look was a thorn in his soul, and he stayed little at home. He hung
about the mill, and when Isom became bedfast, the big
mountaineer, who had never handled anything but a horse, a
plough, or a rifle, settled him-self, to the bewilderment of the
Stetsons, into the boy's duties, and nobody dared question him.
Even old Gabe jested no longer. The matter was too serious.
Meanwhile the winter threw off the last slumbrous mood of
autumn, as a sleeper starts from a dream. A fortnight was gone,
and still no message came from the absent leader. One shore was
restive, uneasy; the other confident, mocking. Between the two,
Rome Stetson waited his chance at the mill.
DAY was whitening on the Stetson shore. Across the river the air
was still sharp with the chill of dawn, and the mists lay like flocks
of sheep under shelter of rock and crag. A peculiar cry radiated
from the Lewallen cabin with singular resonance on the crisp
air-the mountain cry for straying cattle. A soft low came from a
distant patch of laurel, and old Jasper's girl, Martha, folded. her
hands like a conch at her mouth, and the shrill cry again startled
Ye better come, ye pieded cow-brute." Picking up a cedar piggin,
she stepped from the porch toward the meek voice that had
answered her. Temper and exertion had brought the quick blood
to her face. Her head was bare, her thick hair was loosely coiled,
and her brown arms were naked almost to the shoulder. At the
stable a young mountaineer was overhauling his riding-gear.
Air you goin' to ride the hoss to-day, Jas?" she asked, querulously.
"That's jes whut I was aimin' to do. I'm a-goin' to town."
Well, I 'lowed I was goin' to mill to-day. The co'n is 'mos' gone."
"Well, y'u 'lowed wrong," he answered, imperturbably.
Y'u're mean, Jas Lewallen," she cried, hotly; " that's whut ye air,
The young mountaineer looked up, whistled softly, and laughed.
But when he brought his horse to the door an hour later there was a
bag of corn across the saddle.
"As ye air so powerful sot on goin' to mill, whether or no, I'll leave
this hyeh sack at the bend O' the road, 'n' ye kin git it thar. I'll
bring the meal back ef ye puts it in the same place. I hates to see
women-folks a-ridin' this horse. Hit spiles him."
The horse was a dapple-gray of unusual beauty, and as the girl
reached out her hand to stroke his throat, he turned to nibble at her
"I reckon he'd jes as lieve have me ride him as you, Jas," she said.
" Me 'n' him have got to be great friends. Ye orter n't to be so
Well, he ain't no hoss to be left out'n the bresh now, 'n' I hain't goin'
to 'low it."
Old Jasper had lounged out of the kitchen door, and stood with his
huge bulk against a shrinking pillar of the porch. The two men
were much alike. Both had the same black, threatening brows
meeting over the bridge of the nose. A kind of grim humor lurkedDownload<<BackPagesMainNext>>