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Francis Hodgson Burnett


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Produced by David Widger


By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Copyright, 1877

They were rather an incongruous element amid the festivities, but they bore themselves very well, notwithstanding, and seemed to be sufficiently interested. The elder of the two-a tall, slender, middle-aged woman, with a somewhat severe, though delicate face-sat quietly apart, looking on at the rough dances and games with a keen relish of their primitive uncouthness; but the younger, a slight, alert creature, moved here and there, her large, changeable eyes looking larger through their glow of excitement.

"Thet gal thar," drawled a tall mountaineer who supported himself against the chimney and spat with placid regularity into the fire. "They tell me thet gal thar hes writ things as hes been in print. They say she's powerful smart-arns her livin' by it. 'T least thet's what Jake Harney says, 'n they's a-boardin' at Harney's. The old woman's some of her kin, 'n' goes 'long with her when she travels 'round."

There was one fiddler at work sawing industriously at one tune which did good service throughout the entertainment; there was a little furious and erratic reel-dancing, and much loud laughter, and good-natured, even if somewhat personal, jest. The room was one of two which formed the house; the walls were of log; the lights the cheery yellow flare of great pine-knots flung one after the other upon the embers.

"I am glad I thought of North Carolina," Rebecca Noble said to herself. "There is a strong hint of Rembrandt in this,-the bright yellow light, the uncouth figures. Ah! who is that?"

A short time after, she made her way through the crowd to her relative's corner among the shadows. She looked eager and excited, and spoke in a quick, breathless fashion.

"I want to show you something, if you have not already seen it," she said. "There is in this room, Aunt Miriam, the most wonderful creature your eyes ever rested on! You must prepare yourself to be startled. Look toward the door-at that tall girl standing with her hands behind her."

She was attired in a calico of flaunting pattern, and leaned against the log wall in an indifferent attitude, regarding the company from under the heavy lashes of her eyes, which had a look of stillness in them which was yet not repose. There was something even secretive in her expression, as if she watched them furtively for reasons of her own. At her side stood a big, discontented-looking young man, who confronted aggressively two or three other young men equally big, if not equally discontented, who seemed to be arguing some point with him and endeavoring to engage the attention of his companion. The girl, however, simply responded to their appeals with an occasional smile, ambiguous, if not scornful.

"How I wish I could hear them!" exclaimed Miss Noble.

It was her habit to utilize any material she chanced to find, and she had really made her summer jaunt to North Carolina in search of material, but she was not thinking of utilizing this girl, as she managed to keep near her during the remainder of the evening. She had merely found something to be keenly interested in, her interest in any human novelty being, on occasion, intense. In this case her interest increased instead of diminished. She found the girl comporting herself in her natural position as belle, with a calm which was slightly suggestive of "the noble savage." Each admirer seemed to be treated with indifference alike, though there were some who, for reasons best known to themselves, evidently felt that they stood more securely than the rest. She moved through game and dance with a slow yet free grace; she spoke seldom, and in a low, bell-like monotone, containing no hint of any possible emotional development, and for the rest, her shadow of a disdainful smile seemed to stand her in good stead. Clearly as she stood out from among her companions from the first, at the close of the evening she assumed a position actually dramatic.

The big young mountaineer, who, despite his discontent, was a very handsome fellow indeed, had held his own against his rivals stubbornly during the evening, but when, after the final dance, he went in search of his charge, he found that he was not first.

She had fallen into her old attitude against the wall, her hands behind her, and was listening to the appeal of a brawny youth with a hunting-knife in his belt.

"Dusk," he was saying, "I'm not such a chicken hearted chap as to let a gal go back on me. Ye sed I mout hev yer comp'ny home, 'n' I'm a-gwine to hev it, Dave Humes or no Dave Humes."

Dusk merely smiled tolerantly.

"Are ye?" she said.

Rebecca Noble, who stood within a few feet of them, was sure that the lover who approached was the Dave Humes in question, he advanced with such an angry stride, and laying his hand on his rival's shoulder, turned him aside so cavalierly.

"No he aint," he put in; "not an' me about. I brought ye, an' I'll take ye home, Lodusky, or me and him 'll settle it."

The other advanced a step, looking a trifle pale and disheveled. He placed himself square in front of Lodusky.

"Dusk Dunbar," he said, "you're the one to settle it. Which on us is a-gwine home with ye-me or him? Ye haint promised the two of us, hev ye?"

There was certainly a suddenly lit spark of exultation in the girl's coolly dropped eyes.

"Settle it betwixt ye," she answered with her exasperating half smile again.

They had attracted attention by this time, and were becoming the centre figures of a group of lookers-on.

The first had evidently lost his temper. She was the one who should settle it, he proclaimed loudly again. She had promised one man her "comp'ny" and had come with another.

There was so much fierce anger in his face that Miss Noble drew a little nearer, and felt her own blood warmed.

"Which on us is it to be?" he cried.

There was a quick, strong movement on the part of the young man Dave, and he was whirled aside for a second time.

"It's to be me," he was answered. "I'm the man to settle that-I don't leave it to no gal to settle."

In two seconds the lookers-on fell back in dismay, and there was a cry of terror from the women. Two lithe, long-limbed figures were struggling fiercely together, and there was a flash of knives in the air.

Rebecca Noble sprang forward.

"They will kill each other," she said. "Stop them!"

That they would have done each other deadly injury seemed more than probable, but there were cool heads and hands as strong as their own in the room, and in a few minutes they had been dragged apart and stood, each held back by the arms, staring at each other and panting. The lank peacemaker in blue jeans who held Dave Humes shook him gently and with amiable toleration of his folly.

"Look 'ere, boys," he said, "this yere's all a pack of foolishness, ye know-all a pack of foolishness. There aint no sense in it-it's jest foolishness."

Rebecca cast a quick glance at the girl Lodusky. She leaned against the wall just as she had done before; she was as cool as ever, though the spark which hinted at exultation still shone steadily in her eye.

When the two ladies reached the log-cabin at which they had taken up their abode, they found that the story of the event of the evening was before them. Their hostess, whose habit it was to present herself with erratic talk or information at all hours, met them with hospitable eagerness.

"Waal now," she began, "jest to think o' them thar fool boys a-lettin' into one another in thet tharway. I never hearn tell o' sich foolishness. Young folks is so foolish. 'N' they drord knives?" This is in the tone of suggestive query.

"Yes," answered Miss Noble, "they drew knives."

"They did!" benignly. "Lord! What fools! Waal now, an' Dusk-what did Dusk do?"

"She stood by and looked on," was the reply.

"Lord!" with the inimitable mountain drawl; "ye don't say so! But it's jest like her-thet is. She's so cur'us, Dusk is. Thar aint no gettin' at her. Ye know the gals ses as she's allers doin' fust one quare thing 'n' then another to get the boys mad at each other. But Lor', p'r'aps 'taint so! Dusk's powerful good-lookin', and gals is jealous, ye know."

"Do you think," questioned Miss Noble, "that they really would have killed each other?"

"Lord! yaas," placidly. "They went to do it. Both Dan'l and Dave's kinder fiery, 'n' they'd nuther on 'em hev give in with Dusk a-lookin' on-they'd hev cut theirselves to pieces fust. Young folks is so foolish; gettin' mad about a gal! Lord knows gals is plenty enough."

"Not girls like this one," said Miss Noble, laughing a little.

"Waal now, she is good-lookin', aint she? But she's cur'us, Dusk is-she's a cur'us creetur."

"Curious!" echoed Rebecca, finding the term vague even while suggestive.

"Yaas," she said, expansively, "she's cur'us, kinder onsosherble 'n' notionate. Now Dusk is-cur'us. She's so still and sot, 'n' Nath Dunbar and Mandy they think a heap on her,'n' they do the best they kin by her, but she don't never seem to keer about 'em no way. Fur all she's so still, she's powerful sot on fine dressin' an' rich folkses ways. Nath he once tuk her to Asheville, 'n' seems like she's kinder never got over it, but keeps a-broodin' 'bout the way they done thar, 'n' how their clothes looked, 'n' all thet. She knows she's handsum, 'n' she likes to see other folks knows it, though she never says much. I hed to laugh at my Hamp once; Hamp he aint no fool, an' he'd been tuk with her a spell like the rest o' the boys, but he got chock full of her, 'n' one day we was a-talkin,' 'n' the old man he says, 'Waal now, that gal's a hard wad. She's cur'us, 'n' thar's no two ways about it.' An' Hamp he gives a bit of a laugh kinder mad, 'n' he ses, 'Yes, she's cur'us-cur'us as --!' May be he felt kinder roughed up about her yet-but I hed to laugh."

The next morning Miss Noble devoted to letter-writing. In one of her letters, a bright one, of a tone rather warmer than the rest, she gave her correspondent a very forcible description of the entertainment of the evening before and its closing scene.


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