Page images
PDF
EPUB

pink and white bells of the azalea rang out melodies of welcome.

Then the two men tilted their chairs against the little porch in front of Peter Giles' log cabin, and puffed their pipes in silence. The panorama spread out before them showed misty and dreamy among the delicate spiral wreaths of smoke. But was that gossamer-like illusion, lying upon the far horizon, the magic of nicotian, or the vague presence of distant heights? As ridge after ridge came down from the sky in ever-graduating shades of intenser blue, Peter Giles might have told you that this parallel system of enchantment was only " the mountings”; that here was Foxy, and there was Big Injun, and still beyond was another, which he had “hearn tell ran spang up into Virginny.” The sky that bent to clasp this kindred blue was of varying moods. Floods of sunshine submerged Chilhowee in liquid gold, and revealed that dainty outline limned upon the northern horizon; but over the Great Smoky mountains, clouds had gathered and a gigantic rainbow bridged the valley.

Simon Burney did not speak for a moment.

“That's a likely gal o' yourn," he drawled, with an odd constraint in his voice, "a likely gal, that Clarsie."

“Yes,” Peter Giles at length replied, “ Clarsie air a likely enough gal. But she air mightily sot ter havin' her own way. An' ef ’t ain't give to her peaceable-like, she jes' takes it, whether or no.”

This statement, made by one presumably informed on the subject, might have damped the ardor of many a suitor,for the monstrous truth was dawning on Peter Giles's mind that suitor was the position to which this slow elderly widower aspired. But Simon Burney, with that odd, all.

pervading constraint still prominently apparent, mildly observed, “Waal, ez much ez I hev seen of her goin's-on, it ’pears ter me az her way air a mighty good way. An' it ain't comical that she likes it.”

The song grew momentarily more distinct : among the leaves there were fugitive glimpses of blue and white, and at last Clarsie appeared, walking lightly along the log, clad in her checked homespun dress, and with a pail upon her head.

She was a tall lithe girl, with that delicately transparent complexion often seen among the women of these moun. tains. Her lustreless black hair lay along her forehead without a ripple or a wave; there was something in the expression of her large eyes that suggested those of a deer,—something free, untamable, and yet gentle. “'Tain't no wonder ter me ez Clarsie is all tuk up with the wild things, an' critters ginerally,” her mother was wont to say ; sorter looks like 'em, I'm a-thinkin'.”

As she came in sight there was a renewal of that odd constraint in Simon Burney's face and manner, and he rose abruptly. “Waal,” he said, hastily, going to his horse, a raw-boned sorrel, hitched to the fence, “it's about time I war a-startin' home, I reckons.”

He nodded to his host, who silently nodded in return, and the old horse jogged off with him down the road, as Clarsie entered the house and placed the pail upon a shelf.

66 she

The breeze freshened, after the sun went down,

there were stars in the night besides those known to astronomers; the stellular fire-flies gemmed the black shadows with a fluctuating brilliancy; they circled in and out of the porch, and touched the leaves above Clarsie's head with quivering points of light. A steadier and

an intenser gleam was advancing along the road, and the sound of languid footsteps came with it; the aroma of tobacco graced the atmosphere, and a tall figure walked up

to the gate.

“Come in, come in,” said Peter Giles, rising, and tendering the guest a chair. “Ye air Tom Pratt, ez well ez I kin make out by this light. Waal, Tom, we hain't furgot ye sence ye done been hyar.”

The young man took leave presently, in great depression of spirits.

Clarsie ascended the ladder to a nook in the roof which she called her room.

For the first time in her life her slumber was fitful and restless, long intervals of wakefulness alternating with snatches of fantastic dreams.

And then her mind reverted to Tom Pratt, to old Simon Burney, and to her mother's emphatic and oracular declaration that widowers are in league with Satan, and that the girls upon whom they cast the eye of supernatural fascination have no choice in the matter. “I wish I knowed ef that thar sayin' war true,” she murmured, her face still turned to the western spurs, and the moon sinking slowly toward them.

With a sudden resolution she rose to her feet. She knew a way of telling fortunes which was, according to tradition, infallible, and she determined to try it, and ease her mind as to her future. Now was the propitious moment. " I hev always hearn that it won't come true 'thout ye try it jes’ before daybreak, an' kneelin' down at the forks of the road.” She hesitated a moment and listened intently. “They'd never git done a-laffin' at me, ef they fund it out,” she thought.

[She went out into the road.] She fixed her eyes upon the mystic sphere dropping down the sky, knelt among the azaleas at the forks of the

road, and repeated the time honored invocation : “ Ef I'm a-goin' ter marry a young man, whist'e, Bird, whistle. Ef I'm a-goin' ter marry an old man, low, Cow, low. Ef I ain't a-goin' ter marry nobody, knock, Death, knock.”

There was a prolonged silence in the matutinal freshness and perfume of the woods. She raised her head, and listened attentively. No chirp of half-awakened bird, no tapping of wood-pecker or the mysterious death-watch; but from far along the dewy aisles of the forest, the ungrateful Spot that Clarsie had fed more faithfully than herself, lifted up her voice, and set the echoes vibrating. Clarsie, however, had hardly time for a pang of disappointment.

While she still knelt among the azaleas, her large deerlike eyes were suddenly dilated with terror. From around the curve of the road came the quick beat of hastening footsteps, the sobbing sound of panting breath, and between her and the sinking moon there passed an attenuated onearmed figure, with a pallid sharpened face, outlined for a moment on its brilliant disk, and dreadful starting eyes, and quivering open mouth. It disappeared in an instant among the shadows of the laurel, and Clarsie, with a horrible fear clutching at her heart, sprang to her feet. the ghost stood before her. She could not nerve herself to run past him, and he was directly in her way homeward.

“ Ye do ez ye air bid, or it'll be the worse for ye,” said the “harnt" in a quivering shrill tone. "Thar's hunger in the nex' worl’ez well ez in this, an' ye bring me some vittles hyar this time ter-morrer, an' don't ye tell nobody ye hev seen me, nuther, or it'll be the worse for

The next morning, before the moon sank, Clarsie, with a tin pail in her hand, went to meet the ghost at the appointed

ye."

place.

Morning was close at hand.

the leaves fell into abrupt commotion, and he was standing in the road, beside her. He did not speak, but watched her with an eager, questioning intentness, as she placed the contents of the pail upon the moss at the roadside. “I'm a-comin' agin ter-morrer,' she said, gently.

Then she slowly walked along her misty way in the dim light of the coming dawn. There was a footstep in the road behind her; she thought it was the ghost once more. She turned, and met Simon Burney, face to face. His rod was on his shoulder, and a string of fish was in his hand.

“Ye air a-doin' wrongful, Clarsie," he said sternly. “It air agin the law fur folks ter feed an’ shelter them ez is a-runnin' from jestice. An' ye'll git yerself inter trouble. Other folks will find ye out, besides me, an' then the sheriff 'll be up hyar arter ye.The tears rose to Clarsie's

eyes.

This

prospect was infinitely more terrifying than the awful doom which follows the horror of a ghost's speech. “I can't help it," she said, however, doggedly swinging the pail back and forth. "I can't gin my consent ter starvin' of folks, even if they air a-hidin' an'a-runnin' from jestice."

DANSKE DANDRIDGE.

1859=Mrs. DANDRIDGE was born in Copenhagen, when her father, Honorable Henry Bedinger, was minister to Denmark. In 1877 she was married to Mr. Stephen Dandridge of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Her first name, Danske, is the pretty Danish word for Dane, and is pronounced in two syllables.

« PreviousContinue »