Page images

faces of both as white and unseeing as the dead.

Thereafter Nucky spent every possible moment with his brothers in the jail, and several times Miss Loring stopped in with him. Blant's anguish was terrible to see. In vain Nucky and Miss Loring, Ezry and the other prisoners, and even the jailkeeper, argued with him and tried to convince him he should not reproach himself so bitterly or give way to such utter despair and grief. His one reply was: "I have killed my best friend. My heart is broke'. Life has no more charms for me. I hope to God the law will kill me and put me out of my misery." The strange fact also developed that he had had a forewarning of Rich's death. For three consecutive days before Old Christmas, once when he was riving boards for the roof, once when he was climbing the mountain in search of a lost cow, once when he was sitting with the babe in his arms before the fire, he had had visions of Rich standing beside him, headless; and so strong had been the impression that he had told Rich the first thing when they met Christmas morning, and had warned him to be specially careful what he did that day.

For weeks he was thus inconsolable and desperate. The first relief came one Saturday when Nucky and Miss Loring were at the jail. A neighbor from over on Trigger stopped his nag at the jail window, and told Blant, through the bars, that "the babe just whimped and cried day and night for him, and could n't be pacified noway." At this Blant laid his At this Blant laid his head on the table where the other prisoners were playing cards and wept, the first tears he had shed, and they seemed to wash away some of his burden. A day or two later, a message came from Powderhorn which should certainly have comforted him some: Mrs. Tarrant, Rich's mother, sent word to him that though he had "darkened the light of the sunball" for her, she freely forgave him.

It was the babe, a beautiful little girl, with big, gray eyes like Nucky's and Blant's, and such a tiny, white face, and so pathetic and patient a smile, that Miss Loring's heart was wrung within her.

"Seem' like it 'll pine to death if it don't get to see Blant," explained Nucky; “so I brung it over."

"Please bring it back to spend the night with me!" implored Miss Loring.

But Blant would by no means consent to this; not for an instant should it depart from his arms during the time it had to stay. Nucky reported afterward: "It just grabbed aholt of him the minute it seed him, and laid its head on his breast, and would n't turn him a-loose even to eat or sleep. All the other boys tried to get it to come to them, but it would n't go even to Ezry. And Blant he set up and helt it in his arms all night."

The process of separating the babe from Blant next day was such a painful one that there was not a dry eye in the jail.

Court was not to sit until the middle of March, when the trial of Blant and Ezry would come off. Of course Ezry would be acquitted, "contempt" was nothing, and at first it was hoped that Blant would be acquitted, too, the absence of intention in his killing of Rich was so patent, and his grief so cruel and overwhelming a punishment in itself. But as the weeks passed on there was a growing sentiment among the solid men of the county that a short penitentiary sentence in his case would be a very good thing, and would make all the young men in the region more careful with their guns in the future. Of course if Blant had killed a Cheever, it would not be so imperative for the law to step in,-the Cheevers were perfectly able to attend to their own affairs,-but this thing of shooting wild and killing the wrong man was a menace to the whole community, and ought not to go unpunished. Also, Kent County was, and prided itself on being, more law-abiding than Boyne; and this chance to make an object-lesson of a Boyne boy was not to be overlooked.

The following Friday, Nucky asked and received permission to make a visit home over the week-end; and the next These various rumors as to public opinafternoon Miss Loring was surprised to ion were carried to Blant by passers-by, see him out in the road in front of the cot- callers, and the jail-keeper himself; while tage, on his paw's nag, with a small bun- from Trigger came more and more disdle carried very carefully on one arm. tressing news every day. The Cheevers, This he unwrapped to show Miss Loring. taking advantage of the situation, were

marauding, shooting hogs, burning fodderstacks, etc. Mr. Marrs was worn out and distracted in his mind by the unaccustomed load of cares, and as for the babe, its grief was working on it to a dangerous extent. "It's fairly pindling away," "Nothing but a pitiful little passel of bones," "Some days don't touch ary morsel of victuals," "Favors a little picked bird," "Aiming to die if he don't get back to it soon," were successive messages that reached the jail.

The situation was freely discussed by Blant and Ezry and the other prisoners, mostly nice boys, arrested for only slight offenses, such as moonshining and celebrating Christmas too enthusiastically, and by the jail-keeper; and one day Blant expressed his mind as follows:

"Yes, I don't know as I like the notion of going down there to Frankfort very well. If the law would just hang me, I'd feel better. But I reckon there ain't no hopes of that; I ought to have recollected the prejudice they got again' hanging in this country. The way I look at it, a life for a life is just common justice. But what good or justice it will do any body to coop me up in Frankfort for a couple of year' or more when I'm so bad' needed at home, I fail to see. Here I am, with a living to make for the folks, and the outdacious manoeuvers of the Cheevers to keep down, and the babe to raise,-you might say with my hands running-over full, and now they aim to shut me up where I can't do none of it! It ain't reasonable. Now, if they was to send me off to the Philippynes or somewheres to fight for 'em, I could see some sense in that, because then I'd do 'em a heap of good. But just to shut me up where I can't never see no sunshine, or do nothing but set and think, why, seems like it's more than I want to face."

"You ought to have thought of that sooner," admonished the keeper. "You done a mighty near-sighted job when you sent for the sheriff; I would n't have believed it of you, Blant. Nobody would n't have thought of arrestin' you; they 'd 'a' knowed you never meant no harm to Rich. But I reckon your mind was clean unhinged by misery. And now you 've made your bed, you got to lay in it. Whatever you do, take warnin' and don't try no tricks here on me. Because, whatever


happens, and however well I like you, law is law, and I 'm obligated by my oath, and aimin' to do my whole duty. I really think a heap of you, Blant, and I'd hate right smart to have to kill you."

One Tuesday morning early in March, Miss Loring started down to the village post-office. When she reached that place in the road where it was necessary to walk the fence some distance on account of the frightful mud-holes, she was surprised and delighted to see that a gang of men were working the road, and to recognize in them Blant and Ezry and the other prisoners. They were picking the shale from the mountain-side, and shoveling it into the bottomless holes. All appeared happy to feel the warm sunshine and breathe the fresh air again, and worked with a will, talking merrily with chance passers-by, the keeper, who leaned on his rifle, entering amiably into the conversation. Loring was relieved to see Blant's face relaxed and almost cheerful, and to know that time was in a measure healing his sorrow. She hoped that the last news she had had from Trigger-that the babe was nothing but a feather and would soon blow away-had not reached him.


The two succeeding days the cottage. boys made every excuse to go up the road and exchange words with the road-gang. By great good fortune, Nucky had the kitchen-job, and, running errands for the housekeeper to and from the village, had frequent chances to see his big brothers. Friday noon he brought word that the mud-holes were filled, and the boys were now preparing to blast out rock and widen the road at a point still nearer the school. All that afternoon heavy detonations rent the air, and puffs of smoke were visible from the school-garden, where it was almost impossible for Miss Loring to keep her boys at work.

Saturday, too, the blasting continued at intervals. About two in the afternoon the wash-girls had finished their labors and were out "passing the ball" in the schoolyard, and the boys, under Miss Loring's supervision, were washing the last windows and scrubbing the last floor in the cottage. Joab, on his knees, plying a scrubbing-brush, with an occasional droll glance at Miss Loring, was chanting monotonously,

"Let the women do the work, do the work, do the work,

Let the men do the laying around,"

when several loud, near-by gunshots sent everybody flying to the front yard. Up the steep mountain-side facing the cottage two men were leaping, while down in the road below ran a third, stopping only to aim and fire.

"It 's Blant and Ezry!" called out a dozen voices. "Go it, boys! Run! oh, run!"

All the school was by this time at the fence, breathlessly watching the hard ascent. The mountain was cleared half-way up, not a tree or a rock affording shelter. The keeper, selecting a vantage-ground just outside the cottage gate, took his stand there, and grimly proceeded to do his "whole duty," firing calmly, swiftly, and surely at the flying figures. In running accompaniment to the gunshots, Nucky's voice rang out sharp and clear. "Keep to the right a little grain!" "Drap down in the swag there, so 's he can't hit you so easy!" "Make for the timber!" Bullets raised tiny clouds of dust about the feet of the fugitives, and in the slope just ahead of them. The seconds seemed ages; the watchers' hearts stood still. Once Blant stopped short, clutching his left arm; then he ran on again more swiftly than ever, the arm dangling strangely. Nucky's voice, edged with agony, faltered no more than did the bullets. 'Can't you move no quicker 'n that? Once you reach them trees, he'll never hit you. Oh, hurry! hurry! Seems like I could crawl faster. You 're getting near now. The trees!

[ocr errors]

the trees! the trees! Oh, God, they 're to 'em! They 're safe!"

After a few parting shots into the timber, the keeper shook his head, philosophically shouldered his gun, and turned to the other prisoners, who had come down the road behind him. "Well, boys," he remarked, "I done my best, as the law required. But they got too good a start on me. It was right pyeert of 'em to stand on the far side from me when that last blast went off, and gain that much of a start. That was as plucky a race for life as ever I see; and I hain't sorry I never killed 'em. I put Blant's arm out of business for a while, but I 'm free to say I 'm glad it was n't no vital. Yes, sir, I don't know when I ever made the acquaintance of two nicer, cleverer boys than them; and I think it was mighty sensible of 'em not to stay and stand trial. That 'ere Blant is as perfect a gentleman as ever I seed, and hain't got a criminal bone in him. To send him to Frankfort would be just plumb ridiculous and scandalous. He never ought to have give' himself up when he killed Rich; that was the dad-burn foolishest thing ever I beheld. But of course he was momentarily distracted by grief and not accountable. Well, I hope it has learnt him a lesson to think twice in future. And now I reckon he 'll lay out in the woods a spell, though I'm sure nobody would n't be low-down enough to hunt him, and it 's again' the law, anyhow, that a man's life shall be twice in jeopardy for the same offense, and then he 'll go home, and settle the Cheevers, and cheer up his pap, and raise what 's left of that pore little babe."













« PreviousContinue »