The Phantoms Of The Foot-Bridge
by Charles Egbert Craddock
Across the narrow gorge the little foot-bridge stretched-a brace of
logs, the upper surface hewn, and a slight hand-rail formed of a cedar
pole. A flimsy structure, one might think, looking down at the dark and
rocky depths beneath, through which flowed the mountain stream, swift
and strong, but it was doubtless substantial enough for all ordinary
usage, and certainly sufficient for the imponderable and elusive
travellers who by common report frequented it.
We ain't likely ter meet nobody. Few folks kem this way nowadays,
'thout it air jes' ter ford the creek down along hyar a piece, sence
harnts an' sech onlikely critters hev been viewed a-crossin' the
foot-bredge. An' it hev got the name o' bein' toler'ble onlucky, too,
His interlocutor drew back slightly. He had his own reasons to
recoil from the subject of death. For him it was invested with a more
immediate terror than is usual to many of the living, with that
flattering persuasion of immortality in every strong pulsation
repudiating all possibility of cessation. Then, lifting his gloomy,
long-lashed eyes to the bridge far up the stream, he asked, Whose
His voice had a low, repressed cadence, as of one who speaks seldom,
grave, even melancholy, and little indicative of the averse interest
that had kindled in his sombre eyes. In comparison the drawl of the
mountaineer, who had found him heavy company by the way, seemed imbued
with an abnormal vivacity, and keyed a tone or two higher than was its
Thar ain't a few, he replied, with a sudden glow of the pride of
the cicerone. Thar's a graveyard t'other side o' the gorge, an' not
more than a haffen-mile off, an' a cornsider'ble passel o' folks hev
been buried thar off an' on, an' the foot-bredge ain't in nowise
ill-convenient ter them.
Thus demonstrating the spectral resources of the locality, he rode
his horse well into the stream as he spoke, and dropped the reins that
the animal's impatient lips might reach the water. He sat fac-, ing the
foot-bridge, flecked with the alternate shifting of the sunshine and
the shadows of the tremulous firs that grew on either side of the high
banks on the ever-ascending slope, thus arching both above and below
the haunted bridge. His companion had joined him in the centre of the
stream; but while the horses drank, the stranger's eyes were
persistently bent on the concentric circles of the water that the
movement of the animals had set astir in the current, as if he feared
that too close or curious a gaze might discern some pilgrim, whom he
cared not to see, traversing that shadowy quivering foot-bridge. He was
mounted on a strong, handsome chestnut, as marked a contrast to his
guide's lank and trace-galled sorrel as were the two riders. A slender
gloved hand had fallen with the reins to the pommel of the saddle. His
soft felt hat, like a sombrero, shadowed his clear-cut face. He was
carefully shaven, save for a long drooping dark mustache and imperial.
His suit of dark cloth was much concealed by a black cloak, one end of
which thrown back across his shoulder showed a bright blue lining, the
color giving a sudden heightening touch to his attire, as if he were
in costume. It was a fleeting fashion of the day, but it added a
certain picturesqueness to a horseman, and seemed far enough from the
times that produced the square-tailed frock-coat which the mountaineer
wore, constructed of brown jeans, the skirts of which stood stiffly out
on each side of the saddle, and gave him, with his broad-brimmed hat, a
certain Quakerish aspect.
I dun'no' why folks be so 'feared of 'em, Rox-by remarked,
speculatively. The dead ain't so oncommon, nohow. Them ez hev been in
the war, like you an' me done, oughter be in an' 'bout used ter
corpses-though I never seen none o' 'em afoot agin. Lookin' at a smit
field o' battle, arter the rage is jes' passed, oughter gin a body a
realizin' sense how easy the sperit kin flee, an' what pore vessels fur
holdin' the spark o' life human clay be.
Simeon Roxby had a keen, not unkindly face, and he had that look of
extreme intelligence which is entirely distinct from intellectuality,
and which one sometimes sees in a minor degree in a very clever dog or
a fine horse. One might rely on him to understand instinctively
everything one might say to him, even in its subtler aesthetic values,
although he had consciously learned little. He was of the endowed
natures to whom much is given, rather than of those who are set to
acquire. He had many lines in his face-even his simple life had gone
hard with him, its sorrows un assuaged by its simplicity. His hair was
grizzled, and hung long and straight on his collar. He wore a grizzled
beard cut broad and short. His boots had big spurs, although the lank
old sorrel had never felt them. He sat his horse like the cavalryman he
had been for four years of hard riding and raiding, but his face had a
certain gentleness that accented the Quaker-like suggestion of his
garb, a look of communing with the higher things.
I never blamed 'em,' he went on, evidently reverting to the
spectres of the bridge-"I never blamed 'em for comin' back wunst in a
while. It 'pears ter me 'twould take me a long time ter git familiar
with heaven, an' sociable with them ez hev gone before. An', my Lord,
jes' think what the good green yearth is! Leastwise the mountings. I
ain't settin' store on the valley lands I seen whenst I went ter the
wars. I kin remember yit what them streets in the valley towns smelt
He lifted his head, drawing a long breath to inhale the exquisite
fragrance of the fir, the freshness of the pellucid water, the aroma of
the autumn wind, blowing through the sere leaves still clinging red and
yellow to the boughs of the forest.
Naw, I ain't blamin' 'em, though I don't hanker ter view 'em, he
resumed. One of 'em I wouldn't be afeard of, though. I feel mighty
sorry fur her. The old folks used ter tell about her. A young 'oman she
war, a-crossin' this bredge with her child in her arms. She war young,
an' mus' have been keerless, I reckon; though ez 'twar her fust baby,
she moightn't hev been practised in holdin' it an' sech, an' somehows
it slipped through her arms an' fell inter the ruver, an' war killed in
a minit, dashin' agin the rocks. She jes' stood fur a second
a-screamin' like a wild painter, an' jumped off'n the bredge arter it.
She got it agin; for when they dragged her body out'n the ruver she hed
it in her arms too tight fur even death ter onloose. An' thar they air
together in the buryin'-ground.
He gave a nod toward the slope of the mountain that intercepted the
melancholy view of the graveyard.
Got it yit! he continued; bekase (he lowered his voice) on
windy nights, whenst the moon is on the wane, she is viewed kerryin'
the baby along the bredgekerryin' it clear over, safe an' sound, like she thought she oughter done, I reckon, in that one minute,
whilst she stood an' screamed an' surveyed what she hed done. That
child would hev been nigh ter my age ef he hed lived.
Only the sunbeams wavered athwart the bridge now as the firs swayed
above, giving glimpses of the sky, and their fibrous shadows flickered
back and forth. The wild mountain stream flashed white between the
brown bowlders, and plunged down the gorge in a succession of cascades,
each seeming more transparently green and amber and brown than the
other. The chestnut horse gazed meditatively at these limpid
out-gushings, having drunk his fill; then thought better of his
moderation, and once more thrust his head down to the water. The hand
of his rider, which had made a motion to gather up the reins, dropped
leniently on his neck, as Simeon Roxby spoke again:
Severalseveral others hev been viewed, actin' accordin' ter thar
motions in life. Now thar war a peddlersome say he slipped one icy
evenin', 'bout dusk in wintersome say evil ones waylaid him fur his
gear an' his goods in his pack, but the settlemint mostly believes he
war alone whenst he fell. His pack 'pears ter be full still, they
saybut ye air 'bleeged ter know he hev hed ter set that pack down fur
good 'fore this time. We kin take nuthin' out'n this world, no matter
what kind o' a line o' goods we kerry in life. Heaven's no place fur
tradin', I understan', an' I do wonder sometimes how in the
worl' them merchants an' sech in the valley towns air goin' ter
entertain tharse'fs in the happy land o' Canaan. It's goin' ter be
sorter bleak fur them, sure's ye air born.
With a look of freshened recollection, he suddenly drew a plug of
tobacco from his pocket, and he talked on even as he gnawed a piece
Durin' the war a cavalry-man got shot out hyar whilst runnin'
'crost that thar foot-bredge. Thar hed been a scrimmage an' his horse
war kilt, an' he tuk ter the bresh on foot, hopin' ter hide in the
laurel. But ez he war crossin' the foot-bredge some o' the pursuin'
party war fordin' the ruver over thar, an' thinkin' he'd make out ter
escape they fired on him, jes' ez the feller tried ter surrender. He
turned this way an' flung up both armsbut thar's mighty leetle truce
in a pistol-ball. That minute it tuk him right through the brain. Seems
toler'ble long range fur a pistol, don't it? He kin be viewed now most
enny moonlight night out hyar on the foot-bredge, throwin' up both
hands in sign of surrender.
The wild-geese were a-wing on the way southward. Looking up to that
narrow section of the blue sky which the incision of the gorge into the
very depths of the woods made visible, he could see the tiny files
deploying along the azure or the flecking cirrus, and hear the vague
clangor of their leader's cry. He lifted his head to mechanically
follow their flight. Then, as his eyes came back to earth, they rested
again on the old bridge.
Strange enough, he said, suddenly, the sker-riest tale I hev ever
hearn 'bout that thar old bredge is one that my niece set a-goin'. She
seen the harnt herself, an' it shakes me wuss 'n the idee o'
all the rest.
His companion's gloomy gaze was lifted for a moment with an
expression of inquiry from the slowly widening circles of the water
about the horse's head as he drank. But Roxby's eyes, with a certain
gleam of excitement, a superstitious dilation, still dwelt upon the
bridge at the end of the upward vista. He went on merely from the
impetus of the subject. Yes, sirshe seen it a-pacin' of its
sorrowful way acrost that bredge, same ez the t'others of the
percession o' harnts. 'Twar my niece, Mill'centbrother's darterby
name, Mill'cent Roxby. Waal, Mill'cent an' a lot o' young fools o' her
agelittle over fryin' sizethey 'tended camp-meetin' down hyar on
Tomahawk Creek'tain't so long agoalong with the old folks. An'
'bout twenty went huddled up tergether in a road-wagin. An', lo! the
wagin it bruk down on the way home, an' what with proppin' it up on a
crotch, they made out ter reach the cross-roads over yander at the
Notch, an' thar the sober old folks called a halt, an' hed the wagin
mended at the blacksmith-shop. Waal, it tuk some two hours, fur Pete
Rodd ain't a-goin' ter hurry hisselfin my opinion the angel Gabriel
will hev ter blow his bugle oftener'n wunst at the last day 'fore Pete
Rodd makes up his mind ter rise from the dead an' answer the
roll-callan' this hyar young lot sorter found it tiresome waitin' on
thar elders' solemn company. The old folks, whilst waitin', set outside
on the porches of the houses at the settlemint, an' repeated some o'
the sermons they hed hearn at camp, an' more'n one raised a hyme chune.
An' the young frythey hed hed a steady diet o' sermons an' hyme
chunes fur fower daysthey tuk ter stragglin' off down the road, two
an' two, like the same sorter id jits the world over, leavin' word with
the old folks that the wagin would overtake 'em an' pick 'em up on the
road when it passed. Waal, they walked several mile, an' time they got
ter the crest o' the hill over yander the moon hed riz, an' they could
look down an' see the mist in the valley. The moon war bright in the
buryin'-groun' when they passed it, an' the head-boards stood up white
an' stiff, an' a light frost hed fell on the mounds, an' they showed
plain, an' shone sorter lonesome an' cold. The young folks begun ter
look behind em' fur the wagin. Some saidI b'lieve 'twar Em'ry Keen
anthey could read the names on the boards plain, 'twar so light, the
moon bein' nigh the full: but Em'ry never read nuthin' at night by the
moon in his life; he ain't enny too capable o' wrastlin' with the
alphabet with a strong daytime on his book ter light him ter knowledge.
An' the shadows war black an' still, an' all the yearth looked ez ef
nuthin' lived nor ever would agin, an' they hearn a wolf howl. Waal,
that disaccommodated the gals mightily, an' they hed a heap more
interes' in that old wagin, all smellin' rank with wagin-grease an'
tar, than they did in thar lovyers; an' they hed ruther hev hearn that
old botch of a wheel that Pete Rodd hed set onto it com in' a-creakin'
an' a-com-plainin' along the road than the sweetest words them boys war
able ter make up or remember. So they stood thar in the
roada-stare-gazin' them head-boards, like they expected every grave
ter open an' the reveilly ter sounda-waitin' ter be overtook by the
wagin, a-listenin', but hearin' nuthin' in the silence o' the
frostnot a dead leaf a-twirlin', nor a frozen blade o' grass astir.
An' then two or three o' the gals 'lowed they hed ruther walk back ter
meet the wagin, an' whenst the boys 'lowed ter go onnuthin' war
likely ter ketch 'emone of 'em bust out a-cryin'. Waal, thar war the
eend o' that much! So the gay party set out on the back track,
a-keepin' step ter sobs an' sniffles, an' that's how kem they
seen no harnt. But Mill'-cent an' three or four o' the t'others 'lowed
they'd go on. They warn't two mile from home, an' full five from the
cross-roads. So Em'ry Keenanhe hev been waitin' on her sence the year
oneso he put his skeer in his pocket an' kem along with her,
a-shakin' in his shoes, I'll be bound! So down the hill in the frosty
moonlight them few kempurty nigh beat out, I reckon, Mill'cent war,
what with the sermonizin' an' the hyme-singin' an' hevin' ter look
continual at the sheep's-eyes o' Em'ry Keenanhe wears my patience ter
the bone! So she concluded ter take the short-cut. An' Em'ry he agreed.
So they tuk the lead, the rest a following an' kem down thar through
all that black growthhe lifted his arm and pointed at the great
slope, dense with fir and pine and the heavy underbrushkeepin' the
bridle-patheasy enough even at night, fur the bresh is so thick they
couldn't lose thar way. But the moonlight war mightily slivered up,
fallin' through the needles of the pines an' the skeins of dead vines,
an' looked bleached and onnatural, an' holped the dark mighty leetle.
An' they seen the water a-shinin' an' a-plungin' down the gorge, an'
the glistenin' of the frost on the floor o' the bredge. Thar war a few
icicles on the hand-rail, an' the branches o' the firs hung ez still ez
death; only that cold, racin', shoutin', jouncin' water moved. Jes ez
they got toler'ble nigh the foot-bredge a sudden cloud kem over the
face o' the sky. Thar warn't no wind on the yearth, but up above the
air war a-stirrin'. An' Em'ry he 'lowed Mill'cent shouldn't cross the
foot-bredge whilst the light warn't clarI wonder the critter hed that
much sense! An' she jes' drapped down on that rock thar ter resthe
pointed up the slope to a great fragment that had broken off from the
ledges and lay near the bank: the bulk of the mass was overgrown with
moss and lichen, but the jagged edges of the recent fracture gleamed
white and crystalline among the brown and olive-green shadows about it.
A tree was close beside it. Agin that thar pine trunk Em'ry he stood
an' leaned. The rest war behind, a-comin' down the hill. An' all of a
suddenty a light fell on the furder eend o' the foot-bredgea waverin'
light, mighty white an' misty in the darksomeness. Mill'cent 'lowed ez
fust she thunk it war the moon. An' lookin' up, she seen the cloud; it
held the moon close kivered. An' lookin' down, she seen the light war
movin'movin' from the furder eend o' the bredge, straight acrost it.
Sometimes a hand war held afore it, ez ef ter shield it from the
draught, an' then Mill'cent 'seen twar a candle, an' the white in the
mistiness war a 'oman wearin' white an' carryn' it.
[Illustration: The Phantom of the Foot-bridge 025]
Lookin' ter right an' then ter lef the 'oman kem, with now her right
hand shieldin' the candle she held, an' now layin' it on the hand-rail.
The candle shone on the water, fur it didn't flare, an' when the 'oman
held her hand before it the light made a bright spot on the foot-bredge
an' in the dark air about her, an' on the fir branches over her head.
An' a thin mist seemed to hang about her white frock, but not over her
face, fur when she reached the middle o' the foot-bredge she laid her
hand agin on the rail, an' in the clear light o' the candle Mill'cent
seen the harnt's face. An' thar she beheld her own face; her own
face she looked upon ez she waited thar under the tree watchin' the
foot-bredge; her own face pale an' troubled; her own self
dressed in white, crossin' the foot-bredge, an' lightin' her steps with
a corpse's candle. He drew up the reins abruptly. He seemed in sudden
haste to go. His companion looked with deepening interest at the
bridge, although he followed his guide's surging pathway to the
opposite bank. As the two dripping horses struggled up the steep
incline he asked, Did the man with her see the manifestation also?
He 'lows he did, responded Roxby, equivocally. But when Mill'cent
fust got so she could tell it, 'peared ter me ez Em'ry Keen an fund it
ez much news ez the rest o' we-uns. Mill'cent jes' drapped stone-dead,
accordin' ter all accounts, an' he an' the t'other young folks flung
water in her face till she kem out'n her faint; an' jes' then they
hearn the wagin a-rattlin' along the road, an' they stopped it an'
fetched her home in it. She never told the tale till she war home, an'
it skeered me an' my mother powerful, fur Mill'cent is all the kin we
hev got. Mill'cent is gran'daddy an' gran'mam-my, sons an' daughters,
uncles an' aunts, cousins, nieces, an' nephews, all in one. The only
thing I ain't pervided with is a nephew-in-law, an' I don't need him.
Leastwise I ain't lookin' fur Em'ry Keenan jes' at present.
The pace was brisker when the two horses, bending their strength
sturdily to the task, had pressed up the massive slope from the deep
cleft of the gorge. As the road curved about the outer verge of the
mountain, the valley far beneath came into view, with intersecting
valleys and transverse ranges, dense with the growths of primeval
wildernesses, and rugged with the tilted strata of great upheavals, and
with chasms cut in the solid rock by centuries of erosion, traces of
some remote cataclysmal period, registering thus its throes and
turmoils. The blue sky, seen beyond a gaunt profile of one of the
farther summits that defined its craggy serrated edge against the
ultimate distances of the western heavens, seemed of a singularly suave
tint, incongruous with the savagery of the scene, which clouds and
portents of storm might better have befitted. The little graveyard,
which John Dundas discerned with recognizing eyes, albeit they had
never before rested upon it, was revealed suddenly, lying high on the
opposite side of the gorge. No frost glimmered now on the lowly mounds;
the flickering autumnal sunshine loitered unafraid among them,
according to its languid wont for many a year. Shadows of the gray
un-painted head-boards lay on the withered grass, brown and crisp, with
never a cicada left to break the deathlike silence. A tuft of red
leaves, vagrant in the wind, had been caught on one of the primitive
monuments, and swayed there with a decorative effect. The enclosure
seemed, to unaccustomed eyes, of small compass, and few the denizens
who had found shelter here and a resting-place, but it numbered all the
dead of the country-side for many a mile and many a year, and somehow
the loneliness was assuaged to a degree by the reflection that they had
known each other in life, unlike the great herds of cities, and that it
was a common fate which the neighbors, huddled together, encountered in
It had no discordant effect in the pervasive sense of gloom, of
mighty antagonistic forces with which the scene was replete; it
fostered a realization of the pitiable minuteness and helplessness of
human nature in the midst of the vastness of inanimate nature and the
evidences of infinite lengths of forgotten time, of the long reaches of
unimagined history, eventful, fateful, which the landscape at once
suggested and revealed and concealed.
Like the sudden flippant clatter of castanets in the pause of some
solemn funeral music was the impression given by the first glimpse
along the winding woodland way of a great flimsy white building, with
its many pillars, its piazzas, its observatory, its band-stand, its
garish intimations of the giddy, gay world of a summer hotel. But,
alack! it, too, had its surfeit of woe.
The guerrillas an' bushwhackers tuk it out on the old hotel, sure!
observed Sim Roxby, by way of introduction. Thar warn't much fightin'
hyar-abouts, an' few sure-enough soldiers ever kem along. But wunst in
a while a band o' guerrillas went through like a suddint wind-storm,
an' I tell ye they made things whurl while they war about it. They made
a sorter barracks o' the old place. Looks some like lightning hed
He had reined up his horse about one hundred yards in front of the
edifice, where the weed-grown gravelled drivecarefully tended ten
years agonehad diverged from the straight avenue of poplars, sweeping
in a circle around to the broad flight of steps.
Though, he qualified abruptly, as if a sudden thought had struck
him, ef ye air countin' on buyin' it, a leetle money spent ter keerful
purpose will go a long way toward makin' it ez good ez new.
His companion did not reply, and for the first time Roxby cast upon
him a covert glance charged with the curiosity which would have been
earlier and more easily aroused in another man by the manner of the
stranger. A letterinfrequent missive in his experiencehad come from
an ancient companion-in-arms, his former colonel, requesting him in
behalf of a friend of the old commander to repair to the railway
station, thirty miles distant, to meet and guide this prospective
purchaser of the old hotel to the site of the property. And now as
Roxby looked at him the suspicion which his kind heart had not been
quick to entertain was seized upon by his alert brain.
The cunnel's been fooled somehows, he said to himself.
For the look with which John Dundas contemplated the place was not
the gaze of him concerned with possible investmentwith the problems
of repair, the details of the glazier and the painter and the
plasterer. The mind was evidently neither braced for resistance nor
resigned to despair, as behooves one smitten by the foreknowledge of
the certainty of the excess of the expenditures over the estimates.
Only with pensive, listless melancholy, void of any intention, his eyes
traversed the long rows of open doors, riven by rude hands from their
locks, swinging helplessly to and fro in the wind, and giving to the
deserted and desolate old place a spurious air of motion and life. Many
of the shutters had been wrenched from their hinges, and lay rotting on
the floors. The ball-room windows caught on their shattered glass the
reflection of the clouds, and it seemed as if here and there a wan face
looked through at the riders wending along the weed-grown path. Where
so many faces had been what wonder that a similitude should linger in
the loneliness! The pallid face seemed to draw back as they glanced up
while slowly pacing around the drive. A rabbit sitting motionless on
the front piazza did not draw back, although observing them with sedate
eyes as he poised himself upright on his haunches, with his listless
fore-paws suspended in the air, and it occurred to Dundas that he was
probably unfamiliar with the presence of human beings, and had never
heard the crack of a gun. A great swirl of swallows came soaring out of
the big kitchen chimneys and circled in the sky, darting down again and
again upward. Through an open passage was a glimpse of a quadrangle,
with its weed-grown spaces and litter of yellow leaves. A tawny streak,
a red fox, sped through it as Dundas looked. A half-moon, all a-tilt,
hung above it. He saw the glimmer through the bare boughs of the
leafless locust-trees here and there still standing, although outside
on the lawn many a stump bore token how ruthlessly the bushwhackers had
furnished their fires.
That thar moon's a-hangin' fur rain, said the mountaineer,
commenting upon the aspect of the luminary, which he, too, had noticed
as they passed. I ain't s'prised none ef we hev fallin' weather agin
'fore day, an' the manby name Morgan Holdenthat hev charge o' the
hotel property can't git back fur a week an' better.
A vague wonder to find himself so suspicious flitted through his
mind, with the thought that perhaps the colonel might have reckoned on
this delay. Surely the ruvers down yander at Knoxville mus' be
a-boomin', with all this wet weather, he said to himself.
Then aloud: Morgan Holden he went ter Col-bury ter 'tend ter some
business in court, an' the ruvers hev riz so that, what with the
bredges bein' washed away an' the fords so onsartain an' tricky, he'll
stay till the ruver falls. He don't know ye war kemin', ye see. The
mail-rider hev quit, 'count o' the rise in the ruver, an' thar's no way
ter git word ter him. Still, ef ye air minded ter wait, I'll be
powerful obligated fur yer comp'ny down ter my house till the ruver
falls an' Holden he gits back.
The stranger murmured his obligations, but his eyes dwelt
lingeringly upon the old hotel, with its flapping doors and its
shattered windows. Through the recurrent vistas of these, placed
opposite in the rooms, came again broken glimpses of the grassy space
within the quadrangle, with its leafless locust-trees, first of all to
yield their foliage to the autumn wind, where a tiny owl was shrilling
stridulously under the lonely red sky and the melancholy moon.
Hed ye 'lowed ter, put up at the old hotel? asked Roxby, some
inherent quickness supplying the lack of a definite answer.
For the first time the stranger turned upon him a look more
expressive than the casual fragmentary attention with which he had half
heeded, half ignored his talk since their first encounter at the
A simple fellow, but good as gold, was the phrase with which
Simeon Roxby had been commended as guide and in some sort guard.
Not so simple, perhaps, the sophisticated man thought as their
eyes met. Not so simple but that the truth must serve. The colonel
suggested that it might be best, he replied, more alert to the present
moment than his languid preoccupation had heretofore permitted.
The answer was good as far as it went. A few days spent in the old
hostelry certainly would serve well to acquaint the prospective
purchaser with its actual condition and the measures and means needed
for its repair; but as Sim Roxby stood there, with the cry of the owl
shrilling in the desert air, the lonely red sky, the ominous tilted
moon, the doors drearily flapping to and fro as the wind stole into the
forlorn and empty place and sped back affrighted, he marvelled at the
I believe there is some of the furniture here yet. We could
contrive to set up a bed from what is left. The colonel could make it
all right with Holden, and I could stay a day or two, as we originally
Ye-es. I don't mind Holden: a man ain't much in charge of a place
ez ain't got a lock or a key ter bless itself with, an' takes the owel
an' the fox an' the gopher fur boarders; but, ennyhow, kem with me home
ter supper. Mill'cent will hev it ready by now ennyhows, an' ye need
suthin' hearty an' hot ter stiffen ye up ter move inter sech quarters
ez these. Dundas hesitated, but the mountaineer had already taken
assent for granted, and pushed his horse into a sharp trot. Evidently a
refusal was not in order. Dundas pressed forward, and they rode
together along the winding way past the ten-pin alley, its long low
roof half hidden in the encroaching undergrowth springing up apace
beneath the great trees; past the stables; past a line of summer
cottages, strangely staring of aspect out of the yawning doors and
windows, giving, instead of an impression of vacancy, a sense of covert
watching, of secret occupancy. If one's glances were only quick enough,
were there not faces pressed to those shattered panesscarcely
He was in a desert; he had hardly been so utterly alone in all his
life; yet he bore through the empty place a feeling of espionage, and
ever and anon he glanced keenly at the overgrown lawns, with their
deepening drifts of autumn leaves, at the staring windows and flaring
doors, which emitted sometimes sudden creaking wails in the silence, as
if he sought to assure himself of the vacancy of which his mind took
cognizance and yet all his senses denied.
Little of his sentiment, although sedulously cloaked, was lost on
Sim Roxby; and he was aware, too, in some subtle way, of the relief his
guest experienced when they plunged into the darkening forest and left
the forlorn place behind them. The clearing in which it was situated
seemed an oasis of light in the desert of night in which the rest of
the world lay. From the obscurity of the forest Dundas saw, through the
vistas of the giant trees, the clustering cottages, the great hotel,
gables and chimneys and tower, stark and distinct as in some weird
dream-light in the midst of the encircling gloom. The after-glow of
sunset was still aflare on the western windows; the whole empty place
was alight with a reminiscence of its old aspectits old gay life. Who
knows what memories were a-stalk therewhat semblance of former times?
What might not the darkness foster, the impunity of desertion, the
associations that inhabited the place with almost the strength of human
occupancy itself? Who knowswho knows?
He remembered the scene afterward, the impression he received. And
from this, he thought, arose his regret for his decision to take up
here his abiding-place.
The forest shut out the illumined landscape, and the night seemed
indeed at hand; the gigantic boles of the trees loomed through the
encompassing gloom, that was yet a semi-transparent medium, like some
dark but clear fluid through which objects were dimly visible, albeit
tinged with its own sombre hue. The lank, rawboned sorrel had set a
sharp pace, to which the chestnut, after momentary lagging, as if weary
with the day's travel, responded briskly. He had received in some way
intimations that his companion's corn-crib was near at hand, and if he
had not deduced from these premises the probability of sharing his
fare, his mental processes served him quite as well as reason, and
brought him to the same result. On and on they sped, neck and neck,
through the darkening woods; fire flashed now and again from their
iron-shod hoofs; often a splash and a shower of drops told of a swift
dashing through the mud-holes that recent rains had fostered in the
shallows. The dank odor of dripping boughs came on the clear air. Once
the chestnut shied from a sudden strange shining point springing up in
the darkness close at hand, which the country-bred horse discriminated
as fox-fire, and kept steadily on, unmindful of the rotting log where
it glowed. Far in advance, in the dank depths of the woods, a
Will-o'-the-wisp danced and flickered and lured the traveller's eye.
The stranger was not sure of the different quality of another light,
appearing down a vista as the road turned, until the sorrel, making a
tremendous spurt, headed for it, uttering a joyous neigh at the sight.
The deep-voiced barking of hounds rose melodiously on the silence,
and as the horses burst out of the woods into a small clearing, Dundas
beheld in the brighter light a half-dozen of the animals nimbly afoot
in the road, one springing over the fence, another in the act of
climbing, his fore-paws on the topmost rail, his long neck stretched,
and his head turning about in attitudes of observation. He evidently
wished to assure himself whether the excitement of his friends was
warranted by the facts before he troubled himself to vault over the
fence. Three or four still lingered near the door of a log-cabin,
fawning about a girl who stood on the porch. Her pose was alert,
expectant; a fire in the dooryard, where the domestic manufacture of
soap had been in progress, cast a red flare on the house, its
appurtenances, the great dark forest looming all around, and, more than
the glow of the hearth within, lighted up the central figure of the
scene. She was tall, straight, and strong; a wealth of fair hair was
clustered in a knot at the back of her head, and fleecy tendrils fell
over her brow; on it was perched a soldier's-cap; and certainly more
gallant and fearless eyes had never looked out from under the straight,
stiff brim. Her chin, firm, round, dimpled, was uplifted as she raised
her head, descrying the horsemen's approach. She wore a full dark-red
skirt, a dark brown waist, and around her neck was twisted a gray
cotton kerchief, faded to a pale ashen hue, the neutrality of which
somehow aided the delicate brilliancy of the blended roseate and pearly
tints of her face. Was this the seer of ghostsDundas marvelledthis
the Millicent whose pallid and troubled phantom already-paced the
He did not realize that he had drawn up his horse suddenly at the
sight of her, nor did he notice that his host had dismounted, until
Roxby was at the chestnut's head, ready to lead the animal to supper in
the barn. His evident surprise, his preoccupation, were not lost upon
Roxby, however. His hand hesitated on the girth of the chestnut's
saddle when he stood between the two horses in the barn. He had half
intended to disregard the stranger's declination of his invitation, and
stable the creature. Then he shook his head slowly; the mystery that
hung about the new-comer was not reassuring. A heap o' wuthless cattle
'mongst them valley men, he said; for the war had been in some sort an
education to his simplicity. Let him stay whar the cunnel expected him
ter stay. I ain't wantin' no stranger a-hangin' round about Mill'cent,
nohow. Em'ry Keenan ain't a pattern o' perfection, but I be toler'ble
well acquainted with the cut o' his foolishness, an' I know his daddy
an' mammy, an' both sets o' gran'daddies an' gran'mammies, an' I could
tell ye exac'ly which one the critter got his nose an' his mouth from,
an' them lean sheep's-eyes o' his'n, an' nigh every tone o' his voice.
Em'ry never thunk afore ez I set store on bein' acquainted with him. He
'lowed I knowed him too well.
He laughed as he glanced through the open door into the darkening
landscape. Horizontal gray clouds were slipping fast across the pearly
spaces of the sky. The yellow stubble gleamed among the brown earth of
the farther field, still striped with its furrows. The black forest
encircled the little cleared space, and a wind was astir among the
tree-tops. A white star gleamed through the broken clapboards of the
roof, the fire still flared under the soap-kettle in the dooryard, and
the silence was suddenly smitten by a high cracked old voice, which
told him that his mother had perceived the dismounted stranger at the
gate, and was graciously welcoming him.
She had come to the door, where the girl still stood, but half
withdrawn in the shadow. Dundas silently bowed as he passed her,
following his aged hostess into the low room, all bedight with the
firelight of a huge chimney-place, and comfortable with the realization
of a journey's end. The wilderness might stretch its weary miles
around, the weird wind wander in the solitudes, the star look coldly on
unmoved by aught it beheld, the moon show sad portents, but at the door
they all failed, for here waited rest and peace and human companionship
and the sense of home.
Take a cheer, stranger, an' make yerself at home. Powerful glad ter
see ye-war 'feard night would overtake ye. Ye fund the water
toler'ble high in all the creeks an' sech, I reckon, an' fords shifty
an' onsartain. Yes, sir. Fall rains kem on earlier'n common, an' more'n
we need. Wisht we could divide it with that thar drought we had in the
summer. Craps war cut toler'ble short, sirtoler'ble short.
Mrs. Roxby's spectacles beamed upon him with an expression of the
utmost benignity as the firelight played on the lenses, but her eyes
peering over them seemed endowed in some sort with independence of
outlook. It was as if from behind some bland mask a critical
observation was poised for unbiased judgment. He felt in some degree
under surveillance. But when a light step heralded an approach he
looked up, regardless of the betrayal of interest, and bent a steady
gaze upon Millicent as she paused in the doorway.
And as she stood there, distinct in the firelight and outlined
against the black background of the night, she seemed some modern
half-military ideal of Diana, with her two gaunt hounds beside her, the
rest of the pack vaguely glimpsed at her heels outside, the perfect
outline and chiselling of her features, her fine, strong, supple
figure, the look of steady courage in her eyes, and the soldier's cap
on her fair hair. Her face so impressed itself upon his mind that he
seemed to have seen her often. It was some resemblance to a picture of
a vivandière, doubtless, in a foreign galleryhe could not say when or
where; a remnant of a tourist's overcrowded impressions; a
half-realized reminiscence, he thought, with an uneasy sense of
Hello, Mill'cent! home agin! Roxby cried, in cheery greeting as he
entered at the back door opposite. What sorter topknot is that ye got
on? he demanded, looking jocosely at her head-gear.
The girl put up her hand with an expression of horror. A deep red
flush dyed her cheek as she touched the cap. I forgot 'twar thar, she
murmured, contritely. Then, with a sudden rush of anger as she tore it
off: 'Twar granny's fault. She axed me ter put it on, so ez ter see
which one I looked most like.
Stranger, quavered the old woman, with a painful break in her
voice, I los' fower sons in the war, an' Mill'cent hev got the fambly
Ye mought hev let me know ez I war a-perlitin' round in this
hyar men's gear yit, the girl muttered, as she hung the cap on a prong
of the deer antlers on which rested the rifle of the master of the
Roxby's face had clouded at the mention of the four sons who had
gone out from the mountains never to return, leaving to their mother's
aching heart only the vague comfort of an elusive resemblance in a
girl's face; but as he noted Millicent's pettish manner, and divined
her mortification because of her unseemly head-gear in the stranger's
presence, he addressed her again in that jocose tone without which he
seldom spoke to her.
[Illustration: Warn't you-uns apologizin' ter me 006]
Warn't you-uns apologizin' ter me t'other day fur not bein' a
nephew 'stiddier a niece? Looked sorter like a nephew ter-night.
She shook her head, covered now only with its own charming tresses
waving in thick undulations to the coil at the nape of her necka
trifle dishevelled from the rude haste with which the cap had been torn
Roxby had seated himself, and with his elbows on his knees he looked
up at her with a teasing jocularity, such as one might assume toward a
Ye war, he declared, with affected solemnityye war
'pologizin' fur not bein' a nephew, an' 'lowed ef ye war a nephew we
could go a-huntin' tergether, an' ye could holp me in all my quar'ls
an' fights. I been aging some lately, an' ef I war ter go ter the
settlemint an' git inter a fight I mought not be able ter hold my own.
Think what 'twould be ter a pore old man ter hev a dutiful nephew step
up an'he doubled his fists and squared offjes' let daylight
through some o' them cusses. An' didn't ye sayhe dropped his
belligerent attitude and pointed an insistent finger at her, as if to
fix the matter in her recollectionef ye war a nephew 'stiddier a
niece ye could fire a gun 'thout shettin' yer eyes? An' I told ye then
ez that would mend yer aim mightily. I told ye that I'd be powerful
mortified ef I hed a nephew ez hed ter shet his eyes ter keep the noise
out'n his ears whenst he fired a rifle. The tale would go mighty hard
with me at the settlemint.
The girl's eyes glowed upon him with the fixity and the lustre of
those of a child who is entertained and absorbed by an elder's jovial
wiles. A flash of laughter broke over her face, and the low, gurgling,
half-dreamy sound was pleasant to hear. She was evidently no more than
a child to these bereft old people, and by them cherished as naught
else on earth.
An' didn't I tell you-uns, he went on, affecting to warm to
the discussion, and in reality oblivious of the presence of the
guest'didn't I tell ye ez how ef ye war a nephew 'stiddier a niece
ye wouldn't hev sech cattle ez Em'ry Keenan a-dan-glin' round
underfoot, like a puppy ye can't gin away, an' that won't git
lost, an' ye ain't got the heart ter kill?
The girl's lip suddenly curled with scorn. Yer nephew would be
obligated ter make a ch'ice fur marryin' 'mongst these hyar mounting
galsPar-mely Lepstone, or Belindy M'ria Matthews, or one o' the
Windrow gals. Waal, sir, I'd ruther be yer nieceeven ef Em'ry Keenan
air like a puppy underfoot, that ye can't gin away, an' won't git
lost, an' ye ain't got the heart ter kill. She laughed again, showing
her white teeth. She evidently relished the description of the
persistent adherence of poor Emory Keenan. But which one o' these hyar
gals would ye recommend ter yer nephew ter marryef ye hed a nephew?
She looked at him with flashing eyes, conscious of having propounded
He hesitated for a moment. ThenI'm surrounded, he said, with a
laugh. Ez I couldn't find a wife fur myself, I can't undertake ter
recommend one ter my nephew. Mighty fine boy he'd hev been, an'
saaft-spoken an' perlite ter aged mennot sassy an' makin' game o' old
uncles like a niece. Mighty fine boy!
Ye air welcome ter him, she said, with a simulation of scorn, as
she turned away to the table.
Whether it were the military cap she had worn, or the fancied
resemblance to the young soldiers, never to grow old, who had gone
forth from this humble abode to return no more, there was still to the
guest's mind the suggestion of the vivandière about her as she set the
table and spread upon it the simple fare. To and from the fireplace she
was followed by two or three of the younger dogs, their callowness
expressed in their lack of manners and perfervid interest in the
approaching meal. This induced their brief journeys back and forth,
albeit embarrassed by their physical conformation, short turns on four
legs not being apparently the easy thing it would seem from so much
youthful suppleness. The dignity of the elder hounds did not suffer
them to move, but they looked on from erect postures about the hearth
with glistening eyes and slobbering jaws.
Ever and anon the deep blue eyes of Millicent were lifted to the
outer gloom, as if she took note of its sinister aspect. She showed
scant interest in the stranger, whose gaze seldom left her as he sat
beside the fire. He was a handsome man, his face and figure illumined
by the firelight, and it might have been that he felt a certain pique,
an unaccustomed slight, in that his presence was so indifferent an
element in the estimation of any young and comely specimen of the
feminine sex. Certainly he had rarely encountered such absolute
preoccupation as her smiling far-away look betokened as she went back
and forth with her young canine friends at her heels, or stood at the
table deftly slicing the salt-rising bread, the dogs poised skilfully
upon their hind-legs to better view the appetizing performance;
whenever she turned her face toward them they laid their heads
languish-ingly askew, as if to remind her that supper could not be more
fitly bestowed than on them. One, to steady himself, placed unobserved
his fore-paw on the edge of the table, his well-padded toes leaving a
vague imprint as of fingers upon the coarse white cloth; but John
Dundas was a sportsman, and could the better relax an exacting nicety
where so pleasant-featured and affable a beggar was concerned. He
forgot the turmoils of his own troubles as he gazed at Millicent, the
dreary aspect of the solitudes without, the exile from his accustomed
sphere of culture and comfort, the poverty and coarseness of her
surroundings. He was sorry that he had declined a longer lease of
Roxby's hospitality, and it was in his mind to reconsider when it
should be again proffered. Her attitude, her gesture, her face, her
environment, all appealed to his sense of beauty, his interest, his
curiosity, as little ever had done heretofore. Slice after slice of the
firm fragrant bread was deftly cut and laid on the plate, as again and
again she lifted her eyes with a look that might seem to expect to rest
on summer in the full flush of a June noontide without, rather than on
the wan, wintry night sky and the plundered, quaking woods, while the
robber wind sped on his raids hither and thither so swiftly that none
might follow, so stealthily that none might hinder. A sudden radiance
broke upon her face, a sudden shadow fell on the firelit floor, and
there was entering at the doorway a tall, lithe young mountaineer,
whose first glance, animated with a responsive brightness, was for the
girl, but whose punctilious greeting was addressed to the old woman.
Howdy, Mis' Roxbyhowdy? Air yer rheumatics mendin' enny? he
demanded, with the condolent suavity of the would-be son-in-law, or
grand-son-in-law, as the case may be. And he hung with a transfixed
interest upon her reply, prolix and discursive according to the wont of
those who cultivate rheumatics, as if each separate twinge racked his
own sympathetic and filial sensibilities. Not until the tale was ended
did he set his gun against the wall and advance to the seat which Roxby
had indicated with the end of the stick he was whittling. He observed
the stranger with only slight interest, till Dundas drew up his chair
opposite at the table. There the light from the tallow dip, guttering
in the centre, fell upon his handsome face and eyes, his carefully
tended beard and hair, his immaculate cuffs and delicate hand, the
seal-ring on his taper finger.
Like a gal, by gum! thought Emory Keenan. Rings on his
fingersyit six feet high!
He looked at his elders, marvelling that they so hospitably
repressed the disgust which this effeminate adornment must occasion,
forgetting that it was possible that they did not even observe it. In
the gala-days of the old hotel, before the war, they had seen much
finicking finery in garb and equipage and habits affected by the
jeunesse dorée who frequented the place in those halcyon times, and
were accustomed to such details. It might be that they and Millicent
approved such flimsy daintiness. He began to fume inwardly with a sense
of inferiority in her estimation. One of his fingers had been frosted
last winter, and with the first twinge of cold weather it was beginning
to look very red and sad and clumsy, as if it had just remembered its
ancient woe; he glanced from it once more at the delicate ringed hand
of the stranger.
Dundas was looking up with a slow, deferential, decorous smile that
nevertheless lightened and transfigured his expression. It seemed
somehow communicated to Millicent's face as she looked down at him from
beneath her white eyelids and long, thick, dark lashes, for she was
standing beside him, handing him the plate of bread. Then, still
smiling, she passed noiselessly on to the others.
Emory was indeed clumsy, for he had stretched his hand downward to
offer a morsel to a friend of his under the tablehe was on terms of
exceeding amity with the four-footed members of the householdand in
his absorption not withdrawing it as swiftly as one accustomed to
canine manners should do, he had his frosted finger well mumbled before
he could, as it were, repossess himself of it.
I wonder what they charge fur iron over yander at the settlemint,
Em'ry? observed Sim Roxby presently.
Dun'no', sir, responded Emory, glumly, his sullen black eyes full
of smouldering firehevin' no call ter know, ez I ain't no
I war jes' wonderin' ef tenpenny nails didn't cost toler'ble high
ez reg'lar feed, observed Roxby, gravely.
But his mother laughed out with a gleeful cracked treble, always a
ready sequence of her son's rustic sallies. He got ye that time,
Em'ry, she cried.
A forced smile crossed Emory's face. He tossed back his tangled dark
hair with a gasp that was like the snort of an unruly horse submitting
to the inevitable, but with restive projects in his brain. I let the
dog hyar ketch my finger whilst feedin' him, he said. His plausible
excuse for the ten-penny expression was complete; but he added, his
darker mood recurring instantly, An', Mis' Roxby, I hev put a stop ter
them ez hev tuk ter callin' me Em'ly, I hev.
The old woman looked up, her small wrinkled mouth round and amazed.
I never called ye Emily, she declared.
Swift repentance seized him.
Naw, 'm, he said, with hurried propitiation. I 'lowed ye did.
I didn't, said the old woman. But ef I warter find it toothsome
ter call ye 'Emily,' I dun'no' how ye air goin' ter pervent it. Ye
can't go gun-nin' fur me, like ye done fur the men at the mill, fur
callin' ye 'Emily.'
Law, Mis' Roxby! he could only exclaim, in his horror and
contrition at this picture he had thus conjured up. Ye air welcome ter
call me ennything ye air a mind ter, he protested.
And then he gasped once more. The eyes of the guest, contemptuous,
amused, seeing through him, were fixed upon him. And he himself had
furnished the lily-handed stranger with the information that he had
been stigmatized Em'ly in the banter of his associates, until he had
taken up arms, as it were, to repress this derision.
It takes powerful little ter put ye down, Em'ry, said Roxby, with
rallying laughter. Mam hev sent ye skedaddlin' in no time at all. I
don't b'lieve the Lord made woman out'n the man's rib. He made her
out'n the man's backbone; fur the man ain't hed none ter speak of
Millicent, with a low gurgle of laughter, sat down beside Emory at
the table, and fixed her eyes, softly lighted with mirth, upon him. The
others too had laughed, the stranger with a flattering intonation, but
young Keenan looked at her with a dumb appealing humility that did not
altogether fail of its effect, for she busied herself to help his plate
with an air of proprietorship as if he were a child, and returned it
with a smile very radiant and sufficient at close range. She then
addressed herself to her own meal. The young dogs under the table
ceased to beg, and gambolled and gnawed and tugged at her stout little
shoes, the sound of their callow mirthful growls rising occasionally
above the talk. Sometimes she rose again to wait on the table, when
they came leaping out after her, jumping and catching at her skirts,
now and then casting themselves on the ground prone before her feet,
and rolling over and over in the sheer joy of existence.
The stranger took little part in the talk at the table. Never a
question was asked him as to his mission in the mountains, or the
length of his stay, his vocation, or his home. That extreme courtesy of
the mountaineers, exemplified in their singular abstinence from any
expressions of curiosity, accepted such account of himself as he had
volunteered, and asked for no more. In the face of this standard of
manners any inquisitiveness on his part, such as might have elicited
points of interest for his merely momentary entertainment, was tabooed.
Nevertheless, silent though he was for the most part, the relish with
which he listened, his half-covert interest in the girl, his quick
observation of the others, the sudden very apparent enlivening of his
mental atmosphere, betokened that his quarters were not displeasing to
him. It seemed only a short time before the meal was ended and the
circle all, save Millicent, with pipes alight before the fire again.
The dogs, well fed, had ranged themselves on the glowing hearth, lying
prone on the hot stones; one old hound, however, who conserved the air
of listening to the conversation, sat upright and nodded from time to
time, now and again losing his balance and tipping forward in a truly
human fashion, then gazing round on the circle with an open luminous
eye, as who should say he had not slept.
It was all very cheerful within, but outside the wind still blared
mournfully. Once more Dundas was sorry that he had declined the
invitation to remain, and it was with a somewhat tentative intention
that he made a motion to return to the hotel. But his host seemed to
regard his resolution as final, and rose with a regret, not an
insistence. The two women stared in silent amazement at the mere idea
of his camping out, as it were, in the old hotel. The ascendency of
masculine government here, notwithstanding Roxby's assertion that Eve
was made of Adam's backbone, was very apparent in their mute
acquiescence and the alacrity with which they began to collect various
articles, according to his directions, to make the stranger's stay more
Em'ry kin go along an' holp, he said, heartlessly; for poor
Emory's joy in perceiving that the guest was not a fixture, and that
his presence was not to be an embargo on any word between himself and
Millicent during the entire evening, was pitiably manifest. But the
situation was still not without its comforts, since Dundas was to go
too. Hence he was not poor company when once in the saddle, and was
civil to a degree of which his former dismayed surliness had given no
Night had become a definite element. The twilight had fled. Above
their heads, as they galloped through the dank woods, the bare boughs
of the trees clashed togetherso high above their heads that to the
town man, unaccustomed to these great growths, the sound seemed not of
the vicinage, but unfamiliar, uncanny, and more than once he checked
his horse to listen. As they approached the mountain's verge and
overlooked the valley and beheld the sky, the sense of the predominance
of darkness was redoubled. The ranges gloomed against the clearer
spaces, but a cloud, deep gray with curling white edges, was coming up
from the west, with an invisible convoy of vague films, beneath which
the stars, glimmering white points, disappeared one by one. The swift
motion of this aerial fleet sailing with the wind might be inferred
from the seemingly hurried pace of the moon making hard for the west.
Still bright was the illumined segment, but despite its glitter the
shadowy space of the full disk was distinctly visible, its dusky field
spangled with myriads of minute, dully golden points. Down, down it
took its way in hastein disordered fright, it seemed, as if it had no
heart to witness the storm which the wind and the clouds forebodedto
fairer skies somewhere behind those western mountains. Soon even its
vague light would encroach no more upon the darkness. The great hotel
would be invisible, annihilated as it were in the gloom, and not even
thus dimly exist, glimmering, alone, forlorn, so incongruous to the
wilderness that it seemed even now some mere figment of the brain, as
the two horsemen came with a freshened burst of speed along the
deserted avenue and reined up beside a small gate at the side.
No use ter ride all the way around, observed Emory Keenan. Mought
jes ez well 'light an' hitch hyar.
The moon gave him the escort of a great grotesque shadow as he threw
himself from his horse and passed the reins over a decrepit
hitching-post near at hand. Then he essayed the latch of the small
gate. He glanced up at Dundas, the moonlight in his dark eyes, with a
smile as it resisted his strength.
He was a fairly good-looking fellow when rid of the
self-consciousness of jealousy. His eyes, mouth, chin, and nose,
acquired from reliable and recognizable sources, were good features,
and statuesque in their immobility beneath the drooping curves of his
broad soft hat. He was tall, with the slenderness of youth, despite his
evident weight and strength. He was long-waisted and lithe and small of
girth, with broad square shoulders, whose play of muscles as he strove
with the gate was not altogether concealed by the butternut jeans coat
belted in with his pistols by a broad leathern belt. His boots reached
high on his long legs, and jingled with a pair of huge cavalry spurs.
His stalwart strength seemed as if it must break the obdurate gate
rather than open it, but finally, with a rasping creak, dismally loud
in the silence, it swung slowly back.
The young mountaineer stood gazing for a moment at the red rust on
the hinges. How long sence this gate must hev been opened afore? he
said, again looking up at Dundas with a smile.
Somehow the words struck a chill to the stranger's heart. The sense
of the loneliness of the place, of isolation, filled him with a sort of
awe. The night-bound wilderness itself was not more daunting than these
solitary tiers of piazzas, these vacant series of rooms and corridors,
all instinct with vanished human presence, all alert with echoes of
human voices. A step, a laugh, a rustle of garmentshe could have
sworn he heard them at any open doorway as he followed his guide along
the dim moonlit piazza, with its pillars duplicated at regular
intervals by the shadows on the floor. How their tread echoed down
these lonely ways! From the opposite side of the house he heard
Kee-nan's spurs jangling, his soldierly stride sounding back as if
their entrance had roused barracks. He winced once to see his own
shadow with its stealthier movement. It seemed painfully furtive. For
the first time during the evening his jaded mind, that had
instinctively sought the solace of contemplating trifles, reverted to
its own tormented processes. Am I not hiding? he said to himself, in
a sort of sarcastic pity of his plight.
The idea seemed never to enter the mind of the transparent Keenan.
He laughed out gayly as they turned into the weed-grown quadrangle, and
the red fox that Dundas had earlier observed slipped past him with
affrighted speed and dashed among the shadows of the dense shrubbery of
the old lawn without. Again and again the sound rang back from wall to
wall, first with the jollity of seeming imitation, then with an
appalled effect sinking to silence, and suddenly rising again in a
grewsome staccato that suggested some terrible unearthly
laughter, and bore but scant resemblance to the hearty mirth which had
evoked it Keenan paused and looked back with friendly gleaming eyes.
Oughter been a leetle handier with these hyar consarns, he said,
touching the pistols in his belt.
It vaguely occurred to Dundas that the young man went strangely
heavily armed for an evening visit at a neighbor's house. But it was a
lawless country and lawless times, and the sub-current of suggestion
did not definitely fix itself in his mind until he remembered it later.
He was looking into each vacant open doorway, seeing the still
moonlight starkly white upon the floor; the cobwebbed and broken
window-panes, through which a section of leafless trees beyond was
visible; bits of furniture here and there, broken by the vandalism of
the guerillas. Now and then a scurrying movement told of a gopher,
hiding too, and on one mantel-piece, the black fireplace yawning below,
sat a tiny tawny-tinted owl, whose motionless beadlike eyes met his
with a stare of stolid surprise. After he had passed, its sudden
ill-omened cry set the silence to shuddering.
Keenan, leading the way, paused in displeasure. I wisht I hed
viewed that critter, he said, glumly. I'd hev purvented that
screechin' ter call the devil, sure. It's jes a certain sign o' death.
He was about to turn, to wreak his vengeance, perchance. But the
bird, sufficiently fortunate itself, whatever woe it presaged for
others, suddenly took its awkward flight through sheen and shadow
across the quadrangle, and when they heard its cry again it came from
some remote section of the building, with a doleful echo as a refrain.
The circumstance was soon forgotten by Keenan. He seemed a happy,
mercurial, lucid nature, and he began presently to dwell with interest
on the availability of the old music-stand in the centre of the square
as a manger. Hyar, he said, striking the rotten old structure with a
heavy hand, which sent a quiver and a thrill through all the
timbershyar's whar the guerillas always hitched thar beastises. Thar
feed an' forage war piled up thar on the fiddlers' seats. Ye can't do
no better'n ter pattern arter them, till ye git ready ter hev fiddlers
an' sech a-sawin' away in hyar agin.
And he sauntered away from the little pavilion, followed by Dundas,
who had not accepted his suggestion of a room on the first floor as
being less liable to leakage, but finally made choice of an inner
apartment in the second story. He looked hard at Keenan, when he stood
in the doorway surveying the selection. The room opened into a
cross-hall which gave upon a broad piazza that was latticed; tiny
squares of moonlight were all sharply drawn on the floor, and, seen
through a vista of gray shadow, seemed truly of a gilded lustre. From
the windows of this room on a court-yard no light Could be visible to
any passer-by without. Another door gave on an inner gallery, and
through its floor a staircase came up from the quadrangle close to the
threshold. Dundas wondered if these features were of possible
significance in Keenan's estimation. The young mountaineer turned
suddenly, and snatching up a handful of slats broken from the shutters,
Let's see how the chimbly drawsthat's the main p'int.
There was no defect in the chimney's constitution. It drew
admirably, and with the white and red flames dancing in the fireplace,
two or three chairs, more or less disabled, a table, and an upholstered
lounge gathered at random from the rooms near at hand, the possibility
of sojourning comfortably for a few days in the deserted hostelry
seemed amply assured.
Once more Dundas gazed fixedly at the face of the young mountaineer,
who still bent on one knee on the hearth, watching with smiling eyes
the triumphs of his fire-making. It seemed to him afterwards that his
judgment was strangely at fault; he perceived naught of import in the
shallow brightness of the young man's eyes, like the polished surface
of jet; in the instability of his jealousy, his anger; in his
hap-hazard, mercurial temperament. Once he might have noted how flat
were the spaces beneath the eyes, how few were the lines that defined
the lid, the socket, the curve of the cheekbone, the bridge of the
nose, and how expressionless. It was doubtless the warmth and glow of
the fire, the clinging desire of companionship, the earnest
determination to be content, pathetic in one who had but little reason
for optimism, that caused him to ignore the vacillating glancing moods
that successively swayed Keenan, strong while they lasted, but with
scanty augury because of their evanescence. He was like some newly
discovered property in physics of untried potentialities, of which
nothing is ascertained but its uncertainties.
And yet he seemed to Dundas a simple country fellow, good-natured in
the main, unsuspicious, and helpful. So, giving a long sigh of relief
and fatigue, Dundas sank down in one of the large arm-chairs that had
once done duty for the summer loungers on the piazza.
In the light of the fire Emory was once more looking at him. A
certain air of distinction, a grace and ease of movement, an
indescribable quality of bearing which he could not discriminate, yet
which he instinctively recognized as superior, offended him in some
sort. He noticed again the ring on the stranger's hand as he drew off
his glove. Gloves! Emory Keen an would as soon have thought of wearing
a petticoat. Once more the fear that these effeminate graces found
favor in Millicent's estimation smote upon his heart. It made the
surface of his opaque eyes glisten as Dundas rose and took up a pipe
and tobacco-pouch which he had laid on the mantelpiece, his full height
and fine figure shown in the changed posture.
Ez tall ez me, ef not taller, an', by gum! a good thirty pound
heavier, Emory reflected, with, a growing dismay that he had not those
stalwart claims to precedence in height and weight as an offset to the
smoother fascinations of the stranger's polish.
He had risen hastily to his feet. He would not linger to smoke
fraternally over the fire, and thus cement friendly relations.
I guided him hyar, like old Sim Roxby axed me ter do, an' that's
all. I ain't keerin' ef I never lay eyes on him again, he said to
Going? said Dundas, pleasantly, noticing the motion. You'll look
in again, won't you?
Wunst in a while, I reckon, drawled Keenan, a trifle thrown off
his balance by this courtesy.
He paused at the door, looking back over his shoulder for a moment
at the illumined room, then stepped out into the night, leaving the
tenant of the lonely old house filling his pipe by the fire.
His tread rang along the deserted gallery, and sudden echoes came
tramping down the vacant halls as if many a denizen of the once
populous place was once more astir within its walls. Long after Dundas
had heard him spring from the lower piazza to the ground, and the rusty
gate clang behind him, vague footfalls were audible far away, and were
still again, and once more a pattering tread in some gaunt and empty
apartment near at hand, faint and fainter yet, till he hardly knew
whether it were the reverberations of sound or fancy that held his
senses in thrall.
And when all was still and silent at last he felt less solitary than
when these elusive tokens of human presence were astir.
Late, late he sat over the dwindling embers. His mind, no longer
diverted by the events of the day, recurred with melancholy persistence
to a theme which even they, although fraught with novelty and presage
of danger, had not altogether crowded out. And as the sense of peril
dulled, the craft of sophistry grew clumsy. Remorse laid hold upon him
in these dim watches of the night. Self-reproach had found him out
here, defenceless so far from the specious wiles and ways of men. All
the line of provocations seemed slight, seemed naught, as he reviewed
them and balanced them against a human life. True, it was not in some
mad quarrel that his skill had taken it and had served to keep his
owna duel, a fair fight, strictly regular according to the code of
honorable men for ages pastand he sought to argue that it was
doubtless but the morbid sense of the wild fastnesses without, the
illimitable vastness of the black night, the unutterable indurability
of nature to the influences of civilization, which made it taste like
murder. He had brought away even from the scene of action, to which he
had gone with decorous deliberationhis worldly affairs arranged for
the possibility of death, his will made, his volition surrendered, and
his sacred honor in the hands of his secondsa humiliating
recollection of the sudden revulsion of the aspect of all things; the
criminal sense of haste with which he was hurried away after that first
straight shot; the agitation, nay, the fright of his seconds; their
eagerness to be swiftly rid of him, their insistence that he should go
away for a time, get out of the country, out of the embarrassing
purview of the law, which was prone to regard the matter as he himself
saw it now, and which had an ugly trick of calling things by their
right names in the sincere phraseology of an indictment. And thus it
was that he was here, remote from all the usual lines of flight, with
his affectation of being a possible purchaser for the old hotel, far
from the railroad, the telegraph, even the postal service. Some
timesoon, indeed, it might be, when the first flush of excitement and
indignation should be overpast, and the law, like a barking dog that
will not bite, should have noisily exhausted the gamut of its
devoirshe would go back and live according to his habit in his wonted
place, as did other men whom he had known to be called out, and who
had survived their opponents. Meantime he heard the ash crumble; he saw
the lighted room wane from glancing yellow to a dull steady red, and so
to dusky brown; he marked the wind rise, and die away, and come again,
banging the doors of the empty rooms, and setting timbers all strangely
to creaking as under sudden trampling feet; then lift into the air with
a rustling sound like the stir of garments and the flutter of wings,
calling out weirdly in the great voids of the upper atmosphere.
He had welcomed the sense of fatigue earlier in the evening, for it
promised sleep. Now it had slipped away from him. He was strong and
young, and the burning sensation that the frosty air had left on his
face was the only token of the long journey. It seemed as if he would
never sleep again as he lay on the lounge watching the gray ash
gradually overgrow the embers, till presently only a vague dull glow
gave intimation of the position of the hearth in the room. And then,
bereft of this dim sense of companionship, he stared wide-eyed in the
darkness, feeling the only creature alive and awake in all the world.
No; the fox was suddenly barking within the quadranglea strangely
wild and alien tone. And presently he heard the animal trot past his
door on the piazza, the cushioned footfalls like those of a swift dog.
He thought with a certain anxiety of the tawny tiny owl that had sat
like a stuffed ornament on the mantel-piece of a neighboring room, and
he listened with a quaking vicarious presentiment of woe for the sounds
of capture and despair. He was sensible of waiting and hoping for the
fox's bootless return, when he suddenly lost consciousness.
How long he slept he did not know, but it seemed only a momentary
respite from the torture of memory, when, still in the darkness,
thousands of tremulous penetrating sounds were astir, and with a great
start he recognized the rain on the roof. It was coming down in steady
torrents that made the house rock before the tumult of his plunging
heart was still, and he was longing again for the forgetfulness of
sleep. In vain. The hours dragged by; the windows slowly, slowly denned
their dull gray squares against the dull gray day dawning without. The
walls that had been left with only the first dark coat of plaster,
awaiting another season for the final decoration, showed their drapings
of cobweb, and the names and pencilled scribblings with which the fancy
of transient bushwhackers had chosen to deface them. The locust-trees
within the quadrangle drearily tossed their branches to and fro in the
wind, the bark very black and distinct against the persistent gray
lines of rain and the white walls of the galleried buildings opposite;
the gutters were brimming, roaring along like miniature torrents;
nowhere was the fox or the owl to be seen. Somehow their presence would
have been a reliefthe sight of any living thing reassuring. As he
walked slowly along the deserted piazzas, in turning sudden corners,
again and again he paused, expecting that something, some one, was
approaching to meet him. When at last he mounted his horse, that had
neighed gleefully to see him, and rode away through the avenue and
along the empty ways among the untenanted summer cottages, all the
drearier and more forlorn because of the rain, he felt as if he had
left an aberration, some hideous dream, behind, instead of the stark
reality of the gaunt and vacant and dilapidated old house.
The transition to the glow and cheer of Sim Roxby's fireside was
like a rescue, a restoration. The smiling welcome in the women's eyes,
their soft drawling voices, with mellifluous intonations that gave a
value to each commonplace simple word, braced his nerves like a tonic.
It might have been only the contrast with the recollections of the
night, with the prospect visible through the open doorthe serried
lines of rain dropping aslant from the gray sky and elusively outlined
against the dark masses of leafless woods that encircled the clearing;
the dooryard half submerged with puddles of a clay-brown tint, embossed
always with myriads of protruding drops of rain, for however they
melted away the downpour renewed them, and to the eye they were
stationary, albeit pervaded with a continual tremorbut somehow he was
cognizant of a certain coddling tenderness in the old woman's manner
that might have been relished by a petted child, an unaffected
friendliness in the girl's clear eyes. They made him sit close to the
great wood fire; the blue and yellow flames gushed out from the piles
of hickory logs, and the bed of coals gleamed at red and white heat
beneath. They took his hat to carefully dry it, and they spread out his
cloak on two chairs at one side of the room, where it dismally dripped.
When he ventured to sneeze, Mrs. Roxby compounded and administered a
yerb tea, a sovereign remedy against colds, which he tasted on
compulsion and in great doubt, and swallowed with alacrity and
confidence, finding its basis the easily recognizable toddy. He had
little knowledge how white and troubled his face had looked as he came
in from the gray day, how strongly marked were those lines of sharp
mental distress, how piteously apparent was his mute appeal for
sympathy and comfort.
Mill'cent, said the old woman in the shed-room, as they washed and
wiped the dishes after the cozy breakfast of venison and corn-dodgers
and honey and milk, that thar man hev run agin the law, sure's ye air
Millicent turned her reflective fair face, that seemed whiter and
more delicate in the damp dark day, and looked doubtfully out over the
fields, where the water ran in steely lines in the furrows.
Mus' hev been by accident or suthin'. He ain't no hardened
Shucks! the old woman commented upon her reluctant acquiescence.
I ain't keerin' for the law! 'Tain't none o' my job. The tomfool men
make an' break it. Ennybody ez hev seen this war air obleeged to take
note o' the wickedness o' men in gineral. This hyer man air a sorter
pitiful sinner, an' he hev got a look in his eyes that plumb teches my
heart. I 'ain't got no call ter know nuthin' 'bout the law, bein' a
'oman an' naterally ignorant. I dun'no' ez he hev run agin it.
Mus' hev been by accident, said Millicent, dreamily, still gazing
over the sodden fields.
The suspicion did nothing to diminish his comfort or their
cordiality. The morning dragged by without change in the outer aspects.
The noontide dinner came and went without Roxby's return, for the
report of the washing away of a bridge some miles distant down the
river had early called him out to the scene of the disaster, to verify
in his own interests the rumor, since he had expected to haul his wheat
to the settlement the ensuing day. The afternoon found the desultory
talk still in progress about the fire, the old woman alternately
carding cotton and nodding in her chair in the corner; the dogs eying
the stranger, listening much of the time with the air of children
taking instruction, only occasionally wandering out-of-doors, the floor
here and there bearing the damp imprint of their feet; and Millicent on
her knees in the other corner, the firelight on her bright hair, her
delicate cheek, her quickly glancing eyes, as she deftly moulded
Uncle Sim hed ter s'render his shootin'-irons, she explained, an'
he 'ain't got no ca'tridge-loadin' ones lef. So he makes out with his
old muzzle-loadin' rifle that he hed afore the war, an' I moulds his
bullets for him rainy days.
As she held up a moulded ball and dexterously clipped off the
surplus lead, the gesture was so culinary in its delicacy that one of
the dogs in front of the fire extended his head, making a long neck,
with a tentative sniff and a glistening gluttonous eye.
Ef I swallered enny mo' lead, I wouldn't take it hot, Towse, she
said, holding out the bullet for canine inspection. 'Tain't healthy!
But the dog, perceiving the nature of the commodity, drew back with
a look of deep reproach, rose precipitately, and with a drooping tail
went out skulkingly into the wet gray day.
Towse can't abide a bullet, she observed, nor nuthin' 'bout a
gun. He got shot wunst a-huntin', an' he never furgot it. Jes show him
a gun an' he ain't nowhar ter be seenlike he war cotch up in the
Good watch-dog, I suppose, suggested Dundas, striving to enter
into the spirit of her talk.
Naw; too sp'ilt for a gyard-doggranny coddled him so whenst he
got shot. He's jest vally'ble fur his conversation, I reckon, she
continued, with a smile in her eyes. I dun'no' what else, but he is
toler'ble good company.
The other dogs pressed about her, the heads of the great hounds as
high as her own as she sat among them on the floor. With bright eyes
and knitted brows they followed the motions of pouring in the melted
metal, the lifting of the bullets from the mould, the clipping off of
the surplus lead, and the flash of the keen knife.
Outside the sad light waned; the wind sighed and sighed; the dreary
rain fell; the trees clashed their boughs dolorously together, and
their turbulence deadened the sound of galloping horses. As Dundas sat
and gazed at the girl's intent head, with its fleecy tendrils and its
massive coil, the great hounds beside her, all emblazoned by the
firelight upon the brown wall near by, with the vast fireplace at hand,
the whole less like reality than some artist's pictured fancy, he knew
naught of a sudden entrance, until she moved, breaking the spell, and
looked up to meet the displeasure in Roxby's eyes and the dark scowl on
Emory Keenan's face.
That night the wind shifted to the north. Morning found the chilled
world still, ice where the water had lodged, all the trees incased in
glittering garb that followed the symmetry alike of every bough and the
tiniest twig, and made splendid the splintered remnants of the
lightning-riven. The fields were laced across from furrow to furrow, in
which the frozen water still stood gleaming, with white arabesques
which had known a more humble identity as stubble and crab-grass; the
sky was slate-colored, and from its sad tint this white splendor gained
added values of contrast. When the sun should shine abroad much of the
effect would be lost in the too dazzling glister; but the sun did not
All day the gray mood held unchanged. Night was imperceptibly
sifting down upon all this whiteness, that seemed as if it would not be
obscured, as if it held within itself some property of luminosity, when
Millicent, a white apron tied over her golden head, improvising a hood,
its superfluous fulness gathered in many folds and pleats around her
neck, fichu-wise, stood beside the ice-draped fodder-stack and essayed
with half-numbed hands to insert a tallow dip into the socket of a
lantern, all incrusted and clumsy with previous drippings.
I dun'no' whether I be a-goin' ter need this hyar consarn whilst
milkin' or no, she observed, half to herself, half to Emory, who,
chewing a straw, somewhat surlily had followed her out for a word
apart. The dusk 'pears slow ter-night, but Spot's mighty late comin'
home, an' old Sue air fractious an' contrairy-minded, and feels mighty
anxious an' oneasy 'boutn her calf, that's ez tall ez she is nowadays,
an' don't keer no mo' 'bout her mammy 'n a half-grown human does. I
tell her she oughtn't ter be mad with me, but with the way she brung up
her chile, ez won't notice her now.
She looked up with a laugh, her eyes and teeth gleaming; her golden
hair still showed its color beneath the spotless whiteness of her
voluminous headgear, and the clear tints of her complexion seemed all
the more delicate and fresh in the snowy pallor of the surroundings and
the grayness of the evening.
I reckon I'd better take it along, and once more she addressed
herself to the effort to insert the dip into the lantern.
Emory hardly heard. His pulse was quick. His eye glittered. He
breathed hard as, with both hands in his pockets, he came close to her.
Mill'cent, he said, I told ye the t'other day ez ye thunk a heap
too much o' that thar stran-ger-
An' I tole ye, bubby, that I didn't think nuthin' o' nobody but
you-uns, she interrupted, with an effort to placate his jealousy. The
little jocularity which she affected dwindled and died before the
steady glow of his gaze, and she falteringly looked at him, her
unguided hands futilely fumbling with the lantern.
Ye can't fool me, he stoutly asseverated. Ye think mo' o' him 'n
o' me, kase ye 'low he air rich, an' book-larned, an' smooth-fingered,
an' fini-fied ez a gal, an' goin' ter buy the hotel. I say, hotel!
Now I'll tell ye what he isI'll tell ye! He's a criminal. He's
runnin' from the law. He's hidin' in the old hotel that he's purtendin'
She stared wide-eyed and pallid, breathless and waiting.
He interpreted her expression as doubt, denial.
It's gospel sure, he cried. Fur this very evenin' I met a gang o'
men an' the sheriff's deputy down yander by the sulphur spring 'bout
sundown, an' he 'lowed ez they war a-sarchin' fur a criminal ez war
skulkin' round hyarabout latelyez they wanted a man fur hevin'
But ye didn't accuse him, surely; ye hed no right ter
s'picion him. Uncle Sim! Oh, my Lord! Ye surely wouldn't! Oh,
Her tremulous words broke into a quavering cry as she caught his arm
convulsively, for his face confirmed her fears. She thrust him wildly
away, and started toward the house.
Ye needn't go tattlin' on me, he said, roughly pushing her aside.
I'll tell Mr. Roxby myself. I ain't 'shamed o' what I done. I'll tell
him. I'll tell him myself. And animated with this intention to
forestall her disclosure, his long strides bore him swiftly past and
into the house.
It seemed to him that he lingered there only a moment or two, for
Roxby was not at the cabin, and he said nothing of the quarrel to the
old woman. Already his heart had revolted against his treachery, and
then there came to him the further reflection that he did not know
enough to justify suspicion. Was not the stranger furnished with the
fullest credentialsa letter to Roxby from the Colonel? Perhaps he had
allowed his jealousy to endanger the man, to place him in jeopardy even
of his life should he resist arrest.
Keenan tarried at the house merely long enough to devise a plausible
excuse for his sudden excited entrance, and then took his way back to
It was vacant. The cows still stood lowing at the bars; the sheep
cowered together in their shed; the great whitened cone of the
fodder-stack gleamed icily in the purple air; beside it lay the lantern
where Millicent had cast it aside. She was gone! He would not believe
it till he had run to the barn, calling her name in the shadowy place,
while the horse at his manger left his corn to look over the walls of
his stall with inquisitive surprised eyes, luminous in the dusk. He
searched the hen-house, where the fowls on their perches crowded close
because of the chill of the evening. He even ran to the bars and looked
down across the narrow ravine to which the clearing sloped. Beyond the
chasm-like gorge he saw presently on the high ascent opposite
footprints that had broken the light frostlike coating of ice on the
dead leaves and mossclimbing footprints, swift, disordered. He looked
back again at the lantern where Millicent had flung it in her haste.
Her mission was plain now. She had gone to warn Dundas. She had taken a
direct line through the woods. She hoped to forestall the deputy
sheriff and his posse, following the circuitous mountain road.
Keenan's lip curled in triumph. His heart burned hot with scornful
anger and contempt of the futility of her effort. They're there afore
she started! he said, looking up at the aspects of the hour shown by
the sky, and judging of the interval since the encounter by the spring.
Through a rift in the gray cloud a star looked down with an icy
scintillation and disappeared again. He heard a branch in the woods
snap beneath the weight of ice. A light sprang into the window of the
cabin hard by, and came in a great gush of orange-tinted glow out into
the snowy bleak wintry space. He suddenly leaped over the fence and ran
like a deer through the woods.
Millicent too had been swift. He had thought to overtake her before
he emerged from the woods into the more open space where the hotel
stood. In this quarter the cloud-break had been greater. Toward the
west a fading amber glow still lingered in long horizontal bars upon
the opaque gray sky. The white mountains opposite were hung with purple
shadows borrowed from a glimpse of sunset somewhere far away over the
valley of East Tennessee; one distant lofty range was drawn in elusive
snowy suggestions, rather than lines, against a green space of intense
yet pale tint. The moon, now nearing the full, hung over the wooded
valley, and aided the ice and the crust of snow to show its bleak, wan,
wintry aspect; a tiny spark glowed in its depths from some open door of
an isolated home. Over it all a mist was rising from the east, drawing
its fleecy but opaque curtain. Already it had climbed the mountain-side
and advanced, windless, soundless, overwhelming, annihilating all
before and beneath it. The old hotel had disappeared, save that here
and there a gaunt gable protruded and was withdrawn, showed once more,
and once more was submerged.
A horse's head suddenly looking out of the enveloping mist close to
his shoulder gave him the first intimation of the arrival, the secret
silent waiting, of those whom he had directed hither. That the saddles
were empty he saw a moment later. The animals stood together in a row,
hitched to the rack. No disturbance sounded from the silent building.
The event was in abeyance. The fugitive in hiding was doubtless at
ease, unsuspecting, while the noiseless search of the officers for his
quarters was under way.
With a thrill of excitement Keenan crept stealthily through an open
passage and into the old grass-grown spaces of the quadrangle. Night
possessed the place, but the cloud seemed denser than the darkness. He
was somehow sensible of its convolutions as he stood against the wall
and strained his eyes into the dusk. Suddenly it was penetrated by a
milky-white glimmer, a glimmer duplicated at equidistant points, each
fading as its successor sprang into brilliance. The next moment he
understood its significance. It had come from the blurred windows of
the old ball-room. Milli-cent had lighted her candle as she searched
for the fugitive's quarters; she was passing down the length of the old
house on the second story, and suddenly she emerged upon the gallery.
She shielded the feeble flicker with her Hand; her white-hooded head
gleamed as with an aureola as the divergent rays rested on the opaque
mist; and now and again she clutched the baluster and walked with
tremulous care, for the flooring was rotten here and there, and ready
to crumble away. Her face was pallid, troubled; and Dundas, who had
been warned by the tramp of horses and the tread of men, and who had
descended the stairs, revolver in hand, ready to slip away if he might
under cover of the mist, paused appalled, gazing across the quadrangle
as on an apparitionthe sight so familiar to his senses, so strange to
his experience. He saw in an abrupt shifting of the mist that there
were other figures skulking in doorways, watching her progress. The
next moment she leaned forward to clutch the baluster, and the light of
the candle fell full on Emory Keenan, lurking in the open passage. A
sudden sharp cry of Surrender! The young mountaineer, confused,
swiftly drew his pistol. Others were swifter still. A sharp report rang
out into the chill crisp air, rousing all the affrighted echoesa few
faltering steps, a heavy fall, and for a long time Emory Keenan's
life-blood stained the floor of the promenade. Even when it had faded,
the rustic gossips came often and gazed at the spot with morbid
interest, until, a decade later, an enterprising proprietor removed the
floor and altered the shape of that section of the building out of
The escape of Dundas was easily effected. The deputy sheriff,
confronted with the problem of satisfactorily accounting for the death
of a man who had committed no offence against public polity, was no
longer formidable. His errand had been the arrest of a horse-thief,
well-known to him, and he had no interest in pursuing a fugitive,
however obnoxious to the law, whose personal description was so
different from that of the object of his search.
Time restored to Dundas his former place in life and the esteem of
his fellow-citizens. His stay in the mountains was an episode which he
will not often recall, but sometimes volition fails, and he marvels at
the strange fulfilment of the girl's vision; he winces to think that
her solicitude for his safety should have cost her her lover; he
wonders whether she yet lives, and whether that tender troubled
phantom, on nights when the wind is still and the moon is low and the
mists rise, again joins the strange, elusive, woful company crossing
the quaking foot-bridge.