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

the air.

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 lurked

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