Chapter 12 IN WHICH CASSANDRA HEARS THE VOICES, AND DAVID LEASES A FARM
That evening David sat long on his rock holding his flute and watching th_hin golden crescent of the new moon floating through a pale amber sky, an_ne star near its tip slowly sliding down with it toward the deepenin_orizon.
The glowing sky bending to the purple hilltops—the crescent moon and the lon_hining star—the evening breeze singing in the pines above him—the delicat_rbutus blossoms hiding near his feet—the call of a bird to its mate, and th_aint answering call from some distant shade—the call in his own heart that a_et returned to him unanswered, but with its quiet surety of ultimat_esponse—the joy of these moments perfect in beauty and a more abundan_ssurance of gladness near at hand—filled him and lifted his soul to follo_he star.
Guided by the unseen hand that held the earth, the crescent moon and the sta_o their orbits, would he find the great happiness that should be not hi_lone, but also for the eyes uplifted to the mountain top and the hear_aiting in the shadows for the one to be sent? Ah, surely, surely, for thi_ad he come. He stooped to the arbutus blossoms to inhale their fragrance. H_ose and, lifting his flute to his lips, played to solace his own waiting, inventing new caprices and tossing forth the note_aringly—delicately—rapturously—now penetrating and strong, now faintl_ollowing and scarcely heard, uttering a wordless gladness.
Under the great holly tree in the shadows Cassandra sat, watching, as h_atched, the crescent moon and the lone star sailing in the pale amber light, with the deepening purple mountain hiding the dim distance below them. Ofte_n the early evening when her mother and Hoyle were sleeping, she would clim_p here to pray for Frale that he might truly repent, and for herself that sh_ight be strong in her purpose to give up all her cherished hopes and plans, if thereby she might save him from his own wild, reckless self.
It was here his boy's passion had been revealed to her, and here she had see_im changed from boy to man, filled with a man's hunger for her, which had le_im to crime, and held him unrepentant and glad could he thus hold her hi_wn. She must give up the life she had hoped to lead and take upon her th_ife of the wife of Cain, to help him expiate his deed. For this must she bo_er head to the yoke her mother had borne before her. In the sadness of he_eart she said again and again: "Christ will understand. He was a man o_orrows and acquainted with grief! He will understand."
Again came to her, as they had often come of late, dropping down through th_till air, down through the leafless boughs like joyful hopes yet to b_ealized, the flute notes. What were they, those sweet sounds? She held he_reath and lifted her face toward the sky. Once, long ago in France, th_easant girl had heard the "Voices." Were they heavenly sweet, like thes_ounds? Did they drop from the sky and fill the air like these? Oh, why shoul_hey seem like hopes to her who had put away from her all hope? Were the_ringing hope to her who must rise to toil and lie down in weariness for labo_ever done; who must hold always with sorrowing heart and clinging hands t_he soul of a murderer—hold and cling, if haply she might save—and weep fo_hat which, for her, might never be? Were they bringing hope that she migh_et live gladly as the birds live; that she might go beyond that and live lik_hose who have no sin imposed on them, to walk with the gods, she knew no_ow, but to rise to things beyond her ken?
Down came the notes, sweet, shrill, white notes,—hurrying, drifting, lingering, calling her to follow; down on her heart with healing and comfor_hey fell, lightly as dew on flowers, sparkling with life, joy-giving an_ure.
Slowly she began climbing, listening, waiting, one step upward after another, following the sound. As if in a trance she moved. Below her the noise o_alling water made a murmuring accompaniment to the music dropping fro_bove—an earth-made accompaniment to heaven-sent melody, meeting and forming _erfect harmony in her heart as she climbed. Gradually the horror and th_orrow fell away from her even, as the soul shall one day shed its garment o_arth, until at last she stood alone and silent near David, etherealized i_he faint light to a spirit-like semblance of a woman.
With a glad pounding of his heart he sprang towards her. Scarcely conscious o_he act he held out both his arms, but she did not move. She stood silentl_egarding him, her hands dropped at her side, then with drooping head sh_urned and began wearily to descend the way she had come. He followed her an_ook her hand. She let it lie passively in his and walked on. He wished h_ight feel her fingers close warmly about his own, but no, they were cold. Sh_eemed wholly withdrawn from him, and her face bore the look of one who wa_alking in her sleep, yet he knew her to be awake.
"Miss Cassandra, speak to me," he begged, in quiet tones. "Don't walk awa_ntil you tell me why you came."
She seemed then to become aware that he was holding her by the hand an_ithdrew it, and in the faint light he thought she smiled. "It was jus_oolishness. You will laugh at me. I heard the music, and I thought it migh_e—you made it I reckon, but down there it sounded like it might be the
'Voices.' You remember how they came to Joan of Arc, like we were reading las_eek?" She began to walk on more hurriedly.
"I will go down with you," he said, "you thought it might be the voices? Wha_id they say to you?"
"Oh, don't go with me. I never heed the dark."
"Won't you let me go with you? What did the flute say to you? Can't you tel_e?"
She laughed a little then. "It was only foolishness. I reckon the 'Voices'
never come these days. I have heard it before, but didn't know where it cam_rom. It just seemed to drop down from heaven like, and this time it seeme_ome different, as if it might be the 'Voices' calling. It was pretty, suh, far away and soft—like part—of everything. My father's playing sounded sa_ost times, like sweet crying, but this was more like sweet laughing. I neve_eard anything so glad like this was, so I tried to find it. Now I know it i_ou who make it I won't disturb you again, suh. Good evening." She hastene_way and was soon lost in the gloom.
David stood until he heard her footsteps no more, then turned and entered hi_abin, his mind and heart full of her. Surely he had called her, and the soun_f his call was to her like "sweet laughing." Her face and her quain_xpressions went with him into his dreams.
When he hurried down to the widow's place next morning, his mind filled wit_lans which he meant to carry out and was sure, with the boyish certainty o_is nature he could compass, he heard the voice of little Hoyle shrill_alling to old Pete: "Whoa, mule. Haw there. Haw there, mule. What ye goin'
that side fer; come 'round here."
Below the widow's house, the stream, after its riotous descent from the fall, meandered quietly through the rich bit of meadow and field, her inheritanc_or over a hundred years, establishing her claim to distinction among he_eighbors. Here Martha Caswell had lived with her mother and her two brother_ntil she married and went with her young husband over "t'other side Pisgah"; then her mother sent for them to return, begging her son-in-law to come an_are for the place. Her two sons, reckless and wild, were allowing the land t_un to waste, and the buildings to fall in pieces through neglect.
The daughter Martha, true to her name, was thrifty and careful, and under he_nfluence, her gentle dreamer of a husband, who cared more for his fiddle, hi_ooks, and his sermons, gradually redeemed the soil from weeds and th_uildings from dilapidation, until at last, with the proceeds of her weavin_nd his own hard labor, they saved enough to buy out the brothers' interests.
By that time the younger son had fallen a victim to his wild life, and th_ther moved down into the low country among his wife's people. Thus were th_erlins left alone on their primitive estate. Here they lived contentedly wit_assandra, their only child, and her father's constant companion, until th_ragedy which she had so simply related to David.
Her father's learning had been peculiar. Only a little classic lore, treasure_here schools were none and books were few, handed down from grandfather t_randson. His Greek he had learned from the two small books the widow had s_arefully preserved, their marginal notes his only lexicon. They and his Bibl_nd a copy of Bunyan's _Pilgrim's Progress_ were all that were left of hi_reasures. A teething puppy had torn his _Dialogues of Plato_ to shreds, an_hen his successor had come into the home, he had used the _Marcus Aurelius_or gun wadding, ere his wife's precaution of placing the padlock from th_oor on her mother's old linen chest.
To-day, as David passed the house, the old mother sat on her little porc_hurning butter in a small dasher churn. She was glad, as he could see, because she could do something once more.
"Now are you happy?" he called laughingly, as he paused beside her.
"Well, I be. Hit's been a right smart o' while since I been able to do a lic_' work. We sure do have a heap to thank you fer. Be Decatur Irwin as glad t_ose his foot as I be to git my laig back?" she queried whimsically; "I recko_ot."
"I reckon not, too, but with him it was a case of losing his life or his foot, while with you it was only a question of walking about, or being bedridden fo_he next twenty years."
"They be ignorant, them Irwins, an' she's more'n that, fer she's a fool. Sh_ome round yest'day wantin' to borry a hoe to fix up her gyarden patch, an'
she 'lowed ef you'n Cass had only lef' him be, he'd 'a' come through al_ight, fer hit war a-gettin' better the day you-uns took hit off. I told he_as, he'd 'a' come cl'ar through to the nex' world, like Farwell done. Whe_he misery left him, he up an' died, an' Lord knows whar he went."
"I'll get him an artificial foot as soon as he is able to wear one. He'll ge_n very well with a peg under his knee until then. What's Hoyle doing with th_ule?"
"He's rid'n' him fer Cass. She's tryin' to get the ground ready fer a crap.
Hit's all we can do. Our women nevah war used to do such work neither, but sh_ould try."
"What's that? Is she ploughing?" he asked sharply, and strode away.
"I reckon she don't want ye there, Doctah," the widow called after him, but h_alked on.
The land lay in a warm hollow completely surrounded by hills. It had been man_ears cleared, and the mellow soil was free from stumps and roots. When Thryn_rrived, three furrows had been run rather crookedly the length of the patch, and Cassandra stood surveying them ruefully, flushed and troubled, holding t_he handles of the small plough and struggling to set it straight for the nex_urrow.
The noise of the fall behind them covered his approach, and ere she was awar_e was at her side. Placing his two hands over hers which clung stubbornly t_he handles of the plough, he possessed himself of them. Laughingly he turne_er about after the short tussle, and looked down into her warm, flushed face.
Still holding her hands, he pulled her away from the plough to the grassy edg_f the field, leaving Hoyle waiting astride the mule.
"Whoa, mule. Stand still thar," he shrilled, as the beast sought to cross th_it of ploughed ground to reach the grass beyond.
"Let him eat a minute, Hoyle," said David. "Let him eat until I come. Now, Miss Cassandra, what does this mean? Do you think you can plough all tha_and? Is that it?"
"You must not."
"There is no one else now. I must." He could feel her hands quiver in his, a_e forcibly held them, and knew from her panting breath how her heart wa_eating. She held her head high, nevertheless, and looked bravely back int_is eyes.
"You must let me—" he paused. Intuitively he knew he must not say as yet wha_e would. "Let me direct you a little. You have been most kind to me—and—it i_y place; I am a doctor, you know."
"If I were sick or hurt, I would give heed to you, I would do anything yo_ay; but I'm not, and this is laid on me to do. Leave go my hands, Docto_hryng."
"If you'll sit down here a moment and talk this thing out with me, I will. No_ell me first of all, why is this laid on you?"
"Frale is gone and it must be done, or we will have no crop, and then we mus_ell the animals, and then go down and live like poor white trash." Her low, passive monotone sounded like a moan of sorrow.
"You must hire some one to do this heavy work."
"Every one is working his own patch now, and—no, I have no money to hire with.
I reckon I've thought it all over every way, Doctor." She looked sadly down a_er hands and then up at the mountain top. "I know you think this is no wor_or a girl to do, and you are right. Our women never have done such. Only i_he war times my Grandmother Caswell did it, and I can now. A girl can do wha_he must. I have no way to turn but to live as my people have lived before me.
I thought once I might do different, go to school and keep separate—but—" Sh_pread out her hands with a hopeless gesture, and rose to resume her work.
"Give me a moment longer. I'm not through yet. That's right, now listen. I se_he truth of what you say, and I came down this morning to make a propositio_o your mother—not for your sake only—don't be afraid, for my own as well; bu_ didn't make it because I hadn't time. She told me what you were doing, and _urried off to stop you. Don't speak yet, let me finish. I feel I have th_ight, because I know—I know I was sent here just now for a purpose—guided t_ome here." He paused to allow his words to have their full weight. Whethe_he would perceive his meaning remained to be seen.
"I understand." She spoke quietly. "Doctor Hoyle sent you to be helped like h_as—and you have been right kind to more than us. You've helped that many i_eems like you were sent here for we-all as well as for your own sake, bu_hat can't help me now, Doctor; it—"
"Ah, yes it can. I'm far from well yet. I shall be, but I must stay on for _ong time, and I want some interest here. I want to see things of my ow_rowing. The ground up around my little cabin is stony and very poor, and _ant to rent this little farm of yours. Listen—I'll pay enough so you need no_ell your cattle, and you—you can go on with your weaving. You can work in th_ouse again as you have always done. Sometime, when your mother is stronger, you can take up your life again and go to school—as you meant to live—can'_ou?"
"That can never be now. If you take the farm or not, I must bide on here i_he old way. I must take up the life my mother lived and my grandmother, an_ers before her. It is mine, forever, to live it that way—or die."
"Why do you talk so?"
"God knows, but I can't tell you. Thank you, suh. I will be right glad to ren_ou the farm. I'd a heap rather you had it than any one else I ever knew, fo_e care more for it than you would guess, but for the rest—no. I must bide an_ork till I die; only maybe I can save little Hoyle and give him a chance t_earn something, for he never could work—being like he is."
Thryng's eyes danced with joy as he regarded her. "Hoyle is not going to b_lways as he is, and he shall have the chance to learn something also. Loo_p, Miss Cassandra, look squarely into my eyes and laugh. Be happy, Mis_assandra, and laugh. I say it."
She laughed softly then. She could not help it.
"Wasn't that what the 'Voices' were saying last night when you followed?"
"Yes, yes. They seemed like they were calling, 'Hope, hope,' but they were no_he real 'Voices.' You made it."
"Yes, I made it; and I was truly calling that to you. And you replied; yo_ame to me."
"Ah, but that is different from the 'Voices' she heard."
"But if they called the truth to you—what then?"
"Doctah, there is no longer any hope for me. God called me and let me cut of_ll hope, once. I did it, and now, only death can change it."
"If I believe you, you must believe me. We won't talk of it any more. I'_ungry. Your mother was churning up there; let's go and get some buttermilk, and settle the business of the rent. You've run three good furrows and I'l_un three more beside them—my first, remember, in all my life. Then we'l_lant that strip to sunflowers. Come, Hoyle, tie the mule and follow us."
So David carried his way. They walked merrily back to the house, chattering o_is plans and what he would raise. He knew nothing whatever of the sort o_rops to be raised, and she was naïvely gay at his expense, a mood he wa_verjoyed to awaken in her. He vowed that merely to walk over ploughed groun_ade a man stronger.
On the porch he sat and drank his buttermilk and, placing his paper on th_tep, drew up a contract for rent. Then Cassandra went to her weaving, and h_nd Hoyle returned to the field, where with much labor he succeeded in turnin_hree furrows beside Cassandra's, rather crooked and uncertain ones, it i_rue, but quite as good as hers, as Hoyle reluctantly admitted, which serve_o give David a higher respect for farmers in general and ploughme_specially.