With Pistol and Second Reader
WITH PISTOL AND SECOND READER
IT SEEMED the best thing to do. The boy burrowed feet foremost into the haystack until the top of his tousled head was even with the outside.
Night had fallen an hour before, and he had walked all of eighteen rough miles barefoot that day, but he was too genuinely, painfully hungry to go to sleep easily. So he lay there in the haystack, defiant rather than lonesome or sorry for himself, and watched the steady white electric street-lamps of the town in the valley just below.
They were queer lights to him. He had seen nothing like them in the big blue mountains that he was leaving behind him forever. But there would be many, many strange things in the new world that lay ready for his conquering; he resolved that he would not be surprised at anything he saw.
The second reader and the pistol hurt his side. He took them out of his dirty, striped cotton shirt, and pushed them carefully into the hay just above his head. Very carefully, for the pistol was all that he had left to remind him of his father, "Ironhead Bill" Faley; and the worn, old second reader had been given to him as a story-book by the meek and long-suffering little mother before the cataclysm—it was his Good Book, verily, his Shannon's Code of Life, his history and encyclopedia of the universe.
Then he went to sleep and dreamed of the tailor and the king.
At the bright dawn he awoke with his mind filled with thoughts of kings and queens. Would there be a royal family in the little lowland city down there? He asked himself the question in all seriousness. You see, he was only twelve years old, and he knew the world only through hearsay and that beloved second reader; he believed every blessed word that was in the book, and less than half of that which he had heard.
Then he took the old pistol from the hay, looked for the twentieth time since he had left Laurel Gap to see that it was loaded, and slipped it inside his shirt. If there was a king, he was ready and anxious to fight that monarch's enemies.
Fight? David Faley? His middle name should have been fight. The men of his people had fought themselves to death. Literally, fought themselves to death. Ironhead Bill had been the chief of the clan. When Bill Faley and his little son were the only Faleys left in the Laurel Gap country, they had fled to North Carolina. Ironhead Bill was heartbroken and sick over his wife's untimely passing, and no longer able to give battle to the Wansleys, who were legion. And in the North Carolina hills he had died.
But never for a minute were those hills home to the boy David. He had made his way back to Laurel Gap to find that there he was an outcast, a pariah, simply because he was a Faley. One old woman had thrown him a moldy pone of cornbread, as one throws a bone to a dog, and that was the single expression of kindliness he had had shown him upon his return to Laurel Gap.
David had hurled the moldy bread into the hag's face, and stood her four grown sons off with the revolver he carried; then he had promised an early funeral to the man who followed him, and put out for that place of mystery that they called Johnsville. In the afternoon of that day a farmer's wife had given him something to eat for splitting an armful of stovewood.
"The' must be a king," he told himself as he crept out of the haystack. "The' must be a king and a queen. And ef the' is, I'll shore see 'em afore I lay me down to sleep ag'in."
David Faley brushed off the wisps of hay that clung to his ragged clothing, arranged the pistol so that the waistband of his trousers would hold it and the blousing of his shirt would hide it, and put the second reader in with it. Then he went down the grassy slope and into the valley. He drank from a spring brook, made a sort of breakfast on apples and berries, and walked toward town.
There was no sign of a castle, but he saw many houses; houses of brick, and stone, and wood, but no houses built of whole logs. David went slowly down the main business street. The signs he saw over doors and on windows were of fascinating interest to him; he spelled them all out, and he was very proud of his ability to read—none of the —— Wansleys, he remembered, could read. There were more lawyers than anything else, it seemed, and he didn't know what a lawyer was!
He asked a passer-by.
"A lawyer?" frowned the man, a cynic, without doubt. "A lawyer, son, is a liar."
The man walked on. David stood looking soberly at his back.
"A lawyer is a liar," muttered the lad to himself. "No Faley couldn't be a lawyer then. A Faley never told a lie."
It had been their redeeming feature; it had been their religion—"A Faley never told a lie."
Suddenly David halted before a tailor's sign, and his brown eyes brightened. The door was opened invitingly, and he walked in. A middle-aged man with a hook-nose leaned over a showcase, looked over a pair of brass-rimmed spectacles.
"What is it, son?"
"Whar does the king live?" David asked.
"The king! Which King? Jim King, or George King, or Hennery? Look here, you little ragamuffin, you ain't tryin' to saw me, are you? If you are, by Jupiter, I'll smack your jaws for you!"
The tailor walked around the showcase. David stared, and he was a little white. Perhaps the tailor had dyspepsia; anyway, he was sour enough for vinegar. He caught the Faley by the ear, and the next moment he was looking into the one black eye of a pistol-barrel!
"Turn it loose!" snapped David; and the other obeyed with an alacrity that was ludicrous.
"Police!" yelled the frightened, hook-nosed man.
Police? What was that? David wondered.
And in another moment he knew. A long arm in a blue sleeve shot over his shoulder; the pistol was seized and wrenched from his grip; a heavy hand caught him by the collar of his dirty cotton shirt and dragged him roughly to the sidewalk. David twisted half-around, looked upward, and saw a face that was leering and brutish.
The Faley struck that face with his brown little fist, struck it as hard as he could strike, and he had the sweet satisfaction of seeing a crimson fluid that was not red ink start from the policeman's nose. Quickly the officer pocketed Ironhead Bill Faley's revolver and caught the boy's wrists in both hands, and it hurt. David went paler, but not a sound escaped his lips. Nor did a tear come to his eyes; it had long been his boast that nobody had ever been able to make him cry.
"You'll come wi' me," growled the policeman; and he jerked the boy clear of the sidewalk.
Then a strong, lean hand dropped on the officer's shoulder from behind, and he halted as suddenly as though he had been shot.
David heard a voice saying sharply:
"If you feel that you've got to manhandle somebody, Sayler, try manhandling me. You must treat the kid white, Sayler; understand?"
The boy looked upward and around. He saw a tall and lean, keen-eyed, smooth-faced man of about twenty-seven; a man who wore a broad-brimmed black hat, a perfectly white shirt and collar, a black string-tie, a black suit of clothes, and a pair of expensive Spanish boots. He had been riding.
"I'll have to take him before Judge Bliss, Lew," Sayler said quite meekly. "He had a gun, and he tried to shoot Tom Larkin."
Lew Tannehill, real eastern Tennessee aristocrat, looked down at the lad with an amused, half-whimsical smile. David Faley returned his gaze without a sign of flinching.
"Yes," Tannehill agreed, "you'll have to do that."
A crowd had gathered, of course, and this crowd followed Johnsville's chief of police and only policeman and his youthful prisoner to the magistrate's office. Tannehill was among them. In fact, he led them.
Old Walter Bliss had been a circuit-court judge for more years than he had toes, and they still called him "Judge" Bliss. Now he was an attorney, a real-estate dealer, and a magistrate; he was big and bald, and very near-sighted. As the crowd began to file into his office, he adjusted his glasses and wheeled in his desk chair.
"Well, Sayler, what's this?"
Sayler halted the boy at the railing that stood between him and Johnsville's magistrate, surrendered the pistol that had been the pride of Bill Faley's heart, and told all he knew of the "attempted assault." Tom Larkin bore out the policeman's statement. A sort of trial was held, and David was asked many questions concerning himself. Through it all Lew Tannehill took the juvenile prisoner's part; he pleaded the boy's case with a moving eloquence that seemed as natural with him as to breathe.
Judge Bliss listened attentively to this. It was easy to see that he had no love whatever for Tannehill, but he was courteous, if cold. The bare truth of the matter was that he hated Tannehill and was too well-bred to show it. Walter Bliss, too, was a real Tennessee aristocrat.
The magistrate was in a quandary. He was unaccustomed to being called upon to decide cases such as this. He glanced toward Tannehill as though he would ask advice; then he caught himself, changed his glance to an icy stare and shifted it quickly.
"I'll vouch for the boy," said Tannehill. "I need a boy in my office, and I'll give him the place. As for the legal side of it, sir, I think this is a thing that might be left entirely to the discretion of the court; though you understand, sir, I'm not trying to advise you."
"Very well, Lewis," Bliss replied bluntly. "Very well, you take charge of him. And I'll expect you to see that he behaves himself."
Tannehill took the boy's arm and smiled down at him.
"Let's go, son. It's all right."
"I'll not go without my gun," protested David, "it was my daddy's!"
"But it will be safe here," Tannehill assured him. "It's too heavy to lug around, and it's unlawful. So let's just leave it with the judge; he'll take good care of it."
"Certainly, sir; certainly!" said Judge Bliss.
The Faley permitted himself to be led out to the street, down the street hah the length of a city block, up-stairs and into an office room over the drug-store. There he halted and looked around him. He saw books by the hundred, a table littered with newspapers, chairs, a rolltop desk, pictures on the wall. On the door, which stood open, he spelled out words that told him that his big friend was a lawyer.
Then he turned his serious brown eyes upon the eyes of Tannehill, he was disappointed, hurt.
"So you're a liar," he muttered, "and I shore did like you."
"Most all men are liars," laughed Tannehill, "at one time or another."
"The Faleys wasn't," said David. "I ain't."
"We'll pass it. Why did you ask Larkin where the king lived? Where did you get that king idea?"
Out came the old second reader. David had not mentioned it during his trial; if they took his "gun," mightn't they also take his story-book? The two sat down, and David read to Tannehill the story of the tailor and the king.
"That's whar I got it," he said triumphantly, when he had finished.
At first, Tannehill was inclined to laugh. Then he began to look thoughtful, and a full understanding came. Poor little boy! He hated to break that pretty dream; far too many of the dreams of the world's dreamers had been broken, already. He thought of the time, never to be forgotten, when he had learned the truth about Santa Claus. Suddenly he bent forward and took one of David Faley's dirty little hands, and pressed it.
"Son," he said, "by coming to Johnsville you've won something and lost something. What you've won, the future only can show you. What you've lost—I swear, I'd rather take a horsewhipping than to tell you, lad, but there are no kings and queens, no knights and ladies, no princes and princesses, like those in that book. Those are—well, they are just story-people; don't you see?"
A long talk followed, and it hurt them both. David saw, and he believed, at last. It was noontime when it was over. The boy, half-sick with disillusionment, went with his friend toward the great old brick home of the Tannehills for dinner.
It was on this little journey that David first saw the girl. She was about twenty-four, tall and exceedingly pretty; she had blue eyes, and hair that was only a trifle darker than the color of old-gold. When she saw Tannehill, she blushed, and Tannehill whispered as he passed her:
"Four o'clock. Daisies."
"Who's that?" asked David, a moment later.
The answer came readily.
"Judge Bliss' daughter, Miss Cordelia."
"She's purtier'n a speckled pup," said David. "Do you like her, Mr. Lew?"
Mr. Lew looked down at him, and Mr. Lew's countenance was serious.
"You bet," he said, "you bet, I like her."
A tall and bearded old man, an old woman in a lacy black dress, and a very good-looking young woman in white ate dinner with them. The three were young Tannehill's father, mother, and sister, and they were exceptionally kind to David; they were eager to help Lew in making out a list of the new clothing the little mountaineer would need.
When the meal was over, David turned to old Tannehill with this:
"You look like my grampaw. You've got a white beard like him. My grampaw was a fine man. He died with a rifle in his hands, and the barrel was red-hot; he died on his feet, a cussin' the Wansleys. Mr. Lew he said I was a goin' to live here for the present, ef I'd be a good boy. I'm a goin' to be a good boy, shore. Can I call you 'Grampaw?'"
George Tannehill seemed at a loss to know just what to say. Finally he answered—
"You may call me 'Grandpa' whenever you like, David."
There were many times afterward when he thought of the incident, and always he was glad that he had granted the first wish that the boy expressed. For the two were thicker than beans in a bag long before a frost fell.
The Summer ran on, and Johnsville came to know the Faley as "the Tannehill boy," and the latter half of August came. Then it was that David learned the secret. Two secrets, to be exact.
On a warm Sunday afternoon, when old Mr. Tannehill was asleep, and old Mrs. Tannehill was visiting the minister's wife, and Miss Anna had company in the parlor, and he couldn't locate Mr. Lew—David strolled down to the creek and followed it out of town. Suddenly he rounded a short bend in the brush-lined stream, and found himself facing a pretty little dell filled with daisies; and in that dell stood Lew Tannehill and Judge Bliss' daughter—and they looked as tragic as a pair of professional Shakespearean actors in the last act. Tannehill stood with the girl's hands in his, and the girl's eyes were turned downward, and both of them were bareheaded.
Since TannehilPs back was turned upon David, and the girl was looking toward her feet, neither knew of the boy's presence near by. Miss Cordelia began to speak in a low voice:
"It's useless, Lew," she said sadly. "And it's so very painful. For four years it's been like this. There is utterly no hope that we'll ever be able to marry. Lew, we mustn't love ourselves more than we love our—our fathers and mothers. I'm convinced that we'd better—quit. I'll promise you that I'll never marry anybody."
David saw Lew bend forward and kiss Miss Cordelia on the forehead.
"Not that, Delia," said he. "Not an eternal good-by!"
"But father and mother are getting old," the young woman went on, "and some day they're going to find out that I've been slyly meeting you for four years, and then—Lew, Lew, I don't think I could bear it! And they are so very kind to me. They're always giving me pretty things and costly things. Only yesterday father gave me a milk-white saddler that came from Kentucky—oh, such a beautiful horse!"
Let me say here parenthetically that this fine saddle-horse had been known by its Blue Grass keeper as "The White Satan," and that its latest buyer was "entirely unacquainted with its record; that Judge Walter Bliss knew of his daughter's secret meetings with Lew Tannehill, and that he was trying to win his daughter back by means of overpowering kindliness in massed formation. Hence the pretty things, and the costly things; and the success he was having was proof that old Walter Bliss was no stranger to the ways of human nature.
"I saw it," said Tannehill. "And it really is a superb animal. But there's some fire in its eyes yet, and it ought to be better broken before you ride it. As to our 'quitting'—perhaps you are right, Delia. I'll leave it to you. But I hate the thought of it! It makes the whole world look blue."
All at once David Faley realized that he was doing a most ungentlemanly thing in eavesdropping like that. He stole back down the creek a hundred yards, took off his shoes and stockings, and plunged into the shallow water to wade.
Half an hour, and Lew Tannehill came down the creek. He carried his hat in his hand, and he seemed very gloomy. At a point opposite David, he halted, and the lad waded out.
"Mr. Lew," began the boy, "I heerd part o' what you and Miss Cordelie said back thar. I couldn't hardly help it. And ever sence I heerd it, I've been busy wonderin'—why cain't you and her marry?"
He had not lost much of his musical hill-drawl. Tannehill smiled a little, and that little whimsically, and kicked a stone into the creek as though it had offended him.
"Don't you know, son?" he said after a silent minute. "But I guess you don't. It isn't talked of much. Her father and my father dislike each other a great deal; it's been like that for years and years. I can easily remember the time when they fought like wildcats on bare sight of each other. It's queer, too, for they spent their childhood, boyhood, and the early part of their manhood as the most inseparable of friends. They went fishing, hunting, swimming, did everything, together; where one was, there was the other. Then came the quarrel, and nobody seems to remember what it was about."
He couldn't understand, when he had finished, why he had told the lad. Perhaps it was his desperation that had done it. For just that afternoon he and Cordelia Bliss had said what they believed was good-by for all time.
"Why don't they git up a feud," frowned David, "and use guns and pistols, and have it out? That's the way the Wansleys and Faleys—I mean the Faleys and Wansleys—done when they got mad."
"And you see how it ended, don't you?"
David's gaze fell.
"You're right. Yes, I see. Makin' friends o' yore pap and her'n would take off all o' the trouble, wouldn't it? Ain't the' no way to make 'em friends?"
"No way on earth," and Tannehill shook his head. "You'd as well try to stop the sun."
As they went toward home, the little mountaineer was thoughtful. He was trying to think of some plan by which he himself could unite the two old belligerents. It was going to be a big job, he told himself. If Mr. Lew had found it as impossible as to stop the sun, what could he do? But he didn't give up. He owed Lew Tannehill too much to give up.
Now if the boy Faley was anything, he was cunning and resourceful. He had had to be that in order to survive in the maelstrom of adverse forces that had been in his environment from the day, almost, of his birth; and he had inherited cunning and resourcefulness from a long line of fighting ancestors. He was not a very great while in thinking of a scheme that offered some promise.
But—could he bring himself to do the thing?
The difficulty with it was that he would have to go back on the religion of his people, go back on it squarely. David thought over the matter day after day, lay in his bed and thought over it night after night. It eventually boiled itself down to this, in the bottom of the crucible:
"Do I love my own lowdown self more'n I love Mr. Lew and Miss Cordelie?"
Then, quickly, in the old, stern language of his fathers—
"Ef I go to hell for it, I'll try it!"
On THE next Sunday afternoon, Walter Bliss took a thick book from his library, went to a corner of his broad and shady veranda, and ensconced his huge figure comfortably in a wide wicker rocker. He had no more than opened the book and adjusted his glasses, when there was the sound of light footfalls on the floor at his right, and he turned his white head to see the Tannehill boy.
"I jest thought I'd come over to see ye," grinned David. "I allus did like you, Mr.—Judge Bliss. I ain't never forgot you. I reckon you've kept my daddy's pistol good?"
Old Bliss laughed, closed the book on his knees, and put his feet on the veranda railing.
"There's a chair; sit down," he nodded. "Yes, I've taken good care of the revolver. I'm glad you came, son, of course; but it's a nine-days wonder the Tannehills would let you."
David's heart beat faster as he accepted the chair. Now was his golden chance!
"They said it was all right with them," replied David. "Old Mr. Tannehill he told me you was the best man in this end o' the State. He said he'd give a laig clean to the hip-j'int ef he could be a boy with you ag'in, and go a fishin' and a swimmin' and a huntin' with you oncet more. He said he told Grammaw Tannehill—ef he died afore he got to shake hands with you and be friends, he'd die mighty bad onsatisfied. And last night when he held fambly prayers he shore axed the Lord to remember you and every single one o' yore folks."
Thus did a Faley, and the last of the Faleys, lie!
Judge Bliss took his feet off the veranda railing and sat up straight in the wicker rocker. His eyes flashed into the eyes of the boy, and the boy did not look away.
"Which—which Mr. Tannehill?" he floundered. "George Tannehill? But—yes, yes. Son, he didn't say that; did he?"
"He shore did," bravely. "Cross my heart, and hope to die ef he didn't."
The youthful diplomat and liar and hero thought it best to change the subject, and he did. They talked on about a number of things; but the father of Miss Cordelia seemed to want to think, rather than to talk, and David left him to himself.
David found Tannehill the elder sitting alone in his study, poring over an ancient law book. He stole up behind the gray old man, slipped his hands around and pushed the obstructing spectacles gently upward, and covered the dim eyes with the tips of his fingers.
"Guess!" he said mischievously, lovingly, delightedly.
George Tannehill winked at himself, so to speak.
"Lew!" he said.
"Ag'in!" snickered the lad.
"Haw! Haw! Ag'in!"
"Oh, then it must be David."
"That time you got 'er," laughed David. He sat himself down on old Tannehill's knee; they were first-rate pals now.
"You guessed who I was, grampaw," he went on; "see ef ye can guess whar' I've been to."
"I'm afraid I can't."
"What! Bliss!" Tannehill was displeased.
"Did you keer?"
With half the air of having disowned him, George Tannehill deliberately placed the boy on a near-by chair. Then he bent toward David, and his bearded face was serious, and his eyes were narrowed. David took a fresh hold on himself; this was going to be the middle of the bridge for him.
"Did any of the Blisses say anything about me?" Tannehill demanded.
Ironhead Bill Faley's son seemed to be trying to remember.
"Le's see, grampaw. What was it he did say about you? Oh, yes—I got it now. Judge Bliss he told me you and him were boys together. He said him and you used to go a swimmin' and a fishin' and a huntin' together. He said he'd give a million dollars for jest one o' them old happy days with you. And he said ef he died afore he got to shake hands with you and be friends, he'd die mighty bad onsatisfied. Then he took out his hankercheef and cried awful pitiful."
George Tannehill was not what one could call gullible. For a long minute he bored his gaze into the countenance of the boy, trying to search out some sign of falsehood. But David faced him steadfastly.
"Son," finally asked Tannehill, "honestly, did Walter Bliss say that?"
"The's one thing a Faley never done, grampaw," quietly, convincingly, "and that's tell a lie."
It was his last card, and the playing of it wrung his heart.
"My little David," suddenly said the old man, very gently, "I beg your pardon most humbly."
He rose, and the other watched him. He went to his bedroom, put on a fresh shirt and collar and tie, and combed his hair very carefully; then he found his hat and cane, and set out for the home of the Blisses! David, filled with misgiving, followed some fifty feet behind him, to hear and to see.
It wasn't far to the home, of the Blisses, and Tannehill's cane soon stepped off the little distance. The old ex-judge was standing at the gate; he was looking for his daughter, who had gone horseback-riding more than two hours before. Tannehill walked up and put out his hand, and Bliss gripped it unhesitatingly; they shook with a great heartiness, and their chins quivered. David crept a few yards closer and listened—and that which he heard was like a bullet to him:
"The boy was telling me," began Tannehill, "that you said—that you'd like to be friends again with me. I—I'm sure I——"
"I never said any such thing!" exploded Walter Bliss, stiffening. "The boy told me——"
The boy wheeled and ran. The greatest sacrifice he had been able to make for his Mr. Lew, a sacrifice greater than to die, had been for nothing! Less than nothing; the Tannehills would turn him out, and he would be a ragamuffin and an outcast again, with not a soul to love him. He had never been so badly hurt, so nearly crushed, before. But he didn't cry about it. Nobody had ever been able to make him cry. He had that, at least, left to him. When he had gone fifty yards, he halted and looked back. The two old men were talking in angry tones, and standing as straight as a pair of pine trees. He had made matters even worse—they were going to fight!
Then the rapid, ringing sounds of hoofbeats came to his ears, and he faced the other way. He saw that beautiful white horse of Miss Cordelia's coming wildly up the street, with its head in the air and foam flying from its nostrils—and Miss Cordelia was on its back and clinging desperately to the old-fashioned side-saddle; she was as pale as death, too badly frightened to even cry out!
The Faley didn't stop to think. There wasn't time, anyway. He had a hazy wish that he might die and save the girl, as he dashed for the middle of the street. As the horse was about to pass him, he made a leap for its head and caught the reins at the bit in both hands and held on grimly.
A leg splintered under an ironshod hoof; a loose nail in another hoof gashed his other leg; again and again he was lifted into the air and dashed to the stones by that mad white Satan of a horse—still he held on, held on. And the horse tired of that dead weight that it couldn't shake off, slowed down, groaned despairingly and stopped squarely in front of Judge Bliss and old George Tannehill.
Miss Cordelia got to the ground somehow, and ran to the boy. The two old men, themselves and their differences forgotten, reached the Faley at the same time. Though he seemed to know nothing, the lad's hands were set so tightly on the leathern straps that they had to be pried open one finger after another, while the horse's eyes blazed with threats of more devilment. A dozen neighbors, among them a doctor, and Johnsville's policeman ran up. The doctor gathered the limp little body, which was now wholly insensible, into his arms.
"Take him into my house," Judge Bliss ordered crisply.
Before he followed, Walter Bliss calmly borrowed a revolver from Policeman Sayler, and shot the white Satan squarely through the brain.
"So vicious a horse," he said, "deserves it."
"Amen," solemnly growled old George Tannehill.
When David Faley came to, it was late at night. He was in a bed that was like his own, and yet was not his own. The electric droplight was shaded with half a newspaper. He tried to move his legs; one of them hurt, and the other was numb and like wood. Doctor Rankin stepped out of the gloom, and Tannehills and Blisses followed him.
"Grampaw!" cried the Faley; and the man he had addressed bowed his head and went back, stumbling as he went.
"Lie still, son," said the doctor, with a smile that wasn't altogether professional. "You'll soon be all right."
David went to sleep. At sundown of the following day, he awoke to find his mind clear of the effects of ether. Standing over him were Miss Cordelia and Lew Tannehill, and by their faces he knew that they were not unhappy.
"You did a good job of it, after all, David," said Lew. "You see, we figured it all out. The old gentlemen are the tightest friends in the State, and Delia and I are going to be married next month. And we're going to adopt you on the same day."
"Well, I'm glad, glad for you folks and glad for myself," he drawled in the old drawl of the hills. "And I'm g-glad I li-li-lied like I d-d-done——"
Sniff-sniff! at last, at last.
After a moment, calmly:
"Mr. Lew, the fust chanst ye have, I wisht ye'd bring me my second reader, which ye'll find on the table in my room. You said the' wasn't no people like them in that book no more, but—but for me the's allus got to be one king, anyways, and one queen."
At which a young woman with blue eyes and hair a little darker than the color of old-gold stooped to kiss him.