“Gray!” it was Uncle Pros’s
voice, and Uncle Pros’s face looked in at the
office door. “Could I bother you a minute
about the sidewalk in front of the place up yon?
Mr. Hexter told me you’d know whether the grade
was right, and I could let the workmen go ahead.”
Stoddard swung around from his desk
and looked at the old man.
“Come right in,” he said.
“I’m not busy I’m just
pretending this morning. MacPherson won’t
give me anything to do. He persists in considering
me still an invalid.”
Uncle Pros came slowly in and laid
his hat down gingerly before seating himself.
He was dressed in the garb which, with money, he would
always have selected the village ideal
of a rich gentleman’s wear and he
looked unbelievably tall and imposing in his black
broadcloth. When the matter of the patent was
made known to Jerome Hardwick, a company was hastily
formed to take hold of it, which advanced the ready
money for Johnnie and her family to place themselves.
Mrs. Hexter, who had been all winter in Boston, had
decided, suddenly, to go abroad; and when her husband
wired her to know if he might let the house to the
Consadine-Passmore household, she made a quick, warm
So they were domiciled in a ready-prepared
home of elegance and beauty. Though the place
at Cottonville had been only a winter residence with
Mrs. Hexter, she was a woman of taste, and had always
had large means at her command. With all a child’s
plasticity, Laurella dropped into the improved order
of things. Her cleverness in selecting the proper
wear for herself and children was nothing short of
marvellous; and her calm acceptance of the new state
of affairs, the acme of good breeding. Johnnie
immediately set about seeing that Mavity Bence and
Mandy Meacham were comfortably provided for in the
old boarding-house, where she assured Gray they could
do more good than many Uplift clubs.
“We’ll have a truck-patch
there, and a couple of cows and some chickens,”
she said. “That’ll be good for the
table, and it’ll give Mandy the work she loves
to do. Aunt Mavity can have some help in the
house there’s always a girl or two
breaking down in the mills, who would be glad to have
a chance at housework for a while.”
Now Pros looked all about him, and
seemed in no haste to begin, though Gray knew well
there was something on his mind. Finally Stoddard
“You’re the very man I
wanted to see, Uncle Pros. I rang up the house
just now, but Johnnie said you had started down to
the mills. What do you think I’ve found
out about our mine?”
Certainly the old man looked very
tall and dignified in his new splendours; but now
he was all boy, leaning eagerly forward to half whisper:
“I don’t know what?”
Stoddard’s face was scarcely
less animated as he searched hastily in the pigeon-holes
of his desk. The patent might have a company to
manage its affairs, but the mine on Big Unaka was
sacred to these two, in whom the immortal urchin sufficiently
survived to make mine-hunting and exploiting delectable
“Why, Uncle Pros, it isn’t
silver at all. It’s ” Gray
looked up and caught the woeful drop of the face before
him, and hastened on to add, “It’s better
than silver it’s nickel. The
price of silver fluctuates; but the world supply of
nickel is limited, and nickel’s a sure thing.”
Pros Passmore leaned back in his chair,
digesting this new bit of information luxuriously.
“Nickel,” he said reflectively.
And again he repeated the word to himself. “Nickel.
Well, I don’t know but what that’s finer.
Leastways, it’s likelier. To say a silver
mine, always seemed just like taking money out of
the ground; but then, nickels are money too and
enough of ’em is all a body needs.”
“These people say the ore is
exceptionally fine.” Stoddard had got out
the letter now and was glancing over it. “They’re
sending down an expert, and you and I will go up with
him as soon as he gets here. There are likely
to be other valuable minerals as by-products in a nickel
mine. And we want to build an ideal mining village,
as well as model cotton mills. Oh, we’ve
got the work cut out for us and laid right to hand!
If we don’t do our little share toward solving
some problems, it will be strange.”
“Cur’us how things turns
out in this world,” the old man ruminated.
“Ever sence I was a little chap settin’
on my granddaddy’s knees by the hearth big
hickory fire a-roarin’ up the chimbly, wind a-goin’
‘whooh!’ overhead, an’ me with my
eyes like saucers a-listenin’ to his tales of
the silver mine that the Injuns had ever
sence that time I’ve hunted that thar mine.”
He laughed chucklingly, deep in his throat. “Thar
wasn’t a wild-catter that could have a hideout
safe from me. They just had to trust me.
I crawled into every hole. I came mighty near
seein’ the end of every cave but
one. And that cave was the one whar my Mammy
kept her milk and butter the springhouse
whar they put you in prison. Somehow, I never
did think about goin’ to the end of that.
Looked like it was too near home to have a silver
mine in it; and thar the stuff lay and waited for
the day when I should take a notion to find a pretty
rock for Deanie, and crawl back in thar and keep a
crawlin’, till I just fell over it, all croppin’
out in the biggest kind of vein.”
Gray had heard Uncle Pros tell the
story many times, but it had a perennial charm.
“Then I lost six months plumb
lost ’em, you know. And time I come to
myself, Johnnie an’ me was a-huntin’ for
you. And there we found you shut in that thar
same cave; and I was so tuck up with that matter that
I never once thought, till I got you home, to wonder
did Buckheath and the rest of ’em know that
they’d penned you in the silver mine. I
ain’t never asked you, but you’d have
knowed if they had.”
“I should have known anything
that Rudd Dawson or Groner or Venters knew,”
Gray said, “but I’m not sure about Buckheath
or Himes. However, Himes is dead, and Buckheath I
don’t suppose anybody in Cottonville will ever
see him again.”
Pros’s face changed instantly.
He leaned abruptly forward and laid a hand on the
“That’s exactly what I
came down here to speak with you about, Gray,”
he said. “They’ve fetched Shade Buckheath
in now, what do you make out of that?”
Stoddard shoved the letter from the
Eastern mining man back in its pigeon-hole.
“Well,” he said slowly,
“I didn’t expect that. I thought of
course Shade was safely out of the country. I Passmore,
I’m sorry they’ve got him.”
After a little silence he spoke again. “What
do I make of it? Why, that there are some folks
up on Big Unaka who need pretty badly to appear as
very law-abiding citizens. I’ll wager anything
that Groner and Rudd Dawson brought Shade in.”
Uncle Pros nodded seriously.
“Them’s the very fellers,” he said.
“Reckon they’ve talked pretty free to
you. I never axed ye, Gray how did
they treat ye?”
“Dawson was the best friend
I had,” Stoddard returned promptly. “When
I got to the big turn on Sultan coming
home that Friday morning Buckheath met
me, and asked me to go down to Burnt Cabin and help
him with a man that had fallen and hurt himself on
the rocks. Dawson told me afterward that he and
Jesse Groner were posted at the roadside to stop me
and hem me in before I got to the bluff. I’ve
described to you how Buckheath tried to back Sultan
over the edge, and I got off on the side where the
two were, not noticing them till they tied me hand
and foot. They almost came to a clinch with Buckheath
then and there. You ought to have heard Groner
swear! It was like praying gone wrong.”
“Uh-huh,” agreed Pros,
“Jess is a terrible wicked man in
speech that-a-way but he’s good-hearted.”
“That first scrimmage showed
me just what the men were after,” Stoddard said.
“Buckheath plainly wanted me put out of the way;
but the others had some vague idea of holding me for
a ransom and getting money out of the Hardwicks.
Dawson complained always that he thought the mills
owed him money. He said they must have sold his
girl’s body for as much as a hundred dollars,
and he felt that he’d been cheated. Oh,
it was all crazy stuff! But he and the others
had justified themselves; and they had no notion of
standing for what Buckheath was after. I was one
of the cotton-mill men to them; they had no personal
“Through the long evenings when
Groner or Dawson or Will Venters was guarding me or
maybe all three of them we used to talk;
and it surprised me to find how simple and childish
those fellows were. They were as kind to me as
though I had been a brother, and treated me courteously
“Little by little, I got at
the whole thing from them. It seems that Buckheath
took advantage of the feeling there was in the mountains
against the mill men on account of the hospital and
some other matters. He went up there and interviewed
anybody that he thought might join him in a vendetta.
I imagine he found plenty of them that were ready to
talk and some that were willing to do; but it chanced
that Dawson and Jesse Groner were coming down to Cottonville
that morning I passed Buckheath at the Hardwick gate,
and he must have cut across the turn and followed
me, intending to pick a quarrel. Then he met Dawson
and Groner and framed up this other plan with their
“Uncle Pros, I want you to help
me out. If Buckheath has to stand trial, how
are we any of us going to testify
without making it hard on the Dawson crowd? I
expect to live here the rest of my days. Here’s
this mine of ours. And right here I mean to build
a big mill and work out my plans. I think you
know that I hope to marry a mountain wife, and I can’t
afford to quarrel with those folks.”
Uncle Pros’s chin dropped to
his breast, his eyes half closed as he sat thinking
“Well,” he said finally,
“they won’t have nothing worse than manslaughter
against Shade. It can’t be proved that he
intended to shoot Pap ’cause he didn’t.
If he was shootin’ after us there’s
the thing we don’t want to bring up. You
was down in the bottom of the cyar, an’ I had
my back to him, and so did Johnnie, and we don’t
know anything about what was done ain’t
that so? As for you, you’ve already told
Mr. Hardwick and the others that you was taken prisoner
and detained by parties unknown. Johnnie an’
me was gettin’ you out of the springhouse and
away in the machine. Then Gid and Shade comes
up, and thinkin’ we’re the other crowd
stealin’ the machine they try to catch
us and turn loose at us that makes a pretty
good story, don’t it?”
“It does if Dawson and Groner
and Venters agree to it,” Stoddard laughed.
“But somebody will have to communicate with them
before they tell another one or several
“I’ll see to that, Gray,”
Pros said, rising and preparing to go. “Boy,”
he looked down fondly at the younger man, and set a
brown right hand on his shoulder, “you never
done a wiser thing nor a kinder in your life, than
when you forgave your enemies that time, I’ll
bet you could ride the Unakas from end to end, the
balance o’ your days, the safest man that ever
travelled their trails.”
“Talking silver mine?”
inquired MacPherson, putting his quizzical face in
at the door.
“No,” returned Stoddard.
“We were just mentioning my pestilent cotton-mill
projects. By this time next year, you and Hardwick
will be wanting to have me abated as a nuisance.”
“No, no,” remonstrated
MacPherson, coming in and leaning with affectionate
familiarity on the younger man’s chair.
“There’s no pestilence in you, Gray.
You couldn’t be a nuisance if you tried.
People who will work out their theories stand to do
good in the world; it’s only the fellows who
are content with bellowing them out that I object
“Better be careful!” laughed
Stoddard. “We’ll make you vice-president
of the company.”
“Is that an offer?” countered
MacPherson swiftly. “I’ve got a bit
of money to invest in this county; and Hardwick has
ever a new brother-in-law or such that looks longingly
at my shoes.”
“You’d furnish the conservative
element, surely,” debated Stoddard.
“I’d keep you from bankruptcy,”
grunted the Scotchman, as he laid a small book on
Gray’s desk. “I doubt not Providence
demands it of me.”
Evening was closing in with a greenish-yellow
sunset, and a big full moon pushing up to whiten the
sky above it. It was late March now, and the
air was full of vernal promise. Johnnie stepped
out on the porch and glanced toward the west.
She was expecting Gray that evening. Would there
be time before he came, she wondered, for a little
errand she wanted to do? Turning back into the
hall, she caught a jacket from the hook where it hung
and hurried down to the gate, settling her arms in
the sleeves as she ran. There would be time if
she went fast. She wished to get the little packet
into which she had made Gray’s letters months
ago, dreading to look even at the folded outsides of
them, tucking them away on the high shelf of her dress-closet
at the Pap Himes boarding-house, and trying to forget
them. Nobody would know where to look but herself.
She got permission from Mavity to go upstairs.
Once there, the letters made their own plea; and alone
in the little room that was lately her own, she opened
the packet, carrying the contents to the fading light
and glancing over sheet after sheet. She knew
them all by heart. How often she had stood at
that very window devouring these same words, not realizing
then, as she did now, what deep meaning was in each
phrase, how the feeling expressed increased from the
first to the last. Across the ravine, one of
the loom fixers found the evening warm enough to sit
on the porch playing his guitar. The sound of
the twanging strings, and the appealing vibration
of his young voice in a plaintive minor air, came
over to her. She gathered the sheets together
and pressed them to her face as though they were flowers,
or the hands of little children.
“I’ve got to tell him to-night,”
she whispered to herself, in the dusky, small, dismantled
room. “I’ve got to get him to see
it as I do. I must make myself worthy of him
before I let him take me for his own.”
She thrust the letters into the breast-pocket
of her coat and ran downstairs. Mavity Bence
stood in the hall, plainly awaiting her.
“Honey,” she began fondly,
“I’ve been putting away Pap’s things
to-day jest like you oncet found me putting
away Lou’s. I came on this here.”
And then Johnnie noticed a folded bandanna in her hands.
“You-all asked me to let ye
go through and find that nickel ore, and ye brung
it out in a pasteboard box; but this here is what it
was in on the day your Uncle Pros fetched hit here,
and I thought maybe you’d take a interest in
having the handkercher that your fortune come down
the mountains in.”
“Yes, indeed, Aunt Mavity,”
said Johnnie, taking the bandanna into her own hands.
“Pap, he’s gone,”
the poor woman went on tremulously, “an’
the evil what he done or wanted to do is
a thing that I reckon you can afford to forget.
You’re a mighty happy woman, Johnnie Consadine;
the Lord knows you deserve to be.”
She stood looking after the girl as
she went out into the twilit street. Johnnie
was dressed as she chose now, not as she must, and
her clothing showed itself to be of the best.
Anything that might be had in Wautaga was within her
means; and the tall, graceful figure passing so quietly
down the street would never have been taken for other
than a member of what we are learning to call the
“leisure class.” When the shadows
at the end of the block swallowed her up, Mavity turned,
wiping her eyes, and addressed herself to her tasks.
“I reckon Lou would ‘a’
been just like that if she’d ‘a’
lived,” she said to Mandy Meacham, with the
tender fatuity of mothers. “Johnnie seems
like a daughter to me an’ I know in
my soul no daughter could be kinder. Look at
her makin’ me keep every cent Pap had in the
bank, when Laurelly could have claimed it all and
“Yes, an’ addin’
somethin’ to it,” put in Mandy. “I
do love ’em both Johnnie an’
Deanie. Ef I ever was so fortunate as to get a
man and be wedded and have chaps o’ my own,
I know mighty well and good I couldn’t love
any one of ’em any better than I do Deanie.
An’ yet Johnnie’s quare. I always
will say that Johnnie Consadine is quare. What
in the nation does she want to go chasin’ off
to Yurrup for, when she’s got everything that
heart could desire or mind think of right here in
That same question was being put even
more searchingly to Johnnie by somebody else at the
instant when Mandy enunciated it. She had found
Gray waiting for her at the gate of her home.
“Let’s walk here a little
while before we go in,” he suggested. “I
went up to the house and found you were out.
The air is delightful, and I’ve got something
I want to say to you.”
He had put his arm under hers, and
they strolled together down the long walk that led
to the front of the lawn. The evening air was
pure and keen, tingling with the breath of the wakening
“Sweetheart,” Gray broke
out suddenly, “I’ve been thinking day and
night since we last talked together about this year
abroad that you’re planning. I certainly
don’t want to put my preferences before yours.
I only want to be very sure that I know what your
real preferences are,” and he turned and searched
her face with a pair of ardent eyes.
“I think I ought to go,”
the girl said in a very low voice, her head drooped,
her own eyes bent toward the path at her feet.
“Why?” whispered her lover.
“I oh, Gray you
know. If we should ever be married well,
then,” in answer to a swift, impatient exclamation,
“when we are married, if you should show that
you were ashamed of me I think it would
kill me. No, don’t say there’s not
any danger. You might have plenty of reason.
And I I want to be safe, Gray safe,
if I can.”
Gray regarded the beautiful, anxious
face long and thoughtfully. Yes, of course it
was possible for her to feel that way. Assurance
was so deep and perfect in his own heart, that he
had not reflected what it might lack in hers.
“Dear girl,” he said,
pausing and making her look at him, “how little
you do know of me, after all! Do I care so much
for what people say? Aren’t you always
having to reprove me because I so persistently like
what I like, without reference to the opinions of the
world? Besides, you’re a beauty,”
with tender brusqueness, “and a charmer that
steals the hearts of men. If you don’t
know all this, it isn’t from lack of telling.
Moreover, I can keep on informing you. A year
of European travel could not make you any more beautiful,
Johnnie or sweeter. You may not believe
me, but there’s little the ‘European capitals’
could add to your native bearing you must
have learned that simple dignity from these mountains
of yours. Of course, if you wanted to go for pleasure ”
His head a little on one side, he regarded her with
a tender, half-quizzical smile, hoping he had sounded
the note that would bring him swift surrender.
“It isn’t altogether for
myself there are the others,” Johnnie
told him, lifting honest eyes to his in the dim moonlight.
“They’re all I had in the world, Gray,
till you came into my life, and I must keep my own.
I belong to a people who never give up anything they
Stoddard dropped an arm about his
beloved, and turned her that she might face the windows
of the house behind them, bending to set his cheek
against hers and direct her gaze.
“Look there,” he whispered, laughingly.
She looked and saw her mother, clad
in such wear as Laurella’s taste could select
and Laurella’s beauty make effective. The
slight, dark little woman was coming in from the dining
room with her children all about her, a noble group.
“Your mother is much more the
fine lady than you’ll ever be, Johnnie Stoddard,”
Gray said, giving her the name that always brought
the blood to the girl’s cheek and made her dumb
before him. “You know your Uncle Pros and
I are warmly attached to each other.
“What is it you’d be waiting
for, girl? Why, Johnnie, a man has just so long
to live on this earth, and the years in which he has
loved are the only years that count would
you be throwing one of these away? A year twelve
months three hundred and sixty-five days cast
to the void. You reckless creature!”
He cupped his hands about her beautiful,
fair face and lifted it, studying it.
“Johnnie Johnnie Johnnie
Stoddard; the one woman out of all the world for me,”
he murmured, his deep voice dropping to a wooing cadence.
“I couldn’t love you better I
shall never love you less. Don’t let us
foolishly throw away a year out of the days which will
be vouchsafed us together. Don’t do it,
darling it’s folly.”
Hard-pressed, Johnnie made only a
sort of inarticulate response.
“Come, love, sit a moment with
me, here,” pleaded Gray, indicating a small
bench hidden among the evergreens and shrubs at the
end of the path. “Sit down, and let’s
reason this thing out.”
“Reasoning with you,”
began Johnnie, helplessly, “isn’t it
“It is,” he told her,
in that deep, masterful tone which, like a true woman,
she both loved and dreaded. “It’s
the height of reasonableness. Why, dear, the
great primal reason of all things speaks through me.
And I won’t let you throw away a year of our
love. Johnnie, it isn’t as though we’d
been neighbours, and grown up side by side. I
came from the ends of the earth to find you, darling and
I knew my own as soon as I saw you.”
He put out his arms and gathered her
into a close embrace.
For a space they rested so, murmuring
question and reply, checked or answered by swift,
“The first time I ever saw you, love....”
“Oh, in thoze dusty old shoes
and a sunbonnet! Could you love me then, Gray?”
“The same as at this moment,
sweetheart. Shoes and sunbonnets I’m
ashamed of you now, Johnnie, in earnest. What
do such things matter?”
“And that morning on the mountain,
when we got the moccasin flowers,” the girl’s
voice took up the theme. “I it
was sweet to be with you and bitter, too.
I could not dream then that you were for me. And
afterward the long, black, dreadful time
when you seemed so utterly lost to me ”
At the mention of those months, Gray
stopped her words with a kiss.
“Mine,” he whispered with
his lips against hers, “Out of all the world mine.”