Chapter 5 IN WHICH CASSANDRA GOES TO DAVID WITH HER TROUBLE, AND GIVE_RALE HER PROMISE
After his sleep on Hanging Rock, David, allured by the sunset, remained lon_n his doorway idly smoking his pipe, and ruminating, until a normal an_elightful hunger sent him striding down the winding path toward the blazin_earth where he had found such kindly welcome the evening before. There, seated tilted back against the chimney side, he found a huge youth, innocen_f face and gentle of mien, who rose as he entered and offered him his chair, and smiled and tossed back a falling lock from his forehead as he gave hi_reeting.
"This hyar is Doctah Thryng, Frale, who done me up this-a-way. He 'lows he'_oin' to git me well so's I can walk again. How air you, suh? You certainly d_ook a heap better'n when you come las' evenin'."
"So I am, indeed. And you?" David's voice rang out gladly. He went to the be_nd bent above the old woman, looking her over carefully. "Are yo_omfortable? Do the weights hurt you?" he asked.
"I cyan't say as they air right comfortable, but ef they'll help me to git
'round agin, I reckon I can bar hit."
Early that morning, with but the simplest means, David had arranged bandage_nd weights of wood to hold her in position.
She was so slight he hoped the broken hip might right itself with patience an_are, more especially as he learned that her age was not so advanced as he_ppearance had led him to suppose.
Now all suspicion of him seemed to have vanished from the household. Hoyle, happy when the fascinating doctor noticed him, leaned against his chair, drinking in his words eagerly. But when Thryng drew him to his knee an_iscovered the cruel mark across his face and asked how it had happened, _urious change crept over them all. Every face became as expressionless as _ask; only the boy's eyes sought his brother's, then turned with a frightene_ook toward Cassandra as if seeking help.
Thryng persisted in his examination, and lifted the boy's face toward th_ight. If the big brother had done this deed, he should be made to feel sham_or it. The welt barely escaped the eye, which was swollen and discolored; an_ltogether the face presented a pitiable appearance.
As David talked, the hard look which had been exorcised for a time by th_entle influence of that home, and more than all by the sight of Cassandr_erforming the gracious services of the household, settled again upon th_outh's face. His lips were drawn, and his eyes ceased following Cassandra, and became fixed and narrowed on one spot.
"You have come near losing that splendid eye of yours, do you know that, little chap?" Hoyle grinned. "It's a shame, you know. I have something up a_he cabin would help to heal this, but—" he glanced about the room—"What ar_hose dried herbs up there?"
"Thar is witch hazel yandah in the cupboard. Cass, ye mount bile some up fe_h' doctah," said the mother. "Tell th' doctah hu-come hit happened, son; yo_ain't afeared of him, be ye?" A trampling of horse's hoofs was heard outside.
"Go up garret to your own place, Frale. What ye bid'n here fer?" she added, i_ hushed voice, but the youth sat doggedly still.
Cassandra went out and quickly returned. "It's your own horse, Frale. Poo_east! He's limping like he's been hurt. He's loose out there. You better loo_o him."
"Uncle Carew rode him down an' lef' him, I reckon." Frale rose and went out, and David continued his care of the child.
"How was it? Did your brother hurt you?"
"Naw. He nevah hurted me all his life. Hit—war my own se'f—"
Cassandra patted the child on his shoulder. "He can't beah to tell hu-come h_s hurted this way, he is that proud. It was a mean, bad, coward man fetche_im such a blow across the face. He asked little son something, and when Hoyl_evah said a word, he just lifted his arm and hit him, and then rode off lik_e had pleased himself." A flush of anger kindled in her cheeks. "Nevah mind, son. Doctah can fix you up all right."
A sigh of relief trembled through the boy's lips, and David asked no mor_uestions.
"You hain't goin' to tie me up that-a-way, be you?" He pointed to the be_hereon his mother lay, and they all laughed, relieving the tension.
"Naw," shrilled the mother's voice, "but I reckon doctah mount take off you_ade an' set hit on straight agin."
"I wisht he could," cried the child, no whit troubled by the suggestion. "I'_ar a heap fer to git my hade straight like Frale's." Just then his brothe_ntered the room. "You reckon doctah kin take off my hade an' set hit straigh_ike you carry yours, Frale?" Again they all laughed, and the big youth smile_uch a sweet, infantile smile, as he looked down on his little brother, tha_avid's heart warmed toward him.
He tousled the boy's hair as he passed and drew him along to the chimney side, away from the doctor. "Hit's a right good hade I'm thinkin' ef hit be set to_er round. They is a heap in hit, too, more'n they is in mine, I reckon."
"He's gettin' too big to set that-a-way on your knee, Frale. Ye make a baby o_im," said the mother. The child made an effort to slip down, but Frale's ar_losed more tightly about him, and he nestled back contentedly.
So the evening passed, and Thryng retired early to the bed in the loom shed.
He knew something serious was amiss, but of what nature he could no_onjecture, unless it were that Frale had been making illicit whiskey.
Whatever it was, he chose to manifest no curiosity.
In the morning he saw nothing of the young man, and as a warm rain wa_teadily falling, he was glad to get the use of the horse, and rode awa_appily in the rain, with food provided for both himself and the beas_ufficient for the day slung in a sack behind him.
"Reckon ye'll come back hyar this evenin'?" queried the old mother, as h_djusted her bandages before leaving.
"I'll see how the cabin feels after I have had a fire in the chimney all day."
As he left, he paused by Cassandra's side. She was standing by the spout o_unning water waiting for her pail to fill. "If it happens that you need m_or—anything at all, send Hoyle, and I'll come immediately. Will you?"
She lifted her eyes to his gratefully. "Thank you," was all she said, but hi_ook impelled more. "You are right kind," she added.
Hardly satisfied, he departed, but turned in his saddle to glance back at her.
She was swaying sidewise with the weight of the full pail, straining on_lender arm as she bore it into the house. Who did all the work there, h_ondered. That great youth ought to relieve her of such tasks. Where was he?
Little did he dream that the eyes of the great youth were at that moment fixe_arkly upon him from the small pane of glass set in under the cabin roof, which lighted Frale's garret room.
David stabled the horse in the log shed built by Doctor Hoyle for his ow_east,—for what is life in the mountains without a horse,—then lingered awhil_n his doorway looking out over the billows of ranges seen dimly through th_ine veil of the falling rain. Ah, wonderful, perfect world it seemed to him, seen through the veil of the rain.
The fireplace in the cabin was built of rough stone, wide and high, and ther_e made him a brisk fire with fat pine and brushwood. He drew in great log_hich he heaped on the broad stone hearth to dry. He piled them on the fir_ntil the flames leaped and roared up the chimney, so long unused. He sa_efore it, delighting in it like a boy with a bonfire, and blessed his frien_or sending him there, smoking a pipe in his honor. Among the doctor's fe_ooking utensils he found a stout iron tea-kettle and sallied out again in th_et to rinse it and fill it with fresh water from the spring. He had had onl_offee since leaving Canada; now he would have a good cup of decent tea, so h_ung the kettle on the crane and swung it over the fire.
In his search for his tea, most of his belongings were unpacked and tosse_bout the room in wild disorder, and a copy of _Marius the Epicurean_ wa_rought to light. His kettle boiled over into the fire, and immediately th_mall articles on his pine table were shoved back in confusion to make roo_or his tea things, his bottle of milk, his corn pone, and his book.
Being by this time weary, he threw himself on his couch, and contentmen_egan—his hot tea within reach, his door wide open to the sweetness of th_ay, his fire dancing and crackling with good cheer, and his book in his hand.
Ah! The delicious idleness and rest! No disorders to heal—no bones to mend—n_roblems to solve; a little sipping of his tea—a little reading of his book—_ittle luxuriating in the warmth and the pleasant odor of pine bough_urning—a little dreamy revery, watching through the open door the changin_ights on the hills, and listening to an occasional bird note, liquid an_weet.
The hour drew near to noon and the sky lightened and a rift of deep blu_tretched across the open space before him. Lazily he speculated as to how h_as to get his provisions brought up to him, and when and how he might get hi_ail, but laughed to think how little he cared for a hundred and one thing_hich had filled his life and dogged his days ere this. Had he reache_irvana? Nay, he could still hunger and thirst.
A footstep was heard without, and a figure appeared in his doorway, quietl_tanding, making no move to enter. It was Cassandra, and he was pleased.
"My first visitor!" he exclaimed. "Come in, come in. I'll make a place for yo_o sit in a minute." He shoved the couch away from before the fire, an_emoving a pair of trousers and a heap of hose from one of his splint-bottome_hairs, he threw them in a corner and placed it before the hearth. "Yo_alked, didn't you? And your feet are wet, of course. Sit here and dry them."
She pushed back her sunbonnet and held out to him a quaint little basket mad_f willow withes, which she carried, but she took no step forward. Althoug_er lips smiled a fleeting wraith of a smile that came and went in an instant, he thought her eyes looked troubled as she lifted them to his face.
He took the basket and lifted the cover. "I brought you some pa'triges," sh_aid simply.
There lay three quail, and a large sweet potato, roasted in the ashes on thei_earth as he had seen the corn pone baked the evening before, and a few roun_hite cakes which he afterwards learned were beaten biscuit, all warm from th_ire.
"How am I ever to repay you people for your kindness to me?" he said. "Come i_nd dry your feet. Never mind the mud; see how I've tracked it in all th_orning. Come."
He led her to the fire, and replenished it, while she sat passively lookin_own on the hearth as if she scarcely heeded him. Not knowing how to talk t_er, or what to do with her, he busied himself trying to bring a semblance o_rder to the cabin, occasionally dropping a remark to which she made n_esponse. Then he also relapsed into silence, and the minutes dragged—age-lon_inutes, they seemed to him.
In his efforts at order, he spread his rug over the couch, tossed a crimso_ushion on it and sundry articles beneath it to get them out of his way, the_ccupied himself with his book, while vainly trying to solve the riddle whic_is enigmatical caller presented to his imagination.
All at once she rose, sought out a few dishes from the cupboard, and, taking _eatly smoothed, coarse cloth from the basket, spread it over one end of th_able and arranged thereon his dinner. Quietly David watched her, followin_er example of silence until forced to speak. Finally he decided to questio_er, if only he could think of questions which would not trespass on he_rivate affairs, when at last she broke the stillness.
"I can't find any coffee. I ought to have brought some; I'll go fetch some i_ou'll eat now. Your dinner'll get cold."
He showed her how he had made tea and was in no need of coffee. "We'll thro_his out and make fresh," he said gayly. "Then you must have a cup with me.
Why, you have enough to eat here for three people!" She seemed weary and sad, and he determined to probe far enough to elicit some confidence, but the mor_luent he became, the more effectively she withdrew from him.
"See here," he said at last, "sit by the table with me, and I will eat to you_eart's content. I'll prepare you a cup of tea as I do my own, and then I wan_ou to drink it. Come."
She yielded. His way of saying "Come" seemed like a command to be obeyed.
"Now, that is more like." He began his dinner with a relish. "Won't you shar_his game with me? It is fine, you know."
He could not think her silent from embarrassment, for her poise seeme_ndisturbed except for the anxious look in her eyes. He determined to fatho_he cause, and since no finesse availed, there remained but one way,—th_irect question.
"What is it?" he said kindly. "Tell me the trouble, and let me help you."
She looked full into his eyes then, and her lips quivered. Something rose i_er throat, and she swallowed helplessly. It was so hard for her to speak. Th_rouble had struck deeper than he dreamed.
"It is a trouble, isn't it? Can't you tell it to me?"
"Yes. I reckon there isn't any trouble worse than ours—no, I reckon there i_othing worse."
"Why, Miss Cassandra!"
"Because it's sin, and—and 'the wages of sin is death.'" Her tone wa_opeless, and the sadness of it went to his heart.
"Is it whiskey?" he asked.
"Yes—it's whiskey 'stilling and—worse; it's—" She turned deathly white. To_ad to weep, she still held control of her voice. "It's a heap worse—"
"Don't try to tell me what it is," he cried. "Only tell me how I may help you.
It's not your sin, surely, so you don't have to bear it."
"It's not mine, but I do have to bear it. I wish my bearing it was all. Tel_e, if—if a man has done—such a sin, is it right to help him get away?"
"If it is that big brother of yours, whom I saw last night, I can't believe h_as done anything so very wicked. You say it is not the whiskey?"
"Maybe it was the whiskey first—then—I don't know exactly how came it—I recko_e doesn't himself. I—he's not my brothah—not rightly, but he has been th_ame as such. They telegraphed me to come home quick. Bishop Towahs told me _ittle—all he knew,—but he didn't know what all was it, only some wrong t_all the officahs and set them aftah Frale—poor Frale. He—he told m_imself—last evening." She paused again, and the pallor slowly left her fac_nd the red surged into her cheeks and mounted to the waves of her heavy hair.
"It is Frale, then, who is in trouble! And you wish me to help him get away?"
She looked down and was silent. "But I am a stranger, and know nothing abou_he country."
He pushed his chair away from the table and leaned back, regarding he_ntently.
"Oh, I am afraid for him." She put her hand to her throat and turned away he_ace from his searching eyes, in shame.
"I prefer not to know what he has done. Just explain to me your plan, and ho_ can help. You know better than I."
"I can't understand how comes it I can tell you; you are a strangah to all o_s—and yet it seems like it is right. If I could get some clothes nobody ha_vah seen Frale weah—if—I could make him look different from a mountain boy, maybe he could get to some town down the mountain, and find work; but now the_ould meet up with him before he was halfway there."
Thryng rose and began pacing the room. "Is there any hurry?" he demanded, stopping suddenly before her.
"Then why have you waited all this time to tell me?"
She lifted her eyes to his in silence, and he knew well that she had no_poken because she could not, and that had he not ventured with his direc_uestions, she would have left him, carrying her burden with her, a_opelessly silent as when she came.
He sat beside her again and gently urged her to tell him without further dela_ll she had in her mind. "You feel quite sure that if he could get down th_ountain side without being seen, he would be safe; where do you mean to sen_im? You don't think he would try to return?"
"Why—no, I reckon not—if—I—" Her face flamed, and she drew on her bonnet, hiding the crimson flush in its deep shadow. She knew that without the promis_e had asked, the boy would as surely return as that the sun would continue t_ise and set.
"He must stay," she spoke desperately and hurriedly. "If he can just make ou_o stay long enough to learn a little—how to live, and will keep away from ba_en—if I—he only knows enough to make mean corn liquor now—but he nevah wa_ad. He has always been different—and he is awful smart. I can't think ho_ame he to change so."
Taking the empty basket with her, she walked toward the door, and Davi_ollowed her. "Thank you for that good dinner," he said.
"Aunt Sally fetched the pa'triges. Her old man got them for mothah, and sh_aid you sure ought to have half. Sally said the sheriff had gone back up th_ountain, and I'm afraid he'll come to our place again this evening. Likel_hey're breaking up Frale's 'still' now."
"Well, that will be a good deed, won't it?"
The huge bonnet had hid her face from him, but now she lifted her eyes frankl_o his, with a flash of radiance through her tears. "I reckon," was all sh_aid.
"Are they likely to come up here, do you think, those men?"
"Not hardly. They would have to search on foot here. It's out of their way; only no place on the mountain is safe for Frale now."
"Send him to me quickly, then. I have cast my lot with you mountain people fo_ome time to come, and your cause shall be mine."
She paused at the door with grateful words on her lips unuttered.
"Don't stop for thanks, Miss Cassandra; they are wasted between us. You hav_pened your doors to me, a stranger, and that is enough. Hurry, don'_rieve—and see here: I may not be able to do anything, but I'll try; and if _an't get down to-night, won't you come again in the morning and tell me al_bout it?"
Instantly he thought better of his request, yet who was here to criticise? H_aughed as he thought how firmly the world and its conventions held him.
Sweet, simple-hearted child that she was, why, indeed, should she not come?
Still he called after her. "If you are too busy, send Hoyle. I may be down t_ee your mother, anyway."
She paused an instant in her hurried walk. "I'll be right glad to come, if _an help you any way."
He stood watching her until she passed below his view, as her long easy step_ook her rapidly on, although she seemed to move slowly. Then he went back t_is fire, and her words repeated themselves insistently in his mind—"I'll b_ight glad to come, if I can help you any way."
Aunt Sally was seated in the chimney-corner smoking, when Cassandra returned.
"Where is he?" she cried.
"He couldn't set a minute, he was that restless. He 'lowed he'd go up to th_ock whar you found him las' evenin'."
Without a word, Cassandra turned and fled up the steep toward the head of th_all. Every moment, she knew, was precious. Frale met her halfway down an_ook her hand, leading her as he had been used to do when she was his "littl_ister," and listened to her plans docilely enough.
"I mean you to go down to Farington, to Bishop Towahs'. He will give yo_ork." She had not mentioned Thryng.
"Don't, Frale. How can you laugh?"
"I ra'ly hain't laughin', Cass. Seems like you fo'get how can I get down th_ountain; but I reckon I'll try—if you say so."
Then she explained how the doctor had sent for him to come up there quickly, and how he would help him. "You must go now, Frale, you hear? Now!"
Again he laughed, bitterly this time. "Yas—I reckon he'll be right glad t_elp me get away from you. I'll go myse'f in my own way."
Under the holly tree they had paused, and suddenly she feared lest the boy a_er side return to his mood of the evening before. She seized his hand agai_nd hurried him farther up the steep.
"Come, come!" she cried. "I'll go with you, Frale."
"Naw, you won't go with me neithah," he said stubbornly, drawing back.
"Frale!" she pleaded. "Hear to me."
"Frale, I'm afraid. They may be on their way now. For all we know they may b_ight nigh."
"I've done got used to fearin' now. Hit don't hurt none. On'y one thing hurt_ow."
"I've been up to see Doctor Thryng, and he's promised he'll fix you up som_ay so that if anybody does see you, they—they'll think you belong somewher_lse, and nevah guess who you be. Frale, go."
He held her, with his arm about her waist, half carrying her with him, instea_f allowing her to move her own free gait, and she tried vainly with he_ingers to pull his hands away; but his muscles were like iron under he_ouch. He felt her helplessness and liked it. Her voice shook as she pleade_ith him.
"Oh, Frale! Hear to me!" she wailed.
"I'll hear to you, ef you'll hear to me. Seems like I've lost my fear now. _ain't carin' no more. Ef I should see the sheriff this minute, an' he wa_-puttin' his rope round my neck right now, I wouldn't care 'thout on_hing—jes' one thing. I'd walk straight down to hell fer hit,—I reckon I he_one that,—but I'd walk till I drapped, an' work till I died for hit." H_tood still a moment, and again she essayed to move his hands, but he onl_eld her closer.
"Oh, hurry, Frale! I'm afraid. Oh, Frale, don't!"
"Be ye 'feared fer me, Cass?"
"You know that, Frale. Leave go, and hear to me."
"Be ye 'feared 'nough to give me your promise, Cass?"
"Take your hand off me, Frale."
"We'll go back. I 'low they mount es well take me first as last. I hain't n_eart lef' in me. I don't care fer that thar doctah man he'pin' me, nohow," h_hoked.
"Leave me go, and I'll give you promise for promise, Frale. I can't make ou_s it sin or not; but if God can forgive and love—when you turn and see_im—the Bible do say so, Frale, but—but seem like you don't repent your dee_hilst you look at me like that way." She paused, trembling. "If you could b_orry like you ought to be, Frale, and turn your heart—I could die for that."
He still held her, but lifted one shaking hand above his head.
"Before God, I promise—"
"What, Frale? Say what you promise."
He still held his hand high. "All you ask of me, Cass. Tell me word by word, an' I'll promise fair."
"You will repent, Frale?"
"You will not drink?"
"I will not drink."
"You will heed when your own heart tells you the right way?"
"I will heed when my heart tells me the way: hit will be the way to you, Cass."
"Oh, don't say it that way, Frale. Now say, 'So help me God,' and don't thin_f me whilst you say it."
"Put your hand on mine, Cass. Lift hit up an' say with me that word." Sh_laced her palm on his uplifted palm. "So help me, God," they said together.
Then, with streaming tears, she put her arms about his neck and gently dre_is face down to her own.
"I'll go back now, Frale, and you do all I've said. Go quick. I'll writ_ishop Towahs, and he'll watch out for you, and find you work. Let Docta_hryng help you. He sure is a good man. Oh, if you only could write!"
"You'll have a heap more to learn than you guess. I've been there, and I know.
Don't give up, Frale, and—and stay—"
"I hain't going to give up with your promise here, Cass; kiss me."
She did so, and he slowly released her, looking back as he walked away.
"Oh, hurry, Frale! Don't look back. It's a bad omen." She turned, and withou_ne backward glance descended the mountain.