Part 5 out of 6
"Yeah!" Nance answered cheerfully, taking her seat
and glancing timidly at her guest.
Jim seized the jug, poured out two drinks of corn
whiskey, handed her one and raised his:
"Well, here's lookin' at you, old girl."
He paused, lowered his cup and smiled.
"But say, give me a toast." He nodded toward the
shed-room. "I'm on my honeymoon, you know."
His hostess laughed timidly and glanced at him from
the corners of her eyes. She wished to be sociable and
make up as best she could for her rudeness on their
"I ain't never heard but one fur honeymooners," she
"Let's have it. I've never heard a toast for
honeymooners in my life. It'll be new to me--fire
Nance fumbled her faded dress with her left hand
and laughed again.
"'May ye live long and prosper an' all yer troubles
be LITTLE ONES!'"
She laughed aloud at the old, worm-eaten joke and
"Bully! Bully, old girl--bully!"
He lifted his cup and drained it at one draught and
Nance did the same.
He seized the jug and poured another drink for each.
He leaned across the table.
"And here's one for you." He squared his body and
lifted his cup:
"To all your little ones--no matter how big they
Jim drained his liquor without apparently noticing
her agitation, though he was watching her keenly from
the corner of his eye.
The cup she held was lowered slowly until the
whiskey poured over her dress and on the floor. Her
thin figure drooped pathetically and her voice was the
"I heard you had a boy," Jim said carelessly.
The drooping figure shot upright as if a bolt of
lightning had swept her. She stared at him in
tense silence, trying to gather her wits before
"Who told you anything about me?" she demanded
"A fellow in New York," Jim continued with studied
carelessness--"said he used to live down here."
"He LIVED down here?" she repeated blankly.
"Yep--come now, loosen up and tell us about the
"There ain't nuthin' ter tell--he's dead," she
"He said you deserted the child and left him to
"He said that?" she growled.
He was silent again and watched her keenly.
She fumbled her dress and glanced nervously across
the table as if afraid to ask more. Unable to wait for
him to speak, she cried nervously at last:
"Well--well--what else did he say?"
"That he took the little duffer to New York and
She fairly screamed the words, springing to her
feet trembling from head to foot.
"Till he was big enough to kick into the streets to
shuffle for himself."
"The scoundrel said he was dead."
Her voice was far away and sank into dreamy
silence. She was living the hideous, lonely years
again with a heart starved for love.
Jim's voice broke the spell:
"Then you didn't desert him?" The man's eyes held
She stared at him blankly and spoke with rushing
"Desert him--my baby--my own flesh and blood?
There's never been a minute since I looked into his
eyes that I wouldn't 'a' died fur him."
She paused and sobbed.
"He had such pretty eyes, stranger. They looked
like your'n--only they wuz puttier and bluer."
She lifted her faded dress, brushed the tears from
her cheeks and went on rapidly:
"When I found his drunken brute of a daddy was a
liar and had another wife, I wouldn't live with him.
He tried to make me but I kicked him out of the house--
and he stole the boy to get even with me." Her voice
broke, she dropped her head and choked back the tears.
"He did get even with me, too--he did," she
Jim watched her in silence until the paroxysm had
"You think you'd know this boy now if you found
She bent close, her breath coming in quick gasps.
"My God, mister, do you think I COULD find
"He lives in New York; his name is Jim Anthony."
"Yes--yes?" she said in a dazed way. "He called
hisself Walter Anthony--he wuz a stranger from the
North and my boy's name was Jim." She paused and bent
eagerly across the table. "New York's an awful big
place, ain't it?"
"Some town, old gal, take it from me."
"COULD I find him?"
"If you've got money enough. You said you'd know
"I'd know him!" she answered eagerly. "The last
quarrel we had was about a mark on his neck. He wuz a
spunky little one. You couldn't make him cry. His
devil of a daddy used to stick pins in him and laugh
because he wouldn't cry. The last dirty trick he tried
was what ended it all. He pushed a live cigar agin his
little neck until I smelled it burnin' in the next
room. I knocked him down with a chair, drove him from
the house and told him I'd kill him if he ever put
his foot inside the door agin.
He stole my boy the next night--but he'll carry
that scar to his grave."
"You'd love this boy now if you found him in New
York as bad as his father ever was?" Jim asked with a
"Yes--he's mine!" was the quick, firm answer.
Jim watched her intently.
"I looked Death in the face for him," she went on
fiercely. "I'd dive to the bottom o' hell to find him
if I knowed he wuz thar---- But what's the use to
talk; that devil killed him! I've waked up many a
night stranglin' with a dream when I seed the drunken
brute burnin' an' beatin' an' torturin' him to death.
The feller you've heard about ain't him. 'Tain't no
use to make me hope an' then kill me----"
"He's not dead, I tell you. I know."
Jim's voice rang with conviction so positive the
old woman's breath came in quick gasps and she smiled
through her eager tears.
"And I MIGHT find him?"
"IF you've got money enough! Money can do
anything in this world."
He opened the black bag, thrust both hands into it
and threw out a handful of yellow coin which
he allowed to pour through his fingers and rattle
into a tin plate which had been left on the table.
Her eyes sparkled with avarice.
"It's your'n--all your'n?" she breathed hungrily.
"I'm taking it down South to invest for a fool who
thinks"--he stopped and laughed--"who thinks it's bad
luck to keep money that's stained with blood----"
Nance started back.
"Got blood on it?"
Jim spoke in confidential appeal.
"That wouldn't make any difference to you, would
She shook her gray locks and glanced at the pile of
yellow metal, hungrily.
"I--I wouldn't like it with blood marks!"
He lifted a handful of coin, clinked it musically
in his hands and held it in his open palms before her.
"Look! Look at it close! You don't see any blood
marks on it, do you?"
Her eyes devoured it.
He seized her hand, thrust a half-dozen pieces into
it and closed her thin fingers over it.
"Feel of it--look at it!"
Her hands gripped the gold. She breathed quickly,
broke into a laugh, caught herself in the middle of it,
and lapsed suddenly into silence.
"Feels good, don't it?" he laughed.
Nance grinned, her uneven, discolored gleaming
ominously in the flicker of the candle.
"Don't it?" he repeated.
He lifted another handful and threw it in the air,
catching it again.
"That's the stuff that makes the world go 'round.
There's your only friend, old girl! Others promise
well--but in the scratch they fail."
"Yeah--when the scratch comes they fail!" Nance
"Money never fails!" Jim continued eagerly. "It's
the god that knows no right or wrong----"
He touched the pile in the plate and drew the bag
close for her to see.
"How much do you guess is there?"
Nance gazed greedily into the open bag and looked
again at the shining heap in the plate.
"I dunno--a million, I reckon."
The man laughed.
"Not quite that much! But enough to make you rich
for life--IF you had it."
The old woman turned away pathetically and shook
her gray head.
"I wouldn't have to work no more, would I?"
Her thin hands touched the faded, dirty dress.
"And I could buy me a decent dress," her voice sank
to a whisper, "and I could find my boy."
"You bet you could!" Jim exclaimed. "There's just
one god in this world now, old girl--the Almighty
He paused and leaned close, persuasively:
"Suppose now, the man that got that money had to
kill a fool to take it--what of it? You don't get big
money any other way. A burglar watches his chance,
takes his life in his hands and drills his way into a
house. He finds a fool there who fights. It's not his
fault that the man was born a fool, now is it?"
"Of course not. A burglar kills but one to get his
pile, and then only because he must, in self-defence.
A big gambling capitalist corners wheat, raises the
price of bread and starves a hundred thousand children
to death to make his. It's not stained with blood.
Every dollar is soaked in it! Who cares?"
"Yeah--who cares?" Nance growled fiercely.
Jim smiled at his easy triumph.
"It's dog eat dog and the devil take the hindmost
"That's so--ain't it?" she agreed.
"You bet! Business is business and the best man's
the man that gets there. Steal a hundred dollars, you
go to the penitentiary--foolish! Don't do it. Steal a
million and go to the Senate!"
"Yeah!" Nance laughed.
"Money--money for its own sake," he rushed on
savagely--"right or wrong. That's all there is in it
today, old girl--take it from me!"
He paused and his smile ended in a sneer.
"Man shall eat bread in the sweat of his brow?
Only fools SWEAT!"
Nance turned her face away, sighed softly, glancing
back at Jim furtively.
"I reckon that's so, too. Have another drink,
She poured another cup of whiskey and one for
herself. She raised hers as if to drink and deftly
threw the contents over her shoulder.
Jim seized the jug and poured again.
"Once more. Come, I've another toast for you.
You'll drink this one I know."
He lifted his cup and rose a little unsteadily.
Nance stood with uplifted cup watching him.
"As the poet sings," he began with a bow to the old
"France has her lily, England the rose,
Everybody knows where the shamrock grows--
Scotland has her thistle flowerin' on the hill,
But the American Emblem--is a One Dollar Bill!"
He broke into a boisterous laugh.
"How's that, old girl?"
"That's bully, stranger!"
He lifted high his cup.
"We drink to the Almighty Dollar!"
"To the Almighty Dollar!" Nance echoed, clinking
her cup against his."
He drained it while she again emptied hers over her
"By golly, you're all right, old girl. You're a
good fellow!" he cried jovially.
"Yeah--have another?" she urged.
She filled his cup and placed it on his side of the
table. His eye had rested on the gold. He ignored the
invitation, lifted a handful of gold and dropped it
with musical clinking into the plate.
"Blood marks--tommyrot!" he sneered.
"Yeah--tommyrot!" she echoed. "That's what I say,
Jim wagged his head sagely:
"Now you're talking sense, old girl!"
He leaned across the table and pointed his finger
straight into her face.
"And don't you forget what I'm tellin' ye tonight--
get money, get money!"
He stopped suddenly and a sneer curled his lips.
"Oh I Get it `fairly'--get it `squarely'--but
whatever you do--by God!--GET IT!"
His uplifted hand crashed downward and gripped the
gold. His fingers slowly relaxed and the coin clinked
into the plate.
Nance watched him eagerly.
"Yeah, that's it--get it," she breathed slowly.
Jim lifted his drooping eyes to hers.
"If you've GOT it, you're a god--you can do no
wrong. Nobody's goin' to ask you HOW you got it;
all they want to know is HAVE you got it!"
"Yeah, nobody's goin' to ask you HOW you got
it, Nance repeated, "they just want to know HAVE
you got it! Yeah--yeah!"
Jim's head sank in the first stupor of liquor and
he dropped into the chair.
The old woman leaned eagerly over the plate of gold
and clutched the coin with growing avarice. Her
fingers opened and closed like a bird of prey. She
touched it lovingly and held it in her hands a long
time watching Jim's nodding head with furtive glances.
She dropped a handful of coin into the plate and
watched its effect on the drooping head.
He looked up and his eyes fell again.
"Bed-time, I reckon," Nance said.
"Yep--pretty tired. I'll turn in."
The old woman glided sidewise to the table near the
kitchen door, picked up the lantern and started to feel
her way backwards through the calico curtains.
"See you in the mornin', old gal," Jim drawled--
"Christmas mornin'--an' I got somethin' else to tell ye
in the mornin'----"
Again his head sank to the table.
"All right, mister--good night!" Nance answered,
slowly feeling her way through the opening, watching
Jim lifted his head and nodded heavily for a
moment. His hand slipped from the table and he drew
himself up sharply and rose, holding to the table for
He picked up the plate of coin, poured it back in
the bag, snapped the lock and walked with the bag
unsteadily to the couch. He placed the bag under
the pillow and pressed the soft feathers down over it,
turned back to the table and extinguished the candle by
a quick, square blow of his open palm on the flame.
He staggered to the couch, pushed the coats to the
floor, dropped heavily, drew the lap-robe over him and
in five minutes was sound asleep.
The cabin was still. Only the broken sobbing of the
woman in the little shed-room came faint and low on old
She slipped from the kitchen into the shadows of a
tree near the house and listened until the sobbing
She crept close to the shed and stood silent and
ghost-like beside its daubed walls. Immovable as a cat
crouching in the hedge to spring on her prey, she
waited until the waning moon had sunk behind the crags.
She laid her ear close to a crack in the logs from
which she had once pushed the red mud to let in the
light. All was still at last. The sobbing had
stopped. The young wife was sound asleep.
She had wondered vaguely at first about the crying,
but quickly made up her mind that it was only a lover's
quarrel. She was glad of it. The girl would bar her
door and sulk all night. So much the better.
There would be no danger of her entering the living-
room where Jim slept.
She would wait a little longer to make sure she was
asleep. A half hour passed. The white-shrouded figure
stood immovable, her keen ears tuned for the slightest
sounds from within.
The stars were shining in unusual brilliance. She
could see her way through the shadows even better than
in full moon. A wolf was crying again for his mate
from a distant crag. She had grown used to his howls.
He had come close to her cabin once in the day-time.
She had tried to creep on him and show her
friendliness. But he had fled in terror at the first
glimpse of her dress through the parting underbrush.
An owl was calling from his dead tree-top down the
valley. She smiled at his familiar, tremulous call.
Her own eyes were wide as his tonight. No sight or
sound of Nature among the crags about her cabin had for
her spirit any terror. The night was her mantle.
She added to the meager living which she had wrung
from her mountain farm by trading with the illicit
distillers of the backwoods of Yancey County. Too
ignorant to run a distillery of her own, she had stored
their goods with such skill that the hiding-place
had never been discovered. She loved good
whiskey herself. She had tried to find in its fiery
depths the dreams of happiness life had so cruelly
The hiding-place of this whiskey had puzzled the
revenue officers of every administration for years.
They had watched her house day and night. Not one of
them had ever struck the trail to her storehouse.
The game had excited her imagination. She loved
its daring and danger. That there was the slightest
element of wrong or crime in her association with the
moonshiners of her native heath had never for a moment
entered her mind. It was no crime to make whiskey.
This was the first article of the creed of the true
North Carolina mountaineer. They had from the first
declared that the tax levied by the Federal Government
on the product of their industry was an infamous act of
tyranny. They had fought this tyranny for two
generations. They would fight it as long as there was
breath in their bodies and a single load of powder and
buckshot for their rifles.
Nance considered herself a heroine in the pride of
her soul for the shrewd and successful defiance she had
given the revenue officers for so many years.
She had been too cunning to even allow one of
her own people to know the secret of her store house.
For that reason it had never been discovered. She
always stored the whiskey temporarily in the potato
shed or under the cabin floor until night and then
alone carried it to the place she had discovered.
She laughed softly at the thought of this deep
hiding-place tonight. Its temperature never varied
winter or summer. Not a track had ever been left at
its door. She might live a hundred years and, unless
some spying eye should see her enter, its existence
could never be suspected.
She tipped softly into the kitchen, walked to the
door of the living-room and listened to the even, heavy
breathing of the man on the couch.
Once more the faint echo of a sob in the shed
beyond came to her keen ears. She stood for five
minutes. It was not repeated. She had only imagined
it. The girl was still asleep.
She turned noiselessly back into the kitchen, put a
box of matches in her pocket, felt her way to the low
shelf on which she had placed the battered lantern,
picked it up and shook it to make sure the oil was
She stepped lightly into the yard, pushed open the
gate of the split-board garden fence, walked
along the edge to the corner and selected a spade
from the tools that leaned against the boards.
Carrying the spade and unlighted lantern in her
left hand, she glided from the yard into the woods.
Her right hand before her to feel for underbrush or
overhanging bough, she made her way rapidly to the
swift-flowing mountain brook.
Arrived at the water whose musical ripple had
guided her steps, she removed her shoes and placed them
beside a tree. She wore no stockings. The faded skirt
she raised and tucked into her belt. She could wade
knee deep now without hindrance.
Seizing the spade and lantern, she made her way
slowly and carefully downstream for three hundred yards
and paused beside a shelving ledge which projected
half-way across the brook.
She paused and listened again for full ten minutes,
immovable as the rock on which her thin, bony hand
rested. The stars were looking, but they could only
peep through the network of overhanging trees.
Feeling her way along the rock until the ledge rose
beyond her reach, she bent low and waded through a
still pool of eddying water straight under the
mountain-side for more than a hundred feet. Her
extended right hand had felt for the stone ceiling
above her head until it ran abruptly out of reach.
She straightened her body and took a deep breath.
Ten steps she counted carefully and placed her bare
feet on the dry rock beyond the water.
Carefully picking her way up the sloping bank until
she reached a stretch of soft earth, she sank to her
hands and knees and crawled through an opening less
than three feet in height.
"Thar now!" she laughed. "Let 'em find me if they
She lighted her lantern and seated herself on a
boulder to rest--one hundred and fifty feet in the
depths of a mountain. The cavern was ten feet in
height and fifty feet in length. The projecting ledges
of rock made innumerable shelves on which a merchant
might have displayed his wares.
The old woman was too shrewd for that. Her jugs
were carefully planted in the ground behind two fallen
boulders, and their hiding-place concealed by a layer
of drift which she had gathered from the edge of the
water. She had taken this precaution against the day
when some curious explorer might stumble on her secret
as she had found it hunting ginsing roots in the woods
overhead. Her foot had slipped suddenly through a hole
in the soft mould. She peered cautiously below and
could see no bottom. She dropped a stone and heard it
strike in the depths. She made her way down the
side of the crag and found the opening through the
still eddying waters. The hole through the roof she
had long ago plugged and covered with earth and dry
She carried her lantern and spade to the further
end of her storehouse and dug a hole in the earth about
two feet in depth. The earth she carefully placed in a
"That's the place!" she giggled excitedly.
She left her lantern burning, dropped again on the
soft, mould-covered earth and quickly emerged on the
stone banks of the wide, still pool. Her hand high
extended above her head, she waded through the water
until she touched the heavy ceiling, lowered her body
again to a stooping position and rapidly made her way
out into the bed of the brook.
She passed eagerly along the babbling path and
stopped with sure instinct at the tree beside whose
trunk she had placed her shoes.
In five minutes she had made her way through the
woods and reached the house. She tipped into the
kitchen and stood in the doorway or the living-room
watching her sleeping guest. The even breathing
assured her that all was well. Her plan couldn't
fail. She listened again for the sobs in the shed-
She was sure once that she heard them. Five
minutes passed and still she was uncertain. To avoid
any possible accident she tipped back through the
kitchen, circled the house and placed her ear against
the crack in the logs.
The girl was sobbing--or was she praying? She
crouched beside the wall, waited and listened. The
night wind stirred the dead leaves at her feet. She
lifted her head with a sudden start, laughed softly and
bent again to listen.
The sobbing in the little room was the only sound that
came from one of the grimmest battle-fields from which
the soul of a woman ever emerged alive.
To the first rush of cowardly tears Mary had
yielded utterly. She had fallen across the high-puffed
feather mattress of the bed, shivering in humble
gratitude at her escape from the horror of blindness.
The grip of his claw-like fingers on her throat came
back to her now in sickening waves. The blood was
still trickling from the wound which his nails had made
when she tore them loose in her first mad fight for
She lifted her body and breathed deeply to make
sure her throat was free. God in heaven! Could she
ever forget the hideous sinking of body and soul down
into the depths of the black abyss! She had seen the
face of Death and it was horrible. Life, warm and
throbbing, was sweet. She loved it. She hated
Yes--she was a coward. She knew it now, and didn't
She sprang to her feet with sudden fear. He might
attack her again to make sure that her soul had been
She crept to the door and felt its edges.
"Yes, thank God, there's a place for the bar!" She
She ran her trembling fingers carefully along the
rough logs and found it in the corner. She slipped it
cautiously into the iron sockets, staggered to the bed
and dropped in grateful assurance of safety for the
moment. She buried her face in the pillow to fight
back the sobs. How great her fall! She could crawl on
her hands and knees to Jane Anderson now and beg for
protection. The last shred of pretense was gone. The
bankrupt soul stood naked and shivering, the last rag
torn from pride.
What a miserable fight she had made, too, when put
to the test! Ella had at least proved herself worthy
to live. The scrub-woman had risen in the strength of
desperation and killed the beast who had maimed her.
She had only sunk a limp mass of shivering, helpless
cowardice and fled from the room whining and pleading
She could never respect herself again. The
scene came back in vivid flashes. His eyes,
glowing like two balls of blue fire, froze the blood in
her veins--his voice the rasping cold steel of a file.
And this coarse, ugly beast had held her in the spell
of love. She had clung to him, kissed him in rapture
and yielded herself to him soul and body. And he had
gripped her delicate throat and choked her into
insensibility, dropping her limp form from his hands
like a strangled rat. She could remember the half-
conscious moment that preceded the total darkness as
she felt his grip relax.
He would choke and beat her again, too. He had
said it in the sneering laughter at the door.
"A good little wife now and it's all right!"
And if you're not obedient to my whims I'll choke
you until you are! That was precisely what he meant.
That he was capable of any depth of degradation, and
that he meant to drag her with him, there could be no
longer the shadow of a doubt.
She could not endure another scene like that. She
sprang to her feet again, shivering with terror. She
could hear the hum of the conversation in the next
room. He was persuading his mother to join in his
criminal career. He was busy with his oily tongue
transforming the simple, ignorant, lonely old
woman into an avaricious fiend who would receive his
blood-stained booty and rejoice in it.
He was laughing again. She put her trembling hands
over her ears to shut out the sound. He had laughed at
her shame and cowardice. It made her flesh creep to
She would escape. The mountain road was dark and
narrow and crooked. She would lose her way in the
night, perhaps. No matter. She could keep warm by
walking. At dawn she would find her way to a cabin and
ask protection. If she could reach Asheville, a
telegram would bring her father. She wouldn't lose a
minute. Her hat and coat were in the living-room. She
would go bareheaded and without a coat. In the morning
she could borrow one from the woman at the Mount
She crept cautiously along the walls of the room
searching for a door or window. There must be a way
out. She made the round without discovering an opening
of any kind. There must be a window of some kind high
up for ventilation. There was no glass in it, of
course. It was closed by a board shutter--if she could
She began at the door, found the corner of the room
and stretched her arms upward until they touched the
low, rough joist. Over every foot of its surface
she ran her fingers, carefully feeling for a window.
There was none!
She found an open crack and peered through. The
stars were shining cold and clear in the December sky.
The twinkling heavens reminded her that it was
Christmas Eve. The dawn she hoped to see in the woods,
if she could escape, would be Christmas morning. There
was no time for idle tears of self-pity.
The one thought that beat in every throb of her
heart now was to escape from her cell and put a
thousand miles between her body and the beast who had
strangled her. She might break through the roof! As a
rule the shed-rooms of these rude mountain cabins were
covered with split boards lightly nailed to narrow
strips eighteen inches apart. If there were no
ceiling, or if the ceiling were not nailed down and she
should move carefully, she might break through near the
eaves and drop to the ground. The cabin was not more
than nine feet in height.
She raised herself on the footrail of the bed and
felt the ceiling. There could be no mistake. It was
there. She pressed gently at first and then with all
her might against each board. They were nailed hard
She sank to the bed again in despair. She had
barred herself in a prison cell. There was no escape
except by the door through which the beast had driven
her. And he would probably draw the couch against it
and sleep there.
And then came the crushing conviction that such
flight would be of no avail in a struggle with a man of
Jim's character. His laughing words of triumph rang
through her soul now in all their full, sinister
"The world ain't big enough for you to get away
from me, Kiddo!"
It wasn't big enough. She knew it with tragic and
terrible certainty. In his blind, brutal way he loved
her with a savage passion that would halt at nothing.
He would follow her to the ends of the earth and kill
any living thing that stood in his way. And when he
found her at last he would kill her.
How could she have been so blind! There was no
longer any mystery about his personality. The slender
hands and feet, which she had thought beautiful in her
infatuation, were merely the hands and feet of a thief.
The strength of jaw and neck and shoulders had made him
the most daring of all thieves--a burglar.
His strange moods were no longer strange. He
laughed for joy at the wild mountain gorges and crags
because he saw safety for the hiding-place of priceless
jewels he meant to steal.
There could be no escape in divorce from such a
brute. He was happy in her cowardly submission. He
would laugh at the idea of divorce. Should she dare to
betray the secrets of his life of crime, he would kill
her as he would grind a snake under his heel.
A single clause from the marriage ceremony kept
ringing its knell--"until DEATH DO US PART!"
She knelt at last and prayed for Death.
"Oh, dear God, let me die, let me die!"
Suicide was a crime unthinkable to her pious mind.
Only God now could save her in his infinite mercy.
She lay for a long time on the floor where she had
fallen in utter despair. The tears that brought relief
at first had ceased to flow. She had beaten her
bleeding wings against every barrier, and they were
beyond her strength.
Out of the first stupor of complete surrender, her
senses slowly emerged. She felt the bare boards of the
floor and wondered vaguely why she was there.
The hum of voices again came to her ears. She
lay still and listened. A single terrible sentence she
caught. He spoke it with such malignant power she
could see through the darkness the flames of hell
leaping in his eyes.
"Nobody's going to ask you HOW you got it--all
they want to know is HAVE you got it!"
She laughed hysterically at the idea of reformation
that had stirred her to such desperate appeal in the
first shock of discovery. As well dream of reforming
the Devil as the man who expressed his philosophy of
life in that sentence! Blood dripped from every word,
the blood of the innocent and the helpless who might
consciously or unconsciously stand in his way. The man
who had made up his mind to get rich quick, no matter
what the cost to others, would commit murder without
the quiver of an eyelid. If she had ever had a doubt
of this fact, she could have none after her experience
She wondered vaguely of the effects he was
producing on his ignorant old mother. Her words were
too low and indistinct to be heard. But she feared the
worst. The temptation of the gold he was showing her
would be more than she could resist.
She staggered to her feet and fell limp across
the bed. The iron walls of a life prison closed about
her crushed soul. The one door that could open was
Death and only God's hand could lift its bars.
THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE
Hour after hour Nance stood beside the wall of the
shed-room and with the patience of a cat waited for the
sobs to cease and the girl to be quiet.
Mary had risen from the bed once and paced the
floor in the dark for more than an hour, like a
frightened, wild animal, trapped and caged for the
first time in life. With growing wonder, Nance counted
the beat of her foot-fall, five steps one way and five
back--round after round, round after round, in
"Goddlemighty, is she gone clean crazy!" she
The footsteps stopped at last and the low sobs came
once more from the bed. The old woman crouched down on
a stone beside the log wall and drew the shawl about
A rooster crowed for midnight. Still the restless
thing inside was stirring. Nance rose uneasily.
Her lantern was still burning in her storehouse under
the cliff. The wick might eat so low it would explode.
She had heard that such things happened to lamps. It
was foolish to have left it burning, anyhow.
She glided noiselessly from the house into the
woods, entered her hidden door exactly as she had done
before, extinguished the lantern, placed it on a
shelving rock and put a dozen matches beside it.
In ten minutes she had returned to the house and
crouched once more against the wall of the shed.
The low, pleading voice was praying. She pressed
her ear to the crack and heard distinctly. She must be
patient. Her plan was sure to succeed if she were only
patient. No woman could sob and pray and walk all
night. She must fall down unconscious from sheer
exhaustion before day.
The old woman slipped into the kitchen, took up the
quilt which she had spread on the floor for her bed,
wrapped it about her thin shoulders and returned to her
Again and again she rose, believing her patience
had won, and placed her ear to the crack only to hear a
sound within which told her only too plainly that the
girl was yet awake. Sometimes it was a sigh, sometimes
she cleared her throat, sometimes she tossed
restlessly. One spoken sentence she heard again and
"Oh, dear God, have mercy on my lost soul!"
"What can be the matter with the fool critter!"
Nance muttered. "Is she moanin' for sin? To be shore,
they don't have no revival meetings this time o' year!"
She had known sinners to mourn through a whole
summer sometimes, but never in all her experience in
religious revivals had a mourner carried it over into
winter. The dancing had always eased the tension and
brought a relapse to sinful thoughts.
The hours dragged until the roosters began to crow
for day. It would soon be light.
She must act now. There was no time to lose. She
pressed her ear to the crack once more and held it five
Not a sound came from within. The broken spirit
had yielded to the stupor of exhaustion at last.
With swift, cat's tread Nance circled the cabin and
entered the kitchen. The quilt she carefully spread on
the floor leading to the entrance to the living-room,
crossed it softly and stood in the doorway with her
long hands on the calico hangings.
For five minutes she remained immovable and
listened to the deep, regular breathing of the
sleeping man. Her wits were keen, her eyes wide.
She could see the dim outlines of the furniture by the
starlight through the window. Small objects in the
room were, of course, invisible. To light a candle was
not to be thought of. It might wake the sleeper.
She knew how to make the light without a noise or
its rays reaching his face. He had startled her with
the electric torch because of its novelty. She was no
longer afraid. She would know how to press the button.
He had left the thing lying on the table beside the
black bag. He might have hidden the gold. He would
not remember in his drunken stupor to move the electric
She glided ghost-like into the room. Her bare feet
were velvet. She knew every board in the floor. There
was one near the table that creaked. She counted her
steps and cleared the spot without a sound.
Her thin fingers found the edge of the table and
slipped with uncanny touch along its surface until her
hand closed on the rounded form of the torch.
Without moving in her tracks she turned the light
on the table and in every nook and corner of the room
beyond. She slowly swung her body on a pivot, flashing
the light into each shadow and over every inch of
floor, turning always in a circle toward the couch.
Satisfied that the object she sought was nowhere in
the circle she had covered, she moved a step from the
table and winked the light beneath it. She squatted on
the floor and flashed it carefully over every inch of
its boards from one corner of the room to the other and
under the couch.
She rose softly, glided behind the head of the
sleeping man and stood back some six feet, lest the
flash of the torch might disturb him. She threw its
rays behind the couch and slowly raised them until they
covered the dirty pillow on which Jim was sleeping.
There beneath the pillow lay the bag with its precious
treasure. He was sleeping on it. She had feared this,
but felt sure that the whiskey he had drunk would hold
him in its stupor until late next morning.
She crouched low and fixed the light's ray slowly
on the bag that her hand might not err the slightest in
its touch. She laid her bony fingers on it with a
slow, imperceptible movement, held them there a moment
and moved the bag the slightest bit to test the
sleeper's wakefulness. To her surprise he stirred
"What'ell!" he growled sleepily.
She stood motionless until he was breathing again
with deep, even, heavy throb. Gliding back to the
table, she flashed the light again on the bag and
studied its position. His big neck rested squarely
across it. To move it without waking him was a
Here was a dilemma she had not fully faced. She
had not believed it possible for him to place the bag
where she could not get it. Her only purpose up to
this moment had been to take it and store it safely
beneath the soft earth in the inner recess of the cave.
He would miss it in the morning, of course. She would
express her amazement. The bar would be down from the
front door. Someone had robbed him. The money could
never be found.
She had made up her mind to take it the moment he
had convinced her that his philosophy of life was true.
His eloquence had transformed her from an ignorant old
woman, content with her poverty and dirt, into a
dangerous and daring criminal.
There was no such thing as failure to be thought of
now for a moment. The spade in the inner room of her
store-house could be put to larger use if necessary.
With the strength of the madness now on her she could
carry his body on her back through the woods. The
world would be none the wiser. He had quarreled
with his wife, and left her in a rage that night. That
was all she knew. The sheriff of neither county could
afford to bother his head long over an insolvable
mystery. Besides, both sheriffs were her friends.
Her decision was instantaneous when once she saw
that it was safe.
She smiled over the grim irony of the thing--his
words kept humming in her ears, his voice, low and
"Suppose now the man that got that money had to
kill a fool to take it--what of it? You don't get big
money any other way!"
On the shelf beside the door was a butcher knife
which she also used for carving. She had sharpened its
point that night to carve her Christmas turkey next
She raised the torch and flashed its rays on the
shelf to guide her hand, crept to the wall, took down
the knife and laid the electric torch in its place.
Steadying her body against the wall, her arms
outspread, she edged her way behind the couch and bent
over the sleeping man until by his breathing she had
located his heart.
She raised her tall figure and brought the
knife down with a crash into his breast. With a
sudden wrench she drew it from the wound and crouched
among the shadows watching him with wide-dilated eyes.
The stricken sleeper gasped for breath, his
writhing body fairly leaped into the air, bounded on
the couch and stood erect. He staggered backward and
lurched toward her. The crouching figure bent low,
gripping the knife and waiting for her chance to strike
the last blow.
Strangling with blood, Jim opened his eyes and saw
the old woman creeping nearer through the gray light of
He threw his hands above his head and tried to
shout his warning. She was on him, her trembling hand
feeling for his throat, before he could speak.
Struggling, in his weakened condition, to tear her
fingers away, he gasped:
"Here! Here! Great God! Do you know what you're
"I just want yer money," she whispered. "That's
all, and I'm a-goin' ter have it!"
Her fingers closed and the knife sank into his
She sprang back and watched him lurch and fall
across the couch. His body writhed a moment in agony
and was still.
Holding the knife in her hand, she tore open the
bag and thrust her itching fingers into the gold,
gripping it fiercely.
"Nobody's goin' to ask ye how ye got it--they just
want to know HAVE ye got it--yeah! Yeah----"
The last word died on her lips. The door of the
shed-room suddenly opened and Mary stood before her.
The first dim noises of the tragedy in the living-room
Mary's stupefied senses had confused with a nightmare
which she had
been painfully fighting.
The torch in Nance's hand had flashed through a
crack into her face once. It was the flame of a
revolver in the hands of a thief in Jim's den in New
York. She merely felt it. Her eyes had been gouged
out and she was blind. A gang of his coarse companions
were holding a council, cursing, drinking, fighting.
Jim had sprung between two snarling brutes and knocked
the revolver into the air. The flame had scorched her
With an oath he had slapped her.
"Get out, you damned little fool!" he growled.
"You're always in the way when you're not wanted.
Nobody can ever find you when there's work to be
"But I can't see, Jim dear," she pleaded. "I
do not know when things are out of place----"
"You're a liar!" he roared. "You know where every
piece of junk stands in this room better than I do. I
can't bring a friend into that door that you don't know
it. You can hear the swish of a woman's skirt on the
stairs four stories below----"
"I only asked you who the woman was who came in
with you, Jim----"
His fingers gripped her throat and stopped her
breath. Through the roar of surging blood she could
barely hear the vile words he was dinning into her
"I know you just asked me, you nosing little devil,
and it's none of your business! She's a pal of mine,
if you want to know, the slickest thief that ever
robbed a flat. She's got more sense in a minute than
you'll ever have in a lifetime. She's going to live
here with me now. You can sleep on the cot in the
kitchen. And you come when she calls, if you know
what's good for your lazy hide. I've told her to
thrash the life out of you if you dare to give her any
She had cowered at his feet and begged him not to
beat her again. The fumes of whiskey and stale beer
filled the place.
Jim turned from her to quell a new fight at
the other end of the room. Another woman was
there, coarse, dirty, beastly. She drew a knife and
demanded her share of the night's robberies. She was
trying to break from the men who held her to stab Jim.
They were all fighting and smashing the furniture----
She sprang from the bed with a cry of horror. The
noise was real! It was not a dream. The beast inside
was stumbling in the dark. His passions fired by
liquor, he was fumbling to find his way into her room.
She rushed to the door and put her shoulder against
the bar, panting in terror.
She heard his strangling cry:
"Here! Here! Great God! Do you know what you're
And then his mother's voice, mad with greed, cruel,
"I just want yer money--that's all, an' I'm goin'
to have it!"
She heard the clinch in the struggle and the dull
blow of the knife. In a sudden flash she saw it all.
He had succeeded in rousing Nance's avarice and
transforming her into a fiend. Without knowing it she
was stabbing her own son to death in the room in which
he had been born!
She tried to scream and her lips refused to move.
She tried to hurry to the rescue and her knees turned
Gasping for breath, she drew the bar from her
prison door and walked slowly into the room.
Nance's tall, bony figure was still crouched over
the open bag, her left hand buried in the gold, her
right gripping the knife, her face convulsed with
greed--avarice and murder blended into perfect hell-lit
unity at last.
Jim lay on his back, limp and still, obliquely
across the couch, his breast bared in the struggle, the
blood oozing a widening scarlet blot on his white
shirt. His head had fallen backward over the edge and
could not be seen.
Without moving a muscle, her body crouching, Nance
"You wuz awake--you heered?"
The gleaming eyes burned through the gray dawn, two
points of scintillating, hellish light fixed in purpose
on the intruder.
She had only meant to take the money. The fool had
fought. She killed him because she had to. And now
the sobbing, sniveling little idiot who had kept her
waiting all night had stuck her nose into some
thing that didn't concern her. If she opened her
mouth, the gallows would be the end.
She would open it too. Of course she would. She
was his wife. They had quarreled, but the simpleton
would blab. Nance knew this with unerring instinct.
It was no use to offer her half the money. She didn't
have sense enough to take it. She knew those pious,
baby faces--well, there was room for two in the cave
under the cliff. It was daylight now. No matter; it
was Christmas morning. No man or woman ever darkened
her door on Christmas day. She could hide their bodies
until dark, and then it was easy. She would be in New
York herself before anyone could suspect the meaning of
that automobile in the shed or the owners would trouble
themselves to come after it.
Again her decision was quick and fierce. Her hand
was on the bag. She would hold it against the world,
all hell and heaven.
With the leap of a tigress she was on the girl, the
bag gripped in her left hand, the knife in her right.
To her amazement the trembling figure stood stock
still gazing at her with a strange look of pity.
"Well!" Nance growled. "I ain't goin' ter be
took now I've got this money--I'm goin' to New York ter
find my boy!"
She lifted the knife and stopped in sheer stupor of
surprise at the girl's immovable body and staring eyes.
Had she gone crazy? What on earth could it mean? No
girl of her youth and beauty could look death in the
face without a tremor. No woman in her right senses
could see the body of her dead husband lying there red
and yet quivering without a sign. It was more than
even Nance's nerves could endure.
She lowered the knife and peered into the girl's
set face and glanced quickly about the room. Could she
have called help? Was the house surrounded? It was
impossible. She couldn't have escaped. What did it
The old woman drew back with a terror she couldn't
"What are you looking at me like that for?" she
Mary held her gaze in lingering pity. Her heart
went out now to the miserable creature trembling in the
presence of her victim. The blow must fall that would
crush the soul out of her body at one stroke. The gray
hair had tumbled over her distorted features, the
ragged dress had been torn from her throat in the
struggle and her flat, bony breast was exposed.
"You don't--have--to--go--to--New York--to--find--
your--boy!" the strained voice said at last.
Nance frowned in surprise and flew back at her in
"Yes I do, too--he lives thar!"
The little figure straightened above the crouching
Nance sank slowly against the table and rested the
bag on the edge of the chair. Its weight was more than
she could bear. She tried to glance over her shoulder
at the body on the couch and her courage failed. The
first suspicion of the hideous truth flashed through
her stunned mind. She couldn't grasp it at once.
"Whar?" she whispered hoarsely.
Mary lifted her arm slowly and pointed to the
Nance glared at her a moment and broke into a
"It's a lie--a lie--a lie!"
"Yer're just a lyin' ter me ter get away an give me
up--but ye won't do it--little Miss--old Nance is too
smart for ye this time. Who told you that?"
"He told me tonight!"
"He told you?" she repeated blankly.
"You're a liar!" she growled. "And I'll prove it--
you move out o' your tracks an' I'll cut your throat.
My boy's got a scar on his neck--I know right whar to
look for it. Don't you move now till I see--I know
you're a liar----"
She turned and with the quick trembling fingers of
her right hand tore the shirt back from the neck and
saw the scar. She still held the bag in her left hand.
The muscles slowly relaxed and the bag fell endwise to
the floor, the gold crashing and rolling over the
boards. She stared in stupor and threw both hands
above her streaming gray hair.
"Lord God Almighty!" she shrieked. "Why didn't I
think that he wuz somebody else's boy if he weren't
The thin body trembled and crumpled beside the
The girl lifted her head in a look of awe as if in
"And God has set me free! free! free!"
Mary stood overwhelmed by the tragedy she had
witnessed. For the time her brain refused to record
sensations. She had seen too much, felt too much in
the past eight hours. Soul and body were numb.
The first impressions of returning consciousness
were fixed on Nance. She had risen suddenly from the
floor and smoothed the hair back from Jim's forehead
with tender touch as if afraid to wake him. She drew
the quilt from the kitchen floor, spread it over the
body, and lifted her eyes to Mary's. It was only too
Reason had gone.
She tipped close and put her fingers on her lips.
"Sh! We mustn't wake him. He's tired. Let him
sleep. It's my boy. He's come home. We'll fix him a
fine Christmas dinner. I've got a turkey. I'll bake a
cake----" she paused and laughed softly. "I've got
eggs too, fresh laid yesterday. We'll make egg-
nog all day and all night. I ain't had no Christmas
since that devil stole him. We'll have one this time,
The girl's wits were again alert. She must run for
help. A minute to humor the old woman's delusion and
she might return before any harm came to her. Jim had
not moved a muscle. It was plain that he was beyond
"Yes," Mary answered cheerfully. "You fix the
cake--and I'll get the wood to make a fire."
Nance laughed again.
"We'll have the dinner all ready for him when he
wakes, won't we?"
"Yes. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Nance hurried into the kitchen humming an old song
in a faltering voice that sent the cold chills down the
Mary slipped quietly through the door and ran with
swift, sure foot down the narrow road along which the
machine had picked its way the afternoon before. The
cabin they had passed last could not be more than a
She made no effort to find the logs for pedestrians
when the road crossed the brook. She plunged straight
through the babbling waters with her shoes, regardless
Panting for breath, she saw the smoke curling from
the cabin chimney a quarter of a mile away.
"Thank God!" she cried. "They're awake!"
She was so glad to have reached her goal, her
strength suddenly gave way and she dropped to a boulder
by the wayside to rest. In two minutes she was up and
running with all her might.
She rushed to the door and knocked.
A mountaineer in shirt-sleeves and stockings
answered with a look of mild wonder.
"For God's sake come and help me. I must have a
doctor quick. We spent the night at Mrs. Owens'.
She's lost her mind completely--a terrible thing has
happened--you'll help me?"
"Cose I will, honey," the mountaineer drawled.
"Jest ez quick ez I get on my shoes."
"Is there a doctor near?" she asked breathlessly.
He answered without looking up:
"The best one that God ever sent to a sick bed. He
don't charge nobody a cent in these parts. He just
heals the sick because hit's his callin'. Come from
somewhar up North and built hisself a fine log house up
on the side of the mountains. Hit's full of all the
medicines in the world, too----"
"Will you ask him to come for me?" Mary broke
"I'll jump on my hoss an' have him thar in half a'
hour. You can run right back, honey, and look out for
the po' ole critter till we get thar."
"Thank you! Thank you!" she answered grate fully.
"Not at all, not at all!" he protested as he swung
through the door and hurried to the low-pitched sheds
in which his horse and cow were stabled. "Be thar in
When Mary returned, Nance was still busy in the
kitchen. She had built a fire and put the turkey in
Mary was counting the minutes now until the doctor
should come. The old woman's prattle about the return
of her lost boy, so big and strong and handsome, had
become unendurable. She felt that she should scream
and collapse unless help came at once. She looked at
her watch. It was just thirty-five minutes from the
time she had left the cabin in the valley below.
She sprang to her feet with a smothered cry of joy.
The beat of a horse's hoof at full gallop was ringing
down the road.
In two minutes the Doctor's firm footstep was heard
at the kitchen door.
Nance turned with a look of glad surprise.
"Well, fur the land sake, ef hit ain't Doctor
Mulford! Come right in!" she cried.
The Doctor seized her hand.
"And how is my good friend, Mrs. Owens, this
morning?" he asked cheerfully.
Mary was studying him with deep interest. She had
asked herself the question a hundred times how much she
could tell him--what to say and what to leave unsaid.
One glance at his calm, intellectual face was enough.
He was a man of striking appearance, six feet tall,
forty-five years of age, hair prematurely gray and a
slight stoop to his broad shoulders. His brown eyes
seemed to enfold the old woman in their sympathy.
Nance was chattering her answer to his greeting.
"Oh, I'm feelin' fine, Doctor--" she dropped her
voice confidentially--"and you're just in time for a
good dinner. My boy that was lost has come home. He's
a great big fellow, wears fine clothes and come up the
mountain all the way in a devil wagon." She put her
hand to her mouth. "Sh! He's asleep! We won't wake
him till dinner! He's all tired out."
The Doctor nodded understandingly and turned toward
"And this young lady?"
"Oh, that's his wife from New York--ain't she
The Doctor saw the delicate hands trembling and
No word was spoken. None was needed. There was
healing in his touch, healing in his whole being. No
man or woman could resist the appeal of his
personality. Their secrets were yielded with perfect
"Come with me quickly," Mary whispered.
"I understand," he answered carelessly.
Turning again to Nance, he said with easy
"I'll not disturb you with your cooking, Mrs.
Owens. Go right on with it. I'll have a little chat
with your son's wife. If she's from New York I want to
ask her about some of my people up there----"
"All right," Nance answered, "but don't you wake
HIM! Go with her inter the shed-room."
"We'll go on tip-toe!" the Doctor whispered.
Nance nodded, smiled and bent again over the oven.
Mary led him quickly through the living-room, head
averted from the couch, and into the prison cell in
which she had passed the night. The physician
glanced with a startled look at the gold still
scattered on the floor.
She seized his hand and swayed.
He touched the brown hair of her bared head gently
and pressed her hand.
"Steady, now, child, tell me quickly."
"Yes, yes," she gasped, "I'll tell you the
He held her gaze.
"And the whole truth--it's best."
Mary nodded, tried to speak and failed. She drew
her breath and steadied herself, still gripping his
"I will," she began faintly. "He's dead----"
She paused and nodded toward the living-room.
"The man--her son?"
"Yes. We came last night from Asheville. We were
on our honeymoon. We haven't been married but three
weeks. I never knew the truth about his life and
character until last night when he told me that this
old woman was his mother. I found a case of jewels in
the bag he carried--jewels that belonged to a man in
New York who was robbed and shot. I recognized the
case. He confessed to me at last in cold, brutal words
that he was a thief. I couldn't believe it at first.
I tried to make him give up his criminal career.
He laughed at me. He gloried in it. I tried to leave
him. He choked me into insensibility and drove me into
this cell, where I spent the night. He brought the
gold that you saw on the floor which he had honestly
made to give to his old mother--but for a devilish
purpose. He showed it to her last night to rouse her
avarice and make her first agree to hide his stolen
goods. He succeeded too well. Before he had revealed
himself she slipped into the room at daylight while he
slept in a drunken stupor, murdered him and took the
money. The struggle waked me and I rushed in. She
gripped her knife to kill me. I told her that she had
murdered her own son and she went mad----"
She paused for breath and her lips trembled
"You know what to do, Doctor?"
"And you'll help me?"
He smiled tenderly and nodded his head.
"God knows you need it, child!"
The nerves snapped at last, and she sank a limp
heap at his feet.
THE CALL DIVINE
The Doctor threw off his coat and took charge of the
stricken house. He sent his waiting messenger for a
faithful nurse, a mountain woman whom he had trained,
and began the fight for Mary's life. The collapse into
which she had fallen would require weeks of patient
care. There was no immediate danger of death, and
while he awaited the arrival of help, he turned into
the living-room to examine the body of the slain
The head had fallen backward over the side of the
lounge and a pool of blood, still warm and red, lay on
the floor in a widening circle beneath it. His quick
eye took in its significance at a glance. He sprang
forward, ripped the shirt wide open and applied his ear
to the breast.
"He's still alive!" he cried excitedly.
He examined the ugly wound in the left side and
found that the knife had penetrated the lung. The
heart had not been touched. The blow on the neck had
not been fatal. The shock of the final stroke had
merely choked the wounded man into collapse from the
hemorrhage of the left lung. The position into which
the body had fallen across the couch had gradually
cleared the accumulated blood. There was a chance to
save his life.
In ten minutes he had applied stimulants and
restored respiration, but the deep wheeze from the
stricken lung told only too plainly the dangerous
character of the wound. It would be a bitter fight.
His enormous vitality might win. The chances were
Jim's lips moved and he tried to speak.
The Doctor placed his hand on his mouth and shook
his head. The drooping eyelids closed in grateful
The beat of horses' hoofs echoed down the mountain
road. His nurse and messenger were coming. He decided
at once to move Mary to his own house. She must regain
consciousness in new surroundings or her chance of
survival would be slender. To awake in this miserable
cabin, the scene of the tragedy she had witnessed,
might be instantly fatal. Besides she must not yet
know that the brute who had choked her was alive and
might still hold the power of life and death over
her frail body. She believed him dead. It was best
so. He might be dead and buried before she recovered
consciousness. The fever that burned her brain would
completely cloud reason for days.
He hastily improvised a stretcher with a blanket
and two strong quilting-poles which stood in the corner
of the room. Nance helped him without question. She
obeyed his slightest suggestion with childlike
He placed Mary on the stretcher, wrapped her body
in another warm blanket and turned to his nurse and
"Carry her to my house. Walk slowly and rest
whenever you wish. Don't wake her. Tell Aunt Abbie to
put her to bed in the south room overlooking the
valley. Don't leave her a minute, Betty. She's in the
first collapse of brain fever. You know what to do.
I'll be there in an hour. You come back here, John. I
The mountaineer nodded and seized one end of the
stretcher. The nurse took up the other and the Doctor
held wide the cabin door as they passed out.
For three weeks he fought the grim battle with
Death for the two young lives the Christmas
tragedy had thrust into his hands. He gave his
entire time day and night to the desperate struggle.
When pneumonia had developed and Jim's life hung by
a hair, he slept on the couch in the living-room of the
cabin and had Nance make for herself a bed on the floor
of the kitchen.
The old woman remained an obedient child. She
cooked the Doctor's meals and did the work about the
house and yard as if nothing had disturbed her habits
of lonely plodding. She believed implicitly all that
was told her. Her son had pneumonia from cold he had
taken in the long drive from Asheville. The house must
be kept quiet. John Sanders was helping her nurse him.
She was sure the Doctor would save him.
Even the knife with which she had stabbed him made
no impression on her numbed senses. The Doctor had
scoured every trace of blood from the blade and put it
back in its place on the shelf, lest she should miss it
and ask questions. She used it daily without the
slightest memory of the frightful story it might tell.
Each morning before going to the cabin the Doctor
watched with patience for the first signs of returning
consciousness in Mary's fever-wracked body. The day
she lifted her grateful eyes to his and her lips
moved in a tremulous question he raised his hand
"Sh! Child--don't talk! It's all right. You're
getting better. I've been with you every day. You're
in my house now. You'll soon be yourself again."
She smiled wanly, put her delicate hand on his and
pressed it gratefully.
"I understand. You thank me--you say that I am
good to you. But I'm not. This is my life. I heal
the sick because I must. I love this battle royal with
Death. He beats me sometimes--but I never quit. I'm
always tramping on his trail, and I've won this fight!"
The calm brown eyes held her in a spell and she
"Sleep now," he said soothingly. "Sleep day and
night. Just wake to take a little food--that's all and
Nature will do the rest."
He stroked her hand gently until her eyelids
Two days later Jim clung to the Doctor's hand and
insisted on talking.
"Better wait a little longer, boy," the physician
answered kindly. "You're not out of the woods
"I can't wait--Doc----" Jim pleaded. "I've just
got to ask you something."
"All right. You can talk five minutes."
"My wife, Doc, how is she? You took her to your
house, John told me. She'll get well?"
"Yes. She's rapidly recovering now."
"What does she say about me?"
"She thinks you're dead."
"You haven't told her?"
"She had all she could stand----"
Jim stared in silence.
"You think she'd be sorry to know I am alive?" he
"It would be a great shock."
The steel blue eyes slowly filled with tears.
"God! I am rotten, ain't I?"
"There's no doubt about that, my son," was the firm
"Why did you fight so hard to save me--I wonder?"
"An old feud between Death and me."
Jim suddenly seized the Doctor's hand.
"Say, you can't fool me--you're a good one, Doc.
You've been a friend to me and you've got to
help now--you've just got to. You're the only one
on earth who can. You've a great big heart and you
can't go back on a fellow that's down and out. Give me
a chance! You will--won't you?"
The hot fingers gripped the Doctor's hand with
The brown eyes searched Jim's soul.
"If you can show me it's worth while----"
The fingers tightened their grip in silence.
"Just give me a chance, Doc," he said at last, "and
I'll show you! I ain't never had a chance to really
know what was right and what was wrong. If I'd a lived
here with my old mother she'd have told me. You know
what it is to be a stray dog on the streets of New
York? Even then, I'd have kept straight if I hadn't
been robbed by a lawyer and his pal. I didn't know
what I was doin' till that night here in this cabin--
honest to God, I didn't----"
He paused for breath and a tear stole down his
cheek. He fought for control of his emotions and went
on in low tones.
"I didn't know--till I saw my old mother creepin'
on me in the shadows with that big knife gleamin' in
her hand! I tried to stop her and I couldn't. I tried
to yell and strangled with blood. I saw the flames of
hell in her eyes and I had kindled them there--
God! I never knew until that minute! I'm broken and
bruised lyin' on the rocks now in the lowest pit----
Give me your hand, Doc! You're my only friend--I'm
goin' straight from now on--so help me God!"
He paused again for breath and sought the actor's
"You'll stand by me, won't you?"
A friendly grip closed on the trembling fingers.
"Yes--I'll help you--if I can."
Mary was resting in the chair beneath the southern
windows of the sun-parlor of the Doctor's bungalow. He
had built his home of logs cut from the mountainside.
Its rooms were supplied with every modern convenience
and comfort. Clear spring water from the cliff above
poured into the cypress tank constructed beneath the