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The Heart Of The Hills(Chapter1)

2006-08-29 01:31

  Chapter I

  Twin spirals of blue smoke rose on either side of the spur, crept tendril-like up two dark ravines, and clearing the feathery green crests of the trees, drifted lazily on upward until, high above, they melted shyly together and into the haze that veiled the drowsy face of the mountain.

  Each rose from a little log cabin clinging to the side of a little hollow at the head of a little creek. About each cabin was a rickety fence, a patch of garden, and a little cleared hill-side, rocky, full of stumps, and crazily traced with thin green spears of corn. On one hill-side a man was at work with a hoe, and on the other, over the spur, a boy——both barefooted, and both in patched jean trousers upheld by a single suspender that made a wet line over a sweaty cotton shirt: the man, tall, lean, swarthy, grim; the boy grim and dark, too, and with a face that was prematurely aged. At the man's cabin a little girl in purple homespun was hurrying in and out the back door clearing up after the noonday meal; at the boy's, a comely woman with masses of black hair sat in the porch with her hands folded, and lifting her eyes now and then to the top of the spur. Of a sudden the man impatiently threw down his hoe, but through the battered straw hat that bobbed up and down on the boy's head, one lock tossed on like a jetblack plume until he reached the end of his straggling row of corn. There he straightened up and brushed his earth-stained fingers across a dullred splotch on one cheek of his sullen set face. His heavy lashes lifted and he looked long at the woman on the porch—— looked without anger now and with a new decision in his steady eyes. He was getting a little too big to be struck by a woman, even if she were his own mother, and nothing like that must happen again.

  A woodpecker was impudently tapping the top of a dead burnt tree near by, and the boy started to reach for a stone, but turned instead and went doggedly to work on the next row, which took him to the lower corner of the garden fence, where the ground was black and rich. There, as he sank his hoe with the last stroke around the last hill of corn, a fat fishing-worm wriggled under his very eyes, and the growing man lapsed swiftly into the boy again. He gave another quick dig, the earth gave up two more squirming treasures, and with a joyful gasp he stood straight again——his eyes roving as though to search all creation for help against the temptation that now was his. His mother had her face uplifted toward the top of the spur; and following her gaze, he saw a tall mountaineer slouching down the path. Quickly he crouched behind the fence, and the aged look came back into his face. He did not approve of that man coming over there so often, kinsman though he was, and through the palings he saw his mother's face drop quickly and her hands moving uneasily in her lap. And when the mountaineer sat down on the porch and took off his hat to wipe his forehead, he noticed that his mother had on a newly bought store dress, and that the man's hair was wet with something more than water. The thick locks had been combed and were glistening with oil, and the boy knew these facts for signs of courtship; and though he was contemptuous, they furnished the excuse he sought and made escape easy. Noiselessly he wielded his hoe for a few moments, scooped up a handful of soft dirt, meshed the worms in it, and slipped the squirming mass into his pocket. Then he crept stooping along the fence to the rear of the house, squeezed himself between two broken palings, and sneaked on tiptoe to the back porch. Gingerly he detached a cane fishing-pole from a bunch that stood upright in a corner and was tiptoeing away, when with another thought he stopped, turned back, and took down from the wall a bow and arrow with a steel head around which was wound a long hempen string. Cautiously then he crept back along the fence, slipped behind the barn into the undergrowth and up a dark little ravine toward the green top of the spur. Up there he turned from the path through the thick bushes into an open space, walled by laurel-bushes, hooted three times surprisingly like an owl, and lay contentedly down on a bed of moss. Soon his ear caught the sound of light footsteps coming up the spur on the other side, the bushes parted in a moment more, and a little figure in purple homespun slipped through them, and with a flushed, panting face and dancing eyes stood beside him.

  The boy nodded his head sidewise toward his own home, and the girl silently nodded hers up and down in answer. Her eyes caught sight of the bow and arrow on the ground beside him and lighted eagerly, for she knew then that the fishingpole was for her. Without a word they slipped through the bushes and down the steep side of the spur to a little branch which ran down into a creek that wound a tortuous way into the Cumberland.

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