The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Awaiting dinner, the mountaineer and the "furriner" sat on the porch while Bub carved away at another pine dagger on the stoop. As Hale passed out the door, a querulous voice said "Howdye" from the bed in the corner and he knew it was the step-mother from whom the little girl expected some nether-world punishment for an offence of which he was ignorant. He had heard of the feud that had been going on between the red Falins and the black Tollivers for a quarter of a century, and this was Devil Judd, who had earned his nickname when he was the leader of his clan by his terrible strength, his marksmanship, his cunning and his courage. Some years since the old man had retired from the leadership, because he was tired of fighting or because he had quarrelled with his brother Dave and his foster-brother, Bad Rufe — known as the terror of the Tollivers — or from some unknown reason, and in consequence there had been peace for a long time — the Falins fearing that Devil Judd would be led into the feud again, the Tollivers wary of starting hostilities without his aid. After the last trouble, Bad Rufe Tolliver had gone West and old Judd had moved his family as far away as possible. Hale looked around him: this, then, was the home of Devil Judd Tolliver; the little creature inside was his daughter and her name was June. All around the cabin the wooded mountains towered except where, straight before his eyes, Lonesome Creek slipped through them to the river, and the old man had certainly picked out the very heart of silence for his home. There was no neighbour within two leagues, Judd said, except old Squire Billy Beams, who ran a mill a mile down the river. No wonder the spot was called Lonesome Cove.
"You must ha' seed Uncle Billy and ole Hon passin'," he said.
"I did." Devil Judd laughed and Hale made out that "Hon" was short for Honey.
"Uncle Billy used to drink right smart. Ole Hon broke him. She followed him down to the grocery one day and walked in. 'Come on, boys — let's have a drink'; and she set 'em up an' set 'em up until Uncle Billy most went crazy. He had hard work gittin' her home, an' Uncle Billy hain't teched a drap since." And the old mountaineer chuckled again.
All the time Hale could hear noises from the kitchen inside. The old step-mother was abed, he had seen no other woman about the house and he wondered if the child could be cooking dinner. Her flushed face answered when she opened the kitchen door and called them in. She had not only cooked but now she served as well, and when he thanked her, as he did every time she passed something to him, she would colour faintly. Once or twice her hand seemed to tremble, and he never looked at her but her questioning dark eyes were full upon him, and always she kept one hand busy pushing her thick hair back from her forehead. He had not asked her if it was her footprints he had seen coming down the mountain for fear that he might betray her, but apparently she had told on herself, for Bub, after a while, burst out suddenly:
"June, thar, thought you was a raider." The little girl flushed and the old man laughed.
"So'd you, pap," she said quietly.
"That's right," he said. "So'd anybody. I reckon you're the first man that ever come over hyeh jus' to go a-fishin'," and he laughed again. The stress on the last words showed that he believed no man had yet come just for that purpose, and Hale merely laughed with him. The old fellow gulped his food, pushed his chair back, and when Hale was through, he wasted no more time.
"Want to see that coal?"
"Yes, I do," said Hale.
"All right, I'll be ready in a minute."
The little girl followed Hale out on the porch and stood with her back against the railing.
"Did you catch it?" he asked. She nodded, unsmiling.
"I'm sorry. What were you doing up there?" She showed no surprise that he knew that she had been up there, and while she answered his question, he could see that she was thinking of something else.
"I'd heerd so much about what you furriners was a-doin' over thar."
"You must have heard about a place farther over — but it's coming over there, too, some day." And still she looked an unspoken question.
The fish that Hale had caught was lying where he had left it on the edge of the porch.
"That's for you, June," he said, pointing to it, and the name as he spoke it was sweet to his ears.
"I'm much obleeged," she said, shyly. "I'd 'a' cooked hit fer ye if I'd 'a' knowed you wasn't goin' to take hit home."
"That's the reason I didn't give it to you at first — I was afraid you'd do that. I wanted you to have it."
"Much obleeged," she said again, still unsmiling, and then she suddenly looked up at him — the deeps of her dark eyes troubled.
"Air ye ever comin' back agin, Jack?" Hale was not accustomed to the familiar form of address common in the mountains, independent of sex or age — and he would have been staggered had not her face been so serious. And then few women had ever called him by his first name, and this time his own name was good to his ears.
"Yes, June," he said soberly. "Not for some time, maybe — but I'm coming back again, sure." She smiled then with both lips and eyes- -radiantly.
"I'll be lookin' fer ye," she said simply.