morgan gate.
"Heavens, yes, and thank you," called Nell in response to our demand for her small daughter's company. "If I had another one clean, I'd give it to you."
"Better go on quick, for Jimmy can wash in a piece of a minute if he wants to," warned Charlotte, and in a second the parson had sent the gray car flying out toward Old Harpeth, though I saw him glance back with a trace of distress in his eyes at the fading vision of a small boy running, howling, to the front gate of the Morgan residence.
"Now mother'll whip him for crying if she does as she says she would, but she won't," observed the tender big sister, as she rose to her feet and waved a maddening farewell to the distressed urchin being left behind.
"Is she totally depraved?" I asked of the young Charlotte's spiritual adviser at my side.
"No; perfectly honest," he answered me with a glint in his eyes that was a laughing challenge.
"There is something awful about honesty," I answered, without appearing to notice the glint.
"There wouldn't be if it were a universal custom," was the answer I got as we whirled by a farmer's wood lot and began to climb the first foothill of Old Harpeth.
All my life I have been going out to Old Harpeth on excursions, but never had I spent a day like the one I had begun with the Jaguar in his native fastnesses. The whole old mountain was beginning to bud and I could almost see it draping on a regal Persian garment of rose and green threaded with purple and blue woven against the old brown and gray of the earth color. The wine-colored trillium with its huge spotted leaves, the slender white dog-tooth violets, the rose-pink arbutus, the blue star myrtle and the crimson oak buds, were matted into a vast robe that was gorgeously oriental, while a perfume that was surely more delicious than any ever wafted from the gardens of Arabia floated past us in gusts through which the gray car sped without the slightest shortness of breath. I seemed a million miles away from the great fetid city in which I had been living—and fast going farther. As we wound up and up into the great forest which is the crown of Old Harpeth, we could look down through occasional vistas and see the Harpeth River curling and bending through pastures in which the chocolate plowed fields were laid off in huge checks with the green meadows, while the farmhouses and barns dotted the valley like the crude figures on a hand-woven chintz.
There are very few men who know enough not to talk to a woman when she has no desire for their conversation, but the Reverend Jaguar seemed to be one of the variety who comprehend the value of silences, and neither of us spoke for at least ten miles, though, of course, it was his duty to make hay while the sun of my nature shone upon him and delicately to inquire into my spiritual condition. He didn't. He just let the wind blow into my empty spaces and kept his eyes and thoughts on the road ahead of him. Charlotte's chatter with father was blown back from me and I was happy in a kind of aloneness I had never felt before.
"We are in Hastings County now and in a few minutes we shall be in Hicks Center, the county seat," were the first words that broke in on my self-communion as we began to speed past rough board and log cabins, each surrounded by a picket fence which in no way seemed to fend the doorsteps from razor-back pigs, chickens and a few young mules and calves. "It must be court day, for I don't see a single inhabitant sitting chewing under his own vine and fig tree."
"Yes; it's the first Monday," answered father, as the gray machine pulled gallantly through a few hundred feet of thick, black mud and turned from the wilderness into the public square of the metropolis of Hicks Center.
"Yes, court is in session and there the whole population is in the courthouse," said father, as we glided slowly down the village street. "They must be trying a murder or a horse-stealing case," and I saw his eyes gleam for a second under their heavy brows as the eyes of an old war horse must gleam when he scents powder.
"Ugh," assented silent Bill, making the first remark of the journey, and as he spoke the syllable he rose and pointed to the courthouse, which stood in the midst of a mud-covered public square, completely surrounded by hitching-posts to which were hitched all the vehicles of locomotion of the last century down to the present in Hicks Center—which had not as yet arrived as far as the day of the motor car.
"Is Jed in there, Bill?" demanded the Reverend Mr. Goodloe; and as Bill assented with muscular vigor, if not vocal, he drew the gray car up beside, an old-fashioned carryall, whose wheels were at least five feet high and which had hitched to its pole an old horse and a young mule.
"That team makes a nice balance of—temperament," Mr. Goodloe remarked, as he lifted out Charlotte and then turned to swing me, in his strong arms, free of a mud puddle and onto the old brick pavement which was green with the moss of generations.
Then, piloted by the silent Bill, we made our way through a quiet throng of men and women and children, from the awkward age of shoe-top trousers and skirts to that which, in many cases, was partaking from the maternal fount, as the women stood in groups and whispered as they looked at us shyly. Somehow their decorous calico skirts, which just cleared the ground, made me feel naked in my own of white corduroy, which was all of eight inches from the mud in which theirs had draggled.
And as silent as they, even Charlotte's chatter subdued, we entered the court room and were led through a crowd up to the front seat. At least the rest of us were seated, but the judge, jury and prisoner and prosecuting attorney rose in a body and shook hands with the Reverend Mr. Goodloe as if he were their common and best beloved son.
"He's been in the Harpeth Valley less than a year, and look at that. We've been here all our lives and they don't know who we are," whispered father, with the same pride shining in his eyes that shone upon the parson from the eyes of the gaunt prisoner, who rose and shook hands with Mr. Goodloe with the sheriff beside him, while the rough old judge from the bench waited his turn.
"We accommodated Jed by waiting until you come before we begun his trial, Parson," the judge said, as he turned back to his bench, which was a splint-bottom chair behind a rude table, dignity being lent to the chair by its being the only one in the room. The rest of the population of the court room of Hicks Center were seated upon benches made of split and hewn logs.
"Thank you, Mr. Hilldrop," said the Reverend Mr. Goodloe, as he sat down beside the prisoner and began a whispered conversation with him.
"The court have come to order. Shoot ahead, Jim, and tell us what Jed have done and how he done it," commanded the judge, as he tilted back his chair, took out his knife and began to whittle a stick of bright red cedar. Twelve good men and true, attired in butternut trousers stuffed into muddy boots, settled themselves in the jury box, which was a log bench set at right angles to the other benches, a little apart from the table and chair of the judge, and nine of them took out their knives and bits of cedar and began to follow the lead of the judge in making fine pink curls fall upon the floor.
"May it please your honor, the prisoner is charged with the stealing of a young mule," said a lanky young mountain lawyer, who had put on a coat over his flannel shirt and brushed a little patch of tow hair just above his brows in deference to his position of prosecuting attorney.
"State yo' case," commanded the judge, as he tried the point of his splinter against his thumb to test its whittled sharpness.
"Hiram Turner, over at Sycamore, lent Jed a team of mules to haul his daughter, who married Jed, home in a wagon with her beds and truck, and when he come down Paradise Ridge to git the team, Jed claimed one had got away from him and run off in the big woods. They was a horse and mule trader come along the same day Jed lost the mule and when Hi and his boy, Bud, knocked Jed down in a fight they found fifty dollars on him in a wad what he won't say where he got it."
With which concise statement the prosecuting attorney sat down and fanned his perspiring brow with his ragged felt hat.
"Got anything to say, Jed?" inquired the judge in a friendly and leisurely fashion, after the accused had been duly sworn in by the sheriff. "How come a man like you to let a mule git away from him?"
With the judge's friendly question there entered another actor on the scene, in the person of a mountain girl who had been cowering on a bench just behind Jed, her face hidden by a black calico split bonnet.
"Please lemme tell, Jed," she pleaded in a soft whisper that only father and I heard, as we sat just behind her.
"Naw," was the one word he gave her, but it was spoken with a soft little purr in his husky voice. Then he answered the judge with a kind of quiet dignity, which I saw that the twelve booted jurymen listened to with respect.
"Jedge," he said, with a stern look into the judge's face, "I reckon you'll have to send me down to the pen. I let that mule git away from me and I didn't steal or sell him; that is all I got to say." And he sat down. I felt father start at my side and then sink back onto his bench.
"Where did you git the money, Jed?" the judge demanded.
"That I ain't a-telling," answered Jed determinedly. "Jest send me down to the pen, fer you-all know all you'll ever know."
"Well, Jed," the judge was beginning to say in an argumentative tone of voice, when father arose and stepped in front of the bench.
"May it please your honor to appoint a counsel for the defense?" he asked in a ringing voice that brought all the outsiders crowding into the door. I had never heard or seen my father in a court room and I had never suspected him of the resonant silver voice with which he made his demand.
"We ain't got a lawyer in Hicks Center but Jim Handy here, and he can't prosecute and defend too. I always kinder looks out fer the prisoners myself," answered the judge.
"Then may I offer myself to the prisoner to conduct his defense?" father demanded, and he looked over at Jed, who in turn looked at Mr. Goodloe before he nodded.
"Then shoot ahead, stranger. Jim have told all they is about it, but you can have Hi and Bud Turner sworn in and git any more they have got to say. Them men speaks truth when they speaks." At which statement every good man and true nodded his head with firm conviction. A gaunt old mountaineer who sat over by the window cleared his throat in an embarrassment that marked him as the Hiram Turner alluded to.
"I don't think I shall need the testimony of Mr. Turner or his son," father answered quietly, as he stood tall and straight before the jury. "I want to put Mr. Bangs' wife on the witness stand and question her before the jury. Sheriff, call Mrs. Bangs."
"Naw, stranger, naw," said Jed, and he rose as if to combat, but Mr. Goodloe laid a restraining hand on his arm, and trembling, he took his seat.
"Don't tell nothing, honey," he whispered, as the girl rose from her bench, laid aside her cavernous black bonnet and advanced, took the oath administered by the sheriff and stood facing father.
"Now, Mrs. Bangs," said father, with silvery tenderness in his voice which I felt sure had gained him the reputation of never having lost a case in which a woman was involved, "I want you to tell us all that happened on the day that Jed let the mule escape him. Look at me and tell me all about it."
"Well, stranger," began the mountain girl, with a look of confidence coming into her face that was like a little pink wide-open arbutus, "I reckon you won't believe me—like Jed didn't at first, though he do now."
"Don't tell, honey," the prisoner commanded and implored in the one plea. "I'd rather take the pen. They won't believe you."
"It war this way," she continued, without seeming to hear the command of her young husband, upon whose arm the parson again laid a restraining hand. "Jed he had unhitched the team and tied them with their rope halters to the fence 'fore our cabin, when it was almost dark 'fore we got thar. Then while I was unpacking the wagon he got on one horse and rid down the side of the gulch to see whar water was at. I was jest takin' the things in when a man come along leading five mules and riding on one. He was a city stranger in fine clothes and he asked me fer a meal because he had lost his way from a man who had a tent and grub. My mammy allus cooked fer strangers, so—"
"She shore do that," ejaculated Mr. Turner, proud of his noted hospitality.
"So I made up a fire hasty in the yard and put on a coffee pot," the girl continued. "I had some corn pone and bacon my mammy had give me fer a snack and I het that up. Whilst I got the meal the stranger he went on unloading our wagon and then he come to a bundle of bed quilts what my mammy have been saving fer me from her mammy and her grandmammy. He took a notion to them and ast me how old they was and I told him about as old as any twenty-inch cedar on Old Harpeth. He asked me to trade 'em, but I couldn't abear to until he had riz to fifty dollars, what was the price of a young mule, all on account of his sister wanting quilts like them up in a big city. I was kinder crying quiet at letting 'em go, but I thought about what that mule would be to Jed who wuz so good to me, so I give 'em to him and he tied 'em on his saddle and went away. It war most a hour when Jed come and when I told him and showed him the money, he didn't believe me about them old quilts and he tooken the rope from around the neck of the mule he'd been riding and—"
She paused here in her story and put her scarlet flower face in her hands, while Jed groaned and dropped his own face down upon his arm. The old judge's face took on a grim sternness, the jury stopped whittling and the face of every woman in the court room gazed upon the girl with stern unbelieving accusation.
"Go on, now, honey, but they won't believe you," commanded Jed with a sob.
"Your husband took the rope from around the neck of the mule and left him untied?" asked father gently.
"What fer, Melissa?" asked the old judge, without gentleness or any show of confidence in what the shrinking woman was saying.
"To beat me with. He war crazed mad and called me a name, but I don't hold it ag'in him," answered the young wife, with a glance at the cowering prisoner.
"He done right," calmly announced one of the twelve good men and true, in the muddy boots and flannel shirt, and every mountain woman in the court room nodded her head in approval of the pronouncement.
"Order in the court room. You all shet up and listen," commanded the judge, as father looked around the room and then at him with a stern demand for control of the situation.
"Then what happened, Mrs. Bangs?" father continued to question.
"I hollered and fought and skeered the mule off into the big woods where he can't be found to keep my husband out of the pen," she answered with a sob. "It took me a week to make him believe about them quilts and then pappy come along and fought him about the mule and found the money, as he claimed he sold the mule fer what was the quilt money."
"That will do. Thank you, Mrs. Bangs," said father, with the same deference and tenderness he had used when he began to question her. "Does the prosecution wish to question the witness?"
"They ain't no use of questioning her when she says a man give her fifty dollars fer five old quilts," was the answer made by the young prosecuting attorney, who did not rise to his feet to make this remark.
"Please ask Mrs. Bangs if the quilts were woven ones of three colors, and then call me to the stand," I said to father quickly.
He put the question to the weeping young wife and got an affirmative answer, after which he dismissed her and had the sheriff swear me in.
"Can you throw any light upon the matter of the purchase or sale of these quilts, Miss Powers?" father questioned me formally.
"If they were old hand-woven, herb-dyed, knitted quilts, they are worth fifty dollars apiece in New York to-day. I paid that for one not five months ago," I said, staring haughtily into the calmly doubting faces of the mountaineers in the jury box and on the benches.
"Do you want to question the witness?" my father asked of the indolent young prosecutor.
"Don't know who she is and don't believe she is telling the truth," was the laconic refusal of the prosecutor to let me influence his case.
"Well, now, Jim, Parson Goodloe here brought the gal along with him and I reckon he can character witness for her," interposed the judge. "Sheriff, swear in the parson." His command was duly executed.
"Mr. Goodloe, do you consider Miss Powers a woman who can be depended upon to speak the truth?" father asked him formally.
"I do," the Reverend Mr. Goodloe answered quietly, and just for a second a gleam from his eyes under their dull gold brows shot across the distance to me, and if it hadn't all been so serious I should have laughed with glee at his thus having to declare himself about my character in public. But the next moment the situation became much more serious and my heart positively stopped still as I seemed to see prison doors close upon the young husband.
"Do you want to question the witness?" father asked of the lolling young prosecutor.
"How long have you known the lady, Parson?" he asked, with a drawl and one eye half closed.
There was an intense silence in the court room for almost a minute. Then the Reverend Mr. Gregory Goodloe answered calmly:
"That might be long enough fer a parson, but it ain't fer a jury," the young attorney answered, and there was a quizzical kindness in the old judge's face as he smiled at Mr. Goodloe and shook his head.
Mr. Goodloe started to speak, but father waved him back to his seat, turned to the judge and jury and began the most wonderful speech on the subject of circumstantial evidence and ethical law that I have ever heard. His beautiful deep voice was as clear as a bell and twenty years seemed to have fallen from his shoulders. I was looking at and listening to the man he had been before I was born. And when I could tear my eyes from his radiant face I watched these stolid mountaineers with whom he was working his will with a power they had never experienced before and did not understand. The men in the jury box and the men on the hewn benches dropped their eyes before his flaming ones as he shamed their censorious manhood and some of the sun-bonneted women bent their heads and sobbed when he arraigned them for the lack of motherhood and sisterhood for the poor young wife who had come over the Ridge to live among them.
"Would you men and women rather believe a girl light of love and faithless, and send your neighbor to prison for two years of his young life when he could mean much to you and his state and his nation, than to give them a little human sympathy and justice. Do you prefer to pin your faith to the value of a worthless, vagrant mule than—"
But just here, when Judge Nickols Morris Powers was winding himself up for one of the greatest appeals to a jury he had ever made, a mule stepped into the case and took away the honor of its winning. He poked his inquisitive nose into a back window of the court room which looked out upon the edge of the big woods, and gave the whole assemblage a hew-haw of derision.
"Lordy mighty, that are Pete come back hisself with all the curkles in the big woods sticking to him!" exclaimed Hiram Turner, as he rose and went to examine his property. "He wasn't sold to no mule man, fer they crops the hair on their hoofs to see if they's healthy 'fore they buys. This here frees Jed."
"And now that you gentlemen have the testimony of a mule, will you not believe the word of Mrs. Bangs and Miss Powers about the valuable quilts?" my father said, after he had commanded silence by raising his hand.
"We shore do believe every word of it, stranger, and you won this here case and not that mule," a stern old sister in a gingham apron and black bonnet said, with a commanding glance at the jury.
"Yes, stranger," answered the hoary old foreman, whom to this day I believe to be the meek husband of the commanding old woman in the black bonnet. "I have done got the mind of the jury and they all voted fer you and not the mule."
"I hereby gives that mule to Jed Bangs and my daughter, Melissa, and I'll knock off a half on the price of his teammate to Jed if he gives me his fergiveness and hern," old Hiram rose and turned with his hand on the forelock of the mule hero to say to the assembled court room. "Go around and halter him quick, Jed, 'fore he breaks away again, the durned fool," he added in another voice.
"Yes, prisoner, you are declared free, and hurry to ketch him, fer he's straining ag'inst Hiram," was the judge's sentence, delivered from the bench as everybody rose and began to stream out to watch the tussle between Jed and the wild mule. Father and the parson were among the first to gain the door.
In the next few minutes I found that some of the shy mountain women were beginning to hover about me, and in another ten minutes I had laid the foundations of an export rug and quilt business that I have a feeling will thrive greatly.
"Were you arrested because your mother told you not to sell the quilts?" was Charlotte's sympathetic question to the young Mrs. Bangs; and I saw the mite take a clean handkerchief from her small pink pocket and apply it to the tears that were coursing down Melissa's cheeks over the dimples which her smiling mouth was putting in their way. "Just be a good girl and God will forgive you," she comforted further, nestling a dirty pink cheek, which rubbed off, against Melissa's wet one.
"And I asked if she were totally depraved, less than an hour ago," I apologized to my name daughter in my heart.
All the way home I sat beside father, and once I laid a timid hand in his, through whose fingers the pride I had in him must have flowed into his. He flushed for a second and then was pale again.
"You can't put new wine in old bottles, daughter," he said sadly, as he glanced down into the valley. The car was running smoothly, slowly and noiselessly around a sharp curve, and the Reverend Mr. Goodloe both heard and answered the sad axiom.
"The finest wine mellows in casks and is then bottled free of dregs, Judge. I think the wine of life is of that vintage," he said, with one of his radiant smiles that I could see fairly warm father from his paleness.
"I wonder just what he meant by 'the wine of life,'" I asked myself as I went to say good night to Old Harpeth after I put out my light before going to bed.
HAVING IT OUT
"Well, of course, we knew Nickols would follow you, Charlotte, but we did hope to have you all to ourselves for more than just a week," moaned Nell Morgan, as we all sat on the front porch of the Poplars in the warm spring sunlight several mornings after I had told them of Nickols' arrival on Friday, which announcement had come in the midnight telegram. I winced at the words "follow you," and then smiled at the absurdity of the little shudder.
"Yes, Nickols will be absorbing, but we can all sit hard on him and perhaps put him in his place," responded Letitia Cockrell, as she drew a fine thread through a ruffle she was making to adorn some part of the person of one of Nell's progeny. "I do not believe in ever allowing a man to take more than his share of a woman's time."
"Do you use grocery scales or a pint cup to measure out Cliff Gray's daily portion of yourself, Letitia?" asked Harriet Henderson, with a very sophisticated laugh in which Nell joined with a little giggle. Harriet was appliqueing velvet violets on a gray chiffon scarf and was doing it with the zest of the newly liberated. Roger Henderson had had a lot of money that, in default of a will, the law gave mostly to Harriet, but in life he had not had the joy of seeing her spend it that he might have had if he could have gazed back from placid death. "Do you make the same allowance of affection to him in the light of the moon that you do in the dark?" she further demanded of the serene Letitia.
"Well, he doesn't have to see his share divided up into bits and handed out to the other men," was the serene answer to Harriet's gibe and which was pretty good for Letitia.
"My dear child," declaimed Harriet, as she poised a purple violet on the end of her needle, "don't ever, ever make the mistake of letting one of the creatures know just what is coming to him. Isn't that right, Nell?"