Chapter 16 IN WHICH FRALE RETURNS AND LISTENS TO THE COMPLAINTS OF DECATU_RWIN'S WIFE
All was quiet and lonely around Carew's Crossing when Frale dropped from th_rain and struck off over the mountain. Soon there would be bustle and sti_nd life about the place, for the hotel would be open and people would b_rowding in, some to escape the heat of the far South and the low countries, some from the cities either North or South to whom the bracing air of th_ountains would bring renewed vitality—business men with shattered nerves an_omen whose high play during the winter at the game of social life had lef_hem nervous wrecks.
But now the beauty of the spring and the sweet silences were undisturbed b_lien chatter. As yet were to be heard only the noises of the forest—of win_nd stream—of bird calls and the piping of turtles and the shrilling o_nsects or vibrant croaking of frogs—or mayhap the occasional sound of a gun, discharged by some solitary mountain boy, regardless of game laws, to provid_ supper at home,—only these, as Frale climbed rapidly away from the statio_oward the Fall Place, and Cassandra. He would stop there first and the_trike for his old haunts and hiding-places.
He felt a leaping joy in his veins to be again among his hills. How lonely h_ad been for them he had not known until now, when, with lifted head an_ounding heart, he trod lightly and easily the difficult way. And yet th_ndercurrent of a tragedy lay quiet beneath his joy and haunted him, keepin_im to the trails above,—the secret paths which led circuitously to hi_ome,—even while the thought of Cassandra made his heart buoyant and eager.
The sight of Doctor Thryng who during these months had been near her—perhap_eeing her daily—aroused all the primitive jealousy of his nature. He would g_ow and persuade her to marry him and stand by him until he could fight hi_ay through to the unquestioned right to live there as his father had done, defying any who would interfere with his course. Had he not a silver bulle_or the heart of the man who would dare contest his rights? It only remaine_or him to meet Giles Teasley face to face to settle the matter forever.
Since it was purely a mountain affair, and the officers of the law had alread_earched to their satisfaction, there was little chance that the pursuit woul_e renewed by the State. It would, however, be impossible for him to go bac_o the Fall Place and live there openly until the last member of the Teasle_amily capable of wreaking vengeance on his head had been settled with; but a_he father was crippled with rheumatism and could do no more than totter abou_is mill and talk, only this one brother was left with whom to deal. Now tha_rale was back in his own hills again, all terror slipped from him, and th_ld excitement in the presence of danger to be met, or avoided, stimulated hi_o a feeling of exuberance and triumph. With childlike facility he tosse_side the thought of his promise to Cassandra. It all seemed to him as _ream—all the horror and the remorse. Time had quickly dulled this last.
"Ef I hadn't 'a' killed Ferd, he would 'a' shot me. Anyhow, he hadn't ought to
'a' riled me that-a-way."
He thought with shame of how he had sat cowering at the head of the fall, an_ad hurled his own dog to destruction, in his fear. "I war jes' plumb crazy,"
As to how he could deal with Cassandra, he did not as yet know, but he woul_ind a way. In his heart, he reached out to her and already possessed her. Hi_lood leaped madly through his veins that he was so soon to see her and touc_er. Have her he would, if he must continue to kill his way to her through a_rmy of opponents.
The evening was falling, and, imagining they would all be sleeping, he mean_o creep quietly up and spend the night in the loom shed. There was no do_here now to disturb them with joyful bark of recognition. At last he foun_imself above the home, where, by striking through the undergrowth a shor_istance, he would come out by the great holly tree near the head of the fall.
Already he could hear the welcome sound of rushing water.
He drew nearer through the thick laurel and azalea shrubs now in full bloom; their pollen clung to his clothing as he brushed among them. Cautiously h_pproached the spot which recalled to him the emotions he had experience_here—now throbbing through him anew. He peered into the gathering dusk wit_ager eyes as if he thought to find her still there. Ah, he could crush her i_is mad joy!
Suddenly he paused and listened. Other sounds than those of the night and th_unning water fell on his ear—sounds deliciously sweet and thrilling, fillin_ll the air, mingling with the rushing of the fall and accenting its flow.
From whence did they come—those new sounds? He had never heard them before.
Did they drop from the sky—from the stars twinkling brightly down on him—no_aint and far as if born in heaven—now near and clear—silvery clear and stron_nd sweet—penetrating his very soul and making every nerve quiver to thei_ulsating rhythm? He felt a certain fear of a new kind creep tinglingl_hrough him, holding him cold and still—for the moment breathless. Was sh_here? Had she died, and was this her spirit trying to speak?
Very quietly he drew nearer to the great rock. Yes, she was there, standin_ith her back to the silvery gray bole of the holly tree, her face lifte_oward the mountain top and her expression rapt and listening—holy an_ure—far removed from him as was the star above the peak toward which her gaz_as turned. He could not touch her, nor crush her to him as a moment before h_ad felt he must, but he slowly approached.
She heard his step and then saw him waiting there in the dim light of th_tarry dusk. For an instant she regarded him in silence, then she essayed t_peak, but her lips only trembled over the words voicelessly. He could not se_er emotion, but he felt it, although her stillness made her seem calm.
Hungrily he stood and watched her. At last she spoke:—
"Why, Frale, Frale!"
"Hit's me, Cass."
"Have—have you been down to the house, Frale?"
"Naw, I jes' come this-a-way from the station."
"Is it—is it safe for you to come here, Frale?"
She stood a short distance from him, speaking so softly, and yet he could no_ouch her; his hands seemed numb, and his breath came pantingly.
"I reckon hit's safe here as thar," he said huskily. "An' I'm come to stay, too."
"Then let's go down to mother. Likely she's a-bed by now, but she'll be righ_lad to see you. She can walk a little now." She hastened to fill the moment_ith words, anything to divert that fixed gaze and take his thoughts from her.
Instinctively she groped thus for time, she who like a deer would flee i_light were possible, even while her heart welled with pity for him. "Come.
You can talk with her whilst I get you some supper." She felt his pent-u_motion and secretly feared it, but held herself bravely. "Hoyle will nig_ump out of his skin, he'll be that glad you come back."
He stood stubbornly where he was, and lifted his hand to grasp her arm, bu_he glided on just beyond his reach, either not seeing it, or avoiding it, h_ould not decide which, and still she said, "Come, Frale." He followe_tumblingly in her wake, as a man follows an ignis fatuus, unconscious of th_oughness of the way or of the steps he was taking—and the flute note_ollowed them from above—sweetly—mockingly, as it seemed to him. What wer_hey? Why were they? How came Cassandra there listening? He could stand thi_ystery no longer—and he cried out to her.
"Cass, hear. Listen to that."
"Yes, Frale." She spoke wearily, but did not pause.
"Wait, Cass. What be hit, ye reckon? Hit sure hain't no fiddle. Thar! Heark t_it. Whar be hit at?"
"I reckon it's up yonder at Doctor Thryng's cabin. He has a little pipe like, that he blows on and it makes music like that."
"An' you clum' up thar to heark to him?" He bounded forward in the darknes_nd walked close to her. She quivered like a leaf, but held her voice low an_teady as she replied.
"No, Frale. I go there evenings when I'm not too tired. I've been going ther_ver since you left to—"
"That doctah, he's be'n castin' a spell on you, Cass. I kin see hit—how yo_alkin' off an' nevah 'low me to touch you. Ye hain't said howd'y to me no_ow you glad I come. You like a col' white drift o' snow blowin' on ahead o'
me. You hain't no human girl like you used to be. I got somethin' to put _pell on him, too, ef he don't watch out."
He spoke in his mild, low-voiced drawl, but he kept close to her side, and sh_ould hear his breathing, quick and panting. She felt as if a tiger wer_eeping pace with her, and she knew the sinister meaning beneath his words.
She knew that all she could do now was to take him back to his promise an_old him to it.
"There's no such thing as spell casting, Frale. You know that, and you have m_romise and I have yours. Have you forgot? Talking that way seems like yo_ave forgot." She walked on rapidly, taking him nearer and nearer their home, and in her haste she stumbled. In an instant his arm was thrown around her, holding her on her feet.
"Look at you now, like to fall cl'ar headlong, runnin' that-a-way to get she_' me. 'Pears like you mad that I come."
He held her back, and they went slowly, but he did not release her, nor di_he struggle futilely against his strength, knowing it wiser to continu_almly leading him on; but she could not reply. The start of her fall and he_ildly beating heart rendered her breathless and weak.
"I tell you that thar doctah man, he have put a spell on you. He done drawe_ou up thar to hear to him. I seed you lookin' like he'd done drawed yuer sou_uten yuer body. I have heard o' sech. He's be'n down to Bishop Towahs', too, whar I be'n workin' at. I seed him watchin' me like he come to spy on me, an'
he no sooner gone than I seed that thar Giles Teasley sneakin' 'long the fenc_ookin' over an' searchin' eve'y place like he war a-hungerin' fer a sight o'
me." He stopped and swallowed angrily. They had arrived at the trough o_unning water, and she breathed easier to find herself so near her haven.
"What have you done with your dog, Frale? You reckon he followed you off? _aven't seen him since you left."
He released her then and, stooping to the water-pipe, drank a long draft, an_hrust his head beneath it, allowing the water to drench his thick hair. The_e stood a moment, shaking his curling locks like a spaniel.
"Wait here. I'll fetch a towel." She hastened within. "Mother, Frale's com_ack," she said quietly, not to awaken Hoyle; then returned and tossed him th_owel which he caught and rubbed vigorously over his head and face.
"Now you are like yourself again, Frale."
"Yas, I'm here an' I'm myself, I reckon. Who'd ye think I be?" He caught he_nd kissed her, and, with his arm about her, entered the cabin.
His mood changed with childish ease according to whatever the moments brough_im. Cassandra lighted a candle, for now that the days had grown warm, th_ire was allowed to go out unless needed for cooking. His stepmother ha_oused herself and peered at him from out her dark corner, where little Hoyl_ay sleeping soundly in the farther side of her bed. Frale strode across th_neven floor and kissed her also, resoundingly. Astounded, she dropped back o_er pillow.
"What ails ye, Frale!" The mountain people are for the most part too reserve_o be lavish with their kisses.
"Nothin' ails me. I'm kissin' you fer Cass's sake. Me an' her's goin' to ge_ined an' set up togethah. I'm come back fer to marry with her, and we'r_oin' ovah t'othah side Lone Pine, an' I'm goin' to build a cabin thar. That'_ow I'm kissin' you. Will you have anothah, or shall I give hit to Cass?"
"You hush an' go 'long," said the mother, half contemptuously.
"Frale's making fool talk, mothah. Don't give heed to him. He's light-headed, I reckon, and I'm going to get him something to eat right quick."
"I 'low he be light-headed. Nobody's goin' to git Cass whilst I'm livin',
'thout he's got more'n a cabin ovah t'othah side Lone Pine. She's right wel_ff here, an' here she'll 'bide."
Frale turned darkly on the mother. "I reckon you'd bettah give heed to m_or'n to her," he said, in the low drawl which boded much with him.
Cassandra, on her knees at the hearth, was arranging sticks of fat pine t_ight the fire. Her hands shook as she held them. This Frale saw, and his eye_leamed. He came to her side and, kneeling also, took them from her.
"Hit's my place to do this fer you now, Cass. F'om now on—I reckon. I'll han_he kittle fer ye, too, an' fetch the water."
The mother stared at them in silence, and Cassandra, taking up the coffee-pot, rose and went out. When she returned, the fire was crackling merrily, and th_reat kettle swung over it. Hoyle was up and seated on his half-brother'_nee. Cassandra's eyes looked heavy and showed traces of tears.
Frale saw it all, with eyes gleaming blue through narrowly drawn lids. Hi_ips quivered a little as he talked with Hoyle. He drew out his money for th_hild to count over gleefully, thus diverting himself with the boy, while h_atched Cassandra furtively. He decided to say no more at present until sh_hould have had time to adjust her mind to the thought he had so daringl_nnounced to her mother. The two cakes little Dorothy had given him he too_rom his bundle and gave to Hoyle, then carried him back and put him to be_nd told him to sleep again.
For all of her promise, Cassandra had not expected this to come upon her s_uddenly, like lightning out of a clear sky, startling her very soul wit_ear. As Frale ate what she set before him, she went over to the bedside, an_at there holding her mother's hand and talking in low tones, while Hoyle, with wide eyes, strove to hear.
"Be hit true, what he says, Cass?"
"Not all, mother. I never told him I would go and live over beyond Lone Pine.
I meant always to live right here with you, but I am promised to him. I gav_im my word that night he left, to get him to go and save him. Oh, God!
Mother, I didn't guess it would come so soon. He promised me he would repen_is deed and live right."
The mother brightened and drew her daughter down and spoke low in her ear.
"Make him keep to his promise first, child. Yuer safe thar. I reckon he'_oin' a heap o' repentin' this-a-way. I ain' goin' 'low you throw you'se'_way on no Farwell, ef he be good-lookin', 'thout he holds to his word goo_er a year. Hit's jes' the way his paw done me. He gin me his word 'at he'_top 'stillin' an' drinkin', an' he helt to hit fer three months, an' then h_ome on me this-a-way an' I married him, an' he opened up his still again i_hree weeks, an' thar he went his own way f'om that day."
Cassandra rose and went to the door. "I'm going to make you a bed in the loo_hed like I made it for the doctor. There is no bed up garret now. I emptie_ut all the ticks and thought I'd have them fresh filled against you com_ack—but I've been that busy."
Soon he followed her out. "I reckon I won't sleep thar whar that doctah hav_lep'. He might put a spell on me, too," he said, standing in the door of th_hed and looking in on her. The night was lighter now, for the full moon ha_lided up over the hills, and she worked by its light streaming through th_pen door.
"I can't see with you standing there, Frale. I reckon you'll have to slee_ere, because it's too late to fill your bed to-night."
"Oh, leave that be and come and sit here with me," he said, dropping on th_tep where the doctor had sat when she opened her heart to him and told hi_bout her father. It all surged back upon her now. She could not sit ther_ith Frale. "I'll make my bed myself, an' I'll—I'll sleep wharevah you want m_o, ef hit's up on the roof or out yandah in the water trough. Come, sit."
"We'll go back on the porch, and I'll take mother's chair. I'm right tired."
"When we git in our own cabin ovah t'othah side Lone Pine, you won't hav_othin' to do only tend on me," he said, drawing her to him. He led her acros_he open space and placed her gently in her mother's chair on the littl_orch.
"Now, Frale, sit down there and listen," she said, pointing to the step at he_eet where Thryng had sat only a few days before to make out the lease o_heir land. Everything seemed to cry out to her of him to-night, but she mus_teel her heart against the thought.
"I'm going to talk to you straight, just what I mean, Frale. You've bee_alking as you pleased in there, and I 'lowed you to, I was that set back.
Anyway, I'd rather talk to you alone. Frale, our promise was made before God, and you know I will keep to mine. But you must keep to yours, too. Listen a_e. Mrs. Towers wrote me you had been drunk twice. Is that keeping you_romise to leave whiskey alone? Is it, Frale?"
"You have somebody down thar watchin' me, an' I hain't nobody a-watchin' you,"
he said sullenly. She felt degraded by his words.
"Frale, do you know me all these years to think such as that of me now?"
"I tell you he have put a spell on you. I kin feel hit an' see hit. Hit ain'_our fault, Cass. I'd put one on you myself, ef I could. Anyhow, I'll take yo_ut of this fer he have done hit."
"Do you never say that word to me again as long as you live, Frale," she sai_ternly. "Listen at me, I say. You go back there and work like you said yo_ould—"
"Didn't I tell you that thar houn' dog Giles Teasley war on my scent? I see_im. I got to come back ontwell I c'n git shet o' him."
"And that means another murder! Oh, Frale, Frale!" She covered her face wit_er hands and moaned. Then they sat silent awhile.
After a little she lifted her head. "Frale, I'll go over to Teasleys' and be_or them to leave you be. I'll beg Giles Teasley on my knees, I will. The_hen you have bided your year and kept your promise like you swore before God, I'll marry you like I promised, and we'll live here and keep the old plac_ike it ought to be kept. You hear, Frale? Good night, now. It's only fair yo_hould give heed to me, Frale, if I do that for you. Good night."
She glided past him into the house like a wraith, and he rose without a wor_f reply and stretched himself on the half-made bed in the loom shed, as h_as. Sullen and angry, he lay far into the night with the moonlight streamin_ver him, but he did not sleep, and his mood only grew more bitter an_angerous.
When the first streak of dawn was drawn across the eastern sky, he ros_nrefreshed, and began a search, feeling along the rafters high above the bag_f cotton. Presently he drew forth an ancient, long-barrelled rifle, and, taking it out into the light, examined it carefully. He rubbed and cleaned th_arrel and polished the stock and oiled the hammer and trigger. Then h_rought from the same hiding-place a horn of powder and gun wadding, and a_ast took from his pocket the silver bullet, with which he loaded his ol_eapon even as he had seen it charged in past days by his father's hand.
Below the house, built over a clear welling spring which ran in a brigh_ittle rivulet to the larger stream, was the spring-house. Here, after th_arm days came, the milk and butter were kept, and here Frale sauntere_own—his gun slung across his arm, his powder-horn at his belt, in his ol_lothes—with his trousers thrust in his boot-tops—to search for provisions fo_he day and his breakfast as well. He had no mind to allow the family t_ppose his action or reason him out of his course.
He found a jug of buttermilk placed there the evening before for Hoyle t_arry to the doctor in the morning, and slung it by a strap over his shoulder.
In one of the sheds lay two chickens, ready dressed to be cut up for th_rying-pan, and one of these, with a generous strip of salt pork from the ke_f dry salt where it was kept, he dropped in a sack. He would not enter th_ouse for corn-bread, even though he knew he was welcome to all the hom_fforded, but planned to arrive at some mountain cabin where friends woul_ive him what he required to complete his stock of food. His gun would provid_im with an occasional meal of game, and he thus felt himself prepared for a_ong a period of ambush as might be necessary.
Before sunrise he was well on his way over the mountain. He did not attempt t_o directly to his old haunt, but turned aside and took the trail leadin_long the ridge—the same Thryng and Cassandra had taken to go to the cabin o_ecatur Irwin. Frale had no definite idea of going there, but took the hig_idge instinctively. So long had he been in the low country that he craved no_o reach the heights where he might see the far blue distances and feel th_trong sweet air blowing past him. It was much the same feeling that ha_aused him to thrust his head under the trough of running water the evenin_efore.
As a wild creature loves the freedom of the plains, or an eagle rises an_ircles about in the blue ether aimless and untrammelled, so this man of th_ills moved now in his natural environment, living in the present moment, gla_o be above the low levels and out from under all restraint, seeing but _ittle way into his future, content to satisfy present needs and the craving_f his strong, virile body.
Moments of exaltation and aspiration came to him, as they must come to ever_ne, but they were moments only, and were quickly swept aside and but vaguel_omprehended by him. As a child will weep one minute over some creature hi_eedlessness has hurt and the next forget it all in the pursuit of some ne_elight, so this child of nature took his way, swayed by his moods an_esires—an elemental force, like a swollen torrent taking its vengefu_ay—forgetful of promises—glad of freedom—angry at being held in restraint, and willing to crush or tear away any opposing force.
At last, breakfastless and weary after his long climb, his sleepless night, and the depression following his talk with Cassandra the evening before, h_aused at the edge of the descent, loath to leave the open height behind him, and stretched himself under a great black cedar to rest. As he lay ther_reaming and scheming, with half-shut eyes, he spied below him the bare re_atch of soil around the cabin of Decatur Irwin. Instantly he rose and bega_apidly to descend.
Decatur was away. He had got a "job of hauling," his wife said, and had to b_way all day, but she willingly set herself to bake a fresh corn-cake and mak_im coffee. He had already taken a little of his buttermilk, but he did no_are for raw salt pork alone. He wanted his corn-bread and coffee,—the stapl_f the mountaineer.
She talked much, in a languid way, as she worked, and he sat in the doorway.
Now and then she asked questions about his home and "Cassandry," which h_nswered evasively. She gossiped much about all the happenings and sayings o_er neighbors far and near, and complained much, when she came to take pa_rom him for what she provided, of the times which had come upon them since
"Cate had hurt his foot." She told how that fool doctor had come there an_aken "hit off, makin' out like Cate'd die of hit ef he didn't," and how
"Cassandry Merlin had done cheated her into goin' off so 't she could bid_har at the cabin alone with that doctah man herself an' he'p him do hit."
With her snuff stick between her yellow teeth and her numerous progen_quatting in the dirt all about the doorway, idly gazing at Frale, sh_etailed her grievances without reserve. How the wife of Hoke Belew had been
"ailin'," and Cassandra had "be'n thar ev'y day keerin' fer her. I 'low sh_es' goes 'cause she 'lows she'll see that doctah man thar an' ride back wit_im like she done when she brung him here," said the pallid, spitefu_reature, and spat as she talked. "She nevah done that fer me. I be'n sick _eap o' times, an' she hain't nevah come nigh me to do a lick."
Frale was annoyed to hear Cassandra thus spoken against, for was she not hi_wn? He chose to defend her, while purposely concealing his bitter ange_gainst the doctor. "The' hain't nothin' agin Cassandry. She's sorter kin t_e, an' I 'low the' hain't."
"Naw," said the woman, changing instantly at the threatening tone, "the'
hain't nothin' agin her. I reckon he tells her whar to go, an' she jes' goe_ike he tells her."
Frale threw his sack over his shoulder and started on in silence, and th_oman smiled evilly after him as she sat there and licked her lips, and chewe_n her snuff stick and spat.