he had thought it was Martha, and now he knew it was, for the old
miller had told him more of the girl, and had wrung his heart with
pity. She had been ill a long while. The "furriners " had seized old
Jasper's cahin and land. The girl was homeless, and she did not
know it, for no one had the heart to tell her. She was living with
the Braytons; and every day she went to the cabin, "moonin'' n'
sorrowin' aroun'," as old Gabe said; and she was much changed.
Once more the miller came-for the last time, he said, firmly.
Crump had trailed him, and had learned where Rome was. The
search would begin next day-perhaps that very night-and Crump
would guide the soldiers. Now he must go, and go quickly. The
boy, too, sent word that unless Rome went, he would have
something to tell. Old Gabe saw no significance in the message;
but he had promised to deliver it, and he did. Rome wavered then;
Steve and himself gone, no suspicion would fall on the lad. If he
were caught, the boy might confess. With silence Rome gave
assent, and the two parted in an apathy that was like heartlessness.
Only old Gabe's shrunken breast heaved with something more than
weariness of descent, and Rome stood watching him a long time
before he turned back to the cave that had sheltered him from his
enemies among beasts and men. In a moment he came out for the
last time, and turned the opposite way. Climbing about the spur, he
made for the path that led down to the river. When he reached it he
glanced at the sun, and stopped in indecision. Straight above him
was a knoll, massed with rhododendrons, the flashing leaves of
which made it like a great sea-wave in the slanting sun, while the
blooms broke slowly down over it like foam. Above this was a
gray sepulchre of dead, standing trees, more gaunt and spectre-like
than ever, with the rich life of summer about it. Higher still were a
dark belt of stunted firs and the sandstone ledge, and above
these-home. He was risking his liberty, his life. Any clump of
bushes might bristle suddenly with Winchesters. If the soldiers
sought for him at the cave they would at the same time guard the
mountain paths; they would guard, too, the Stetson cabin. But no
matter-the sun was still high, and he turned up the steep. The ledge
passed, he stopped with a curse at his lips and the pain of a
knife-thrust at his heart. A heap of blackened stones and ashes
was before him. The wild mountain-grass was growing up about it.
The bee-gums were overturned and rifled. The garden was a
tangled mass of weeds. The graves in the little family
burying-ground were unprotected, the fence was gone, and no
boards marked the last two ragged mounds. Old Gabe had never
told him. He, too, like Martha, was homeless, and the old miller
had been kind to him, as the girl's kinspeople had been to her.
For a long while he sat on the remnant of the burned and broken
fence, and once more the old tide of bitterness rose within him andDownload<<BackPagesMainNext>>