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A Mountain Europa(Chapter6)

2006-08-29 01:18

  Chapter VI

  The possibility of lifting the girl above her own people, and of creating a spirit of discontent that might embitter her whole life, had occurred to Clayton; but at such moments the figure of Raines came into the philanthropic picture forming slowly in his mind, and his conscience was quieted. He could see them together; the gradual change that Easter would bring about in him, the influence of the two on their fellows. The mining-camp grew into a town with a modest church on the outskirts, and a cottage where Raines and Easter were installed. They stood between the old civilization and the new, understanding both, and protecting the native strength of the one from the vices of the other, and training it after more breadth and refinement. But Raines and Easter did not lend themselves to the picture so readily, and gradually it grew vague and shadowy, and the figure of the mountaineer was blurred.

  Clayton did not bring harmony to the two. At first he saw nothing of the mountaineer, and when they met at the cabin Raines remained only a short time. If Easter cared for him at all, she did not show it. How he was regarded by the mother, Clayton had learned long ago, when, in answer to one of his questions, she had said, with a look at Easter, that " Raines was the likeliest young feller in them mountains "; that "he knew morn'n anybody round thar"; that " he had spent a year in the settlemints, was mighty religious, and would one day be a circuit-rider. Anyhow," she concluded, " he was a mighty good friend o' theirn."

  But as for Easter, she treated him with unvarying indifference, though Clayton noticed she was more quiet and reserved in the mountaineer's presence; and, what was unintelligible to him, she refused to speak of her studies when Raines was at the cabin, and warned her mother with an angry frown when the latter began telling the mountaineer of "whut a change had come over Easter, and how she reckoned the gal was a-gittin' eddicated enough fer to teach anybody in the mountains, she was a-larnin' so much."

  After that little incident, he met Raines at the cabin oftener. The mountaineer was always taciturn, though he listened closely when anything was said, and even when addressed by Easter's mother his attention, Clayton noticed, was fixed on Easter and himself. He felt that he was being watched, and it irritated him. He had tried to be friendly with the mountaineer, but his advances were received with a reserve that was almost suspicion. As time went on, the mountaineer's visits increased in frequency and in length, and at last one night he stayed so long that, for the first time, Clayton left him there.

  Neither spoke after the young engineer was gone. The mountaineer sat looking closely at Easter, who was listlessly watching the moon as it rose above the Cumberland Range and brought into view the wavering outline of Pine Mountain and the shadowed valley below. It was evident from his face and his eyes, which glowed with the suppressed fire of some powerful emotion within, that he had remained for a purpose; and when he rose and said, "I reckon I better be a-goin', Easter," his voice was so unnatural that the girl looked up quickly.

  Hit air late," she said, after a slight pause.

  His face flushed, but he set his lips and caught the back of his chair, as though to steady himself.

  "I reckon," he said, with slow bitterness, "that hit would 'a' been early long as the furriner was hyeh."

  The girl was roused instantly, but she said nothing, and he continued, in a determined tone:

  "Easter, thar's a good deal I've wanted to say to ye fer a long time, but I hev kept a-puttin' hit off until I'm afeard maybe hit air too late. But I'm a-goin' to say hit now, and I want ye to listen." He cleared his throat huskily. " Do ye know, Easter, what folks in the mountains is a-sayin'?

  The girl's quick insight told her what was coming, and her face hardened.

  "Have ye ever knowed me, Sherd Raines, to keer what folks in the mountains say? I reckon ye mean as how they air a-talkin' about me

  That's what I mean," said the mountaineer-" you 'n' him."

  "Whut air they a-sayin'?" she asked, defiantly. Raines watched her narrowly.

  "They air a-sayin' as how he air a-comin' up here mighty often; as how Easter Hicks, who hev never keered fer no man, air in love with this furriner from the settlemints."

  The girl reddened, in spite of her assumed indifference.

  "They- say, too, as how he air not in love with her, 'n' that somebody oughter warn Easter that he air not a-meanin' good to her. You hev been seed a-walkin' in the mountains together."

  "Who seed me? " she asked, with quick suspicion. The mountaineer hesitated.

  I hev," he said, doggedly.

  The girl's anger, which had been kindling against her gossiping fellows, blazed out against Raines.

  You've been watchin' me," she said, angrily. "Who give ye the right to do it? What call hev ye to come hyar and tell me whut folks is asayin'? Is it any o' yo' business? I want to tell ye, Sherd Raines"-her utterance grew thick-" that I kin take keer o' myself; that I don't keer what folks say; 'n' I want ye to keep away from me. 'N' ef I sees ye a-hangin' round 'n' a-spyin', ye'll be sorry fer it." Her eyes blazed, she had risen and drawn herself straight, and her hands were clinched.

  The mountaineer stood motionless. " Thar's another who's seed ye," he said, quietly-" up thar," pointing to a wooded mountain, the top of which was lost in mist. The girl's attitude changed instantly into - vague alarm, and her eyes flashed upon Raines as though they would sear their way into the meaning hidden in his quiet face. Gradually his motive seemed to become clear, and she advanced a step toward him.

  "So you've found out whar dad is a-hidin'?" she said, her voice tremulous with rage and scorn. N' ye air mean and sorry enough to some hyeh 'n' tell me ye'll give him up to the law ef I don't knuckle down 'n' do what ye wants me?

  She paused a moment. Was her suspicion correct? Why did he not speak? She did not really believe what she said. Could it be true? Her nostrils quivered; she tried to speak again, but her voice was choked with passion. With a sudden movement she snatched her rifle from its place, and the steel flashed in the moonlight and ceased in a shining line straight at the mountaineer's breast.

  "Look hyeh, Sherd Raines," she said, in low, unsteady tones, " I know you air religious, 'n' I know as how, when y'u give yer word, you'll do what you say. Now, I want ye to hold up yer right hand and sw'ar that you'll never tell a livin' soul that you know whar dad is a-hidin'."

  Raines did not turn his face, which was as emotionless as stone.

  Air ye goin' to sw'ar? " she asked, with fierce impatience. Without looking at her, he began to speak-very slowly:

  "Do ye think I'm fool enough to try to gain yer good-will by a-tellin' on yer dad? We were on the mountains, him 'n' me, we seed you 'n' the furriner. Yer dad thought hit was a spy, 'n' he whipped up his gun 'n' would 'a' shot him dead in his tracks ef I hadn't hindered him.

  Does that look like I wanted to hurt the 'furriner? I hev knowed yer dad was up in the mountains all the time, 'n' I hev been a-totin' things fer him to eat. Does that look like I wanted to hand him over to the law?"

  The girl had let the rifle fall. Moving away, she stood leaning on it in the shadow, looking down.

  "You want to know what call I hev to watch ye, 'n' see that no harm comes to ye. Yer dad give me the right. You know how he hates furriners, 'n' whut he would do ef he happened to run across this furriner atter he has been drinkin'. I'm a-meddlin' because I hev told him that I am goin' to take keer o' ye, 'n' I mean to do it-ef ye hates me fer it. I'm a-watchin' ye, Easter," he continued, " 'n' I want ye to know it. I knowed the furriner begun comm' here cause ye air not like gals in the settlemints. Y'u air as cur'us to him as one o' them bugs an' sich-like that he's always a-pickin' up in the woods. I hevn't said nuthin' to yer dad, fer fear o' his harmin' the furriner; but I hev seed that ye like him, an' hit's time now fer me to meddle. Ef he was in love with ye, do ye think he would marry ye? I hev been in the settle-mints. Folks thar air not as we citizens air. They air bigoted 'n' high-heeled, 'n' they look down on us. I tell ye, too- 'n' hit air fer yer own good-he air in love with somebody in the settlemints. I hev heerd it, 'n' I hev seed him a-lookin' at a picter in his room ez a man don't look at his sister. They say hit's her.

  "Thar's one thing more, Easter," he concluded, as he stepped from the porch. "He is a-goin' away. I heard him say it yestiddy. What will ye do when he's gone ef ye lets yerself git to thinkin' so much of him now? I've warned ye now, Easter, fer yer own good, though ye mought think I'm a-workin' fer myself. But I know I hev done whut I ought. I've warned ye, 'n' ye kin do whut ye please, but I'm a-watchin' ye."

  The girl said nothing, but stood rigid, with eyes wide open and face tense, as the mountaineer's steps died away. She was bewildered by the confused emotions that swayed her. Why had she not indignantly denied that she was in love with the "furriner"? Raines had not hinted it as a suspicion. He had spoken it outright as a fact, and he must have thought that her silence confirmed it. He had said that the "furriner" cared nothing for her, and had dared to tell her that she was in love with him. Her cheeks began to bum. She would call him back and tell him that she cared no more for the "furriner " than she did for him. She started from the steps, but paused, straining her eyes through the darkness. It was too late, and, with a helpless little cry, she began pacing the porch. She had scarcely heard what was said after the mountaineer's first accusation, so completely had that enthralled her mind; now fragments came back to her. There was something about a picture-ah! she remembered that picture. Passing through the camp one afternoon, she had glanced in at a window and had seen a rifle once her own. Turning in rapid wonder about the room, her eye lighted upon a picture on a table near the window. She had felt the refined beauty of the girl, and it had impressed her with the same timidity that Clayton had when she first knew him. Fascinated, she had looked till a - movement in the room made her shrink away. But the face had clung in her memory ever since, and now it came before her vividly. Clayton was in love with her. Well, what did that matter to her?

  There was more that Raines said. "Goin' away." Raines meant the " furriner," of course. How did he know? Why had Clayton not told her? She did not believe it. But why not? He had once told her that he would go away some time; why not now? But why-why did not Clayton tell her? Perhaps he was going to her. She almost stretched out her hands in a sudden, fierce desire to clutch the round throat and sink her nails into the soft flesh that rose before her mind. She had forgotten that he had ever told her that he must go away, so little had it impressed her at the time. She had never thought of a possible change in their relations or in their lives. She tried to think what her life would be after he was gone, and she was frightened; she could not imagine her old life resumed. When Clayton came, it was as though she had risen from sleep in a dream, and had lived in it thereafter without questioning its reality. Into his hands she had delivered her life and herself with the undoubting faith of a child. She had never thought of their relations at all. Now the awakening had come. The dream was shattered. For the first time her eye was turned inward, where a flood of light brought into terrible distinctness the tumult that began to rage so suddenly within.

  One hope only flashed into her brain-perhaps Raines was mistaken. But even then, if he were, Clayton must go some time; he had told her that. On this fact every thought became centred. It was no longer how he came, the richness of the new life he had shown her, the barrenness of the old, Raines's accusation, the shame of it-the shame of being pointed out and laughed at after Clayton's departure; it was no longer helpless wonder at the fierce emotions racking her for the first time: her whole being was absorbed in the realization which slowly forced itself into her heart and brain-some day he must go away; some day she must lose him. She lifted her hands to her head in a dazed, ineffectual way. The moonlight grew faint before her eyes; mountain, sky, and mist were in-distinguishably blurred; and the girl sank down upon her trembling knees, down till she lay crouched on the floor with her tearless face in her arms.

  The moon rose high above her and sank down the west. The shadows shortened and crept back to the woods, night noises grew fainter, and the mists floated up from the valley and Clung around the mountain-tops; but she stirred only when a querulous voice came from within the cabin.

  "Easter," it said, " ef Sherd Raines air gone, y'u better come in to bed. Y'u've got a lot o' work to do to-morrer."

  The voice called her to the homely duties that had once filled her life and must fill it again. It was a summons to begin anew a life that was dead, and the girl lifted her haggard face in answer and rose wearily.

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