URLs for Books

Your last ebook:

You dont read ebooks at this site.

Total ebooks on site: about 25000

You can read and download its for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Erskine, Payne / The Mountain Girl

[Illustration: _"We will go home--to my home--just like this,

FRONTISPIECE. _See Page 311._]

The Mountain Girl


Author of "When the Gates Lift Up Their Heads."





_All rights reserved._



I. In which David Thryng arrives at Carew's Crossing 1

II. In which David Thryng experiences the Hospitality of
the Mountain People 10

III. In which Aunt Sally takes her Departure and meets Frale 25

IV. David spends his First Day at his Cabin, and Frale makes
his Confession 35

V. In which Cassandra goes to David with her Trouble, and
gives Frale her Promise 47

VI. In which David aids Frale to make his Escape 59

VII. In which Frale goes down to Farington in his own Way 68

VIII. In which David Thryng makes a Discovery 76

IX. In which David accompanies Cassandra on an Errand of Mercy 86

X. In which Cassandra and David visit the Home of Decatur
Irwin 94

XI. In which Spring comes to the Mountains, and Cassandra
tells David of her Father 103

XII. In which Cassandra hears the Voices, and David leases
a Farm 111

XIII. In which David discovers Cassandra's Trouble 120

XIV. In which David visits the Bishop, and Frale sees his Enemy 131

XV. In which Jerry Carew gives David his Views on Future
Punishment, and Little Hoyle pays him a Visit and is
made Happy 144

XVI. In which Frale returns and listens to the Complaints of
Decatur Irwin's Wife 152

XVII. In which David Thryng meets an Enemy 164

XVIII. In which David Thryng Awakes 172

XIX. In which David sends Hoke Belew on a Commission, and
Cassandra makes a Confession 180

XX. In which the Bishop and his Wife pass an Eventful Day at
the Fall Place 189

XXI. In which the Summer Passes 198

XXII. In which David takes little Hoyle to Canada 207

XXIII. In which Doctor Hoyle speaks his Mind 212

XXIV. In which David Thryng has News from England 218

XXV. In which David Thryng visits his Mother 224

XXVI. In which David Thryng adjusts his Life to New Conditions 234

XXVII. In which the Old Doctor and Little Hoyle come back to
the Mountains 244

XXVIII. In which Frale returns to the Mountains 253

XXIX. In which Cassandra visits David Thryng's Ancestors 265

XXX. In which Cassandra goes to Queensderry and takes a Drive
in a Pony Carriage 276

XXXI. In which David and his Mother do not Agree 288

XXXII. In which Cassandra brings the Heir of Daneshead Castle
back to her Hilltop, and the Shadow Lifts 300




The snow had ceased falling. No wind stirred among the trees that
covered the hillsides, and every shrub, every leaf and twig, still bore
its feathery, white load. Slowly the train labored upward, with two
engines to take it the steepest part of the climb from the valley below.
David Thryng gazed out into the quiet, white wilderness and was glad. He
hoped Carew's Crossing was not beyond all this, where the ragged edge of
civilization, out of which the toiling train had so lately lifted them,
would begin again.

He glanced from time to time at the young woman near the door who sat as
the bishop had left her, one slight hand grasping the handle of her
basket, and with an expression on her face as placid and fraught with
mystery as the scene without. The train began to crawl more heavily,
and, looking down, Thryng saw that they were crossing a trestle over a
deep gorge before skirting the mountain on the other side. Suddenly it
occurred to him that he might be carried beyond his station. He stopped
the smiling young brakeman who was passing with his flag.

"Let me know when we come to Carew's Crossing, will you?"

"Next stop, suh. Are you foh there, suh?"

"Yes. How soon?"

"Half an houh mo', suh. I'll be back d'rectly and help you off, suh.
It's a flag station. We don't stop there in winter 'thout we're called
to, suh. Hotel's closed now."

"Hotel? Is there a hotel?" Thryng's voice betokened dismay.

"Yes, suh. It's a right gay little place in summah, suh." He passed on,
and Thryng gathered his scattered effects. Ill and weary, he was glad
to find his long journey so nearly at an end.

On either side of the track, as far as eye could see, was a
snow-whitened wilderness, seemingly untouched by the hand of man, and he
felt as if he had been carried back two hundred years. The only hint
that these fastnesses had been invaded by human beings was an occasional
rough, deeply red wagon road, winding off among the hills.

The long trestle crossed, the engines labored slowly upward for a time,
then, turning a sharp curve, began to descend, tearing along the narrow
track with a speed that caused the coaches to rock and sway; and thus
they reached Carew's Crossing, dropping down to it like a rushing

Immediately Thryng found himself deposited in the melting snow some
distance from the station platform, and at the same instant, above the
noise of the retreating train, he heard a cry: "Oh, suh, help him, help
him! It's poor little Hoyle!" The girl whom he had watched, and about
whom he had been wondering, flashed by him and caught at the bridle of a
fractious colt, that was rearing and plunging near the corner of the

"Poor little Hoyle! Help him, suh, help him!" she cried, clinging
desperately, while the frantic animal swung her off her feet, close to
the flying heels of the kicking mule at his side.

Under the heavy vehicle to which the ill-assorted animals were attached,
a child lay unconscious, and David sprang forward, his weakness
forgotten in the demand for action. In an instant he had drawn the
little chap from his perilous position and, seizing the mule, succeeded
in backing him to his place. The cause of its fright having by this time
disappeared, the colt became tractable and stood quivering and snorting,
as David took the bridle from the girl's hand.

"I'll quiet them now," he said, and she ran to the boy, who had
recovered sufficiently to sit up and gaze in a dazed way about him. As
she bent over him, murmuring soothing words, he threw his arms around
her neck and burst into wild sobbing.

"There, honey, there! No one is hurt. You are not, are you, honey son?"

"I couldn't keep a holt of 'em," he sobbed.

"You shouldn't have done it, honey. You should have let me get home as
best I could." Her face was one which could express much, passive as it
had been before. "Where was Frale?"

"He took the othah ho'se and lit out. They was aftah him. They--"

"S-sh. There, hush! You can stand now; try, Hoyle. You are a man now."

The little fellow rose, and, perceiving Thryng for the first time,
stepped shyly behind his sister. David noticed that he had a deformity
which caused him to carry his head twisted stiffly to one side, and also
that he had great, beautiful brown eyes, so like those of a hunted fawn
as he turned them upon the stranger with wide appeal, that he seemed a
veritable creature of the wilderness by which they were surrounded.

Then the girl stepped forward and thanked him with voice and eyes; but
he scarcely understood the words she said, as her tones trailed
lingeringly over the vowels, and almost eliminated the "r," so lightly
was it touched, while her accent fell utterly strange upon his English
ear. She looked to the harness with practised eye, and then laid her
hand beside Thryng's, on the bridle. It was a strong, shapely hand and

"I can manage now," she said. "Hoyle, get my basket foh me."

But Thryng suggested that she climb in and take the reins first,
although the animals stood quietly enough now; the mule looked even
dejected, with hanging head and forward-drooping ears.

The girl spoke gently to the colt, stroking him along the side and
murmuring to him in a cooing voice as she mounted to the high seat and
gathered up the reins. Then the two beasts settled themselves to their
places with a wontedness that assured Thryng they would be perfectly
manageable under her hand.

David turned to the child, relieved him of the basket, which was heavy
with unusual weight, and would have lifted him up, but Hoyle eluded his
grasp, and, scrambling over the wheel with catlike agility, slipped
shyly into his place close to the girl's side. Then, with more than
childlike thoughtfulness, the boy looked up into her face and said in a
low voice:--

"The gen'l'man's things is ovah yandah by the track, Cass. He cyant tote
'em alone, I reckon. Whar is he goin'?"

Then Thryng remembered himself and his needs. He looked at the line of
track curving away up the mountain side in one direction, and in the
other lost in a deep cut in the hills; at the steep red banks rising
high on each side, arched over by leafy forest growth, with all the
interlacing branches and smallest twigs bearing their delicate burden of
white, feathery snow. He caught his breath as a sense of the strange,
untamed beauty, marvellous and utterly lonely, struck upon him. Beyond
the tracks, high up on the mountain slope, he thought he spied,
well-nigh hid from sight by the pines, the gambrel roof of a large
building--or was it a snow-covered rock?

"Is that a house up there?" he asked, turning to the girl, who sat
leaning forward and looking steadily down at him.

"That is the hotel."

"A road must lead to it, then. If I could get up there, I could send
down for my things."

"They is no one thar," piped the boy; and Thryng remembered the
brakeman's words, and how he had rebelled at the thought of a hotel
incongruously set amid this primeval beauty; but now he longed for the
comfort of a warm room and tea at a hospitable table. He wished he had
accepted the bishop's invitation. It was a predicament to be dropped in
this wild spot, without a store, a cabin, or even a thread of blue smoke
to be seen as indicating a human habitation, and no soul near save these
two children.

The sun was sinking toward the western hilltops, and a chillness began
creeping about him as the shadows lengthened across the base of the
mountain, leaving only the heights in the glowing light.

"Really, you know, I can't say what I am to do. I'm a stranger here--"

It seemed odd to him at the moment, but her face, framed in the huge
sunbonnet,--a delicate flower set in a rough calyx,--suddenly lost all
expression. She did not move nor open her lips. Thryng thought he
detected a look of fear in the boy's eyes, as he crept closer to her.

In a flash came to him the realization of the difficulty. His friend had
told him of these people,--their occupations, their fear of the world
outside and below their fastnesses, and how zealously they guarded their
homes and their rights from outside intrusion, yet how hospitable and
generous they were to all who could not be considered their hereditary

He hastened to speak reassuring words, and, bethinking himself that she
had called the boy Hoyle, he explained how one Adam Hoyle had sent him.

"The doctor is my friend, you know. He built a cabin somewhere within a
day's walk, he told me, of Carew's Crossing, on a mountain top. Maybe
you knew him?"

A slight smile crept about the girl's lips, and her eyes brightened.
"Yes, suh, we-all know Doctah Hoyle."

"I am to have the cabin--if I can find it--live there as he did, and see
what your hills will do for me." He laughed a little as he spoke,
deprecating his evident weakness, and, lifting his cap, wiped the cold
moisture from his forehead.

She noted his fatigue and hesitated. The boy's questioning eyes were
fixed on her face, and she glanced down into them an answering look. Her
lips parted, and her eyes glowed as she turned them again on David, but
she spoke still in the same passive monotone.

"Oh, yes. My little brothah was named foh him,--Adam Hoyle,--but we only
call him Hoyle. It's a right long spell since the Doctah was heah. His
cabin is right nigh us, a little highah up. Theah is no place wheah you
could stop nighah than ouahs. Hoyle, jump out and help fetch his things
ovah. You can put them in the back of the wagon, suh, and ride up with
us. I have a sight of room foh them."

The child was out and across the tracks in an instant, seizing a valise
much too heavy for him, and Thryng cut his thanks short to go to his

"I kin tote it," said the boy shrilly.

"No, no. I am the biggest, so I'll take the big ones. You bring the
bundle with the strap around it--so. Now we shall get on, shan't we?
But you are pretty strong for a little chap;" and the child's face
radiated smiles at the praise.

Then David tossed in valise and rug, without which last no Englishman
ever goes on a journey, and with much effort they managed to pull the
box along and hoist it also into the wagon, the body of which was filled
with corn fodder, covered with an old patchwork quilt.

The wagon was of the rudest, clumsiest construction, the heavy box set
on axles without springs, but the young physician was thankful for any
kind of a conveyance. He had been used to life in the wild, taking
things as he found them--bunking in a tent, a board shanty, or out under
the open sky; with men brought heterogeneously together, some merely
rough woodsmen in their natural environment, others the scum of the
cities to whom crime was become first nature, decency second, and
others, fleeing from justice and civilized law, hiding ofttimes a fine
nature delicately reared. During this time he had seldom seen a woman
other than an occasional camp follower of the most degraded sort.

Inured thus, he did not find his ride, embedded with good corn fodder,
much of a hardship, even in a springless wagon over mountain roads.
Wrapped in his rug, he braced himself against his box, with his face
toward the rear of the wagon, and gazed out from under its arching
canvas hood at the wild way, as it slowly unrolled behind them, and was
pleased that he did not have to spend the night under the lee of the

The lingering sunlight made flaming banners of the snow clouds now
slowly drifting across the sky above the white world, and touched the
highest peaks with rose and gold. The shadows, ever changing, deepened
from faintest pink-mauve through heliotrope tints, to the richest violet
in the heart of the gorges. Over and through all was the witching
mystery of fairy-like, snow-wreathed branches and twigs, interwoven and
arching up and up in faint perspective to the heights above, and down,
far down, to the depths of the regions below them; and all the time,
mingled with the murmur of the voices behind him, and the creaking of
the vehicle in which they rode, and the tramp of the animals when they
came to a hard roadbed with rock foundation,--noises which were not
loud, but which seemed to be covered and subdued by the soft snow even
as it covered everything,--could be heard a light dropping and
pattering, as the overladen last year's leaves and twigs dropped their
white burden to the ground. Sometimes the great hood of the wagon struck
an overhanging bough and sent the snow down in showers as they passed.

Heavily they climbed up, and warily made their descent of rocky steeps,
passing through boggy places or splashing in clear streams which issued
from springs in the mountain side or fell from some distant height, then
climbing again only to wind about and again descend. Often the way was
rough with boulders that had never been blasted out,--sometimes steeply
shelving where the gorge was deepest and the precipice sheerest. Past
all dangers the girl drove with skilful hand, now encouraging her team
with her low voice, now restraining them, where their load crowded upon
them over slippery, shelving rocks, with strong pulls and sharp command.
David marvelled at her serenity under the strain, and at her courage and
deftness. With the calmness of the boy nestling at her side, he resigned
himself to the sweet witchery of the time and place. Glancing up at the
high seat behind him, he saw the child's feet dangling, and knew they
must be cold.

"Why can't your little brother sit back here with me?" he said; "I'll
cover him with my rug, and we'll keep each other warm."

He saw the small hunched back stiffen, and try to appear big and manly,
but she checked the team at a level dip in the road.

"Yes, sonny, get ovah theah with the gentleman. It'll be some coldah now
the sun's gone." But the little man was shyly reluctant to move. "Come,
honey. Sistah'd a heap rathah you would."

Then David reached up and gently lifted the atom of manhood, of pride,
sensitiveness, and affection, over where he caused him to snuggle down
in the fodder close to his side.

For a while the child sat stiffly aloof, but gradually his little form
relaxed, and his head drooped sideways in the hollow of the stranger's
shoulder, held comfortably by Thryng's kindly encircling arm. Soon,
with his small feet wrapped in the warm, soft rug, he slept soundly and
sweetly, rocked, albeit rather roughly, in the jolting wagon.

Thryng also dreamed, but not in sleep. His mind was stirred to unusual
depths by his strange surroundings--the silence, the mystery, the beauty
of the night, and the suggestions of grandeur and power dimly revealed
by the moonlight which bathed the world in a flood of glory.

He was uplifted and drawn out of himself, and at the same time he was
thrown back to review his life and to see his most inward self, and to
marvel and question the wherefore of it all. Why was he here, away from
the active, practical affairs which interest other men? Was he a
creature of ideals only, or was he also a practical man, taking the
wisest means of reaching and achieving results most worth while? He saw
himself in his childhood--in his youth--in his young manhood--even to
the present moment, jogging slowly along in a far country, rough and
wild, utterly dependent on the courtesy of a slight girl, who held, for
the moment, his life in her hands; for often, as he gazed into the void
of darkness over narrow ledges, he knew that only the skill of those two
small hands kept them from sliding into eternity: yet there was about
her such an air of wontedness to the situation that he was stirred by no
sense of anxiety for himself or for her.

He took out his pipe and smoked, still dreaming, comparing, and
questioning. Of ancient family, yet the younger son of three generations
of younger sons, all probability of great inheritance or title so far
removed from him, it behooved that he build for himself--what? Fortune,
name, everything. Character? Ah, that was his heritage, all the heritage
the laws of England allowed him, and that not by right of English law,
but because, fixed in the immutable, eternal Will, some laws there are
beyond the power of man to supersede. With an involuntary stiffening of
his body, he disturbed for an instant the slumbering child, and quite as
involuntarily he drew him closer and soothed him back to forgetfulness;
and they both dreamed on, the child in his sleep, and the man in his
wide wakefulness and intense searching.

His uncle, it is true, would have boosted him far toward creating both
name and fame for himself, in either army or navy, but he would none of
it. There was his older brother to be advanced, and the younger son of
this same uncle to be placed in life, or married to wealth. This also he
might have done; well married he might have been ere now, and could be
still, for she was waiting--only--an ideal stood in his way. Whom he
would marry he would love. Not merely respect or like,--not even
both,--but love he must; and in order to hold to this ideal he must fly
the country, or remain to be unduly urged to his own discomfiture and
possibly to their mutual undoing.

As for the alternatives, the army or the navy, again his ideals had
formed for him impassable bars. He would found his career on the saving
rather than the taking of life. Perhaps he might yet follow in the wake
of armies to mend bodies they have torn and cut and maimed, and heal
diseases they have engendered--yes--perhaps--the ideals loomed big. But
what had he done? Fled his country and deftly avoided the most
heart-satisfying of human delights--children to call him father, and
wife to make him a home; peace and wealth; thrust aside the helping hand
to power and a career considered most worthy of a strong and resourceful
man, and thrown personal ambition to the winds. Why? Because of his
ideals--preferring to mend rather than to mar his neighbor.

Surely he was right--and yet--and yet. What had he accomplished? Taken
the making of his life into his own hands and lost--all--if health were
really gone. One thing remained to him--the last rag and remnant of his
cherished ideals--to live long enough to triumph over his own disease
and take up work again. Why should he succumb? Was it fate? Was there
the guidance of a higher will? Might he reach out and partake of the
Divine power? But one thing he knew; but one thing could he do. As the
glory of white light around him served to reveal a few feet only of the
way, even as the density beyond seemed impenetrable, still it was but
seeming. There was a beyond--vast--mysterious--which he must search out,
slowly, painfully, if need be, seeing a little way only, but seeing that
little clearly, revealed by the white light of spirit. His own or God's?
Into the infinite he must search--search--and at last surely find.



Suddenly the jolting ceased. The deep stillness of the night seemed only
intensified by the low panting of the animals and the soft dropping of
the wet snow from the trees.

"What is it?" said Thryng, peering from under the canvas cover.
"Anything the matter?"

The beasts stood with low-swung heads, the vapor rising white from their
warm bodies, wet with the melting snow. His question fell unheard, and
the girl who was climbing down over the front wheel began to unhitch the
team in silence. He rolled the sleeping child in his rug and leaped out.

"Let me help you. What is the trouble? Oh, are you at home?"

"I can do this, suh. I have done it a heap of times. Don't go nigh Pete,
suh. He's mighty quick, and he's mean." The beast laid back his ears
viciously as David approached.

"You ought not go near him yourself," he said, taking a firm grip of the

"Oh, he's safe enough with me--or Frale. Hold him tight, suh, now you
have him, till I get round there. Keep his head towa'ds you. He
certainly is mean."

The colt walked off to a low stack of corn fodder, as she turned him
loose with a light slap on the flank; and the mule, impatient, stamping
and sidling about, stretched forth his nose and let out his raucous and
hideous cry. While he was thus occupied, the girl slipped off his
harness and, taking the bridle, led the beast away to a small railed
enclosure on the far side of the stack; and David stood alone in the
snow and looked about him.

He saw a low, rambling house, which, although one structure, appeared to
be a series of houses, built of logs plastered with clay in the chinks.
It stood in a tangle of wild growth, on what seemed to be a wide ledge
jutting out from the side of the mountain, which loomed dark and high
behind it. An incessant, rushing sound pervaded the place, as it were a
part of the silence or a breathing of the mountain itself. Was it wind
among the trees, or the rushing of water? No wind stirred now, and yet
the sound never ceased. It must be a torrent swollen by the melting

He saw the girl moving in and out among the shadows, about the open log
stable, like a wraith. The braying of the mule had disturbed the
occupants of the house, for a candle was placed in a window, and its
little ray streamed forth and was swallowed up in the moonlight and
black shades. The child, awakened by the horrible noise of the beast,
rustled in the corn fodder where Thryng had left him. Dazed and
wondering, he peered out at the young man for some moments, too shy to
descend until his sister should return. Now she came, and he scrambled
down and stood close to her side, looking up weirdly, his twisted little
form shivering and quaking.

"Run in, Hoyle," she said, looking kindly down upon him. "Tell mothah
we're all right, son."

A woman came to the door holding a candle, which she shaded with a
gnarled and bony hand.

"That you, Cass?" she quavered. "Who aire ye talkin' to?"

"Yes, Aunt Sally, we'll be there directly. Don't let mothah get cold."
She turned again to David. "I reckon you'll have to stop with us
to-night. It's a right smart way to the cabin, and it'll be cold, and
nothing to eat. We'll bring in your things now, and in the morning we
can tote them up to your place with the mule, and Hoyle can go with you
to show you the way."

She turned toward the wagon as if all were settled, and Thryng could not
be effusive in the face of her direct and conclusive manner; but he took
the basket from her hand.

"Let me--no, no--I will bring in everything. Thank you very much. I can
do it quite easily, taking one at a time." Then she left him, but at the
door she met him and helped to lift his heavy belongings into the house.

The room he entered was warm and brightly lighted by a pile of blazing
logs in the great chimneyplace. He walked toward it and stretched his
hands to the fire--a generous fire--the mountain home's luxury.

Something was cooking in the ashes on the hearth which sent up a savory
odor most pleasant and appealing to the hungry man. The meagre boy stood
near, also warming his little body, on which his coarse garments hung
limply. He kept his great eyes fixed on David's face in a manner
disconcerting, even in a child, had Thryng given his attention to it,
but at the moment he was interested in other things. Dropped thus
suddenly into this utterly alien environment, he was observing the girl
and the old woman as intently, though less openly, as the boy was
watching him.

Presently he felt himself uncannily the object of a scrutiny far
different from the child's wide-eyed gaze, and glancing over his
shoulder toward the corner from which the sensation seemed to emanate,
he saw in the depths of an old four-posted bed, set in their hollow
sockets and roofed over by projecting light eyebrows, a pair of keen,
glittering eyes.

"Yas, you see me now, do ye?" said a high, thin voice in toothless
speech. "Who be ye?"

His physician's feeling instantly alert, he stepped to the bedside and
bent over the wasted form, which seemed hardly to raise the clothing
from its level smoothness, as if she had lain motionless since some
careful hand had arranged it.

"No, ye don't know me, I reckon. 'Tain't likely. Who be ye?" she
iterated, still looking unflinchingly in his eyes.

"Hit's a gentleman who knows Doctah Hoyle, mothah. He sent him. Don't
fret you'se'f," said the girl soothingly.

"I'm not one of the frettin' kind," retorted the mother, never taking
her eyes from his face, and again speaking in a weak monotone. "Who be

"My name is David Thryng, and I am a doctor," he said quietly.

"Where be ye from?"

"I came from Canada, the country where Doctor Hoyle lives."

"I reckon so. He used to tell 'at his home was thar." A pallid hand was
reached slowly out to him. "I'm right glad to see ye. Take a cheer and
set. Bring a cheer, Sally."

But the girl had already placed him a chair, which he drew close to the
bedside. He took the feeble old hand and slipped his fingers along to
rest lightly on the wrist.

"You needn't stan' watchin' me, Cass. You 'n' Sally set suthin' fer th'
doctah to eat. I reckon ye're all about gone fer hunger."

"Yes, mothah, right soon. Fry a little pork to go with the pone, Aunt
Sally. Is any coffee left in the pot?"

"I done put in a leetle mo' when I heered the mule hollah. I knowed ye'd
want it. Might throw in a mite mo' now th' gentleman's come."

The two women resumed their preparations for supper, the boy continued
to stand and gaze, and the high voice of the frail occupant of the bed
began again to talk and question.

"When did you come down f'om that thar country whar Doctah Hoyle lives
at?" she said, in her monotonous wail.

"Four days ago. I travelled slowly, for I have been ill myself."

"Hit's right quare now; 'pears like ef I was a doctah I wouldn't 'low
myself fer to get sick. An' you seed Doctah Hoyle fo' days back!"

"No, he has gone to England on a visit. I saw his wife, though, and his
daughter. She is a young lady--is to be married soon."

"They do grow up--the leetle ones. Hit don't seem mo'n yestahday 'at
Cass was like leetle Hoyle yandah, an' hit don't seem that since Doctah
Hoyle was here an' leetle Hoyle came. We named him fer th' doctah. Waal,
I reckon ef th' doctah was here now 'at he could he'p me some. Maybe ef
he'd 'a' stayed here I nevah would 'a' got down whar I be now. He was a
right good doctah, bettah'n a yarb doctah--most--I reckon so."

David smiled. "I think so myself," he said. "Are there many herb doctors
here about?"

"Not rightly doctahs, so to speak, but they is some 'at knows a heap
about yarbs."

"Good. Perhaps they can teach me something."

The old face was feebly lifted a bit from the pillow, and the dark eyes
grew suddenly sharp in their scrutiny.

"Who be ye, anyhow? What aire ye here fer? Sech as you knows a heap
a'ready 'thout makin' out to larn o' we-uns."

David saw his mistake and hastened to allay the suspicion which gleamed
out at him almost malignantly.

"I am just what I said, a doctor like Adam Hoyle, only that I don't know
as much as he--not yet. The wisest man in the world can learn more if he
watches out to do so. Your herb doctors might be able to teach me a good
many things."

"I 'spect ye're right thar, on'y a heap o' folks thinks they knows it
all fust."

There was a pause, and Thryng leaned back in his stiff, splint-bottomed
chair and glanced around him. He saw that the girl, although moving
about setting to rights and brushing here and there with an unique,
home-made broom, was at the same time intently listening.

Presently the old woman spoke again, her threadlike voice penetrating

"What do you 'low to do here in ouah mountains? They hain't no
settlement nighabouts here, an' them what's sick hain't no money to pay
doctahs with. I reckon they'll hev to stay sick fer all o' you-uns."

David looked into her eyes a moment quietly; then he smiled. The way to
her heart he saw was through the magic of one name.

"What did Doctor Hoyle do when he was down here?"

"Him? They hain't no one livin' like he was."

Then David laughed outright, a gay, contagious laugh, and after an
instant she laughed also.

"I agree with you," he said. "But you see, I am a countryman of his, and
he sent me here--he knows me well--and I mean to do as he did, if--I

He drew in a deep breath of utter weariness, and leaned forward, his
elbows on his knees, his head in his hands, and gazed into the blazing
fire. The memories which had taken possession of his soul during the
long ride seemed to envelop him so that in a moment the present was
swept away into oblivion and his spirit was, as it were, suddenly
withdrawn from the body and projected into the past. He had been unable
to touch any of the greasy cold stuff which had been offered him during
the latter part of his journey, and the heat brought a drowsiness on him
and a faintness from lack of food.

"Cass--Cassandry! Look to him," called the mother shrilly, but the girl
had already noticed his strange abstraction, and the small Adam Hoyle
had drawn back, in awe, to his mother.

"Get some whiskey, Sally," said the girl, and David roused himself to
see her bending over him.

"I must have gone off in a doze," he said weakly. "The long ride and
then this warmth--" Seeing the anxious faces around him, he laughed
again. "It's nothing, I assure you, only the comfort and the smell of
something good to eat;" he sniffed a little. "What is it?" he asked.

Old Sally was tossing and shaking the frying salt pork in the skillet at
the fireplace, and the odor aggravated his already too keen appetite.

"Ye was more'n sleepy, I reckon," shrilled the woman from the bed.
"Hain't that pone done, Sally? No, 'tain't liquor he needs; hit's
suthin' to eat."

Then the girl hastened her slow, gliding movements, drew splint chairs
to a table of rough pine that stood against the side of the room, and,
stooping between him and the fire, pulled something from among the hot
ashes. The fire made the only light in the room, and David never forgot
the supple grace of her as she bent thus silhouetted--the perfect line
of chin and throat black against the blaze, contrasted with the weird,
witchlike old woman with roughly knotted hair, who still squatted in the
heat, and shook the skillet of frying pork.

"Thar, now hit's done, I reckon," said old Sally, slowly rising and
straightening her bent back; and the woman from the bed called her

"Not that cup," she cried, as Sally began pouring black coffee into a
cracked white cup. "Git th' chany one. I hid hit yandah in th' cornder
'hind that tin can, to keep 'em f'om usin' hit every day. I had a hull
set o' that when I married Farwell. Give hit here." She took the
precious relic in her work-worn hands and peered into it, then wiped it
out with the corner of the sheet which covered her. This Thryng did not
see. He was watching the girl, as she broke open the hot, fragrant
corn-bread and placed it beside his plate.

"Come," she said. "You sure must be right hungry. Sit here and eat."
David felt like one drunken with weariness when he rose, and caught at
the edge of the table to steady himself.

"Aren't you hungry, too?" he asked, "and Hoyle, here? Sit beside me;
we're going to have a feast, little chap."

The girl placed an earthen crock on the table and took from it honey in
the broken comb, rich and dark.

"Have a little of this with your pone. It's right good," she said.

"Frale, he found a bee tree," piped the child suddenly, gaining
confidence as he saw the stranger engaged in the very normal act of
eating with the relish of an ordinary man. He edged forward and sat
himself gingerly on the outer corner of the next chair, and accepted a
huge piece of the pone from David's hand. His sister gave him honey, and
Sally dropped pieces of the sizzling hot pork on their plates, from the

David sipped his coffee from the flowered "chany cup" contentedly.
Served without milk or sugar, it was strong, hot, and reviving. The girl
shyly offered more of the corn-bread as she saw it rapidly disappearing,
pleased to see him eat so eagerly, yet abashed at having nothing else to

"I'm sorry we can give you only such as this. We don't live like you do
in the no'th. Have a little more of the honey."

"Ah, but this is fine. Good, hey, little chap? You are doing a very
beneficent thing, do you know, saving a man's life?" He glanced up at
her flushed face, and she smiled deprecatingly. He fancied her smiles
were rare.

"But it is quite true. Where would I be now but for you and Hoyle here?
Lying under the lee side of the station coughing my life away,--and all
my own fault, too. I should have accepted the bishop's invitation."

"You helped me when the colt was bad." Her soft voice, low and
monotonous, fell musically on his ear when she spoke.

"Naturally--but how about that, anyway? It's a wonder you weren't
killed. How came a youngster like you there alone with those beasts?"
Thryng had an abrupt manner of springing a question which startled the
child, and he edged away, furtively watching his sister.

[Illustration: _"Casabianca, was it?" said Thryng, smiling. Page 17._]

"Did you hitch that kicking brute alone and drive all that distance?"

"Aunt Sally, she he'ped me to tie up; she give him co'n whilst I th'owed
on the strops, an' when he's oncet tied up, he goes all right." The atom
grinned. "Hit's his way. He's mean, but he nevah works both ends to

"Good thing to know; but you're a hero, do you understand that?" The
child continued to edge away, and David reached out and drew him to his
side. Holding him by his two sharp little elbows, he gave him a playful
shake. "I say, do you know what a hero is?"

The startled boy stopped grinning and looked wildly to his sister, but
receiving only a smile of reassurance from her, he lifted his great eyes
to Thryng's face, then slowly the little form relaxed, and he was drawn
within the doctor's encircling arm.

"I don't reckon," was all his reply, which ambiguous remark caused
David, in his turn, to look to the sister for elucidation. She held a
long, lighted candle in her hand, and paused to look back as she was
leaving the room.

"Yes, you do, honey son. You remembah the boy with the quare long name
sistah told you about, who stood there when the ship was all afiah and
wouldn't leave because his fathah had told him to bide? He was a hero."
But Hoyle was too shy to respond, and David could feel his little heart
thumping against his arm as he held him.

"Tell the gentleman, Hoyle. He don't bite, I reckon," called the mother
from her corner.

"His name begun like yourn, Cass, but I cyan't remembah the hull of it."

"Casabianca, was it?" said Thryng, smiling.

"I reckon. Did you-uns know him?"

"When I was a small chap like you, I used to read about him." Then the
atom yielded entirely, and leaned comfortably against David, and his
sister left them, carrying the candle with her.

Old Sally threw another log on the fire, and the flames leaped up the
cavernous chimney, lighting the room with dramatic splendor. Thryng
took note of its unique furnishing. In the corner opposite the one where
the mother lay was another immense four-poster bed, and before it hung a
coarse homespun curtain, half concealing it. At its foot was a huge box
of dark wood, well-made and strong, with a padlock. This and the beds
seemed to belong to another time and place, in contrast to the other
articles, which were evidently mountain made, rude in construction and
hewn out by hand, the chairs unstained and unpolished, and seated with

The walls were the roughly dressed logs of which the house was built,
the chinks plastered with deep red-brown clay. Depending from nails
driven in the logs were festoons of dried apple and strips of dried
pumpkin, and hanging by their braided husks were bunches of Indian corn,
not yellow like that of the north, but white or purple.

There were bags also, containing Thryng knew not what, although he was
to learn later, when his own larder came to be eked out by sundry gifts
of dried fruit and sweet corn, together with the staple of beans and
peas from the widow's store.

Beside the window of small panes was a shelf, on which were a few worn
books, and beneath hung an almanac; at the foot of the mother's bed
stood a small spinning-wheel, with the wool still hanging to the
spindle. David wondered how long since it had been used.

Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | 8 | | 9 | | 10 | | 11 | | 12 | | 13 | | 14 | | 15 | | 16 | | Next |

Main -> Erskine, Payne -> The Mountain Girl