A Woman Keeps a Secret
A Woman Keeps a Secret
IT WAS Sunday. The skidders, the log-loaders, the geared locomotives, the ax and the saw of the woodsmen were silent; over the mountains lay the soft blue haze that somehow hallows all the days of September and October.
The midday meal was over, and most of the lumberjacks, clad in their best, lounged here and there on the big, rough boarding-house porches; some of them bullied their friends good-naturedly, others told funny stories; all of them were smoking. Mountaineers they were, nine out of every ten of them, stalwart, sunburned, big-hearted sons of the hills.
Suddenly one of them that was not a mountaineer, a heavily built man under thirty, who never alluded to his past any more than if he had had no past whatever, rose and went upstairs and to his unplastered, unceiled, funpapered room, where even the bedframe was made of rough boards.
He halted just inside. A strapping young fellow in cheap blue serge turned from a small mirror that hung on the opposite wall; he had been giving his thick black hair a careful combing. When he saw his room-mate, he reddened a little.
"Hello, Marvin," he drawled in the drawl of the hills—he was a hill man.
Marvin Blair laughed, and sat down heavily on their cheap bed.
"All togged up to go to see old Henry Larrimore's girl!" he said briskly.
"It ain't a criminal offense, is it?" smiled the mountaineer.
"I guess not," laughed Blair. "Fact is, I meant to go to see her myself this afternoon."
Tom Harman looked thoughtful and somewhat perplexed. They had been pretty good friends, he and Marvin Blair; and now—now was a woman coming between them?
"Well," he said finally, "I ain't got no mortgage on her. You've got as good a right to go to see her as me, I reckon. We shore won't fall out over Bess, Marvin. But we oughtn't to both go to see her at the same time. S'pose we pitch heads and tails and see who goes and who don't go?"
"Heads you go, tails I go."
The mountaineer took a small coin from his pocket and tossed it almost to the rafters. It fell heads up.
"Lucky boy!" said Marvin Blair, shrugging his shoulders.
Tom Harman stole down by way of the back stairway to avoid a ragging, and hurried off through the woodland. From a window Marvin Blair watched him go with a strange light in his eyes. More than one pair of good friends have been brought to swords' points by a woman.
Old Henry Larrimore lived a mile away in a rambling log cabin at the head of a cove. The guttered path that led from the weather-beaten gate to the front porch was lined with frost-bitten marigolds and pretty-by-nights.
Old Henry sat in a home-made chair in the doorway, and he held an open Bible in his hand. Beside his chair lay a spotted hound with its tongue lolling out.
Tom Harman stopped at the stone step, straightened the collar of his blue chambray shirt, jerked at his tie and uttered a greeting.
Larrimore looked up.
"Hi, Tom. How d'ye come on? Take 'at chair thar on the porch. Fine day. Been to dinner, I reckon? Set down then."
Tom sat down and patted the hound's head. Most dogs made friends easily with Tom Harman, and children liked him; and this is eulogy.
"Whar's Bess at?" he asked awkwardly.
"Bess?" Old Henry bit off a chew of twisted brown tobacco. "I don' know. 'At was shore a fine little rifle ye bought for Bess, Tom; but I'm afeard ye laid out too much money on it. Blast my eyes, Tom Harman, ef she cain't beat me a-shootin' with it! She vows ef ever us and them thar low-down Fallses gits to fightin' ag'in she's a-goin' to he'p! Good stuff in that gyurl, Tom. And it now looks like the'd be more trouble atwixt us and the Fallses. Joe Falls he's been a-carryin' talk around putty sharp.
"Bess hates Joe. By gar! She turns as white as a ghost when she even hears his name spoke. As you know, Tommy, we allus thought it was Joe Falls 'at killed my boy George—pore George! He was the finest boy in the world. Twin brother to Bess, he was—thar's Bess now. Down at the spring in the lorrels. She run, I reckon, when she seed you a-comin'. The mink!"
With a long arm he pointed.
Harman patted the hound's head again, rose, and went down to the spring where he found a slender young woman who was, in all truth, a nymph of the woods—an uneducated, primitive young woman. She was barefooted and bareheaded, and her chestnut-brown hair was caught at the back of her neck with a faded blue ribbon; her eyes were brown too; her mouth was sweet and mischievous, very mischievous. She smiled saucily at Tom Harman.
"Hi, Bess," he greeted her.
"’Lo, Tom," she replied.
They sat down on a moss-covered stone there by the spring, in the shade of a great, cool green hemlock tree. Tom broke off a fern and began to strip the leaves from the stem. He spoke slowly, even for him, when he spoke.
"Bess," he said, "I love ye, and I've come to ax ye to marry me and jine yore forchunes with mine, and be my wife. What's the verdict?".
"Why—I thought you hated all wimmin!" laughed Bess.
Tom frowned hard. His gaze absently followed a bee-martin that was chasing a bee.
"I did say I did," he muttered, "a long time ago. Five year ago, it was. I imagined I was in love with Julie Flint, over on Grandpap Mountain. I wasn't but jest eighteen then, and a fool. I sold my dawg and my banjo to buy her a 'gagement ring—and she went and told it and laughed about it. Told it fust, and 'en laughed about it! A woman jest cain't keep a secret. It's onpossible for a woman to keep a secret!"
He had spoken with a great deal of spirit. It was the spirit of the hill pride, the finest and yet the most unreasoning pride on earth. But Bess misunderstood. If he didn't still love the Grandpap Mountain girl why was he so worked up?
"Here's a woman 'at can keep a secret, Tom," she said spicily. "I'm a-keepin' a secret now. It's a big secret, too, Tom Harman. It's so big, ef I was to tell you, you—you'd shore jump!"
"Tell me," begged Tom. "I won't never tell; hope to die and go to the devil the next minute ef I do."
"No," said Bess. "I'm a-goin' to show you that a woman can keep a secret."
Tom spent ten precious minutes in pleading. She refused stoutly to tell.
"I bet I know," he muttered. "You're a-goin' to marry Marvin Blair."
"Am I?" she said. "Am I?" she went on. "Why don't you quit loggin' for a livin', Tom, and go to tellin' forchunes?"
"Well," smiled the mountaineer, "you hain't answered my question yit. Will ye marry me, Bess?"
"No," flatly. "No, I won't. Go over to Grandpap Mountain and marry Julie Flint. Good-by, Tom, and luck be with ye when ye go atter Julie!"
She rose and ran from him. He watched her go with fire in his eyes. He loved her madly, as he had never loved the perfidious Julie Flint. Slowly he made his way back to the logging-camp's boarding-house.
THE other lumberjacks were standing in somber little groups here and there on the porches when he arrived. Something out of the ordinary had taken place, he knew. Then Marvin Blair beckoned to him and they went upstairs—together.
When they were in their room Blair closed the door and turned to Harman. Blair's face was pale and anxious.
"I didn't mean to tell even you, Tom," began Blair. "But now I think I'd better. They've sent for an officer, and he'll be here any minute. Tom, Joe Falls is downstairs, dead. They brought him in from Mad Dog Creek, a few minutes after you left for Henry Larrimore's. He had been dead for several hours. The gun that killed him was a small-bored rifle. The only small-bored rifle in this whole section is the one you gave Bess. Bess hated Joe like poison because she thought he killed her twin brother. Now do you see where she stands?"
"The devil!" cried the hill man smotheredly. "But she never done it—did she, Marvin?"
Blair looked behind him.
"Yes," he whispered, "she did it. I saw her do it."
Harman's big hands clenched hard.
"See here, Blair," he growled, his voice throbbing, "you ain't a-lyin' about her, are you?"
"Lying about her!" Blair was white. "Tom, I love Bess as much as you do! I was on my way to see her this morning, and just before I reached Mad Dog Creek I saw Joe Falls in the woods ahead of me. Then I heard a rifle-shot and I saw Joe crumple like a wet rag and pitch forward with his face in the leaves. I looked toward the little cloud of powder smoke and there stood Bess Larrimore, with the little rifle you gave her in her hands! I hurried back here to tell you. Then I decided I wouldn't tell anybody. But the size of the bullet will cause her arrest—that and the fact that she hated Joe so much; and when her trial comes off she won't stand for the grilling of the prosecuting attorney, and her very nerve will give her away!"
Through Harman's brain there flashed something Bess had said to him less than an hour before: "I'm keepin' a secret now. It's a big secret, too." So the killing of the man who she believed had killed the brother she had loved more than life, that was her big secret! That poor little hot-headed, fiery-souled child! He regretted that he had given her the rifle.
Blair continued in tones that were low and tense:
"Even if the Larrimores prove that Joe Falls killed the son of Old Henry, it won't clear the girl. And it's up to you and me to save her, Tom, my friend. One of us must make a sacrifice for this girl we both love. Either of us is big enough to do it. We would have a chance of escape, but Bess wouldn't. Don't you see, Tom? Well, are you game?"
"Am I game!" muttered the mountaineer, inclined toward feeling insulted at being asked. "Marvin, my middle name is game. How'll we decide which one of us is to make the sacrifice?"
Blair took a coin from his pocket. It was a copper cent.
"Tails it's you," he whispered, "and heads it's me. Is that all right?"
"Pitch it!" said Tom.
Blair flipped the coin to the rafters; it spun in the air, over and over, and fell with a slight tinkle. The two men bent forward anxiously.
"It's up to me," said Harman, straightening; and he said it without regret, like a man.
They shook hands silently, and then they went downstairs.
FIFTEEN minutes later Harman walked into the room where all that was left of Joe Falls lay under an old quilted coverlet. The room was crowded.
Harman forced his way to where a tall and lean, bearded man bent over the silent figure. The lean, bearded man was a deputy sheriff, and he had only that minute arrived.
"Does anybody here know who killed this man?" he asked quietly, his shaggy brows drawn above his alert gray eyes.
"I done it," said Tom Harman, putting out his wrists for the irons.
Now Bill Hines knew Harman, and he knew that Harman had a reputation as a good, fair fighter.
"It seems to me you was hasty, Tom," slowly. "You could ha' broke Joe Falls over your knee and saved gunpowder. What made you do it, Tom?"
"I reckon I'll carry my little bit o' talk to the trile jedge, Bill," drawled Harman. "Ef you're ready to go, I am."
The deputy ironed the mountaineer, and drew his revolver, not that he thought he might need it for Harman, but because there was danger of the dead man's relatives making a violent demonstration. Hines took the prisoner out to where his horse stood hitched to a little cedar, and mounted. Then, with Harman walking briskly in the road ahead of him he started for a town in the lowlands.
Not for one second had the mountaineer meant to face a trial in the courthouse at Johnsboro; nor did he mean to allow himself to be even locked up in the Johnsboro jail. He was fully determined that he would escape from Hines before they reached the lowlands. But he had a little talking to do before he made his escape, and he proceeded to it.
"Bill," he said over his shoulder, "ef you've threatened to kill me on sight, and I shoot you down the fust time we meet, can I be sent up for that?"
Hines answered—"Not if you can prove that I threatened to kill you on sight."
Harman stopped as suddenly as if he had been struck. He acted well, indeed.
"The devil!" he cried as if greatly chagrined. "Bill Hines, I hain't got no witnesses to prove it by!"
"Looks bad. Let's go on, Tom," said Hines.
He seemed more watchful than before. He kept his hand close to the butt of his revolver now. Bill Hines had an oath to keep, and he meant to keep it. Had the prisoner been his own mother's son it would have made no difference.
But Harman had to escape. He was like the rabbit that climbed a tree. Over and over in his mind he turned this plan and that. He thought of leaping from a cliff the road ran on and hiding himself, all but his nose, in a pool of the creek below; he thought of frightening Hines's horse and making a quick dive into the thick laurels—and half a dozen other things—but none of these methods promised enough.
Hines was accustomed to tricks. Hines himself was a fox. Harman did not fall upon an idea that thoroughly pleased him until they had covered several miles.
How small the things that sometimes decide human destinies! Twice that day already the tide of Tom Harman's life had been turned by the mere tossing of a coin. And still another turn was at hand. This time it was so little a thing as the sight of a gray squirrel that ran along on the ground, whisking its bushy tail and making a noise something like the quacking of a young duck.
It was in the squirrel-shooting season. Had it not been the Seventh Day, the woods would have rung with the echoes of the hunter's rifle. As it was, Harman had heard only one shot; generally speaking, the hillfolk remember the Sabbath.
Suddenly Harman stopped and faced about.
"A word with ye, Bill," he said, and he seemed badly frightened. "Them Fallses will take a shot at me as shore as the devil's bad as soon as we git in them thick hick'ry woods ahead thar. I want to ax ye, Bill, to keep both o' yore eyes wide open for a Falls with a rifle. I hain't in a fix to defend myself now."
Hines seemed impressed.
"I've been thinking of that," he growled. Another mile they made. They had almost passed through a long stretch of golden-yellow hickories when from the mountainside above and to the right there came the keen thunder of a rifle, and Tom Harman wheeled and crumpled and fell on his face in the dust of the road. He moaned and turned on his back, and Bill Hines saw a red splotch on his blue chambray shirt squarely over his heart.
"I told you—to watch for a Falls—you tin-can officer," he muttered disconnectedly, gasping, writhing.
When a man is shot straight through the heart there is no chance for him to live. Bill Hines swore a loud oath, spurred his horse and rode, his revolver ready in his hand, into the hickories. A moment later he surprised a bare-headed and freckled youth in the act of ramming a round bullet into the barrel of an old muzzle-loader.
"You'll shoot a man I've got arrested, will you!" cried Hines. "Hands up, you—quick!"
The boy smiled good-naturedly.
"You've treed the wrong 'coon, mister," he drawled. "I shot a squirrel. Thar it is."
He pointed to a gray-tail lying on the leaves. Light broke to Bill Hines, the fox. He rode at a breakneck pace back to where he had left Tom Harman for dead. Harman was gone.
"I knowed," said Harman to the friend who, with a hammer and an ax, broke the irons from his wrists late that night, "that the'd shorely be a hunter in them hick'ries, Sunday or no Sunday. So I gethered me a handful o' pokeberries from the side o' the road to make blood, and took the resk. And so now it's me for Kaintucky. So long. Much obliged, and good luck!"
The night and the laurels swallowed him.
THERE were no logging-camps in that section of the Blue Grass State to which Tom Harman went. Under a high-sounding name he hired himself to a wealthy horse-breeder; and the horse-breeder liked him, paid him good money for his work and asked no questions.
For nearly three years he tried to be contented with the idea that he had sacrificed home and friends and his heart's desire in a worthy cause. Then he began to think backward frequently, of Bess and his mother, and the blooming laurels on Black Pine Mountain, and the call came; the longing was too great to be thrown down.
He wore a nicely pointed young black beard now, and he was of the opinion that even his own brother would have difficulty in recognizing him. So he decided that he would just slip back home and see Bess again and his people, and his good friend, Marvin Blair, then slip back to Kentucky without the law's being any the wiser. And perhaps—perhaps he would bring Bess back with him as his wife. He believed she loved him. And if she did love him, could she refuse to marry him after what he had done for her?
Back to Tennessee's dim blue hills went Tom Harman, and he walked the last hundred miles of the journey because he did not like to run the risk of meeting the fox, Bill Hines.
At noon of a day toward the last of July he reached the crest of long, low Black Pine Mountain and sat himself down on a stone to rest. Spread out before him, beautiful in the waxen white of the laurel bloom, was his beloved home country. The old logging-camp was still there, but a great deal of the timber, of course, was gone.
From where he sat he could see neither his father's nor old Henry Larrimore's cabin; so he gave his attention wholly to his old friends, the sputtering locomotive, the thundering skidders, and the long-armed log-loader.
For half an hour he sat there and watched it; then he rose and went rapidly down the mountainside to shake the right hand of Marvin Blair, if he was still there; and Harman hoped he was. Blair, of course, wouldn't tell; and when he had seen his old friend he would go over to see Bess.
He found Blair easily. Blair was giving orders to a pair of cutters—he now held a foreman's place—and that was good. Harman was very glad of that.
Harman stepped out of the blooming laurels and confronted his old partner.
"Marvin, do you know me?" he cried happily.
"Not from a side of sole-leather," said Blair, halting abruptly.
"Tom!" smiled the mountaineer.
"Harman!" exclaimed Blair. "How're you, Tom?"
"Keen as a mink!" They shook hands. "How's Bess Larrimore, Marvin?"
"All right," said Blair. He went on nervously: "Say, Bill Hines has haunted this place almost daily since you got away from him. He feels that his honor will never be made whole until he gets you—you know how he is, Tom. And he'd know you through your beard. He'd know you if you had a bear's face on you! Better sneak over to your father's and hide there, and do it quick. I'll be over tonight to see you, and I'll tell Bess you're here. Be careful! Hines holds out that you will be caught if it takes the rest of his life."
"All right," said Harman, and he dove into the thick laurels.
Almost on a line between him and his father's cabin was the cabin of old Henry Larrimore, and the temptation to stop and see Bess for one little minute became strong. He yielded to it and went creeping up to the spring under the giant hemlock. Bess was nowhere in sight, and he went on to the house. A gray-nosed old hound came to the weather-beaten gate to meet him, and he gave it a friendly pat on the head. Then he hallooed softly.
Bess came to the door. He saw that she was a full-grown woman now, mature and roundish. She wore her hair up, and she wore shoes and stockings, and skirts of blue percale reached to her ankles. It was evident that she did not know him. Forgetting all about Bill Hines, he acted upon a mischievous impulse and said to her:
"I'm a travelin' fortune-teller, kind lady, and all I charge for a full life readin' is the pitiful sum of ten cents. Your money back if you're not satisfied."
It came smoothly enough. Nearly three years of association with Kentucky horse-men had taken away much of his native dialect.
"Come in and have a chair on the porch," said Bess with a vague unhappiness in her voice. "I'll bring out the money."
Harman went to the porch and sat down. He drew the rim of his broad black hat low over his eyes to prevent her from recognizing him. She came out, gave him a nickel and five pennies and sat down in a chair facing him. He put the money into his pocket and reached for her hand.
"A man who loves you is not far away," he began in a monotone, staring intently at her palm. "He has come back here to ask you to marry him. He couldn't think of anything but you in the daytime, nor dream of anything but you at night, up in Kentucky. He loves you more than life; and if you love him the devil hisself cain't keep you two apart. If you——"
The young woman tore her hand from his and went to her feet. She knew him now, even through his beard.
"Tom!" she cried broken-heartedly, and there was all the grim tragedy and suffering of death in her brown eyes. "Tom! You've come back for me, and I—I've done went and married myself to a man I hate!"
Harman, too, went to his feet. His face was chalky white, and he looked at her with stern and bitter reproach.
"Two months ago," she said. "To Marvin Blair."
SHE bent her head, crushed, broken. He stood over her, primitive, strong and terrible. And yet, he tried to reason with himself. She had never promised to be his wife. Still——
"What made you marry him?" he asked, and his voice was pinched down so much that the woman thought he was speaking gently.
"I didn't think I'd ever see you any more," she answered weakly and hopelessly. "My father and mother died after you left. I wanted a home of my own. I decided I'd as well marry Marvin as anybody else, or better, acause he was yore best friend, I understood. But I soon hated him. He's mean to me. He's a brute. Marvin Blair's a brute! To look at him and to hear him talk, you'd think he was a saint. But he ain't. He's oily. Tom, he fooled you; he cain't be no friend to anybody!"
"Yes, I reckon he fooled me," agreed Harman. "But he won't never fool me no more. And he won't never treat you mean no more. I run away the other time to save you, but this time I'll run away to save myself. Bess, I——"
Bess had raised her head. The man before her read surprise, even amazement, in her countenance.
"You say you run away the other time to save me?" she cried. "How come it that you run away to save me? Are you crazy, Tom, or am I? I don't know what you mean, Tom! Oh, I wisht you hadn't ha' killed Joe Falls. He ought 'o have been killed, but you——"
"Killed Joe Falls!" cut in the hill man, taking the woman by the shoulders. "Why, you—you was the one that killed Joe Falls. You done it with the little rifle I bought for you!"
"Oh, Tom," almost hysterically, "you know I couldn't kill a man, don't you?"
Light broke to Harman. Suddenly he understood: Marvin Blair himself had killed Joe Falls, in a card game, of course; and afterward Blair had cleverly covered his crime and cleared the way to the prettiest girl in the Black Pine section at one cunning stroke.
It threw Harman into a boiling rage. And he was disappointed, too. Truly, the real friends of a man's lifetime may be counted on one's fingers, for friendship is scarce, and finer, less selfish than any other kind of love. But, after all, Blair had willingly taken his chance on the tossing of a coin. There Tom Harman found himself in a dilemma.
He told Bess all about it. Bess went into the cabin and returned a moment later with a fully loaded automatic pistol of small caliber, which explained much to Harman. That pistol had been used in the killing of Joe Falls, he was sure. He unloaded it and gave it back to Bess.
"Put it where you found it," he said to her. "I'll be back tonight to have a little talk with Marvin," he went on, turning toward the gate, "and you'd better not be here."
"You ain't a-goin' to kill him, Tom!"
"No, I guess not. I'll own up that I'd like to, but I don't want to ruin yore future and mine by doin' it."
His future and hers! She blushed happily.
Tom's people told him they had not seen Bill Hines for months. Plainly Blair had lied. Then Tom and his father laid a plan, and Mark Harman took his long rifle and went to see that Blair did not try to make an escape.
AT SUNDOWN, while Tom sat at the supper-table, Bill Hines walked in with a revolver in his hand.
"I've got you, Tom," he said quietly.
"Yes, I guess you have, Bill," replied Tom; and he ate on as if it were a very commonplace thing to be arrested on a charge of murder. "Have some supper, old hoss?"
"Thanks, not if I know it," Hines winked. "You'll play no more tricks on me, Tom. You won't get away this time!"
"I won't?" laughed Harman, with a broad wedge of huckleberry pie in hands. "How do you know I won't?"
"Wait and see if you do," smilingly. "When you got away from me three years ago you done something to brag about, Tom!"
"I know it. Marvin Blair sent for you, didn't he? Telephoned?"
Hines declined to answer, and by that, Harman knew that he had guessed correctly.
On the mountainside above, a heavily built, anxious man watched the Harman cabin as a hawk watches a squirrel's nest, and back in the blooming laurels an old mountaineer with a long rifle in his hands watched him just as closely. When Bill Hines had taken his prisoner toward the Johnsboro jail, Marvin Blair drew a long breath of relief and started rapidly homeward. And behind him, stalking him as silently as ever he had stalked a bear or a deer, went old Mark Harman.
It was pitchy dark when Blair reached the cabin that he called home. There was no light in the log-house, at which he wondered. He entered, lighted a lamp that was on a small home-made table and called for Bess; there was no answer. Frowning, he took the automatic pistol from its place on the high smoked mantel and dropped it into his pocket; and then he sat down at the little table and began to turn certain matters over in his mind.
Then the front door opened suddenly, and in stepped Tom Harman, and there was no officer with him!
"Hi, Marvin," said Harman with a very good imitation of the camaraderie of the old days, as he dropped into a chair across the table from Bess's husband.
"Hello," muttered Blair worriedly, and his right hand went to the butt of the little blue pistol in his coat-pocket. "Seen Bill Hines?"
"Yes. He arrested me, and I got away from him," with a broad smile; it was a victorious smile too.
"Used my brains, like I done before. Also I took his star and his gun from him—see?"
He turned his left coat-lapel and showed a shining deputy-sheriff's badge. Just above the edge of the table he thrust the round nose of a big revolver.
"I'm actin' deputy-sheriff now," he went on, his voice growing harder, "and I am here to arrest you for killin' Joe Falls in a card game!"
All in the space of a second Marvin Blair darted downward, aimed the little blue pistol and pulled the trigger. Harman laughed.
"I'd done unloaded it," he said, "and I watched you when you come in to see that you didn't notice it; and you didn't. Take your chair and let's have a talk for old times' sake. Maybe I'll give you a chance."
White-faced, Blair crept back into his chair. The mountaineer tossed a copper cent to the table.
"Let's pitch a few heads and tails," he suggested. "To show you I'm game and a sport, if you'll throw heads once out o' ten throws I'll leave the country and keep my mouth shut. I'm a man o' my word, Marvin, you know that; but if you don't throw heads once out o' ten throws, you're to write a confession to clear me, and then leave the country yourself, startin' right now. Is it a go?"
"It's a go," weakly and dazedly.
Blair knew that if ever his case went to court he was a doomed man. He picked up the penny and tossed it. It fell tails up. Three more times in succession it fell tails up. It was like a coin enchanted. Blair examined it closely in the yellow light of the oil lamp; then he swore bitterly and threw it disgustedly to the floor.
"What's the matter?" asked Harman quietly. "Is anything wrong with the penny, Marvin? Why, man, it's the very same penny we pitched nearly three years ago to see which one of us went up in the place o' the girl we both loved!"
He went on, in another tone:
"You scoundrel, you cheat, you low-down piker! That penny was made out o' two pennies—it's got tails on both sides! No wonder you was willin' to take your chance on tails! How did I come by it? It was in the ten cents your wife gi' me for tellin' her fortune—I didn't know you was married. Now you write that confession and light out, or else I take you to Johnsboro. Which do you want to do?"
Blair wrote the confession, signed it and gave it to Harman. Then he broke for the front door—and ran straight into the powerful arms of Bill Hines! When Blair had been ironed the young mountaineer gave the empty revolver and the badge back to its owner. Hines, a little distrustful, had kept Tom covered while he was working out his part of that which had just taken place in the cabin.
When Bess had her separation, Harman went to see her. Together they walked down to the spring among the laurels, and together they sat down on a stone under the great, cool green hemlock.
"There's one thing I'm dyin' to know, Bess," said Harman, as he slowly stripped the leaves from a fern. "What was that secret you was keepin'—that big, big scret?"
Womanlike, she answered his question with two questions.
"Couldn't you guess, Tom?" blushing. "Do I haf to beat it into yore head with a club, Tom—honey?"