« AnteriorContinuar »
In the region of outer blackness, quite beyond self hanged!" said Barbara with impatience. the reach of any illumination from the platform "That would mend matters, would n't it?" bonfires, there were also assemblies of those who were attracted by the excitement, but to whom the religious influences were a centrifugal force. Here jollity and all conceivable deviltry rejoiced also in companionship.
The Great Union Camp-Meeting was held in the first half of August on the Timber Creek camp-ground, only a mile and a half from the Grayson place. The mother and Barbara went every evening and came back with accounts of the attendance, of the old friends encountered, and of the sermons of favorite preachers. They told how "powerfully" the elder had preached, and how the eloquent young preacher, who was junior on the next circuit, had carried all before him in a pathetic exhortation. But Tom showed no desire to attend. He was slowly sinking into a depression quite unusual with him. He had been accustomed to the excitement of the town, and the prospect of a life of dull routine on a farm ate into his spirit like a biting rust. Barbara amused him with stories of the camp-meeting; she told him of the eccentric German exhorter whose broken English she mimicked, and of the woman she had heard relate in a morning "speaking-meeting" that, when convinced of the sin of wearing jewelry, she had immediately taken off her ear-rings and given them to her sister. These things lightened his spirit but for a moment; he would relapse soon into the same state of mental lassitude, or more acute melancholy. Barbara endeavored to cheer him with projects; he could take a school the next winter, and with the money earned pay his board somewhere in town and take up the study of law again. But all of Barbara's projects were moderate and took full account of difficulties. Tom had little heart for a process that demanded plodding and patient waiting; nor did any of Barbara's suggestions hold out any prospect of his recovering his ground with Rachel, which was the thing he most desired.
One evening, as he finished a supper which he had eaten with little relish and in silence, he pushed back his chair and sat moodily looking into the black cave of the kitchen fire-place, where the embers were smoldering under the ashes. Then when his mother had left the kitchen, and Barbara was clearing away the plates, he said:
"The more I think of it, the worse I feel about George Lockwood. The tricky villain got me into that scrape and then told all about it where he knew it would do me the most harm. I'd just like to shoot him."
"You'd better shoot him and get your
"'T would n't matter much to me," said Tom. "This country life does n't suit me; I'd just as well be out of it, and they do say hanging is an easy way of dying." This last was spoken with a grim smile.
"I suppose you don't think of us," said Barbara.
"I'm more trouble than good to you mother."
"And now if you would only commit a crime"- Barbara was looking at him with a concentrated gaze-"that would put an end to all mother's sorrows; she would die in slow torture, and I would be left alone in the world to be pointed at by people, who would say in a whisper: That 's the sister of the fellow that was hanged."" And Barbara caught her breath with a little gasp as she turned away.
"Oh, don't talk that way, Barb! Of course I don't mean to do anything of the sort. It's a kind of relief to talk sometimes, and I do feel bitter enough."
Barbara turned sharply on him again and said: "That 's just the way to get to be a murderer- keep stirring up your spite. After a while the time 'll come when you can't control yourself, may be, and then you'll do something that you only meant to think about."
Tom shuddered a little and, feeling uncom fortable under Barbara's gaze, got up and started away. But Barbara followed him and caught hold of his arm, and pulled him around till she could look in his face, and said, with more feeling than she liked to show:
"Look here, Tom! Give me your word and honor that you 'll put all such thoughts out of your mind.”
"Of course I will, Sis, if you think there's any danger."
"And come and go over to the campmeeting to-night with mother and me. It'll do you good to see somebody besides the cows."
"All right," said Tom, shaking himself to get rid of his evil spirit, and remembering, as he went out to harness old Blaze-face to the wagon, that he would stand a chance of catching a glimpse of Rachel in the light of the torches.
The preaching was vigorous and stirring, and the exhorter, who came after the preacher, told many pathetic stories, which deeply moved a people always eager to be excited. The weird scene no doubt contributed by its spectacular effect to increase the emotion. The bonfires on the platforms illuminated the circle of white tents, which stood out against
of death, except for confused cries of excitement, in the remote outer regions, which now became audible. Then the man on the platform said in a breathless voice:
"A man has been killed in the woods outside of the camp-ground. The murderer has fled. The sheriff is wanted!"
"Here he is!" cried some voices, and the sheriff stood up on a bench and waved his hand to the messenger, who came down and communicated in a few words what he knew of the murder. The sheriff then hurriedly departed.
"Sit down there, mother," gasped Barbara. Mely, you stay by mother."
Then Barbara's slight form pushed through the crowd, until her progress was arrested by dense knot of eager inquirers that encompassed the man who had brought the news. It was quite impossible to get within twenty feet of him, or to hear anything he was saying; but bits of intelligence percolated through the layers of humanity that enveloped him. Barbara could only wait and listen. At last a man a little nearer the radiating center said in reply to the query of one who stood next to her :
"It's George Lockwood, that clerks for Wooden & Snyder down 't Moscow, that 's killed, but I can't find out who 't wuz done it."
Barbara's heart stood still within her for a moment. Then dreading to hear more, she pushed out of the ever-increasing crowd and reached her mother.
the wall of deep blackness in the forest be-
"Come, mother; we must get home quick." "What's the matter, Barb'ry? who's killed?" asked Mely McCord.
"I don't know anything, only we must get home. Quick, mother!" She was impelled by instinct to save her mother as long as possible from the shock she felt impending. But it was of no use.
"What's the matter, Sam; can you make out?" cried a man near her to one just emerging from the crowd about the messenger.
OW'y, they say as Tom Grayson's shot an' killed a feller from Moscow, an' Tom 's made off, an' can't be found. They 's talk of lynchin' him."
Mrs. Grayson's lips moved; she tried to speak, but in vain; the sudden blow had blanched her face and paralyzed her speech. It was pitiable to see her ineffectual effort to regain control of herself. At length she sank down on a shuck-bottom chair by the door of the tent.
"Yer 's some smellin'-salts," said a woman standing by, and she thrust forward her leathery hand holding an uncorked bottle of ammonia.
"He did n't do it," murmured Mrs. Grayson, when she had revived a little. "Our
Tommy would n't do sech a thing. Go up there,"― and she pointed to the pulpit,-"you go up there, Barb'ry, an' tell the folks 't our Tommy never done it."
"Come, mother; let's go home," said Barbara faintly, for all the energy had gone now. "I'll go with you," said Mely.
But Mrs. Grayson did not wish to go; she was intent on staying in order to tell the folks that Tommy "never, never done sech a thing." She yielded at length to the gentle compulsion of Barbara and Mely and the neighbors who gathered about, and got into the wagon. Mely, who knew every inch of the road, took the reins, and drove slowly towards the Grayson house, picking a way among the stumps, roots, and holes of the new road.
THE ride seemed to Barbara almost interminable. If she could have left her half-distracted mother she would have got out of the wagon and run through the fields, in hope of finding Tom and knowing from him the whole truth, and making up her mind what was to be done. When at length the wagon reached the gate in front of the Grayson house, Bob McCord was in waiting. He had heard that a bear had been seen on Broad Run, and had left the camp-meeting early, intent on a departure before daylight in pursuit of that "varmint." He had known nothing of the shooting, but he told Barbara that, when he came near the Grayson house, he had seen Tom run across the road and into the house,- and that Tom came out again almost at once, and reached the gate in time to meet the sheriff and give himself up. The sheriff had dismounted one of the men with him, and putting Tom in the saddle they had gone towards Moscow on a gallop. Bob was n't near enough to hear what Tom had said when the sheriff took him; but knowing that something must be wrong, he had waited for the return of the
It was some relief to the tension of Barbara's feelings to know that Tom was now in the hands of the lawful authorities and well on his way to Moscow, where he would be out of the reach of the angry crowd that was surging to and fro around the camp-meeting. But there followed the long night of uncertainty. The mother sat moaning in her chair, only rousing herself enough now and then to assure some newly arrived neighbor that "poor Tom never done it." Barbara confided only to Mely McCord the very faint hope she entertained that Tom was not guilty. She could n't believe that he would break his solemn prom
ise, made that very evening. But in her secret heart she could not get over the fact that George Lockwood was lying in the woods stark and dead, and no one was so likely to have killed him as her impetuous brother. About 1 o'clock, the dreadful monotony of the night was dreadfully broken by the arrival of the deputy-sheriff. He spoke in an unsympathetic, official voice, but in a manner externally respectful. He must search Tom's room; and so, taking a candle, he went to the room alone, and soon came back bringing an oldfashioned single-barrel, flint-lock pistol, of the kind in use in the early part of the century. It had belonged to Tom's father, and the officer had found it in one of the drawers in the room. Barbara sat down and shut her eyes as the deputy passed through the sittingroom with the weapon, but Mrs. Grayson
called the officer to her.
"I say, Mister-I don't know your name. Let me speak to you."
"Yes, ma'am," said the man. "My name 's Markham"; and he came and stood near her. "Air you the son of Lijy Markham?” Mrs. Grayson always identified people by recalling their filiation, and she could not resist this genealogical tendency in her mind even in the hour of sorest trial.
"Yes," said the officer.
"Well, now, what I want to say is that Tommy did n't kill that man. I'm his mother, an' I had ought to know, an' I tell yeh so. You had n't ought to 'a' took 'im up fer what he did n't do."
Markham was puzzled to know what to reply, but he answered presently:
"Well, the court 'll find out about it, you know, Mrs. Grayson." The man's official stiffness was a little softened by the tones of her heart-broken voice.
Barbara never could tell how she got through the hours from half-past 10 to 3 o'clock. Neighbors were coming and going-some from a desire to be helpful, others from curiosity, but Mely remained with them. Bob McCord was too faithful to leave the Graysons when he might be needed, but it was impossible for him to remain awake from mere sympathy. When Markham was gone, he lay down on the end of the porch farthest from the door, and slept the sleep of the man of the Bronze Age. His fidelity was like that of a great doghe gave himself no anxiety, but he was ready when wanted.
At 3 o'clock Barbara said to Mely: "I can't stand it a minute longer; I can't wait for daybreak. Wake up your father and ask him to hitch up Blaze. I'm going to see Tom as quick as I can get there. I ought to have started before."
"I'm a-goin' too," said Mrs. Grayson. "No, mother; you stay. It's too much for you."
"Me, Barb'ry?" The mother's lip quivered, and she spoke in a tremulous voice, like that of a pleading child. "Me stay 't home an' my Tommy-my boy-in jail! No, Barb'ry; you won't make me stay 't home. I'm goin' t' Moscow, ef it kills me. I must. I'm his mother, Barb'ry. He's the on'y boy 't's left. All the rest is dead an' gone. An' him in jail!" "Pap! pap! you wake up!" Mely was calling to her father lying there asleep, and Barbara came and stood in the door, fain to hasten Bob McCord's slow resurrection from the deeps of unconsciousness and at the same time to escape from the sight of her mother's despair.
As Bob got up and comprehended the urgent request that the horse be harnessed immediately, Barbara's attention was drawn to a man coming swiftly down the road in the moonlight. The figure was familiar. Barbara felt sure she recognized the new-comer; and when, instead of stopping to fumble for the gate-bolt, he rested his hands on the fence alongside and sprang over, she knew that it was Hiram Mason, whom she had not seen since the evening, nearly two weeks before, when they had peeled apples together. It would be hard to say whether pleasure or pain predominated in her mind when she recognized him.
By the time Mason got over the fence Bob McCord had gone to the stable, and Mely had reëntered the house. Barbara went forward and met Hiram on the steps to the porch.
"Poor, dear Barbara!" were his words as he took her hand. At other times her pride had been nettled by his pity, but her desolate soul had not fortitude enough left to refuse the comfort in his tender words.
"I came the very moment I heard," he said. "I was staying away down at Albaugh's, and Ike was the only one of them on the camp-ground. He was so excited, and so anxious to see and hear, that he did n't get home till 2 o'clock. And only think, I was sleeping quietly and you in such trouble!"
"You must n't come in," said Barbara. "We 're a disgraced family, and you must n't come in here any more."
"What notions!" answered Hiram. "I'm here to stay. Let me ask your mother." He took hold of her arms and put her aside very gently and pushed on into the house, where Mely was pinning on Mrs. Grayson's wide cape preparatory to her ride to Moscow. "Mrs. Grayson -" said he.
rupted in a trembling voice. "Mr. Mason, Tommy never killed that man, an' he had n't ought to 'a' been took up."
"Mrs. Grayson, won't you let me stay with you a few days, now you 're in trouble, and help you through?"
The old lady looked at him for a moment before she was able to reply.
"It ain't fer a schoolmaster an' a preacher's son to come here, now folks 'll be a-sayin' 't we 're-'t we 're murderers." This last word, uttered with tremulous hesitation, broke down her self-control, and Mrs. Grayson fell to weeping again.
"I'm going to stay by you awhile, and we'll see what can be done,” said Mason. "They 've taken your boy, and you'll let me fill his place a little while, won't you, now?"
"God bless you, my son!" was all the weeping woman could say; and Barbara, who had followed Hiram into the room and stood behind him while he talked to her mother, turned her face to the dark window and wept heartily for the first time in this sorrowful night.
"You'd jest orter 'a' heerd the master atalkin' to Mrs. Grayson," said Mely McCord afterward. "He stood there lookin' at her with his head turned kind-uh cornerin'-like, un his words was so soft-like un pitiful; — lawsey! ef he did n' make me feel jes like 's ef my heart wuz a-comin' right up into my mouth."
Bob McCord led old Blaze up in front of the gate, and all in the house went down to the road.
"Mr. McCord," said Mason, "I want to drive that wagon."
"I don't b'lieve you kin do this fust piece uv road with nothin' but moonshine," said Bob.
"Oh, yes! I've been over it a good many times." Only Barbara knew how often Hiram had traversed it.
When the schoolmaster had helped Mrs. Grayson and Barbara into the wagon, and while Mely was assisting them to adjust themselves, he went to the horse's head, where McCord was standing, and said in a low voice:
"They told me there was a rush to lynch him last night; and Ike Albaugh says that Jake Hogan, who worked for them this last harvest-time, told him at the camp-ground that the Broad Run boys were going to make another of their visits to Moscow to-night if the coroner's inquest was against Tom. Now, Tom may be innocent; and he ought to have a fair show, anyhow."
"I'd better see to that!" said Bob. "I 'low I'll jest drop in amongst 'em over onto the run, kind-uh accidental-like, afore dinner-time to-day, an' throw 'em off, one way
'W'y, ef 't ain't the master!" she inter- er 'nother, ez the case may be."
Mrs. Grayson was seated in a chair placed in the springless wagon for her comfort, while Hiram and Barbara sat on a board laid across from one side to the other of the wagon. They departed out of sight slowly, Mason guiding the horse carefully over the rough ground in the obscurity of a moonlight not yet beginning to give way to the break of day.
A TRIP TO BROAD RUN.
As the wagon disappeared, Bob called to his daughter, who had been left in charge. "Mely! Mely! You jes stir up the kitchenfire there, honey, un bile me a cup of coffee, agin I go home un fetch my gun wi' the dogs, un come back." (Bob knew there was no coffee at home.) "I'm a-goin' over onto Broad Run arter bears."
"Aw, now, pap, you 're al'ays off fer a hunt at the wrong time. Don' choo go away now, un the folks in sech a world uh trouble. Un besides, mammy hain't got anough to eat in the house to do tell you come back." All this Mely said in a minor key of protest, which she had learned from her mother, who was ever objecting in a good-natured, pathetic, impotent way to her husband's thriftless propensities.
"I know what I'm up to, Mely. They 's reasons, un the schoolmaster knows 'em. You keep your tongue still in yer head, honey. On'y be shore to remember, 'f anybody axes about me, 't I 'm arter bears. Jes say 't bears uz been seed over onto Broad Run, un 't pap\ could n't noways keep still, he wuz so sot on goin' over 'n' sayin' howdy to 'em. That'll soun' like me, un folks 'll never mistrust." "But mammy hain't akchelly got anough fer the children to eat," responded Mely.
"Well, I 'low to fetch some bear meat home, un you kin borry some meal from Mrs. Grayson's bar'el tell I git back. 'F they knowed what kind uh varmints I wuz arter over there, they would n't begrudge me nuthin', Sis. Come, now, hump yer stumps; fer I'll be back in a leetle less 'n no time."
And Bob went off in the darkness. In about a dozen minutes he returned with his powderhorn slung about his shoulders over his hunting-shirt and carrying his rifle. He was closely followed by Pup, Joe, and Seizer, his three dogs, whose nervous agitation, as they nosed the ground in every direction, contrasted well with the massive stride of their master. Having swallowed such a breakfast as Mely could get him out of Mrs. Grayson's stores, and put a pone of cold corn-bread into the bosom of his hunting-shirt, McCord was off for the Broad Run region at the very first horizon
streak of daybreak. Though game was but a secondary object in this expedition, he could not but feel an exhilaration which was never wanting when he set out in the early morning with his gun on his shoulder and in the congenial companionship of his dogs. Hercules or Samson could hardly have rejoiced in a greater assurance of physical superiority to all antagonists. The most marked trait in Bob's mental outfit was the hunter's cunning, a craft that took delight in tricks on man and beast. The fact that he was akin to some of the families on Broad Run enhanced the pleasure he felt in his present scheme to get the better of them. He would "l'arn the Broad Run boys a thing uh two that 'd open their eyes.” His great plump form shook with merriment at the thought. Plovers rose beating the air and whistling in the morning light as he passed, and the dogs flushed more than one flock of young prairie-chickens, which went whirring away just skimming the heads of the grass in low level flight, but Bob's ammunition was not to be spent on small game this morning. By 7 o'clock the increasing heat of the sun made the wide, half-parched plain quiver unsteadily to the vision. The sear August prairie had hardened itself against the heat-the grass and the ox-eyes held their heads up without sign of withering or misgiving: these stiff prairie plants never wilt-they die in their boots. But the foliage of the forest which Eob skirted by this time appeared to droop in very expectation of the long oppressive hours of breathless heat yet to come. In this still air even the uneasy rocking poplar-leaves were almost stationary on their edgewise stems.
Steady walking for more than three hours had brought Bob to the outskirts of the Broad Run region, and had sobered the dogs; these now sought fondly every little bit of shade, and lolled their tongues continuously. The first person that Bob McCord encountered after entering the grateful region was one Britton-"ole man Britton," his neighbors called him. This old settler led a rather secluded life. Neither he nor his wife ever left home to attend meetings or to share in any social assembly. They had no relatives among the people of the country, and there was a suspicion of mystery about them that piqued curiosity. Some years before, a traveler, in passing through the country, gave out that he recognized Britton, by his name and features, as one whom he had known in Virginia, where he said Britton had been an overseer and had run away with his employer's wife. The neighbors had never accepted the traveler's story in this way; though they were ready to believe that the woman might have run away with Britton. When Bob came in sight of him,