A New Novel
Author of "The Jucklins," "Old Ebenezer," "My Young Master," "A Tennessee Judge," "A Kentucky Colonel," "Len Gansett," "On the Suwanee River," "Emmett Bonlore," Etc.
Character Illustration, True to Life, Reproduced in Colors
Laird & Lee, Chicago
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1902, by William H. Lee, in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, D. C.
CHAPTER PAGE I. The People of the Hills, 9 II. Jim, the Preacher, 17 III. Getting Acquainted, 32 IV. At the Post Office, 50 V. Couldn't Quarrel in Peace, 63 VI. Hadn't Listened, 84 VII. Not So Far Out of the World, 102 VIII. The Spirit that Played with Her, 111 IX. At Dry Fork, 118 X. Tied to a Tree, 134 XI. Reading the News, 148 XII. Didn't Do Anything Heroic, 166 XIII. Might Wipe her Feet on Him, 183 XIV. An Old Man Preached, 198 XV. The Girl and the Churn, 207 XVI. The Appointment Comes, 220 XVII. Not to Tell Her a Lie, 234 XVIII. Down the Road, 252 XIX. Old Folks Left Alone, 263 XX. Met it in the Road, 271 XXI. Into the World beyond the Hills, 279 XXII. Came to Weep, 287 XXIII. A Trip Not Without Incident, 296 XXIV. Two Fruitful Witnesses, 303 XXIV. Too Proud to Beg, 312
REPRODUCED IN COLORS FROM PHOTOGRAPHS
"She was the only mother I knowed," Frontispiece
"Them what hain't had trouble ain't had no cause to look fur the Lord," 48
"Yes, I d-d-d-do say so, a-a-a-atter a f-f-f-fashion." 80
"Kotch 'em stealin' hosses, I reckon." 128
"Well," Margaret exclaimed, "I never was so surprised." 208
"Go on erway an' let me talk ter myse'f. You kain't talk." 240
"If you air the Jedge, I am sorter diserp'inted in you." 288
"Jedge, there ain't no better man than he is, an' for the Lord's sake don't hang him." 304
[From the Drama of the Same Name.]
THE PEOPLE OF THE HILLS.
In every age of the world people who live close to nature have, by the more cultivated, been classed as peculiar. An ignorant nation is brutal, but an uneducated community in the midst of an enlightened nation is quaint, unconsciously softened by the cultivation and refinement of institutions that lie far away. In such communities live poets with lyres attuned to drollery. Moved by the grandeurs of nature, the sunrise, the sunset, the storm among the mountains, the tiller of the gullied hill-side field is half dumb, but with those apt "few words which are seldom spent in vain," he charicatures his own sense of beauty, mingling rude metaphor with the language of "manage" to a horse.
I find that I am speaking of a certain community in Tennessee. And perhaps no deductions drawn from a general view of civilization would apply to these people. Some of their feuds, it is said, may be traced back to the highlands of Scotland, and it is true that many of their expressions seem to come from old books which they surely have never read, but they do not eat oats, nor do they stand in sour awe of Sunday. What religion they have is a pleasure to them. In the log meeting-house they pray and sing, sometimes with a half-open eye on a fellow to be "thrashed" on the following day for not having voted as he agreed; "Amen" comes fervently from a corner made warm by the ardor of the repentant sinner; "Hallelujah!" is shouted from the mourner's bench, and a woman in nervous ecstasy pops her streaming hair; but the average man has come to talk horse beneath the trees, and the young fellow with sun-burnt down on his lip is there slily to hold the hand of a maid frightened with happiness and boastingly to whisper shy words of love.
"Do you like Sam Bracken?" he inquires.
"If you like him much, I bet I can whup him. Like Steve Smith?"
"Not so powerful well."
"I can whup him."
"Bet you can't."
And the chances are that unless she modifies her statement the Smith boy will be compelled to answer for the crime of her compliment.
In this community, in the edge of what is known as East Tennessee, the memory of Andrew Jackson is held in deepest reverence. To those people he was as a god-like hero of antiquity. Single-handed he defeated the British at New Orleans. Nicholas Biddle, a great banker somewhere away off yonder, had gathered all the money in the land, and it was Jackson who compelled him to disgorge, thus not only establishing himself as the master of war, but as the crusher of men who oppress the poor.
* * * * *
Prominent in the neighborhood of Smithfield, a town of three or four hundred inhabitants, was Jasper Starbuck. Earlier in his life he had whipped every man who stood in need of that kind of training. Usually of a blythesome nature, he was subject to fits of melancholy, only to be relieved by some sort of physical entanglement with an enemy. Then, his "spell" having passed, he would betake himself to genial affairs, help a neighbor with his work, lend his chattels to shiftless farmers, cut wood and haul it for widows, and gathering children about him entertain them with stories of the great war.
And how dearly that war had cost him. East Tennessee did not tear itself loose from the Union; Andrew Johnson and Parson Brownlow, one a statesman and the other a fanatic, strangled the edicts of the lordly lowlanders and sent regiment after regiment to the Federal army. Among the first to enlist were old Jasper Starbuck and his twin boys. The boys did not come back. In the meantime their heart-broken mother died, and when the father returned to his desolate home, there was a grave beneath the tree where he had heard a sweet voice in the evening.
Years passed and he married again, a poor girl in need of a home; and at the time which serves as the threshold of this history, he was sobered down from his former disposition to go out upon a "pilgrimage" of revenge. His "spells" had been cured by grief, but nothing could kill his humor. Drawling and peculiar, never boisterous, it was stronger than his passion and more enduring than the memory of a wrong. He was not a large man. A neighbor said that he was built after the manner of a wild-cat. He was of iron sinew and steel nerve. His eyes were black with a glint of their youthful devilishness. His thick hair was turning gray.
Margaret, his wife, was a tender scold. She was almost a foundling, but a believer in heredity could trace in her the evidences of good blood. From some old mansion, long years in ruin, a grace had escaped and come to her. An Englishman, traveling homeward from the defunct colony of Rugby, declared that she was an uncultivated duchess.
"This union was blessed,"—say the newspapers and story-books, speaking of a marriage,—"with a beautiful girl," or a "manly boy." Often this phrase is flattery, but sometimes, as in this instance, it is the truth. Lou Starbuck was beautiful. In her earlier youth she was a delicious little riot of joy. As she grew older, she was sometimes serious with the thought that her father and mother had suffered. She loved the truth and believed that bravery was not only akin to godliness, but the right hand of godliness.
In Starbuck's household, or at least attached to his log-house establishment, there were two other persons, an old black mammy who had nursed Jasper, and a trifling negro named Kintchin.
* * * * *
One day in summer there came two notable visitors, Mrs. Mayfield, and her nephew Tom Elliott, both from Nashville, sister and son of a United States Judge. When they came to Jasper's house, they decided to go no further.
"Tom," said the woman, "this is the place we are looking for."
Tom caught sight of Lou Starbuck, standing in the doorway, and replied: "Auntie, I guess you are right."
The mere suggestion of taking boarders threw the household into a flurry, but Mrs. Mayfield, tall, graceful, handsome, threw her charm upon opposition and it faded away. Old Jasper was not over cordial to "store clothes," at least he was not confidential, and with the keen whip of his eye he lashed Tom Elliott, but the boy appeared to be frank and manly.
"Of course you can stay as long as you want to," said Jasper, "but I reckon you'll have to put on some homespun and a checked hickory shirt or two, befo' you kin put up with our fare."
"Now, please, don't worry about that," Mrs. Mayfield spoke up. "We can eat parched corn if necessary. We have come from the city to rest, and—"
"Rest," Jasper broke in, looking at the young fellow. "Why, he don't look like he ever done anythin'. Never plowed a day in your life, did you?"
"I must confess that I haven't," Tom replied.
"Thar, I knowed it." And then speaking to Mrs. Mayfield, he added: "All right, mam, we'll do the best we kin fur you. Got the same names here that you had down whar you come from?"
Tom laughed. His aunt reproved him with a look. "Why, of course. What object would we have in changing them?"
"Don't ask me, mam. I never know what object nobody has—ain't my business. Here, Kintchin," he called to the negro, "take them trunks outen the wagin and then you may go to sleep ag'in."
Kintchin came round a corner of the house, rubbing his eyes. "Talkin' ter me, suh?"
"You hearn me."
"Said suthin' erbout gwine ter sleep. I jest wanter tell you dat I ain't slep' none fur er week, an' ef you 'sinuate at me—"
"Go on there. Now mam, ef you'll jest step in we'll do the best we kin."
"Oh, thank you. How courteous you are."
"How what? I reckon you better git along without much o' that. Don't want nobody put on a strain. Margaret, here are some folks," he continued as his wife made her appearance. "Jest tell 'em howdy and let 'em alone."
She bowed to Tom and to Mrs. Mayfield. "And befo' you make yo'selves at home," she said, "I hope you'll l'arn not to pay no attention to Jasper. Lou, haven't you spoke to the folks?"
"No'm, but I can. Howdy."
JIM, THE PREACHER.
During the rest of the day the visitors were permitted to amuse themselves. Lou was shy, Margaret was distantly respectful and the old man went about in leisurely attendance upon his affairs, not yet wholly unsuspicious. A week before the arrival of the "folks from off yander," as the strangers were termed, there had come to Jasper's house a nephew, Jim Starbuck, a mountain-side preacher. His air bespoke that gentleness resultant of passion bound and gagged. At eighteen he had been known as the terror of the creek. Without avail old Jasper had argued with him, with fresh scalps dangling at his own belt. One night Jim turned a revival meeting into a fight with bench legs, beat a hard-hearted money lender until he was taken home almost a mass of pulp. At nineteen he turned a hapless school teacher out of the school house, nailed up the door, and because the teacher muttered against it, threw the pedagogue into the creek. At twenty he seemed to hear a voice coming from afar. A man going to mill said that he saw Jim beside a log on his knees in the woods, praying; he was called a liar, knocked down his insulter and went on with his grist. He had spoken the truth, for on the night following, Jim arose in the congregation, renounced his reckless ways, and with a defiance of the world that among the righteous awaked applause, he came forward and knelt at the mourners' bench. His religion "took," they said, as if speaking of vaccination, and before long he entered the pulpit, ready gently to crack the irreligious heads of former companions still stubborn in the ways of iniquity. From behind a plum bush, in the corner of the fence, he had seen Mrs. Mayfield and had blinked, as if dazzled by a great light. Nor was it till the close of day that he had the courage to come into her presence, and then for a moment he gazed—and vanished. Old Jasper found him mumbling beneath the moon.
"Lost anythin', Jim?"
"Nothing that I ever thought I had, Uncle Jasper."
"Look like a man that is huntin' fur his terbacker."
"I've quit tobacco long ago, Uncle Jasper."
"Huh, give that up, too? Then you have been hit hard. But atter all, my boy, a lick that ain't hard don't count fur much. Understand I believe in yo' Book all right, but not as the most of 'em reads it. The most of 'em reads it so as to make you do the things you don't want to do, and what they want you to do. A good many of 'em think it was writ fur them ag'in you. Findin' new picturs on the moon, Jim? I don't see nuthin' new; same old feller a burnin' of his bresh, allus a puttin' 'em on the fire an' never gittin' through."
"I'm thinking, that's all, Uncle Jasper."
"Comes from readin' them books up on the hill-top, I reckon. They make me think, too, when I git a holt of 'em, 'specially them about the war—looks like it's a mighty hard matter for a man to tell the truth the minit he grabs holt of a pen. Don't see why a pen is such a liar, but it is. And yit, the biggist liar I ever seed couldn't more than write his name. What do you think of them folks in thar, Jim?"
Jim strode off, came back and standing with one hand resting on the rail fence that surrounded the old man's door yard, hung his head and replied: "Old Satan sometimes puts good clothes on his temptations, Uncle Jasper."
"Why, you don't think that young feller's a nosin' round to—"
"I don't see anything mysterious in him, Uncle Jasper. It's the woman that—that strikes so hard."
"Huh. I didn't think you cared anythin' about women, Jim."
"Oh, I don't and you musn't think I do. Did you ever have a feller catch a spear out of the sun with a lookin' glass and shoot it through yo' eyes? That's the way she done me, as she was a standing there at the door."
"Wall, as game a feller as you are ain't afeared of a woman."
"I don't know about that. The gamer a feller is among men the fearder he is among women, it seems like. But what am I talking about? She won't take any notice of me and in fact it won't make any difference if she does. I tell you, though, I don't like to be treated that way by a woman."
"Why, how did she treat you?"
"Looked something at me that made me dissatisfied with myself. I reckon I must be a good deal of a fool, Uncle Jasper."
"Wall, I don't reckon you are as smart as old Henry Clay was. Still you ain't no slouch. Come on in and I'll give you a knockin' down to her. She can't no mo' than hit you with somethin'."
When introduced Jim shied off into a corner and there during the evening he remained, gazing at the woman from "off yander," with scarcely courage enough to utter a word. Mrs. Mayfield inquired as to his church among the hills, and his countenance flared with a silly light and old Jasper ducked his head and snorted in the sleeve of his home-spun shirt. But the next morning Jim had the courage to appear at the breakfast table, still gazing; and later when Tom and his aunt went out for a walk, he followed along like a dog waiting to be scolded.
Several days later, while old black mammy was ironing in the sitting room, Kintchin came in at the door which always stood open, and looking about, slowly went up to the old woman and inquired if she needed any more wood.
"No," she answered, not looking at him, "I's nearly done."
Kintchin scratched his head. "Wall, I jest come ter tell you dat ef you does need any mo' I knows er man dat'll git it fur you. Me. An' w'en er man fetches er lady de sort o' wood I'd fetch you, w'y she kin tell right dar whut he think o' her. Does you hyarken ter me?"
Mammy, slowly moving her iron, looked at him. "Whut de matter wid you, man? Ain't habin' spells, is you?"
"I's in lub, lady, dat's whut de matter wid me."
"In lub? In lub wid who?"
He leaned toward her. "Wid you."
"W'y you couldn't lub me," she said. "I's eighty odd an' you ain't but sixty. I's too old fur you. I doan want ter fool wid no chile."
Kintchin came closer and made an attempt to take her hand, shrewdly watching the hot iron slowly moving over the bosom of a shirt. "I'll burn da black hide ef you doan git erway. You bodders me."
The old rascal assumed an air of great astonishment. "Whut, er man bodder er lady dat he lubs?"
"Didn't I tole you you couldn't lub me?"
"Couldn't lub you? Ain't you been er savin' yo' money all deze years, an' ef er man kain't lub er lady dat's been er savin' her money, who kin he lub?"
She gave him a look of contempt. "Oh, I knowd dar wuz er bug in de milk pan. It's my little bit o' money you's atter, but you ain't gwine ter git it. Dat money's ter bury me wid." And in a self-satisfied way she nodded at him and resumed her work.
Kintchin stepped back, the word 'bury' having thrown a temporary pall upon his cupidity, but soon he rallied and renewed his attack. "Funny dat er lady will save all her life long jest ter be buried. I doan blebe in deze yere 'spensive funuls nohow. Huh, an' you oughter hab ernuff by dis time ter bury bof o' us. An' ef you says de word I'll be buried side o' you ter keep you comp'ny."
She ceased her work and looked at him. "I won't need no comp'ny. I'll be busy tellin' de Lawd 'bout de folks down yere. An, I gwine tell him, w'in I goes home."
She gathered up the clothes basket and went into an adjoining room, leaving Kintchin to muse alone. He heard the low whistle of a backwoodsman's improvised tune, and looking up, saw a man leaning against the door-facing. To the old negro the new comer was not a stranger. Once that big foot had kicked him out of the road, and lying in his straw bed the poor wretch had burned with resentment, cowed, helpless; and sleeping, had dreamed of killing the brute and awoke with a tune on his black lips. He knew Lije Peters, neighborhood bully without being a coward, a born black-mailer, a ruffian with the touch of humor, ignorant with sometimes an allegorical cast of speech. As he entered the room he looked about and seeing no one else, spoke to Kintchin:
"Whar's Jasper Starbuck?"
"I seed Miss Margaret an' Miss Lou out yander jest now," Kintchin answered, backing off as Peters advanced toward him.
"I didn't ask about them. Whew, what you got sich a hot fire in here for?"
"Mammy's been ironin'."
"Yes. Been a meltin iron I should think. Is Starbuck at home? Answer me, you scoundrel." He made a threatening gesture and Kintchin, backing further off, cried out, "Doan rush me, suh. Ef I'se er scoundul you hatter give me time. Er scoundul hatter be keerful whut he say. I seed Mr. Starbuck dis mawnin', suh."
Peters turned as if to go out, but halted and looked at Kintchin. The old negro nodded. "Say, is that young feller and that woman here yit?"
"Gimmy time—gimmy time. I's er scoundul, you know."
"Do you want me to mash your head?"
Kintchin put his hand to his head. "Whut, dis one right yere? No, suh, I doan blebe I does."
"Well, then answer me. That woman and young chap here yet?"
"Yas, suh, da's yere."
"She's his aunt, I understand."
"Yas, suh, dat's whut you un'erstand."
"Why did they come here? What are they doin'?"
"Gimmy time. Da come caze da wanter ter, an' now dat da's yere, da's jest er bo'din'; dat's all."
"You are an old fool."
"Yas, suh," replied Kintchin, "dat's whut I yere."
Mammy came in and said to Kintchin, "De steers broke down de fence an' is eatin' up de co'n. See, through de winder?"
"Dat won't do," Kintchin exclaimed with hurry in his voice but with passive feet. "No, it won't do. Steer ain't got no right ter come roun' er eatin' up de co'n."
"But w'y doan you go on, man? Mars Jasper'll git arter you."
"I's gwine. Allus suthin' ter make er man work his j'ints," he moved off toward the door, and turning just before going out, said to Peters: "Yere come Miss Lou now."
The girl came in singing, but seeing Peters, hushed, and turned to go out.
"One minute, Miss Lou," said Peters, bowing awkwardly.
She halted, looked at him and said, "Well?"
"Won't you sit down," said Peters, making a great show of politeness.
"I'm not tired," Lou replied.
Peters smiled. "I've got suthin' I want to say to you."
"Then I may be tired," she said, sitting down. "Well?"
Peters stood for a moment, looking at her and then inquired: "Did yo' father tell you suthin' I said to him?"
Slowly rocking she looked up at him. "He always has enough talk of his own without repeatin' what other folks say."
"But what I told him was about you."
"Well, if what you said wasn't good you wouldn't be here to tell about it, so it don't concern me."
He attempted to smile, but failed. "I don't know about that."
"You don't know about anything—much."
"Enough to know what I think of you."
"Hope you know what I think of you."
"Ah," said Peters, "I don't reckon you think of me very often."
Lou got up and went to him, looked straight into his eyes and said: "Think of you! Why, I never know you are on earth till you come where I am and then I spend my time tryin' to forget you are there."
"Well, now," replied Peters, "that ain't very polite."
She stepped back and looked at him in pretended astonishment. "Was anybody ever polite to you?"
"Well, not many of the Starbucks, that's a fact—none, come to think of it 'cept yo' cousin Jim, the preacher, and he believes that the Lord made all things for a purpose."
"Yes, he believes that God made the devil."
Peters laughed as if he really enjoyed her contempt of him. He pulled at his whiskers, cleared his throat, took a turn about the room and looking at her again, he appeared as if he had attempted to soften his countenance with a sentiment urgently summoned. "Yes, that is all true, I reckon. And now let me tell you. I mout not look like it—like I'm hard to please, but I am. Thar ain't one woman out of a hundred that can make me wake up when I'm sleepy and think about her, but you can. And ever sense you was a child I've said I'd never marry till I could git you." He saw the anger in her eyes and hesitated. "Ah, you may not think very much of me now," he continued, "but that can all be changed. A woman's like a mornin' glory flower—always a changing; an' I know you could learn to love me."
"Oh, you do. Well, what you know and what's the truth won't never know each other well enough to shake hands."
Peters smiled upon her, "Wall, if nuthin' else did, that of itself would prove you air old Jasper's daughter."
Margaret Starbuck came in, with a pan of turnips. Peters bowed to her. "Er good mornin', ma'm."
She put the pan on the table and giving him an unconscious grace bade him good morning. "Is mammy done ironin'?" she asked, speaking to Lou.
"Yes'm, I reckon so." Then she added, speaking to Peters, "Is there anythin' else you wanted?"
"Why, Lou," Margaret spoke up, "is that the way to talk?"
"Yes'm, sometimes," and nodding at Peters she added: "And this is one of them." She laughed, turned away and sat down with her elbows resting on a battered old melodeon.
"Oh, she's jest a jokin' with me ma'm," said Peters. "I wanted to see yo' husband. Reckon he's out some whar on the place."
"I think so," Margaret replied, peeling the turnips. "I heard him calling the hogs just now."
Lou looked at Peters and said: "Then why don't you go?"
"Why, daughter," exclaimed Margaret, "you musn't talk that way. Mr. Peters is in yo' house."
She came forward and to the visitor bowed with mock humility. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Peters—"
"Oh, that's all right, Miss Lou."
"For bein' honest with you."
Peters cleared his throat. She returned to the melodeon and sat down with her back toward him. Peters started out but halted and spoke to Margaret. "Suthin' I have been workin' fur a long time is about to come—an app'intment I've been tryin' to git, and when I git it there air folks that ought to be skeered."
Lou glanced round at him and replied, "And then again, there are folks that won't be."
"Ah," said Peters, "an' them that won't be air them that ought to be." And then to Margaret he added: "If I don't find Jasper I'll be back. When he comes tell him I want to see him. Good day."
When he had gone out into the road Margaret inquired of her daughter what he had said to give such offense.
"He said I could learn to love him. And I as much as told him he was a liar."
"But, daughter, you musn't talk like that. You'll have to be more careful with him, for in some way he's got the upper hand of yo' father."
"Well, I don't envy him his job."
"Hush," said Margaret. "Here come the folks."
In came Mrs. Mayfield and her nephew, with Jim, the preacher, following them. Margaret began industriously to dust a rocking chair. She bade them come in, if it were not too warm, "Mammy has been ironing but the fire's dyin' down. And I do hope she irons yo' clothes to suit you, Miz Mayfield," she added.
"Oh, yes," replied Mrs. Mayfield, glancing round at the preacher who with hat in hand sat on the melodeon stool, gazing at her. "I am not hard to please," she continued, speaking to Margaret. "I have passed that stage."
Margaret bowed to her. "Well, I'm mighty glad to hear it. So many folks are hard to please. There come a woman from away off yander sometime ago and took up over at Fetterson's and they couldn't do a thing to please her—grumbled all the time; the water wasn't even good, when heaven knows we've got the best water on the yeth. So I am glad you ain't hard to please."
"Oh, I should indeed be finical to find fault with anything in this delicious air," said Mrs. Mayfield, smiling at Lou, "this new life, among these God-worshipping hills, these—"
"Oh, auntie brought her romance with her," Tom broke in, and Lou gave him a look of tender reproof.
"Oh, let her talk, please. I like to hear her." And standing beside Mrs. Mayfield's chair she said: "You told me you were something. What was it?"
"An echo from the world," the city woman answered.
Lou looked at her mother who in turn gave her a look in which the girl read an ignorance as profound as her own. "Well, is sounds mighty putty," she said, "but what do you mean by it. I don't understand."
"Why Lou!" exclaimed her mother. "You musn't talk that way."
"Oh, let her go ahead," Tom spoke up. "The fact is auntie says a good many things I'd like to have explained to me."
"Tom," she said, "please don't be any more wayward than you can help."
At this moment old Jasper's voice was heard without. "Git down from here. Got less sense than any dog I ever seed, come a jumpin' on me with yo' muddy feet. Howdy everybody, howdy," he greeted them as he entered, with a set of harness on his arm. Every one spoke to him and after surveying the party he drew a chair out from the table, sat down and began to tug at the harness, pulling hard against the resistance of a rusty buckle. "Whar's that luther string?" he inquired of his wife.
"What luther string?"
"The one I told you to put away for me some time last fall—mebby fall a year ago. Whar is it?"
"Gracious alive Jasper, I don't know. What did you bring that gear in here for? Can't you fix it at the stable?"
"Yes, could. Could also sleep and eat out thar, but I don't want to."
"Now what on the yeth do you want to talk that way fur?"
Jasper chuckled. "Wall, a man ain't hardly responsible for what he says when he's talkin' to a woman."
"Then you don't believe, Mr. Starbuck, that woman inspires truth," said Mrs. Mayfield, and Jim leaned forward, still gazing at her.
"Oh, yes, all the putty truths," Jasper replied, and Tom who, with Lou, was standing over near the fire-place, sang out: "There, auntie, he is meeting you on your own ground."
Jim's countenance flared and he struck in: "Yes, in the shade where the soft air is stirring."
Mrs. Mayfield turned to him. "Oh, thank you Mr.—I shall have to call you Mr. Reverend."
He gave her a smile and then as if afraid of too much light shut it off; but he had the courage to reply: "Anything you call me, ma'm, will be music."
"Oh, I tell you," said Jasper, tugging at the buckle, "Jim ain't been preachin' ten years fur nothin'. Wall, mighty fur nothin', too; for I ricolleck that one winter all he got was a pa'r of blue jeens britches an' fo' pa'r of wool socks. And if I don't cuss this thing in a minit more I'll be about fitten to preach."
"Mr. Starbuck," Mrs. Mayfield inquired, "was that you shooting so early this morning?"
"Yes'm, killin' them squirrels we had fur breakfus'."
"And you saw the sun rise?"
He left off working with his gear and looked at her. "Ah, hah. Ever see the sun rise?"
"I have seen the moon set," she said, half musing.
"And so have I," said Jasper. "I have seen the moon set and hatch out the stars."
And still musing, Mrs. Mayfield replied: "Yes, and they peeped at one another in their heavenly nest until the sun, man-like, came and spoiled it all."
Jasper and his wife looked at each other, knowingly in the eye; and then the old man said: "I beg yo' pardon, ma'm, but you must have had trouble. But don't let it bother you any mo' than you kin help, fur my experience teaches me that them what hain't had trouble ain't had no cause to look fur the Lord."
"Why, Jasper Starbuck," Margaret spoke up, "ain't you ashamed of yo'se'f to talk about the Lord thatter way?"
"I ain't said a word ag'in Him. Leave it to the preacher thar. Have I, Jim?"
"No, Uncle Jasper."
"Much obleeged to you, Jim; and instead of stayin' five weeks with us as you said you 'lowed to, I wush you'd stay longer. I need you to prove things by. Couldn't make it five months, could you, Jim?"
"No, Uncle Jasper, I must get back to my mountain-side flock. There's many a poor old man tottering along that needs me to help him walk."
"That's a fact," said Starbuck, and turning to Mrs. Mayfield he continued: "He settles nearly all their troubles, ma'm; he's not only their church but their cou't house. I've seed him preach the gospel with one hand and with the other one tear up a lawsuit."
Lou, standing on a chair, had taken down an old gun which rested upon deer horns above the fire place, and was exhibiting it to Tom. "My great grandfather carried it at the battle of New Orleans," she said; and reverently the young man took the gun and pressed the butt to his shoulder, taking aim. "No wonder our country has a spirit that can't be crushed," he remarked, lowering the ancient war hound and looking into its black mouth.
"When we've got such guns?" she said, smiling down upon him, still standing on the chair.
"No, not such guns but men who do such deeds and women who are proud of them."
Jasper looked round and saw that the young man in his carelessness had the gun pointed at him. "Here," he called, "turn that thing tuther way."
"Why it isn't loaded, is it?" Tom asked, returning the gun to Lou.
"No, but them's the sort that usually goes off and kills folks. Thar's an old sayin', ma'm," he said to Mrs. Mayfield, "that thar's danger in a gun without lock, stock, or barrel—you kin w'ar a feller out with the ram-rod."
Lou replaced the gun and sat down. Tom stood over her, slily showing her some verses. Mrs. Mayfield, glancing round, understood that it was a "poetic situation," and remarked to Jasper. "Just now we were speaking of trouble. Heart-hunger is the real poetry of life—heart-hunger and heart-ache; our pleasures are but jingling rhymes."
Jasper and his wife exchanged glances, and the old man said: "Husband dead, ma'm?"
"Worse than that, Mr. Starbuck."
"Why, ain't that awful," Margaret declared.
Jasper studied for a few moments and then inquired: "Wan't hung, was he?"
She shook her head, sighed and made answer: "We were divorced."
Then the old man thought to be consoling. "Well, let us hope that you won't marry him over ag'in."
"No, his heart is black."
"There is a fountain where it may be made white," said the preacher.
Sadly she smiled at him and replied: "To that fountain he would never go."
Old Jasper jingled and clanked the iron of his harness. "I don't know much about fountains," said he, "but I know a good deal about men, and I never seed one with a black heart that ever had it washed out clean. I never knowd a scoundrel that wan't allus a scoundrel, and the Book don't say that the Savior died for scoundrels—died for sinners. A sinner kin be a fust-rate feller, full o' that weakness that helps a wretch outen trouble. The Savior knowed that and died for him."
Margaret slammed her pan of turnips down upon the table. "Oh, sometimes I'm so put out with you."
"Yes," drawled the old man, "and old Miz Eve was put out with Adam, too, but atter all the best thing she could do, was to stick to him and go whar he went."
"Oh, of course," said Margaret. "The only use a man ever has for the Bible is to hit a woman with it." She went over to a safe, looking back at her husband who stood watching her, his droll countenance lighted with a humorous grin; she began to mix meal in a pan, stirring vigorously to make up corn pone, throwing in water with a dash. Tom and Lou were still engaged with the verses.
"What is this line?" she asked.
"'Her eye a star of heart's most gleaming hope,'" he read, and she purred like a kitten.
"What does it mean?" she asked.
"Why, er—it means all sorts of things."
"It sounds like things you find in a book, but this is in writin', isn't it? And—and it smells like a violet in the woods."
"What have they got thar, a mortgage?" Jasper inquired of Mrs. Mayfield.
"The beginning of many a mortgage, Mr. Starbuck; some verses."
"Huh," grunted the old man, "I don't reckon they are like some verses I had not long ago. Had a lawsuit befo' a jestice of the peace and they called it Starbuck verses Brown."
Margaret ceased her work of mixing corn pone and looked round at him. "Jasper, anybody to hear you talk would think you don't know nuthin'."
"Well," Starbuck replied, "that's the way to find out that a man don't know nuthin'—by hearin' him talk. Feller over the mountains had a son that was deef and dumb for twenty-odd year. Everybody lowed he was the smartest one of the fam'ly. But finally a doctor teached him how to talk and then they found out that he wan't nuthin' but a damned fool."
The profane twist of the old man's defense amused Mrs. Mayfield. And Jim smiled. It was not only in keeping with the old man's half innocent character—it was the honest spurt of sinful Adam, remaining with the most of us—which the devout preacher may deplore for the sake of example and yet inwardly accept because he is human. I am told that there are languages that hold no profanity and we know that there are tongues too delicate for philosophy and too gentle for blank verse.
"Now what do you want to pester a body thatter way for?" Margaret rejoined, thankful that Mrs. Mayfield had not been shocked. "I never seed a body that could be so aggrivatin'. Miz Mayfield, don't pay no 'tention to him when he talks thatter way, fur when he wants to he kin be right bright.
"Oh, I understand him, Mrs. Starbuck," and then of Jasper she inquired: "How far is it to the post office?"
"A little the rise of three mile. As soon as I git this gear in shape I'll have Kintchin hitch up and drive a passel of you over thar. I reckon we've got one of the smartest post-masters in the country. I've seed him rip open many a man's letter an' read it off just like print. Here, Kintchin! Kintchin! That nigger's asleep somewhar. One of these days somebody will fill him so full of lead you couldn't turn him over with a hand spike." Kintchin appeared at the door, stretching himself and rubbing his eyes. "What have you been doin'?"
"Wall, suh, I ain't been ersleep ef dat whut you means."
"Then why didn't you answer me?"
"W'y, suh, I had my min' flung down on er 'ligious subjeck an' it wuz all I coul' do ter t'ar it off."
"Ah, thought I hearn suthin' rip like a piece of tent cloth," and giving Kintchin the harness he continued: "Here, hitch up old Dick and drive these folks over to the post office."
"And when you come back you can break that young steer."
"Yas, suh, break de steer."
"And when you get the steer broke," said Margaret, "I want you to make me an ash hopper."
"Yas'm," replied the old negro, looking at her and then at Starbuck.
"And then," said Jasper, "I want you to hive the bees."
"And then," Margaret spoke up, "you may fix the loom."
"Yas'm, fix de loom."
"When that is done," said Starbuck, "you may rive some clap-boards to cover the spring house."
"Yas, suh, ter kiver de spring house;" and scratching his head he stood for a moment as if in deep thought. "An' look yere, Mr. Starbuck, while I'se gone to the pos' office don't you reckon you kin think up suthin' fur me ter do?"
"How willing he is to work," Mrs. Mayfield sympathetically remarked.
Kintchin ducked his head at her. "W'y, Lawd bless yo' life, honey, I doan know nuthin' else. One time not long ergo I foun' o' er mawnin' dat I wuz monst'us tired, an' den I come ter fin' out dat I been er gittin' up an' er workin' in my sleep. Yas'm."
He looked at Jasper, expecting something, and it came: "Was that the time they found the ham under yo' bed?"
"Mr. Starbuck, whut you all de time come er talkin' datter way fur? Ain't dar nuthin' in dis life ter talk erbout 'cept politics? Doan you know you got er soul ter save? Doan you know dat de Lawd frown on slander? I doan care fur myse'f but I hate ter see er good man fling erway his chances o' de salvation. An' suthin' gwine happen ter you ef you keeps on 'sposin' yo'se'f."
Starbuck good naturedly drove him out, clucking at him as if he were a horse. Lou slowly folded the paper which she had been gazing at during all this time and said: "Oh, you must let me keep this."
"It amounts to nothing," replied Tom, making a pretense of taking the paper but permitting her to retain it. "I will write you something prettier."
"No, I want this."
"She is beginning early to mistrust promises," remarked Mrs. Mayfield.
"Oh, she knows the world," said Mrs. Starbuck. "She went to school for two years over at Dry Fork. That's where she l'arned to play that melogian."
"Yes," Jasper spoke up, "and the fust time I hearn it I thought a tree had fell on one of the calves. Why, helloa, mammy, come in. Lookin' fur suthin'?"
"I must er lef' my old pipe yere summers," said the old negro woman, coming into the room.
"Here it is," said Jasper taking a cob pipe from the mantle-piece and giving it to her. "Won't you sit down, mammy? You look so tired."
"No, Mars Jasper, I hain't hardly got time." She looked at the company, bade every one good morning, with a heart-felt "God bless you;" and looking at Mrs. Mayfield, slowly advanced toward her, gazing at her hand. "W'y, honey, I neber seed de like o' putty rings you's got on. Da's like de speret o' light er wrappin' round yo' fingers."
"Mammy, they are but glittering memories."
"Yas'm, da do shine might'ly ef dat whut you means."
Tom and Lou were going out. "Don't stray off," said Mrs. Mayfield. "We are going to the post office, you know."
"Yes, if that fetch-taked nigger ever gits the hoss hitched up," Margaret spoke up.
Jasper snatched up his hat. "Oh, he'd hitch up a hoss to the fou'th of July jest about in time to drive up to the front door of Christmas. I'll go and see about it myse'f. Slowest nigger I ever seed," and muttering he went out. Old mammy, still looking at the city woman's rings, began softly to croon: "I neber seed er po' ole nigger dat didn't like rings. I had er whole lot o' 'em once, but da turned green, an' da'd pizen me ef I teched 'em wid my mouf. But one time Mars Jasper gib me one dat didn't turn green, an' I lost it. You allus loses de best, you know. Honey, Mars Jasper is allus doin' suthin' fur me. I nussed him w'en he wuz er chile an' he dun paid me back mo' den er hunnud times; an' w'en I got ole an' wuz down wid de rheumatiz, an' couldn't sleep in de night w'en de lonesome cow er lowin' on de hill-side, he sot up wid me an' spell out de words o' de Lawd, fur he kain't read right quick. He couldn't been mo' tender wid his mudder, an' I gwine ter tell de Lawd w'en I goes home, an' it won't be long—no'm it won't. An' on de wall by my bed I dun made chalk marks o' de things I gwine tell de Lawd, an' dar ain't hardly no mo' room fur new marks, da all been so good ter me; but I gwine make one fur you, honey, caze you looked kind at me. Yas'm, I is. But I must be gwine. Lawd bless you all; an' you too, strange lady." And as this old creature walked out she still muttered blessings upon them; this endeared old link, tenderly binding some of us to one of the sweetest memories of the past. She is passing over the threshold into the "big house" of eternity, this mother of love and charity, who sang the little children to sleep, whose ebon fingers bound the wounds of youth. She knew enough of God to be all love—of Christ to forgive all wrongs.
"The wagon's ready," Jasper called, and Mrs. Mayfield turned to Jim. "Won't you come too?"
He scrambled up, as if stung into action, grabbed his hat, went boldly close to her and said: "If I thought yo' wish was in yo' invitation, Satan couldn't hold me back, and the Lord wouldn't."
"What a strange compliment."
"Ma'm, I don't know how to speak compliments."
"Come on, please."
AT THE POST OFFICE.
Beneath the blooming boughs overhanging the mountain road the old carryall was slowly pulled along by a horse into whose joints had crept the dreamy laziness of early summer. Lou, bound about with flowering vines, captive May-queen in purple chains, sat on the rear seat with Tom; and she was shy in this close touch with the mysterious world from afar off; and her timidity made him timid, this youth whose earliest recollection was the booming of cannon, as he played upon a cavalryman's blanket, waiting for his father to return from the charge. Motherless, the pet of the battalion, his playthings the accoutrements of war, his "stick horse," a sabre, his confidential companion a brass field piece. Old soldiers, devoted to their colonel, carried him about on their shoulders, and handsome women made him vain and bold with their kisses; but in the presence of this mountain girl he was subdued. Jim and Mrs. Mayfield sat together—that is, he sat out on the end of a board, as far away from her as he could get, and once when the wheel ran over a stone he fell off.
"Oh," she cried, "you must be hurt."
He got up, with his jack-o'-lantern smile, dusted himself and said:
"I—I would fall for you any time, ma'm."
"But," she laughed, "I didn't want you to fall."
"Didn't you? Well, I beg yo' pardon, I thought you did."
Kintchin, who sat in front, ducked his head and chuckled.
"Oh, de folks up yere is de 'commerdatinist you eber seed. Da'll stand up fur you ur fall down fur you ur do anythin' you pleases. Sorry I come off an' furgot suthin'. Allus de way—man furgits whut he needs de mos.'"
"Did you forget something, Kintchin?" Mrs. Mayfield inquired.
"Yas'm, come off an' furgot twenty-fi' cents dat I wanted to fetch wid me. I owes er quarter ter er crap-shootin' nigger ober dar, an' when I kain't pay him he gwine retch his han' up atter my wool. I doan want no big nigger retchin' atter me, caze I ain't right well dis mawin'. Co'se ef I wuz well I wouldn' mine it so much, but ez it is, it bodders me might'ly. You neber had no trouble wid er crap-shootin' nigger, ef you had you'd be mo' consarned. Anybody gwine gib me er quarter."
"I'll give you a testament," said Jim, looking back and smiling at Tom.
"Testament! Ointment you better say," replied Kintchin. "Testament ain't gwine be no mo' fo'ce wid dem niggers den de Lawd's pra'r would wid er wild haug. Huh, I'se er dreadin' eber step o' de way ober dar."
"Here's a quarter," said Mrs. Mayfield, handing him a piece of silver.
"Thankee, ma'm. Oh, you's whut da calls er missiunary, an' I gwine he'p ole black mammy pray fur you."
"Oh, how beautiful—nature sleeps and dreams of paradise," mused the romantic woman and the preacher clasped his hands.
"Down off there is where the foxes live," said Lou. "One night I went with pa to run them, and we galloped all round here, and when we got home, just about day, my clothes were torn nearly all to pieces; but it was such fun; and when old Bob got close to the fox and bellowed, it seemed like he was beatin' his paw on my heart. And away off yander, the hill-side opened and music poured out, and father reached over and put his hand on my head and we listened."
"It is music," said Jim, "but the horn blowed by old Satan may be made outen silver."
"But, Mr. Reverend," Mrs. Mayfield spoke up, "you surely don't object to the enjoyment of a harmless adventure."
"No, ma'm. The Lord wants us to enjoy ourselves, but we should not jump on the hoss of pleasure and gallop too fur away from the gospel of truth."
Kintchin ducked his woolly head. "Keep on foolin' roun' an' dis yere white man call up mourners," he declared. "De gospel it all right, bof in de dark an' de light o' de moon; but you keep on foolin' wid it an' follerin' it an' you gwine lose yo' min'. I knows whut I talkin' erbout. You got ter come ter de 'clusion dat de Lawd knows best an' not pry too fur inter his erfairs. De Book say suthin' 'bout eat all you want an' take er drink once in er while fur ter-morrer you ain't gwine be yere."
"Does the Book say anything about shooting craps?" Tom inquired.
"Now, Mr. Tom, whut put dat inter yo' head? Book doan come out p'intedly an' say you shan't."
"They cast lots for His garments," the preacher spoke, and Kintchin replied:
"Oh, w'en you fling de Book down on me too hard, I jest hatter squirm, dat's all. Ef I had ernudder quarter I could open up er 'skussion dat—"
"You'll not get it," said Jim.
"Dat ends it. Oh, I likes preachers—likes ter yere 'em talk, but I ain't nebber got no money outen one yit. Da all time talk erbout gib whut you got ter de po' an' foller on, an' da follers all right; but I ain't seen 'em gibbin' nuthin'."
"They give to the spirit, Kintchin," remarked Mrs. Mayfield.
"Yas'm. But sometimes I'd leetle ruther da give ter de pocket. Howsomedever, I mustn't go too fur wid dis man. He's er preacher, but he er Starbuck an' he w'ar me out ef I push him too fur."
"Now, Kintchin," said the preacher, "you know you couldn't provoke me into strikin' you. Don't you?"
"Yas, suh, I feels it; still I's er little skeered o' you. An' whut you gwine gimme caze I skeered? Ain't it wuth er quarter ter be skeered like I is? Huh?"
"Here," replied Jim, giving him a piece of money. "It's worth a quarter to see Satan play his pranks."
A turn in the road, and there was a river, narrow, deep and as blue as the sky. Wild spice bushes, shedding a sweet perfume, grew upon the steep banks, and far below they saw a black bass leap to gulp a mouthful of the sun. The hills stretched away, purple, blue, green; and through the air shot a red bird, lightening from a cloud of flowers. A gaudy, wild dragon, zouave-arrayed, stood guard over a violet nodding beside a rock, and the milk-maidish white clover trembled in fear of the lust-looking strawberry. Bold upon a high rock, with a fish in his claw, sat a defiant eagle, and straight down the river flew a sand-hill crane, like a fragment of gray mist.
They met a young fellow, carrying a tea-cup in his hand, with hair that looked like hackled flax and with a grin that invited the confidence of all mankind. It was Mose Blake, known to neighborhood fame as the stutterer. He halted and attempted to say something, but Kintchin drove on, muttering that he had no time for words that a fellow chewed all to pieces. The boy tried to shout his defiance, but "you are a—a—a f—f—f—," was all he could utter and even this was forestalled by Kintchin, who called back at him: "Oh, we knows all erbout dat."
The road dipped down, turned, and they drove upon a ferry-boat, a mere platform of rude plank and propelled by two gaunt men. On the other shore they drove along still keeping close to the river. A country boy hailed them, but without heeding him Kintchin remarked: "Dat's Laz Spencer, an' he takin' dat meal bag home somewhar ter borry suthin' else. Ef he wuz ter go ter heben an' foun' dat he couldn't borry some angel's harp, he wouldn't stay dar. I 'spize ter see er pusson all de time wantin' suthin'."
"You don't borrow, do you?" Tom asked, and he answered:
"Who, me? No, suh. I earns all I gits—ef not befo', afterwards. Jest ez sho ez er pusson gibs me suthin' I gwine earn it."
Turning off from the river and entering upon a piece of level ground, they came to the post-office, an old log house with gable end toward the road. In an inclosure a number of tow-headed boys were trying to ride a calf. In the road a child, not more than able to toddle, was throwing stones at a blowing old goose.
Kintchin tied his horse to a "swinging limb," and the ladies were assisted to the ground. Tom conducted them into the post-office, a store wherein the merchant had for sale snuff, red calico, brown jeans, plug tobacco, cast iron plow points, nails and cove oysters. The post-master came forward dragging after him two splint-bottom chairs.
"Set down," he said. "Never seed you befo', but I'm glad to see you now."
Tom inquired if there were anything in the office for Mrs. Mary Mayfield or himself, calling his name; and the post-master looked at him closely and asked: "Any kin to old Zeb Elliot that used to sell mink skins?"
"No, I have no relatives in this part of the country."
"Wall, old Zeb was a good deal of a man."
"That may be, but he was no relation of mine."
"Had long red whiskers and his hair stood up straight—seed him climb a tree one night and shake a coon out as slick as a whistle. Had a dog named Tige—feller pizened him. Where you frum?"
"Nashville. I wish you'd look—"
"Yes, that's what I'm goin' to do. And ain't this Jasper Starbuck's daughter? I thought so," he added when Lou nodded at him. "I've knowed Jasper a long time, but folks don't git round a visitin' now like they uster. Never seed yo' father drunk in my life—swear it's a fact; never did. I'll bet he kin whup a ground-hog as big as he is. And I'll sw'ar, ain't this little Jimmie Starbuck?"
"My name is Jim and I am a Starbuck," the preacher answered.
"Thought I know'd you. Ah, hah, and they tell me you air preachin' the gospel now. Which one o' the gospels air you preachin', Luke or John? Wall, no diffunce, either of 'em is good enough, I reckon. I never tried to preach."
"I wish you'd try to look over your stock of mail matter," said Tom.
"I'll do that, too. What was the other name. Mayfield? Well, that's a familiar name to me. My grandmother was a Mayfield—no, Mayhew. Putty nigh the same anyhow. You air expectin' a letter, I reckon."
"Yes, if you please."
"From yo' husband? No, you ain't married, of co'se. And I want to tell you that you may have any letter in this shop, don't make no odds who it's writ to. I'm allus glad to have folks come. I set here day after day, by myself a good deal of the time, and I like comp'ny, too; uster be a mighty hand to go round, but sorter give it up atter I got busy. Now, let me see whar I put them letters." He scratched his head. "I had 'em yistidy, I'm certain of that." He went behind his counter, shook a barrel, looked into it—looked into a cracker box, into a crock jar, and brought out a handful of letters. "Oh, I know'd they was here somewhar," he said. "Elliott, Mayfield," he repeated, looking at the letters. "Here's one for Endiott—'bout as near as I can come to you, young feller. Will that do?"
"Of course not," Tom answered. "It isn't for me."
"Near enough, ain't it. Oughtn't to blame a man when he's doin' the best he can. I can't hit at you at all, Mrs. Mayfield. Ain't nuthin' here that sounds like you."
"Really," she said, "this is a remarkable post-office."
"One of the best, ma'm," replied the post-master. "Come in, Squire," he called as a man, leading a hound, appeared at the door.
"I want a pint," said the Squire.
"All right—let me look at yo' dog." He examined the hound's teeth, punched him in the side to catch his tone, pronounced his yelp of good note, and gave the Squire a pint of liquor.
"About as peculiar case of barter as I ever saw," said Tom when the Squire withdrew with his purchase.
"Yas, mout seem so, but a good artickle of hound is a currency at this sto'."
"I heard that I might find peculiar people in this part of the country," said Mrs. Mayfield, "and I have not been disappointed."
The store-keeper smiled upon her, playing with the hound's ears. "Oh, we never disapp'int folks," he replied. "But we ain't peculiar. Higher up the mountains you might find folks that are right queer in their ways. Up thar they ain't got no money at all 'cept coon skins. Well, do you want to buy anythin'?"
"No," said Mrs. Mayfield, "not to-day."
"Got some right good snuff here if you want it."
"I don't use snuff."
"You don't? An' come round talkin' 'bout peculiar folks, too? Little one," he said to Lou, "tell yo' daddy I may drap over to see him as soon as my present rush is over. Trade is suthin' that don't wait fur no man, Mrs. Mayflower."
"Auntie, you'll have to buy something after that," said Tom. "I don't see how you can get away from it."
"Then I will show you. I wish you would tell Kintchin that we are ready to go."
COULDN'T QUARREL IN PEACE.
When Jim and Mrs. Mayfield were near the door, just before starting for the post-office, she with graceful ceremony and he with the simple grin of devout worship, Old Jasper had stood looking at them, with an expression of mock seriousness; and when they went out, Starbuck slapped his leg and snorted with laughter. Margaret reproved him with her ever industrious eye.
"Blamed if I didn't think they was goin' to dance right thar," said the old man.
"Jasper, what makes you wanter talk thatter way?"
"Didn't see how they could keep from it, Margaret. Couldn't see no way to hold 'em back. Jest as ready to dance as the b'ar and the monkey that the feller come along the road with last year, mebbe year befo' last. I tell you, Jim ain't been a readin' them books on the hill-top fur nothin'. I gad, every time he looks at her he flips a star." He walked about the room, shaking his head. "The po' feller's hit. I gad, when you flutter fine calico the preachers come a runnin' with the rest of 'em. She's caught him, but he'll suffer an' say nuthin'. It's mighty hard work to wring a squeal outen a Starbuck. In that respeck we air sorter like wild hogs. I've seed a dog chaw a wild pig all to pieces an' he tuck it with never a squeal—mout have grunted a little, but he didn't squeal. Puffeckly nat'ral to grunt under sich circumstances, ain't it?"
"Oh, what do I care for yo' nonsense?"
"Nonsense! The affairs of the human fam'ly ain't nonsense, is they? Heigho, but she's a mighty good woman."
"Of course," said Margaret, crossing the room and sitting down in a rocking-chair. "Of course. A man thinks every woman's good—but his wife."
"Had to break out, didn't you? Have I said you wan't good?"
"Might as well say it as to act it."
"How am I actin' it?"
"By not lovin' me, that's how."
"Not lovin' you. Have you got any postal-kyard or tillygram to that effeck? I ain't sent you no sich news. Look here, did you ever notice that when a woman's daughter gits up about grown—when the young fellers begin to cut scollops about her—did you ever notice that about that time she begins to complain that her husband don't love her? Hah? Did you?"
"Oh, it's no sich of a thing," she replied, slowly rocking. "You know you don't love me as much as you did yo' fust wife."
For a time the old fellow gazed at her, saying nothing; and then came slow, deep-rumbling words: "Margaret, air you jealous o' that po' little grave down yander under the hill? You never seed her, the mother o' my two sons that went with me to pour out their blood fur their country; and when she hearn that they wan't a comin' back, she pined away and died and was buried under the tree whar we seed her standin' jest befo' we went down beyant the hill. You ain't jealous o' that weak little woman, air you?"
Slowly rocking, and reflecting for a few moments, she replied: "Jasper, it's the weak little women that air so strong with the men."
"Yes," he declared, "and it's the weak little women that have sons that air so ready to march to the tap of the drum. But I give you and our daughter all the love thar is in this old heart o' mine, and that ought to be enough."
"But you don't appear to want to talk to me," she whimpered.
"Talkin' to you now, ain't I?"
"Yes," she admitted, "sich talk as it is."
"Well, what do you want me to do? Stand like that young feller Elliott and read stuff writ in short lines?"
Margaret flounced out of the chair. "Oh, I never seed a man that could be as big a fool when he tried. I do know that—" Here she was interrupted by the unheralded entrance of Mose Blake, the stuttering boy with the tea-cup. He nodded at Starbuck and began to stutter. "Mother sent me atter—atter a c—c—c—cup o' v—v—v—"
"How's all the folks, Mose?" Margaret broke in.
"Glad to know it," said Starbuck. Mose looked at him with a dry grin, sat down in the rocking-chair and began to rock himself.
"What did yo' mother send you after, Mose?" Margaret inquired.
"Cup o' v—v—v—v—v—"
"Can't you write it down?" Jasper inquired.
"Don't you think you mout go off somewhar an' l'arn?"
"Ain't got—got tity—tity—t——t—time."
"Wall," said Jasper, "it appears to me like you've got all the time thar is. Wall. All right, jest set thar till it comes to you and then let us know what you want." He went over to a table where his wife was standing, drew out a stool, sat down and said to her: "So, you think I can be a bigger fool when I try than—"
"Hush," she cautioned, pointing to Mose, "he's a hearin' you."
Starbuck slowly turned his head, looked at Mose and then said to his wife: "Wall, whar's the difference, he can't tell about it."
"Come atter a c—c—c—cup o' v—v—v—v—"
"Jest hold her down, Mose," Jasper encouragingly remarked, "and mebby she'll come right side up atter a while."
"Jasper," said Margaret, "don't distress him."
"I ain't distressin' him half as much as he is me. 'Bout ready to give her another trial, Mose?"
"Want a cup o' vin—vin—vin—"
"Oh, you air gettin' thar."
"Cup o' v—v—vinegar."
"Thank goodness," Margaret exclaimed.
"Thar you go distressin' him," said Jasper.
Margaret took the cup and went into the kitchen and Mose, looking at Starbuck, grinned in self-celebration of his victory.
"Ain't as h—h—hot as it was when it was h—h—h—hotter, is it?"
"Come to think of it, don't believe it is."
"M—m—m—might r—r—r—rain, soon."
"Yes, and it looks like we mout have snow some time next winter."
"Thank y—y—y—you," said Mose; and as Margaret entered and handed him the cup of vinegar he thanked her, rewarded her with a grin, and departed. For some time after his exit nothing was said, but finally Margaret, standing near the window, began to look for the ends of the broken thread of discourse.
"Now, let me see."
To help her out Starbuck volunteered his services. "We had got to whar I was the biggest fool when I tried. Don't you ricolleck?"
"Oh, you want to git back to whar you was tryin' to pick a quarrel with me, do you?"
"No, jest thought I'd help you out."
"It's no sich of a thing. You know you don't love me an' you jest want a chance to tell me so."
"Did it ever hit you, Margaret, that a woman ought to put herself in a condition to be loved? Scoldin' don't fetch out love no mo' than b'ilin' water would fetch out blossoms."
"I don't scold, and I don't see why you always keep a hintin' that I do. Scold! I never scolded in my life. You know you git mad every mornin' at breakfust. Man's always mad till he gits suthin' to eat. Scold indeed. And if I was to scold, which I don't, I'd have a cause."
"Cause! Did you ever know a woman to look fur a cause an' not find one? Jest make a cause of the needle in the hay-stack an' the woman will find it. And I want to tell you that the mo' causes a woman has the mo' disagreeable she is."
"Oh, it's no sich of a thing. A woman may slave an' slave an' never go off the place and—"
"Go off the place! Didn't you go to the barbecue over at the cross-roads last year?"
"Last year," she repeated; "it was year befo' last. Yes, an' look how you acted on that day—eat till I was ashamed o' you—acted like you never got anythin' at home. I never was so mortified in my life. Saw you standin' thar with the leg of a shote in yo' hand, a makin' of a speech."
"I was askin' a blessin' over the meat. I admit that I was hungry on that occasion; I'd been savin' myse'f up. Thar ain't no use in goin' to a barbecue unless you take yo' appetite with you."
"But thar's no sense in eatin' till everybody talks about it, goodness knows."
"Who talked about it?"
"Everybody, that's who. Oh, you wouldn't love me if I was a dyin'."
"I'd much ruther have you livin'."
"No you wouldn't. If I was a dyin' it would tickle you mighty nigh to death, you—"
In came Laz Spencer, the boy with the meal-bag on his arm.
"Glad to see you," Starbuck exclaimed, catching him by the hand; and Laz, astonished at the warmth of the welcome, stood mute, as if expecting for something to happen. "You got here jest in time, Laz."
"Howdy, Laz," Margaret greeted him, smoothing her countenance.
"Wall," said he, "ain't a standin' on my head," and speaking to Jasper he added: "Come to fetch yo' meal-bag home."
"About when did you borry it, Laz," Jasper inquired, taking the bag and throwing it upon the table.
"Last fall, some time."
"Well, how did you happen to fetch it back so soon?"
"Oh, jest got to thinkin' about it last month."
"Well, no tellin' what's goin' to happen when a feller gits to thinkin'. What's the matter with yo' coat-tail?"
"Was a settin' on a stump, drapped off to sleep an' the calf chawed it."
"I do wish you two would hush yo' foolishness," said Margaret. "How's yo' mother, Laz."
"Give her some interestin' news, Laz," said Starbuck. "Tell her the old lady ain't expected to live."
"Now did anybody ever hear the like o' that," Margaret retorted. "I never seed sich a man."
"Mother ain't so powerful well," said Laz. "She ain't bed sick, but she's a chillin' a good deal. Got the shakes when she went down to the creek bottoms. Can't eat nuthin' but spoon vittuls."
Margaret, dismissing the visitor from further attention, took up a coffee-mill and sat down near the fire-place. Starbuck asked Laz how his brother Bill was getting along since the fellow cut him with a knife, an affair of no particular consequence, but serving as an incidental topic for thoughtless talk.
"Sorter slow," said Laz, never changing a line of his countenance. His face was as fixed as a mask, stupid and expressionless. Whenever he smiled it was a neighborhood event.
"Wall, how did it happen, any way?" Starbuck inquired, biting an apple.
"Wall, Bill he war settin' thar on a log, lookin' out over the new ground, not a thinkin' about bein' stobbed nur nuthin', an' this feller jest slipped up an' stobbed him."
There came a hoarse cry from without.
"Somebody's a hollerin' helloa," said Margaret, grinding her coffee by the fire-place.
Jasper went to the door.
"Helloa, that you, Gabe?"
"What's left of me," a voice replied.
"Won't you light an' look at yo' saddle?"
"No, don't believe I got time. Was goin' down to town an' didn't know but you mout want to send fur suthin'."
"No, don't believe I'm pinched for anythin' at present."
"You might tell him to fetch me a newspaper," said Margaret.
"Wife 'lows you might fetch her a newspaper, Gabe."
"What sorter one?"
"Oh, one o' last year or year befo' last."
"Last year," Margaret repeated contemptuously. "If I can't get this month's paper, I won't have none."
"Wife's mighty particular about her paper, Gabe," Jasper shouted. "Say, fetch her one o' them farmer papers and then it won't make no diffunce how old it is."
"All right. Good-bye."
"Good-bye, Gabe," and then thinking of something important Starbuck hastened to cry out: "Say, Gabe, you might fetch me a can of cove oysters and about a straw hat full o' crackers." The last request was shouted through the window, on the sill of which there was a tin cup and near by, in a corner, was a jug. Taking up the jug and the cup Starbuck, approaching his visitor, inquired: "Have a sneeze, Laz?"
The young fellow did not look round; he saw neither the jug nor the cup, but he knew what was meant, and with a slight change of countenance as he arose, he replied: "Ain't snoze ter-day."
Jasper gave him the cup, raised the jug and said: "Shout when you've got enough."
Instantly Laz became animated, but without a change of countenance: "Say, ricolleck that feller lived over our way, had a white hoss—one day come along and—" The cup ran over.
"You ain't very good at shoutin', air you?"
"Whoa," said Laz.
Jasper tilted the jug to his own lips and Laz drained the cup. Starbuck made a motion with the jug toward Margaret and she shook her head with a shudder.
"Tastes like the milk of human kindness," said Laz, and Jasper replied:
"Yes, till you git too much an' then it's like the juice b'iled outen the hoof of old Satan. Say," he added, as he put the jug in its accustomed place, "have you hearn the new preacher over at Ebenezer?"
"Went over to hear," Laz replied, "but a passel of us fellers got to swoppin' saddles down at the spring an' didn't. They say Jim Starbuck kin preach all round him."
"Bet Jim kin whup him," said Jasper.
"Now, Jasper," his wife spoke up, "why do you allus want to talk about fightin', an' among preachers at that?"
"I ain't allus doin' that, Margaret. I happened to mention Jim because fightin' was about the hardest temptation he had to give up, bein' a Starbuck. But, Laz, the preacher over thar is good."
"How do you know?" Margaret struck in. "You went to sleep."
"Yes," said Jasper, "but he woke me up a time or two, and it takes a putty good one to do that. The last feller they had over thar didn't; he jest let me sleep an' dream—one day I dreamed I was a killin' of a wild cat an' I come mighty nigh a breakin' up the meetin'. But this new man is a high flyer, Laz. He chaws flat terbacker an' spits right out over the dash-board." He took out his watch, shook it, held it to his ear, and glancing at the clock on the mantle-piece, declared: "Either that clock is a liar or this here watch can't tell the truth. I reckon I have mo' trouble with time than anybody in the neighborhood. None of my time-pieces can't git along with one another."
"What diffunce do that make?" Laz drawled. "The sun rises an' sets jest like thar wan't no watches nur clocks. Wouldn't make no diffunce to me ef thar wan't none. Shore ter git a feller inter trouble ef he pays much attention to 'em. The only way for a man to live is jest to let time take care of itse'f. It always did and I reckon it always will." He went over to the table, took up the bag and looking at it as if studying a problem, remarked to Jasper: "I'd like to borry this meal bag ag'in ef you ain't got no particular use for it."
"All right, Laz, but I mout need it by year after next."
"Ah, hah. Wall, I'll try to have it back by then." He started off slowly toward the door, halted and looked about.
"Don't see nuthin' else you want to borry, do you, Laz?"
"Nuthin' I can use. Good-day."
Margaret stood near the window, meditating. "Now, let me see."
"Want to know whar we was when he broke in?" Jasper asked, and she gave him a pathetic look.
"I wan't a thinkin' about that."
"Glad to hear it. Look here, it's a gittin' so a man can't set down and quarrel with his wife in peace. We air gittin' too crowded in this neighborhood. Man moved in five miles from here day befo' yistidy."
"Then let's don't quarrel," said Margaret, holding out her hands.
He put his arms about her. "No, we won't. An' don't be jealous of that po' little grave."
"No, Jasper, for she was the mother of soldiers."
Lije Peters came in, clearing his throat. Starbuck looked round at him and said: "An' Satan come also."
"Starbuck," Peters began, "I want to see you a minit, by yo'se'f."
"I don't know that I've got anythin' to say to you, Lije, but that door thar allus stands open, and I ain't in the habit of orderin' folks out of my house. Margaret, will you please go in thar?" he added, motioning with his head.
"But you won't have no trouble, will you, Jasper?"
"Trouble mostly comes to them that looks for it. I ain't lookin'."
Margaret went to the door, halted, looked back and then passed into the adjoining room. Starbuck sat on a corner of the table. Peters stood looking at him. Peters was much the larger man, and lifting at a handspike, in the clearing at a log-rolling, would have been stronger; but the bully, the half-coward, in combat, is rarely as strong as the brave man. The blood of courage case-hardens a muscle.
They looked at each other, these two men whose relationship, never agreeable, was nearing a crisis. Starbuck's voice was never softer than when he said: "Won't you sit down, Lije?"
"Hardly wuth while. Did the folks tell you that I was over here earlier in the day?"
"Nobody said anythin' about it, Lije. Couldn't have been very important—what you said to 'em on that occasion."
Peters cleared his rasp-like throat. "Mo' important than some folks mout think."
"Some folks don't think," Starbuck replied.
"And then ag'in," said Peters, "thar air others that does."
"Ah, hah, an' ef you air one of 'em, out with what you air thinkin'. Up in the hills one time a dog bit an old feller, and his son's cotch the dog an' put a rope around his neck to hang him. But they kept on a standin' thar till finally the old feller 'low: 'Say, boys, when you've got to hang a dog, do it as quick as you kin. Do you see whut I am a drivin' at?"
Peters gave a gurgling, mirthless chuckle; and loose-jointed, shifted his weight from one leg to the other. "Well, nobody ain't never accused me of not understandin' things—yit."
"Mebbe it's because nobody ain't never paid you that much attention."
"Oh, you know how to talk. Ain't nobody ever denied that, but talk that don't lead up don't amount to nuthin'. Starbuck, our families wan't right good friends in the past."
"Wan't in love," Old Jasper agreed, and Peters coughed.
"Yes, that's a fact. An' I've got an old-fashioned, single-barrel, cap-and-ball pistol that uster belong to a Starbuck."
"Yes, and a way back yander it killed a Peters, I've hearn."
"Yes, Starbuck, with a three-inch slug. But that's nuther here nur thar, jest now. I'm willin' to furgit the past."
Starbuck gave him a knife-thrust glance, and replied: "When a Peters says he is, it's ten to one he ain't."
"You air still talkin' fust rate. But come to think of it, you an' me ain't been very much at outs."
"That's so, Lije. I've slept all night many a time without dreamin' of you."
"Yes. But I reckon I've been doin' a leetle mo' dreamin' than you have. Yo' daughter—"
"Only a dream so fur as you air consarned."
"Do you mean to say she won't marry me if you tell her to?"
Starbuck left the table upon which he had been sitting, and moved over closer to his visitor. "Look here: you know she can't love you, an' don't you want her because you think I've got a little money? Hah, ain't that it?" And slowly the old man went over to the fire-place, took down his pipe, filled it and stood twisting a piece of paper. "When you git right down to it, Lije, ain't that the reason—money?"
"Well," said Peters, shifting about, "if thar is money, I reckon I know how you come by some of it." He put his foot on a chair and pulled at his beard. "Yes, I reckon I know how you got a good deal of it. Starbuck, I know an old feller about yo' size an' with gray ha'r that has made a good deal o' licker when the sun wan't shinin'. And that fetches me down to the p'int. I have applied fur appointment as Deputy United States Marshal. Do you know what that means—if I git it?"
Starbuck leaned over and thrust the piece of paper into the fire, turned about with it blazing in his hand and applied it to his pipe.
"Do you know what that means, Starbuck?"
The old man puffed at his pipe, drew the blazing paper through his hand, put out the fire, removed his pipe, studied a moment and said: "Yes. It means that I may have to kill you."
Not another word was spoken, and Peters went out, turning with a sullen look as he reached the road. For a moment he stood there and then skulked on away, met a dog in the road and kicked at him. When Margaret re-entered the room Jasper was walking up and down with his hands behind him. The old man began to tell a story: "Feller down in the bottoms owned a calf that had wool on him like a sheep; uster ter shear him every spring, and one time he—"
"Jasper, didn't Peters say he was a comin' after you?"
"Margaret, is it possible that you've been listenin' to two men talkin' business? Now, business is a sort of a sacred thing. A feller in the Bible says, 'I'd like might'ly to go to yo' little dinner, but I've got to break a yoke of steers an' you must 'skuze me.' So, Margaret, you must never interfere with bisiness."
"But didn't you say suthin' about that you might have to kill him? Didn't you?"
"Huh. We must have been talkin' about a sheep that broke his leg. When a sheep breaks his leg, you know, he's about gone. Mighty hard thing to cure a sheep, makes no diffunce what's the matter with him. Feller over near Smithfield had a sheep once that—"
"Didn't he say he was a goin' to be app'inted deputy marshal?"
"Who, the sheep? Now, I don't believe a sheep would make a very good deputy marshal. Strikes me that the wolf would be a trifle better."
"Jasper, I didn't say a word about a sheep, and you know it."
"That's a fact. I was the one that was a talkin' about a sheep. I know'd it was one of us, but I sorter forgot which one."
"Didn't he say that you made a good deal o' licker when the sun wan't shinin'? Didn't he?"
"Margaret, ef you keep on, I'll be fo'ced to believe you have been listenin'; an' I'd hate to think that. Thar ain't nuthin' much wus than listenin' to other folks when they talk business. Now the fust woman on the earth listened when her husband he was a talkin' to an angel that was out in the garden a sunnin' hisse'f, and they called her a Eve drapper."
"Wall, you wan't a talkin' to no angel, I'll tell you that."
"Talkin' to one now, ain't I?"
"Jasper, I didn't come in here to be made fun of. I'd rather quarrel than to be made fun of."
"I don't know but that's a fact."
"Now why don't you tell me all about it?"
"I don't see the use in my repeatin' suthin' you've already hearn."
"Already hearn? I ain't hearn a word, and you know it. But suppose he do git the app'intment—won't it mean trouble?"
"Wall, I don't know but it will. They do say that it's a sorter troublesome job. Know'd a feller that was app'inted once, and he was shot between the eyes—puttiest shot you ever saw. Man said, 'You couldn't do that ag'in in ten years,' and putty soon thar come along another deputy, an' blamed if he didn't do it ag'in."
"I wish you wouldn't pester me so—when I've already got trouble on my mind."
"What's troublin' you, Margaret?"
"Why, dinner's about ready to take up, and them folks ain't come back. Why, I never did see Lou as skittish as she is now. I reckon it's because he's the son of a United States jedge."
"Oh, you've found out all about him, have you? Wall, he's sorter skittish, too. And when his aunt talks it puts me in mind of a bird a singin' up summers among the green leaves."
"Oh, any woman could talk thatter way if you'd put fine clothes on her. Trouble is when a woman ain't dressed fitten to kill, nobody won't listen to her. Common calico can't talk any better than that Mose Blake; but silk—law me! Sings like a bird up among the green leaves. I despise to hear a man go on thatter way—jest as if a woman ain't respectable unless she covers herself with finery. But I want to tell you that Lou can talk with the rest of 'em when she wants to—and so can I, for that matter."
"Oh, you can talk, Margaret—thar ain't no doubt about that. Well, I'll go out now and see if the hogs air gittin' along all right, and when dinner's ready jest blow yo' ho'n."
Off from the road, not far from the house, a gulch ran zig-zag up among the rugged hills. It was no mere ragged and unsightly drain for water from the higher land. Flower-brightened and vine-hung, it was deliciously cool, and gorgeous at every turn. At the bottom babbled a rivulet, a bit of summer sky melted and poured among the green-tipped rocks. Blooming shrubs in the giant's garden, the saplings seemed; and hither came the birds to make their nests and to nod with half-shut eyes in the drowsy afternoon. But after passing through this elbow corridor, there were bare rocks, standing bold in the sun or bleak in the wind, and here was a log hut almost hidden by bushes. It was called the mill, and corn was ground there, but the meal was boiled in a great iron kettle. It was Old Jasper's distillery. After leaving the house he went up to this place, and in front of his picturesque though illegitimate establishment, he sat down upon a stone to muse over his coming danger.
In Jasper Starbuck there was a force which, directed by education, would have made of him a leader of men. Once a neighbor had threatened to report him to the government, and in the night Jasper went to the house of his enemy, called him to the door, showed him a rope, and without saying a word went away. The neighbor knew what the rope meant. Years before a miscreant who had assaulted a woman, was seized by Starbuck, thrown upon his back, tied hand and foot, and hanged to a tree; and it was only the timely arrival of officers of the law that saved him for the deliberations of the established gallows. But with all his quickness to act he was sometimes made slow by a touch of sentiment, and thus it was that he permitted Peters to bully him. Between the two families there had ever existed bad blood, and some of it had been spilled. In the neighborhood it was a standing prediction that Jasper would one day cut the throat of the blustering Lije, and the old fellow, especially as time began to whiten his hair, constantly mused to himself: "I don't want 'em to throw it up to my girl that she is the daughter of a butcher, but if the time must come—" Here he always broke off, summoning his humor with the whistle of a droll tune. "Thar may be some way to weather it out," he now mused as he sat upon the stone, "I have been in many a close place and I always weathered it out."
Suddenly he looked up, attracted by the bleating of a lamb; and up higher among the crags he went, found the little thing caught between two rocks, almost starved. "You don't belong to me," he said, taking the lamb in his arms, "but yo' life belongs to you an' in the sight o' the Lord mebby it amounts to as much as mine." He took the lamb down to the house, gave it milk, and then took it back upon the hill-side, and, putting it on the ground, said: "Thar, I reckon you'd better run along home. Yo' mammy mout be distressed about you."
Upon returning to the house he found that his visitors had come back from the post-office. Jim was gazing at Mrs. Mayfield, Tom was shyly striving to dispel Lou's shyness, Mrs. Mayfield was talking romance.
"Oh, I could not have believed that such a place existed," she said to Starbuck. "I was warned not to come here, that the people were ungentle and that the report of the gun was oftener heard than the strains of the song; but I find that your life here is almost uneventful music."
"I don't know what sort of music that is, ma'm, but if you say so, I'd be willin' to bet on it. Wouldn't you, Jim?"
"I don't bet, Uncle Jasper,—but—but if she wanted me to I would."
"Of course you would, or any other preacher, if he's a man."
Mrs. Mayfield was looking at Jim and he sat illumined beneath her gaze. "Your compliments are all so new and strange to me," she said. "And in them I can find no flattery."
"Ma'm, I have never tried to flatter any one. Judas was a flatterer."
"That's right, ma'm," the old man declared, laughing and slapping his leg; "an' I'd ruther a man would tell me a flat-footed lie than to pour molasses on me. Young feller," he asked of Tom, "did you like yo' ride?"
"Charmed with it, I assure you. Auntie called it a continuous panorama."
"Wall, I never thought about it in that way, but I reckon that's about what it is."
"Oh, such visions are not to be forgotten," Mrs. Mayfield spoke up, and at the sound of her voice Jim dodged. "And such air, Mr. Starbuck—ethereal liquor of the gods."
At the word liquor Jasper's jaw dropped with a "hah?"
"Yes," she said, "wine from the press of Paradise. How free from the taint of the world was every shrub and flower! I thought that a poet had laid him down and dreamed, and awaking and stealing away, had left his dream behind."
"That so? And right up on the hill from whar you crossed the river thar lives the old feller they tell the tale about. Many years ago when thar come along a gover'ment surveyor, a changein' the line between North Caroliny an' Tennessee, he dragged his chain through the old feller's house, putting one room in one state an' lettin' the other room stay in the state it was. 'Wall,' says the old feller, beginnin' to move his bed over into the tuther room, 'reckon I'll sleep over here as North Caroliny ain't very healthy nohow,' an' he did till years atterwards another chain proved that he was mo' than fifty miles over in Tennessee an' then his health improved might'ly. I'm glad you like our part o' the country, ma'm."
"Anyone to know the dark side of life as I do, Mr. Starbuck, must revel here. There are no sneers among the trees, and the tears that fall from the flowers are tears of joy and not of sorrow. It does not seem that the great explorer, Trouble, has ever penetrated this region."
"Ma'm," said the old man, standing in front of her with his hands behind him, "no matter whar we go trouble is thar jest in advance of us. Trouble was in the garden of Eden, waitin' for man. The coward may say that it come with the woman, but it was thar in the shape of a snake befo' man trod the path. A house may be away off among the hills; it may be kivered all over with vines an' the flowers may sweeten the roof, and yit inside thar may be a heart that is a smotherin'."
"It is mighty warm in here," said Margaret, entering the room. "Come to dinner."
Jim, in a constant tremble, as if he expected some dire accident to befall him, sat beside Mrs. Mayfield. Once he dropped a dish, and later leaning back in his chair, the hind legs of which were too short, tipped over and came near upsetting the table. Tom and Lou tittered; Jasper roared till the tears ran down his brown cheeks; Margaret reproved him and all was in confusion till Mrs. Mayfield's gentle words pattered musically among them like rain in the dust. She did not take notice of the ludicrous mishap, and when Jim had scrambled to his feet and was standing there ridiculous with a dry grin, she said to him: "I know you must be fond of books, and when I return home I will send you some—books that I have read and marked when the hours were long."
The preacher recovered himself. "Ma'm," said he, "in a book yo' pencil would make a high price mark, and from one man that I know of there could be no purchase."
"I gad," snorted Old Jasper, "dinged if he didn't git right up and stand higher than he was befo'."
"Jasper," Margaret protested, "I wouldn't make fun of the way a man stands. It don't sound right."
"My dear," Mrs. Mayfield replied to Margaret, motherly, though young, "he paid Mr. Reverend a pretty compliment."
"Now did he?" Margaret rejoined. "Wall, if he did I'm mighty glad of it, but the truth is, Miz Mayfield, Jasper is so full of his pranks you never can tell how to take him. Lou, why don't you pass the butter to Mr. Elliott; and the bread? Can't you see nothin' at all? I hope you will excuse her, Mr. Elliott, fur she sometimes furgits though she did go to school for two years over at Dry Fork."
Tom begged her not to worry about him. He was nearing that stage when physical appetite is forgotten, when our entire nature, faults, virtues, all littlenesses and greater qualities, are thrown into a heap to feed the bonfire of love. An old man may love like a fool, but the boy loves like a hero. The old man who believes that he is loved by a girl is a reveler in the debauchery of his own vanity. With an egotism unknown to youth, he believes. The "sweet thing" tells him with an air of wisdom that she could not love youth, that it is but an animated folly, and he believes her. But the boy is uncertain and doubts himself. His love, instead of inspiring confidence within his own breast, inhabits his heart with the ghost of fear. The old man talks platitudes and knows that he is convincing. The boy stammers his devotion and feels that he has failed.
"You ain't eatin' a thing," said Lou, and this bold boy in the city, but timid now, dropped a piece of bread, burnt himself with coffee and spluttered that never in all his life had he eaten so much. A bird lighted on the window sill, and whispering to Lou, he said that it had come to hear her talk, and to carry her music to the other birds to make them envious; and she spoke no word, but her cheeks replied to him. The old man was musing and saw nothing, but Margaret heard the words and saw the blush, and sitting back in her chair she compressed her lips and fanned herself in satisfied determination. Jim had become calm, though watchful and still on the dodge. Sometimes he started as if a bold thought with a sudden knock upon the prison door demanded liberation, but frightened at the sound of the struggling voice within he would seem to clap his hand over the key-hole, that no accent might escape. The old man was aware of these trials and they amused him and often he would duck his head and laugh over his plate. Margaret would clear her throat at him.
"Now, Jasper, what on top of yeth has tickled you so? A body to see you would think that thar wan't nuthin' serious nowhar. Oh, I like to see a man enjoy hisse'f, but—"