The Wild Huntsman of Sequatchie Valeey.
CHAP IKK 1
CTj'LAX (JIFFAKI), scrainhling liiro' the tangle of Ij^ uiulerbru.shjcainesiuldt'nly iijxui a little clearing ^ against the mountain-side wliicli seemed scarce
large enough for the one rickety eahin that it hehl nestling there with its green cabbage garden and few scraggy, stunted fruit trees among the over-hanging oaks and chestnuts. He was (|uite heated by his long-pull, and sat down to rest a moment on a little ledge of rock, putting his color-box down beside him.
"Tired, ain't yer?" He was startled by hearing a voice ask just above him, and looking up he saw, leaning against the broken, half-tumbled-down rail fence, a tliin-faced, keen-eyed old w(mian, who stood contemplating him quite complacently.
"Pretty tired," he said, good-naturedly, smiling up at her with his frank, grey eyes. " I've lost my way, too, and have had (juite a scramble of it over these rocks."
" Lost, air yer ? Now that\s a party come off, ain't it ? Stoppin' up to Monteagle ?'^ the old woman asked.
" Yes," Giffard answered.
'Mir yer to the hotel, or on the Grounds?''
'' On the Grounds."
'' Many folks thar now ?''
^'I don't know, I am sure/' he said. ''I have only just come myself, and this is my first season."
The old woman looked him over from head to foot quite seriously for a moment, with her chin resting upon her folded arms on the fence. Then, fixing her gaze upon the box at Giffard's feet, she said, with a little dip of her head :
'' Book agent ? "
" No," he said, his eyes following her gaze : '^ that's a color-box. I am a painter."
'^ Oh, yer air?" she said. '' 'Lowed yer's sump'-nother time I seen yer didn't have no legs to yer pants."
^' Knickerbockers are better for climbing over your rocks," he said, laughingly, as he got up. 'Mnd now, will you be kind enough to direct me to the shortest trail up to Monteagle?"
'^ The Pipe Line's the nighest way up," she said, without moving.
'' The Pipe Line ? What is that ?" he asked.
" The trail up 'long the line er pipe that takes the water up to Monteagle f'um the spring down thar in the valley. It's the nighest cut, but you couldn't never fin' it by yerse'f"
" I think I should like to try, if you will direct me," he said, picking up his box.
" Don't jes' know wliar 'tis myse'f,'' the old woman went on, still unpiirturhed. '^Vin't never to say been thater way, Imt Loaniie here'll show yer."
For the first time, Ahin noticed the ^irl who had come up from beneatli the peach-trees, and was standing behind her mother. She was a tall, slender, unformed young thing, with a gh)W of color under her brown skin, and a subdued fire in her hirge, dark eyes. There was an irre«:uh\rity and hick of harmonious de-velo})ment about tiic face that made it fall short of being a ])retty one, but even the severe arrangement of.the coal-black, straight hair, which was parted down the middle and brushed into a tight coil high off the neck behind, did not mar the beautv <»f the well-poised head.
(Jiffard noted all this as he followed her quick free strides up the mountain path. Once, an over-hanging branch caught the skirt of her thin calico dress, and her foot slip])ed on a stone. In a moment he was beside her,and, having released her, held out his hand to hel]) her up the next turning. She looked at him a little curiously from beneath her long lashes, and sprang lightly up before him again. She did not speak during the whole way, and at last, when they had climbed up under the projecting stones of Warren's Point, and the peaceful hazy valley lay stretched below, with the sun just dipping like a ball of Hre behind the blue peaks beyond, she only gave a little sidelong glance at Giflard, and, with a gesture that was comprehensive in its very simplicity, waved her hand outward toward the mists and the mountains and the sunset.
" Beautiful/' he said, answering the question of her look, and following her to the Point's edge.
" It^s purtier'n that over thar beyant the mountains where the sun's gone/' she said.
" YouVe been over there ? ^' he asked, looking down at her.
" No/' she said, without turning her head. " I ain't been, that's how I know it's purtier there."
" That is rather doubtful philosophy, I fear," said Giffard, moving nearer to the edge. A moment later, Avhen he turned to speak to the girl, she was gone, and he followed the broad sandy road which he knew would lead him to the Assembly Grounds. Meanwhile, the girl, dropping quickly down the accustomed trail, was startled when she emerged into the mountain road below, to hear the loose rattle of an empty wagon.
" Come up thar, Baldy," said the driver, in the slow mountain drawl.
" Lor', it's Dave," said Loanne, springing back and hiding herself among the dense growth that overhung the road.
The slow lazy oxen passed up the rocky road beneath her, the loose plank that stood for wagon-body rattled noisily, and upon them the empty barrels bumped tipsily together at every jolt. Behind, with long slow strides, followed Dave, clad in an ample shirt of blue stripes and wide trousers of brown jeans. His big ash-colored felt hat flopped down over his ears, his scant, straw-colored hair hung lankly upon his thin neck, and his small grey-blue eyes were closely set above his sallow cheeks. 11
Loaniie hail crouched (h)\\n l)chiiul an uprooted tree, hut as Dave came up just l)eh)\v, a h)()se stone, disphiecd hy her foot, ratth'd noisily in the wooded stillness down into the i-oad before him.
" Lor', Loaiiiic, I like ter not seen yer," lie >«aid, sj>rini;'imi- up the slope, and layin<»; his hand on ln'i-arm.
" Lennne loose, I)ave Jiyee," >he >aid. riiei'e was a look in her eyes that I>a\'e <lid nnt understand, and her words startled him.
" Lor\ Loanne, did 1 -keer yei'V Sho' 1 'lowe(l yer seen me an' war j<'s" hidin' tei- de\il me, sho' 1 did," he said, eoueiliatorily.
" 1 heen't skeert." The girl's eyes Hashed down at him, and she drew widl hack amid the scra<i:gy, ni>-tiirned roots.
" Well, what ails yer now, Loannt*? Yer heen't mad, he yer? Sho\ yer know 1 never aimed to pester yer. I war jes' stud'in' hout'n yer whenst I come erloug. Seem's ef I been stud'in' bout yer sence yer warn't no hii::her'n my boot-lei^-, and yei* beeiTt ;^-oin' back on me n(»w, be yi-rV Sence yer give me yer word to marry me, scem's ef the groun's been too sorf ter tread on an' I's minin' to go down thar an'git yer on my way back an' take yer down the cove ter see how nice the little cabin looks. It's all ready an' waitin' fur yer, Loanne, an' yistiddy I cut a gum log down the ravine, an' sot it up under the ol' ches'nut tree fur yer ash-hopper, an' 1 madi' a bench fur the tubs down ter the spring."
Dave paused, but the girl did nf>t speak and he went on again.
^^ It's mighty lonesome thar now waitin' fur yer, but sometimes, whenst I shet my eyes, seems 'sef yer air jes' settin' thar on the yuther side the chimbly-cornder with yer knittin' in yer han's, an' sometimes I kin hear yer singin' an' badlin' clothes down thar on the little bench 'mongst the laurel. But it's mighty lonesome waitin', an' yer been't mad—yer been't goin' back on me now, Loanne?"
The girl leaned suddenly toward him. There was a quick light in her eyes, and she said, laughingly, "• Well, you be a fool, Dave, but I ain't mad."
Dave made a step forward and reached out his hand, but she was too quick for him. Putting both her hands upon his broad shoulders, she gave a sudden push that sent him sliding down the slope, the dislodged stones rattling about him.
" Yer better g'long after the steers, Dave, or the rackety bar'ls will drap over an' lose all yer pig-slop," called Loanne, as she disappeared up the mountain side.
That night Alan GifFard wrote a letter. It was a long one, and there was much in it that concerned only two people, the woman who read it and the man who wrote it, but toward the end he said :
'^ I think I have found a type for you up here, one that you might use quite effectively. She is too young and undeveloped yet to be beautiful, but her glorious
color and fine eye^^ make her eveu nnw suspiciously Dear to it. I think she will work up pretty well into one of your stories, and I shall make some studies of her so as to be able to illustrate for you au naturel. I shall do my best in the way of collecting material and storintr a\vay l«^cal color to take back to you. In the meantime, the girl's name is L<»anne : will that do for a heruine? That reminds me, I must keep my eves open for a hero ; but the men seem to be an uninteresting lot."
True to his promise Giffard began the very next day to make sketches of the girl. He found her a very willing model, and she p^sed well, being full of the unconscious, lazy naturalness of youth. One day, in the midst of the' posing, Dave's long lank figure appeared in the doorway of the little cabin, and without chanoring her position, I^janne flashed a h>ok of defiance at the big fellow, which in no way disconcerted him, however, f«>r he only sat down complac-entlv where he could watch Giffard's brush-strokes.
*'* It's purtv, sho', that air pictcher yer makin'. Mister," he said, after a little. ''An' I's thiukin', Loanue, I air minded ter get him ter take a portrait uvyer fur me ter hano: up down thar in the little cabin. It'll kinder he'p me out ter wait fur yer, mebbe.
'* Yer see how it air with we'uns. Mister,*" he said, turning to Giflfard. '' Loanne have promised me, an' us air only waitin', an' whilst I air bidin' bv myse'f, a po'trait 'ud be a heap er comp'ny, an' I aimed ter ast ver how much yer'd charge ter take one fur me."
'* Perhaps she will let me present her with one of my sketches a? a wedding gift," answered Giffard.
^^ Portraits are rather expensive things : I sometimes get hundreds of doUars for one of them."
" Then they air fools as buys 'em, I say," said Dave in amazement.
''An' you air a fool yerse'f, I say. Dave Byce," Loanne said, and she got up and went out of the house thro' the back door. For a moment Dave sat stupidly staring after her before he followed her out into the little orchard.
That night Gilfard wrote : " The hero has appeared : a great hulking fellow who will probablv continue in common-place docility for the rest of his days, but who might be worked up into tragic proportions."
When Dave followed Loanne from the house, he found her leaning against the old tumbled down fence overlooking the valley. She turned upon him scorn-iully as he came up.
'^ You air a purty 'un, ain't ye, ter be telliu' the likes uv him in thar that bis pictchers warn't wuth buyin'. You air a purty 'un, ain't yer now ? "
" I air one as ain't afeard to speak my min' ter no man," Dave answered ; '" an' who air he, anyhow, ter come pesterin' 'roun' we'uns with his pictchers an' slick tongue? Tell me that—"
But the girl interrupted him : "An" 1 air one as ain't afeard ter speak my rain' nuther, an' I tell yer. Dave Byce, I air sick an' tired uv yer ugly face an' yer low-life ways. I air sick an' tired uv hearin' 'bout the cabin down the cove. I air sick an' tired uv ever'thing, do yer hear? An' I take back the Avord that I give yer. Do yer hear? I air sick an' tired uv von."
Dave looked at her tor a in<»iuent, as she stood, shaken and Hushed with passion, and then, without speaking, lie turned and went off* (h)wn the trail, the words rankling in his hosoni.
A\'hen ( Jitl'ard htokrd out <>t' his window in the f>arly uioi-irmL: <•!' his last day at Monteagle, the heauty of the mountain mist that hid the house tops and the white tents and dip))ed down between the tree-b<dls, envelojiing all in it> soft Muc haze, seemed somehow to ensnare him, too. Ilr had s(> wanted jn>t such a day, and, duriiiLi" all tlic two weeks of his vacation, there had been nothing- hut absolutely heated skies, when the sunliuht h;id seemed to sein-tillate upon the rocky roadside and the green, green 'trees. 1 he >ubtle, undeveloped beauty that he sometimes faneied he found in Loanne had made him wish to paint her in just sueh misty light as the mountains werr' to-day, and tho' everything was all j)aeked for travelling, he could not resist the tem])tation to get out his coh)rs and try to get a fpiiek eff'eet for future working.
He stole downstairs softly, lor the cottagers were not yet awake. Throughout the grounds he met no one; all was (piiet and still. Even the gatekeeper was not at his lodge, and Giffl\rd had to (dimb the fenee to get out. The mist was so beautiful and so illusive that he had a nervous kind of feeling that the
whole thing would lift and float away before he could reach the little cabin down the mountain-side, and it was with a feeling of intense delight, as he came up under a ledge by the spring, that he saw Loanne herself coming down the slope thro' the laurel. The mist was in her hair and clung to her dress, clothing her in beauty. The effect was just what he wanted, and he called to her to stand.
The girl seemed in no way to be startled by seeing him. He had told her he was going away, and now he seemed only to be coming back again out of the haze of her thoughts. She stood still when he called, but her heart was sounding into her very ears, and the blood was dancing in her veins. She dared not speak; her happiness filled her and she feared it, too, would melt in the mist.
Oblivious to everything save the burning fire of his own artistic purpose, Giffard set to work with a will, and Avas soon laying on the color in broad, vigorous dashes. The thing pleased him, and he was thinking of one to whom he would show it, one who Avould like it even better than he.
The snapping of a dry twig sounded in the stillness down the ravine. The girl gave a little start, and let fall the hand that held the parted laurels.
'^ Likely it war a catamount,'' she said in a moment, a little ashamed of her nervousness. ^' They air noneesech good comp'ny, nuther."
She grasped the branch again and tried to resume her old position, but when Giifard turned to his canvas, he frowned, and said in an absorbed impatient way : ^' Oh, she has lost the pose ! "
He spoke scarce above a whisper, aiul might not have been heard twenty steps away, l)iit Loanne's quick eyes cauii:lit tlie h)ok and tlie meaning of liis impatient gesture.
" Don't yer be mad witli me," she >aid, pleadingly ; "don't yer, fur (lod's sake. I'll d<» my best. I'll do anything yon say; I'll do nnytliing you want of me—anything, anything."
There behind the laurel, hidden in the mist, a pair of (piiek ears caught the sound of the girl's voice, and a ])air of sharp eyes pecu'ed all inmbserved thro' the branehes.
(liffard did not aii>wei-; indeed, he >earee heard the woi-ds, so intent was he upon his work, and the mist was wasting; he would have to go up and pose her. Springing up tlu' slope, his pallette and brushes still in his left hand, he put his right arm about the girPs shoulders, moving her head back into the old position. With his arm still around her, his hand steadying her head, he drew hims(df w(dl back from her to see the effect, and with absorbed eanu'stiu'.ss lie exchiimed : " Heautiful ! "
To him, the word, the ])osition meant nothing irrelevant to his picture, and he did not feed the tremor that ran thro' the girl at his touch. Her face was very (dose to his, but he did not see a strange light that came into the wide-open startled eyes, nor bear the breath come short and (piick. His thoughts were elsewhere, and, letting fall his arm, he turned and went down the slope to his work.
But the sharp eyes behind the laurel had seen all, and more. Since the day at the cabin, when Dave
had gone away after Loanne's passionate renunciation of him, the seeds of jealous rage which her words had sown had rankled in his heart, and now when he came thus suddenly upon her and GifFard alone in the mist the smouldering fire burst into flame. To him, Giifard's enfolding arm meant an embrace, and he cursed himself for a fi)ol that he had left his gun at home. It would have filled his heart with joy to send a bullet into GiiFard\s and lay him dead at Loanne's feet. Perhaps it would not be too late yet, he thought, as he slipped back thro' the laurel, and this time not a twig snapped beneath his stealthy tread.
By the time the sifting sunlight had stolen away the mist, the sketch was finished, and Giffard's good humor had returned.
" Come down and see it,'' he said, calling up to the girl, and beginning at once to wipe his brushes and clean his bedaubed palette.
Loanne came down the path slowly; her strength Avas spent with the long standing, and she felt still fluttering and tremulous.
^^ I shall take away many things to remind me of the mountains/' Giifiird said w^ith clieerful indifference, "and I want you to let me leave you a little remembrance." He ran his hand into his pocket and held out a five-dollar gold piece.
" I don't want yer money," she said.
" It is only to remember me by," he answered, pleasantly.
She snatched the gold piece from him with sudden purpose, clasping it hard in both her hands.
" Oh, don't yer go 'way an' leave me/' she cried, and her voice was hoarse with j)assion. " Don't yer leave me ; don't yer leave me! Only jes'take me er-long with yer. I won't pester yer; I'll do anything you say, but don't yer leave me ; don't yer leave me ! ''
The girl's words struck him as a blow ; long after-Avards the inemoiw of thcni canic i)ack to him with paini'ul echo.
But now, when her passionate outburst was over, the girl sank down upon the stones at his feet, covering her face with her hands. Bending over her he ])Ut his hand upon her head and said gently :
" There i> no place for you, child, in tiie world where 1 am going. It is better foi* you here. I>y and by it will all come right."
His s(>berness (juieted her. JShe lay in a heap on the stones, sobbing, but making no effort to speak, even when he left her and eliinlxd up the slope betwixt the odorous laurel.
It must have been scarely ten minutes later that, stealing noiselessly through the underl)rush, Dave found Loanne alone upon the stones just as Giifard had left her.
Bending over her, he caught her by the arm and shook her roughly.
" Whar's he gone?'' he demanded.
She looked up at him with wide, startled eyes. For full a moment she was too dazed to think or speak. Then, like a flash, it all came upon her. The breaking of the twig over there in the laurel, the anger now in Dave's queer keen eyes, the menace in his manner, the gun in his hand—she comprehended all, and, at any price, she would save the life of the man she loved.
^^Oh, Dave," she said, as with sudden joyousness, springing up and throwing her arms about his neck, " whar have yer been ter all this long time ? I war up ter the big road time an' time erg'in to see ef yer'd pass thater way ? an' Lor', Dave, I got right down foolish stud'in' 'bout yer takin' me at my word that day down ter the cabin. Yer ougliter knowed me better, Dave, yer oughter knowed me better."
Was it the mist that had beclouded poor Dave's wits ? It seemed that he could in no way comprehend what Loanne had said, but her arms were around his neck and her lips were very close to his. With a murmer of bursting happiness, he folded the girl to his heart.
'' Loanne, honey," he said, after a while as they sat u})on the stones? "I war er fool, I war. I thought yer meant them words yer give that day at the cabin ; I war er fool all erlong, an' ef I'd er found him here whenst I come back with the gun, I'd er kilt him, I would."
Even as he spoke the whistle of a locomotive sounded from above.
''What war that, Dave?" asked Loanne breathlessly.
^' It air the niorninjj^ train Icavin' ^lonteagle," he saifl, and slie knew that her purpose was wrouij^ht, that Gitfiird was safe.
During the few days that foUowed, before Dave and Loanne stood in tlie little front room at Squire ]Miller\s, and were made man and wife, the girl seemed like one daft. She sat looking on, rpiiet and listless, whih' the old woman made a few hasty })reparations for the wedding; but sometimes a strange fire shone in her large dark eyes when she turned them toward the westward as the sun sank
There liad been one or two sketches, wet or unfinished, left l)y (iiffard at the little cabin. These, and an old slouch hat which lie liad used to shade his eyes, and a paint-stained silk handkerchief, L(>anne took the day before her wedding and went with them down the mountain-side.
^'She air goin' ter fling'em inter the Kif't," her mother said to herself, looking sadly after her as she left the cabin.
Dave was a little alarmed when the sad-eyed, white-faced bride who followed him home grew daily sadder and paler. He fancied his own presence wearied her, and left her more and more to herself in the little cabin where he had meant they should be so happy together.
*'8he ain't use'n to me yit," he said.''I'll give her time."
One evening, as he wandered about the mountain, thinking of his wife, and feeling more than usually desolate and lone, he heard, suddenlv, the sound of a
woman's voice. It was in a wild, mnch broken part of the mountains; there were cuts and rifts and deep gorges hiding underneath the brush, and down the slope was a cave, usually Aveird and dark, but from this there seemed to come now a faint flickering light. Crawling close to the cliif ^s edge, Dave lay flat down, peering over, with his rifle in his hand. The light in the cave came from a small bit of candle that flared and sputtered in a bottle's mouth, and it showed on the rough walls a few half-finished sketches, a silk handkerchief pinned up banner-wise, and an old slouch hat. Dave saw and knew them all, and in their midst, kneeling upon the floor of the cave, was Loanne. Up there above on the cliff's edge where he lay concealed, Dave could hear her deep sobbing. For full a moment he only gazed at her, scarce moving a muscle. Then—there was a flash of fire, and a rifle ball sped through the space below, throwing the girl upon her face.
When they found her the next morning, the white tallow of the wasted candle had run down across the pool of blood that crept between her dead lips.
The little cabin down the mountain-side still stands, empty and desolate now, but the gum-hopper under the chestnut has tumbled to the ground long ago, ashless and rotten, and, around the little bench at the spring among the laurel, there lingers only a haunting echo of the dreary beating of dripping clothes.
On the other side of the ridge, sometimes women at their milking in the late eventide, or men tending
cattle in the deep gorges, are startled by the apparition of the " White Stag," and in pursuit of him a strange, fierce-eyed man with long, unkempt, straw-colored hair. They call him ^' The Wild Huntsman of Sequatchie Valley," and the mountains tell no tales.
" She saw coniinu: in to lier a young girl with a l)ig bunrh of rose^ in her hand."—Page 174.