When young Blount paid his next visit Durgan was in a mood better to
appreciate his budget of gossip. He even contributed to it.
Adam had beaten his wife, and with good cause. Durgan had himself seen a
strange nigger eating Adam’s dinner, waited upon by Adam’s wife. He
found time to explain to his interested cousin that the nigger was both
sickly and flashy–a mulatto, consumptive and dandified.
“The worst sort of trash. What could have brought him here? There is no
such fellow belonging to the county, I’ll swear.”
“Adam’s wife is not Eve, after all, I think. She can only be Lilith; and
I wish the fates would change her for a superior.” Durgan spoke
“At least I hope she’ll have more sense than to take a tramping scamp
nigger like that to the summit house,” said Blount. “He’s sure to be a
“I’d chastise her myself if she did,” said Durgan, smoking lazily.
“Ah, I’m glad you feel that way, for those ladies are a real benefit to
the neighborhood, and, to tell the truth, it was on their account I came
to you now. The General sent me.”
Durgan smoked on. They were sitting late at the door of the hut.
Darkness was falling like a mantle over all that lay below their
Blount began again. “These ladies from the North can’t realize how
little our mountain whites know of class distinctions. If you have only
seen one thing, how can you appreciate the difference between that and
another? The mountain men have lived in these hills for generations,
knowing only themselves. You have to be born and bred in the brier bush
to understand their ignorance and the self-importance that underlies
their passive behavior.”
“So I have heard.”
“But Miss Bertha will be getting herself proposed to–indeed she will.
What we are afraid of is that, on that, both sisters will be as angry
and unsettled as birds whose nest has been disturbed, and that they will
leave the place.”
Durgan quite enjoyed his own thrill of curiosity. “Who?”
“The Godsons, father and son–gardeners, you know–have been laying out
a new orchard for the ladies. Young Godson is as fine a fellow as we
have at the Cove; and Miss Bertha has been lending him books, helping to
some education, you know.”
“Yes; I have seen them passing–men with blue eyes and rather spiritual
faces–father gray, son light brown?”
“Just so. Fine men if they could have had a chance to look over the
hedge of their own potato plot. Miss Bertha has made a protégé of the
son. Nothing could be more kind and proper, for she has distinction of
manner which could never be misunderstood except by the ignorant. In
this case it is doing mischief. The General thought I had better mention
it to you.”
“Why to me?”
“Well, we’re trying to work up this region. If these ladies were to
leave, it would be a distinct loss. If they stay, their friends will
visit them; there is a spell about the beauty of the place; people with
means always return.”
“Have they friends?”
Durgan in lazy manner asked a question he had asked two weeks before;
the answer was the same. “Very regular correspondence, I understand.”
“Is it the money young Godson aspires to?”
“I am inclined to think it may be love, which is worse; it would create
much more feeling on both sides, for they are women of culture and
refinement. That is why we thought you might be willing to warn her.”
Durgan mused. He was convinced that the story of the sisters and their
solitude was not the simple reading that his cousins supposed; convinced
also that what his cousin called their “culture and refinement” was of a
higher cast, because based on higher ethical standards, than the
Blounts, father or son, would be likely to understand.
“The affair is not at all in my line.” Durgan spoke with haughty
indolence. “Why choose me to interfere?”
“But I assure you young Godson is going ahead. I tell you I positively
heard his father chaffing him about her in the post-office; all the men
“That is intolerable,” said Durgan, sternly. “What did you do?”
“It is not as if these men were not given to humorous nonsense between
themselves. I could only assume it to be nonsense.”
“That would make it more sufferable.”
“I should only have injured my own popularity, and they would have held
on their own way. And, after all, if ladies leave their family and
choose to live unprotected except by their dogs, it amounts to saying to
us and to all that they are able to protect themselves. And,” added
Blount, “if they knew of this fellow’s folly they could protect
themselves. The General would ride over any afternoon; but neither he
nor I am on terms to broach so delicate a subject.”
The answer to Durgan’s question, “Why I?” was obviously, “There is no
one else.” He felt disposed to consider the reason inconclusive till,
lying awake that night, he had watched many stars set, one by one, over
the purple heights. Thus pondering, he admitted that he was already in a
measure Bertha’s protector. However inexplicable the circumstance which
had given him this office, he could not rid himself of its
responsibility. He did not greatly blame young Blount’s lack of chivalry
in silently hearing the girl’s name taken in vain. Still less did he use
the word “duty” of his own intention. He only grew more conscious that,
forlorn as his present state was, he had stumbled into a useful
relation to this radiant and kindly fellow-creature.
When the next day was declining and Durgan, having dismissed his
negroes, was preparing his evening meal, he heard Bertha’s step on the
narrow trail that, hidden in rocks and shrubs, led from the summit. She
paused on a ledge that overlooked his platform, and, holding with one
arm to a young fir tree, lowered a basket on the crook of her mountain
staff. Framed in a thicket of silver azalea buds, strong and beautiful
as a sylvan nymph, she looked down at him, dangling her burden and
“Pudding!” said she in oracular tone.
“Pie!” said she.
He lifted a vain hand for what was still above his reach.
Then she lowered the staff with an air of resigned benevolence.
“Pudding and pie. But you don’t deserve them, for you were too proud to
come to supper, even when I invited you.”
“You must remember that to be worthy of my hire I grow stiff by
She was looking at him now with grave attention. “Have you got a
looking-glass?” she asked.
He raised his eyebrows in whimsical alarm.
“If not, you may not have observed how very thin you are growing. Do not
kill yourself for hire.”
“I shall batten on pudding.”
She was retracing her steps when he recalled her. “Will you pardon a
word of warning?”
She instantly descended the remainder of the path. It led her round a
clump of shrubs, and when he met her at its foot he was startled at the
change the moment’s suspense had worked. She now wore the face of terror
he had seen when he caught her guarding his door in the April dawn.
So surprised was he that his speech halted.
She was probably not at all aware of her pallor or dilated eyes. “I am
not alarmed,” she said. “What is it?” But her breath came quick.
“I must apologize for what may seem an impertinence. I had a little
daughter once, and I sometimes think if she had lived she would have
looked like you–let that be my excuse.”
“Thank you, indeed; but what—-” She almost tapped her foot in strained
Then he told her, in guarded terms, that someone had suggested that
young Godson did not understand his inferior position.
The look of health and carelessness at once returned to her cheek and
eye. “Does that matter?” she asked. “Living in an isolated place as we
do, it is desirable to cultivate friendly relations with one’s kind.”
It now occurred to him for the first time that for some reason she might
be willing to marry below her station. The pathos of her youthful
loneliness, even with that additional haunting distress of which he had
evidence, lent color to the new idea.
“Godson is a very fine young fellow; if he can obtain education he will
be most intelligent. He is manly and handsome—-”
“But?” she asked.
“I am perhaps turning busybody in my old age. I thought I saw a
difficulty like a snake in your path. If I was mistaken, forgive.”
“What sort of venom did you fear?”
She stood for half a minute, her face blank with astonishment; then her
cheeks flamed; but immediately the look of vital interest died out.
“Truly, I never thought of that.” She bit her lip in meditation.
He essayed to speak, but she held up her hand.
“I do not want to know your evidence. I know you would not have spoken
unless there was need. Only tell me what I must do.”
If Durgan a minute before had felt rueful with regard to his
interference, he was now even more unprepared to meet its successful
While he hesitated, she began a quick, practical statement of her case.
“I do not want to estrange any friend, however humble. I stand in need
of human friends, as well as of my animals.”
The question came naturally from him; but the moment it was uttered he
perceived that she shrank slightly, as if he had broken his compact of
“No; not for protection, but to keep me human. My sister has less need
for friends; her religion is everything to her, and she loves her
housekeeping. But with me it is different; I must get my mind freshened
by every human I come across, and these men have work at our place for a
month to come. I could make short work of familiarity when it came from
men who know better, but these cannot conceive that anyone is above
them, and so could not see the justice of reproof. I do not wish to hurt
them, and I dare not make them my enemies. Tell me what to do.”
“If you knew me better, you would not expect me to guide you. I have
made too many mistakes of my own. My misfortunes are all my own fault.”
“Ah, it is only the saints who say that; commoners blame the fates or
Durgan laughed in sudden surprise. “It is the first time I have been
proposed for such a society.”
“You have been very kind to me,” she added impulsively; “I never
expected to find so good a friend.”
He wondered why she should not expect to find friends, but turned his
mind perforce to her present problem.
“If you could think what it has been in your dealing with young
Godson–what avoidable touch of graciousness has set his heart on fire,
“Oh!” she cried, “I have done nothing; I have only forgotten–forgotten
that for most people ‘love’ and ‘marriage’ are interesting words. They
have no interest for me.” As usual, she regretted an impulsive
confession as soon as she perceived it. “I only mean that I have no
intention of marrying–or rather, that I intend not to marry.”
“Such resolutions are sometimes broken.”
“With me that is impossible.” Her manner was growing more remote.
Durgan had not a prying mind, yet he found his thought full of
questions. The more closely he observed the sisters, the less was he
able to imagine an explanation of what he saw and heard. Bertha’s was a
larger intellectual outlook than her sister’s, and it might seem she
would weary of her companion; but, on the contrary, there was the
closest comradeship. Miss Smith managed the house solely for Bertha’s
welfare; but the petted child was not spoiled, and made every return of