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A Mountain Europa(Chapter9)

2006-08-29 01:19

  Chapter IX

  The summons was from his father, and was emphatic; and Clayton did not delay. The girl accepted his departure with a pale face, but with a quiet submission that touched him. Of Raines he had seen nothing and heard nothing since the night he had left the cabin in anger; but as he came down the mountain after bidding Easter good-by, he was startled by the mountaineer stepping from the bushes into the path.

  Ye air a-goin' home, I hear," he said, quietly.

  "Yes," answered Clayton; " at midnight."

  Well, I'll walk down with ye a piece, ef ye don't mind. Hit's not out o' my way."

  As he spoke his face was turned suddenly to the moonlight. The lines in it had sunk deeper, giving it almost an aged look; the eyes were hollow as from physical suffering or from fasting. He preceded Clayton down the path, with head bent, and saying nothing till they reached the spur of the mountain. Then in the same voice:

  "I want to talk to ye awhile, 'n' I'd like to hev ye step inter my house. I don't mean ye no harm," he added, quickly, " 'n' hit ain't fer."

  Certainly," said Clayton.

  The mountaineer turned into the woods by a narrow path, and soon the outlines of a miserable little hut were visible through the dark woods. Raines thrust the door open. The single room was dark except for a few dull coals in a gloomy cavern which formed the fireplace.

  Sit down, ef ye kin find a cheer," said Raines, " 'n' I'll fix up the fire."

  Do you live here alone?" asked Clayton. He could hear the keen, smooth sound of the mountaineer's knife going through wood.

  "Yes," he answered; " fer five year."

  The coals brightened; tiny flames shot from them; in a moment the blaze caught the dry fagots, and shadows danced over the floor, wall, and ceiling, and vanished as the mountaineer rose from his knees. The room was as bare as the cell of a monk. A rough bed stood in one corner; a few utensils hung near the fireplace, wherein were remnants of potatoes roasting in the ashes, and close to the wooden shutter which served as a window was a board table. On it lay a large book-a Bible-a pen, a bottle of ink, and a piece of paper on which were letters traced with great care and difficulty. The mountaineer did not sit down, but began pacing the floor behind Clayton. Clayton moved his chair, and Raines seemed unconscious of his presence as with eyes on the floor he traversed the narrow width of the cabin.

  Y'u hevn't seed me up on the mount 'in lately, hev ye? " he asked. "I reckon ye haven't missed me much. Do ye know whut I've been doin'?" he said, with sudden vehemence, stopping still and resting his eyes, which glowed like an animal's from the darkened end of the cabin, on Clayton.

  "I've been tryin' to keep from killin' ye. Oh, don't move-don't fear now; ye air as safe as ef ye were down in the camp. I seed ye that night on the mount'in," he continued, pacing rapidly back and forth. "I was waitin' fer ye. I meant to tell ye jest whut I'm goin' to tell ye ter-night; 'n' when Easter come a-tearin' through the bushes, 'n' I seed ye-ye-a-standin' together "-the words seemed to stop in his throat-" I knowed I was too late.

  "I sot thar fer a minute like a rock, 'n' when ye two went back up the mount'in, before I knowed it I was hyer in the house thar at the fire mouldin' a bullet to kill ye with as ye come back. All at oncet I heerd a voice plain as my own is at this minute:

  "'Air you a-thinkin' 'bout takin' the life of a fellow-creatur, Sherd Raines-you that air tryin' to be a servant o' the Lord?'"

  "But I kept on a-mouldin', 'n' suddenly I seed ye a-layin' in the road dead, 'n' the heavens opened 'n' the face o' the Lord was thar, 'n' he raised his hand to smite me with the brand o' Cain-'n' look thar!"

  Clayton had sat spellbound by the terrible earnestness of the man, and as the mountaineer swept his dark hair back with one hand, he rose in sudden horror. Across the mountaineer's forehead ran a crimson scar yet unhealed. Could he have inflicted upon himself this fearful penance?

  Oh, it was only the moulds. I seed it all so plain that I throwed up my hands, fergittin' the moulds, 'n' the hot lead struck me thar; but," he continued, solemnly, "I knowed the Lord hed tuk that way o' punishin' me fer the sin o havin' murder in my mind, 'n' I fell on my knees right thar a-prayin' fer fergiveness: 'n' since that night I hev stayed away from ye till the Lord give me power to stand ag'in the temptation o' harmin' ye. He hev showed me another way, 'n' now I hev come to ye as he hev tol' me. I hevn't tol' ye this fer nothin'. Y'u in see now whut I think o' Easter, ef I was tempted to take the life o' the man who tuk her from me, 'n' I reckon ye will say I've got the right to ax ye whut I'm a-goin' to. I hev knowed the gal sence she was a baby. We was children together, and thar hain't no use hidin' that I never keered a straw fer anuther woman. She used to be mighty wilful 'n' contrary, but as soon as you come I seed at oncet that a change was comm' over her. I mistrusted ye, 'n' I warned her ag'in' ye. But when I l'arned that ye was a-teachin' her, and a-doin' whut I had tried my best to do 'n' failed, I let things run along, thinkin' that mebbe ever'thing would come out right, after all. Mebbe hit air all right, but I come to ye now, 'n' I ax ye in the name of the livin' God, who is a-watchin' you a-guidin' me, air ye goin' to leave the po' gal to die sorrowin' fer ye, or do ye aim to come back 'n' marry her?

  Raines had stopped now in the centre of the cabin, and the shadows flickering slowly over him gave an unearthly aspect to his tall, gaunt figure, as he stood with uplifted arm, pale face, glowing eyes, and disordered hair.

  "The gal hasn't got no protecter-her dad, as you know, is a-hidin' from jestice in the mount'ins-and I'm a-standin' in his place, 'n' I ax ye to do only whut you know ye ought."

  There was nothing threatening in the mountaineer 's attitude, nor dictatorial; and Clayton felt his right to say what he had, in spite of a natural impulse to resent such interference. Besides, there sprang up in his heart a sudden great admiration for this rough, uncouth fellow who was capable of such unselfishness; who, true to the trust of her father and his God, was putting aside the strongest passion of his life for what he believed was the happiness of the woman who had inspired it. He saw, too, that the sacrifice was made with perfect unconsciousness that it was unusual or admirable. He rose to his feet, and the two men faced each other.

  "If you had told me this long ago," said Clayton, "I should have gone away, but you seemed distrustful and suspicious. I did not expect the present state of affairs to come about, but since it has, I tell you frankly that I have never thought of doing anything else than what you have asked."

  And he told the truth, for he had already asked himself that question. Why should he not marry her? He must in all probability stay in the mountains for years, and after that time he would not be ashamed to take her home, so strong was his belief in her quickness and adaptibility.

  Raines seemed scarcely to believe what he heard. He had not expected such ready acquiescence. He had almost begun to fear from Clayton's silence that he was going to refuse, and then-God knows what he would have done.

  Instantly he stretched out his hand.

  "I hev done ye great wrong, 'n' I ax yer par-din," he said, huskily. "I want to say that I bear ye no gredge, 'n' thet I wish ye well. I hope ye won't think hard on me," he continued; "I he had a hard fight with the devil as long as I can ricolect. I hev turned back time 'n' ag'in, but thar hain't nothin' ter keep me from goin' straight ahead now."

  As Clayton left the cabin, the mountaineer stopped him for a moment on the threshold.

  "Thar's another thing I reckon I ought to tell ye," he said; " Easter's dad air powerfully sot ag'in ye. He thought ye was an officer at fust, 'n' hit was hard to git him out o' the idee thet ye was spyin' fer him; 'n' when he seed ye goin' to the house, he got it inter his head that ye mought be meanin' harm to Easter, who air the only thing alive thet he keers fer much. He promised not to tech ye, 'n' I knowed he would keep his word as long as he was sober. It'll be all right now, I reckon," he concluded, "when I tell him whut ye aims to do, though he hev got a spite ag'in all furriners. Far'well! I wish ye well; I wish ye well."

  An hour later Clayton was in Jellico. It was midnight when the train came in, and he went immediately to his berth. Striking the curtain accidentally, he loosed it from its fastenings, and, doubling the pillows, he lay looking out on the swiftly passing landscape. The moon was full and brilliant, and there was a strange, keen pleasure in being whirled in such comfort through the night. The mists almost hid the mountains. They seemed very, very far away. A red star trembled in the crest of Wolf Mountain. Easter's cabin must be almost under that Star. He wondered if she were asleep. Perhaps she was out on the porch, lonely, suffering, and thinking of him. He felt her kiss and her tears upon his hand. Did he not love her? Could there be any doubt about that? His thoughts turned toRaines, and he saw the mountaineer in his lonely cabin, sitting with his head bowed in his hands in front of the dying fire. He closed his eyes, and another picture rose before him-a scene at home. He had taken Easter to New York. How brilliant the light! what warmth and luxury! There stood his father, there his mother. What gracious dignity they had! Here was his sister-what beauty and elegance and grace of manner! But Easter! Wherever she was placed the other figures needed readjustment. There was something irritably incongruous-Ah! now he had it-his mind grew hazy-he was asleep.

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