THE VISION IN THE HUT

There is, perhaps, no more enthralling sound than the far but sure
approach of someone who comes unlooked-for to a lonely place. The two
men who were keeping vigil became certain that travelers were ascending
the steep zig-zags of Deer. They looked at one another in apprehensive
silence, and went softly out to that side of the house nearest the road.
The young moon had set, and there was cloud overhead. Almost an hour’s
journey below them the creak of wheel, the sound of hoof, came faint but
nearer. The two house dogs stood by the men, a growl in their throats.

Bertha came downstairs and out to them, a shawl over her head. The
mountain nights had been growing colder; the air was bleak and dry.

“Hermie is terribly ill,” she said. “She has cried till the pain in her
head is anguish–and who can possibly be coming?”

Then she turned indignantly to Alden. “Is this some plan of your
arranging?”

Alden denied in dispirited tones, and suggested that perhaps some
travelers had lost their way.

“People don’t usually climb a mountain by mistake,” she retorted.

“There are two horses–and two men talking–and wheels,” said Durgan,
slowly reckoning up the sounds he heard.

“Go in, and take the dogs,” said Alden to Bertha. “We will go down to
the mine and meet them, so that Hermione need not be disturbed.”

“You need not be so careful to protect her now,” she said hardly. “She
is in too great pain to care what happens.”

Then Durgan was striding down the trail, and Alden hopping nimbly over
the rocks beside him.

“The last visitors who rode here through the night brought handcuffs,”
said Durgan grimly.

He could not divest himself of the idea that some armed fate was close
upon them all.

He lit his lantern, and kindled a fire of sticks in the stove of his
hut. Alden, who was shivering with cold, warmed himself. The travelers
were now resting their horses a half-mile below. The keen air, the new
excitement, were a spur to the mind of the weary lawyer. He began to
talk with renewed melancholy, and a persistence that wearied Durgan’s
ears.

“So far, we are not only without proof, but without reasonable
hypothesis. The cleverest detective in New York tells me that Beardsley
left New York and cannot be traced. When we find him, we shall only
have, as means to incriminate him, the word of a dead negro, whose mind
was obviously failing when he gave his evidence, and one letter
which—-”

Durgan’s impatience was intolerable. He went out on the dark road. He
thought of that other night, gorgeous in its whiteness, when the full
moon had looked down on the beautiful bronze form of the murdered woman
and on a strolling, dandified valet, of whose portrait Durgan remembered
every detail. He had seen him in the glamor of the silvered avenue; and
his silken hair and long whiskers, the expanse of shirt-front, the flash
of false jewels, and his mad utterance, which was now gradually taking
the form of truth, lived again in his memory. He remembered, too, the
crimson dawn in which he had witnessed Adam’s passionate grief, and his
own rage of indignation when the next night had brought with it, on this
same road, the worst of insults to taint that grief.

The cause of all that coil of evil and pain had been the quiet lady,
whom they had just left with the intense loneliness of her secret, shut
off in her anguish from sister and lover. For her sake, it seemed, Eve
had been killed, and Adam had wept, and the vain serving-man had used
his last vital powers to save her from a world’s reproach. As yet there
was no outcome of it all, except dissension and misery.

The horses below began to move again. Durgan went in to Alden. They
sometimes heard a thin, impatient voice raised high in questioning
tones, and answers given. When the horses had passed the last turn
below, the words of the thin voice could be heard clearly.

“Drivah, what is this light?” There was a slight drawl and an assumption
of importance.

“I think I have heard that voice before,” said the lawyer slowly,
listening; “but I cannot tell where.”

“Is this the top of the mountain, drivah? Is this the house?”

“I can’t be sure, but I think I know it,” commented the lawyer again.
“Do you recognize it?”

“No, I do not.”

Durgan stood out on the road.

“Then drive on. If this is not the summit house, drive on, drivah.
Don’t stop.” There was a note of alarm in the thin tone.

Durgan’s lantern flashed its light upon horses and driver and
old-fashioned surrey from the hotel at Hilyard. The driver was a silent
man, well known on the road. Within, his keen, facile face bent forward
in ill temper and alarm, sat an emaciated man, wrapped in a rich fur
coat and propped with cushions.

The driver had so far answered in lazy monosyllables. Now, on
recognizing Durgan, he pulled up the carriage. The thin-voiced traveler
addressed Durgan.

“I am going to the boarding-house of a Miss Smith. I understand there is
a lawyer there, the best in the State. I will not detain you, sir. Go
on, drivah; we are much too late now.”

The owner of the voice leaned back in the surrey. He was evidently
alarmed by his surroundings; but a stranger might well be excused for
showing some dislike of the long, steep road, the extreme solitude, and
the sudden appearance of a man who barred the way.

Durgan turned his light on the face of the driver. “What’s the meaning
of this?” he asked sternly.

The man returned his inspection with a queer, sphinx-like look that had
in it something of the nature of a grin and a wink, but gave no
indication as to the cause of his humor. He grumbled as he clumsily
tumbled off his seat. Then, opening the surrey door, he remarked, in a
casual tone, that his horses could go no further.

“If this ‘ere gentleman doesn’t keep summer hotels and big-bug lawyers
handy, I dunno anyone as does ’bout here. As for Miss Smith’s house,
we’ll have a rest first.”

Again the face of the invalid, keen and drawn by pain or passion, was
thrust forward from the shadow of the carriage. His voice was shrill
enough to sound at first like a shriek. “Look here, my man; you needn’t
suppose the money I’ve got to pay you is in my pockets. It’s in Hilyard,
where you’ll get all the currency you want when you’ve done my work; but
you’ll gain nothing by stopping here.”

On seeing Durgan more clearly he looked about him in absolute terror,
grasping the rug that impeded his movements as if wondering only how to
fling himself out of their reach, or else not knowing whether to argue
or ingratiate.

The driver held the door, taking the volley of weak-voiced profanity in
the passive way common to the region.

Durgan’s amusement at the driver’s mastery, and at being himself so
obviously mistaken for a robber, was overlaid by astonishment and
curiosity.

“I am working a small mica mine close by. You can come into my camp to
rest and get warm if you wish to.” He spoke to the agitated traveler in
the low, haughty tone that usually won for him the immediate respect of
those inferior in social position. But the traveler only answered in a
more imperious tone.

“Who are you, sir? Is this Bear Mountain? I was told it was. This man,”
he cried, pointing to the driver, “engaged to bring me to a mountain
called Bear and a house kept by a woman called Smith. We were
delayed–horribly delayed–by one of the horses casting a shoe. I ask
you, sir, what does this man mean by turning me out at a mica mine? What
does he mean?”

“I should like to know,” said Durgan. “You have evidently been misled.”

The driver here left the open carriage door, and began busying himself
about the harness.

Again suggesting that the traveler might take advantage of his fire if
he chose, Durgan turned back to his camp.

Alden stood outside, unseen from the carriage in the black shadow of the
hut. He had the baffled air of a hound who, thinking he has found a
scent, loses it again. He shook his head; his eyes contracted in
concentrated attention. “I’ve no idea who he is; but I think he is
acting a part.”

The stranger now proved himself a man of the world by descending from
the carriage with some polite expressions of relief at obtaining rest
from the intolerable road, and gratitude for Durgan’s hospitality.

He was of middle height, and stooped as he walked. His traveling coat
was of the richest, the muffling of the fur collar and the slouch of the
warm felt hat seemed habitual to him. In spite of them he shivered in
the mountain night.

He went close to the fire, unbuttoned his coat to let the warmth reach
him, and took out a card-case.

“Perhaps you will be good enough to extract a card,” said he, handing it
to Durgan. “My fingers are numb.”

He took off his gloves, and chafed his hands before the blaze. He took
off his hat, holding its inside to the fire to warm. He had the
appearance of a man of perhaps fifty, with face withered and sunburnt.
His hair was black, his mustache waxed, his beard pointed. He looked
like a fashion plate from Paris, handsome in his way, but his skin and
eyes gave the impression of pain impatiently borne. The sense of being
an aristocrat was written large all over him. His cat’s-eye pin, the
cutting of his seal ring, answered true to the glare of the firelight.
Having shown himself, as it would appear accidentally, he put on his hat
and buttoned up his collar.

Durgan took a card from a well-filled and well-worn card-case and read
it aloud, “Mr. Adolphus Courthope.” It gave as an address a club in New
Orleans.

“I heard a few days ago that a namesake of mine, a scoundrelly fellow,
whose mother was one of our niggers, is lying in jail at Hilyard,
charged with murder. Of course, I have no responsibility for the
fellow–never saw him till to-day. Still, his mother was my
foster-sister, the daughter of the good old mammy who nursed me. She
gave him my name, and–damn it–I don’t care to have the fellow publicly
hanged. Seems in a bad way now with lung trouble; but he’ll
revive–that’s the way with these cases.”

Durgan disliked this man, but was surprised to find that he pitied him
still more. The terror that he had just shown, the illusive resemblance
in his eyes to someone–perhaps someone more worthy of pity–the very
disparity of physical size and strength, all inspired in Durgan an
unreasoning instinct to protect him.

The other went on. “Only reached Hilyard to-day. The poor fellow would
have it that there was a woman called Smith, who kept a small summer
hotel, or something of the kind, located here, who alone could give the
evidence that would get him off; and that there was a clever lawyer
boarding with her who would take up the case on her evidence. Would have
it there was nothing for it but for me to come straight on here. I’m not
the man to give up what I’ve undertaken, but if I’d known what the roads
were like, confound it if I’d not have stayed in New Orleans. I say this
to you, sir, because I see you are a man of my own class–damn it, there
are few enough of us left.”

Certain now that this man had been sent by ‘Dolphus, Durgan perceived
that till now he had had some vague hope that ‘Dolphus, as some _deus ex
machina_, would contrive to trick Beardsley himself into their power.
The production of this man, beguiled hither by a lie, was evidently the
mulatto’s supreme effort; but this man, whoever he was, was certainly
not Charlton Beardsley, for however accomplished an actor he might be,
Durgan felt certain he had never been a man of plebeian origin.

“Is there no hotel that I can sleep in to-night?” asked the other
shortly. “Has that cursed nigger not told me the truth?”

“Not precisely. Had he any reason for endeavoring to mislead you?”

“Well, I should rather think not. Trial coming on in two days. If he had
his senses about him, he’d go only the quickest road to success.”

This sounded genuine.

“And the driver brought you all this way and did not enlighten you?”
said Durgan.

“Great God!” cried the other. “What could they mean?” And in his tone
vibrated returning fear.

“_I have_ a friend here–the lawyer to whom you are sent; and there _is_
a Miss Smith living higher up, but it is a private house.”

Again the stranger overcame the fear he had a second time betrayed. “Oh,
thanks awfully. That is all that matters. Has your friend turned in for
the night?”

Aware that Alden had been looking and listening through the chinks of
the hut, Durgan wandered out in a slow detour among the trees, and
brought Alden back with him. When they entered, the stranger was not
looking toward the door.

“This is Mr. Theodore Alden, of New York,” said Durgan; and altho the
visitor only appeared to indolently turn his head and bow, Durgan felt
sure that his whole body started and shrank under the heavy folds of his
long coat.

“Mr. Courthope has come,” began Durgan, and then, with indifferent
manner, he repeated the story of Mr. Courthope of New Orleans. He could
see that Alden had as yet no scent.

“Are you aware,” began Alden, “that the other negro apprehended for this
murder is being protected by his late owner upon the same grounds? It is
not a usual proceeding; I might almost say–speaking from a wide
knowledge of the South since the war–a novel proceeding. To have it
repeated is a novel coincidence.”

There was a little silence in which Durgan and Alden both observed the
stranger narrowly, and neither felt sure whether his pause was caused by
the inattentive habits of illness, or whether he was silent from
annoyance. It would appear to have been the first, for, after again
warming his legs and again rubbing his hands before the blaze, he lifted
his head as if he had just observed that he had not replied.

“I beg your pardon–a bad habit of mine, forgetting to answer. As to
coincidence, it isn’t coincidence at all. My nigger writes to me what a
Mr. Durgan is doing for the other nigger, and sends me a local paper,
saying in effect how much better the Durgans are than the Courthopes. I
acted on impulse–we Courthopes always do. It’s the way of the world,
you know–we should never do anything if it wasn’t for trying to show
that we are as good, or one better, than someone else. But if I’d known
that folks here all lived on different mountains, I’d have let the
Durgans have the field. Devilish cold at this altitude.”

As he turned from the fire to speak he shivered, pushed up his collar
still higher, and pulled his hat down almost to his eyes. He turned
again to the fire. “Desperately cold up here,” he repeated. “What’s the
name of this mountain?” he suddenly demanded.

They told him.

“‘Deer Mountain.’ I thought the driver said ‘Bear Mountain.’ I’m sure
the nigger told me to come up ‘Bear.'”

“There is a peak of that name further off,” said Alden.

“Ah, well, I must say I am relieved to find I’ve not come on a fool’s
errand, but have achieved my purpose and discovered our friend, Mr.
Alden, altho on another mountain. Odd place this, where mountains have
to be reckoned like streets or squares. Well, Mr. Alden, my business is
just this: I’m willing to pay anything in reason, and you can use
bribery and corruption, or talent, or villainy, or anything else you
like as long as you get my man off. There is my card; and if you’ll
agree to undertake it, I’d better drive back to the last village and try
to get a bed.”

He did not take a step toward the door as he spoke, but Durgan believed
that he would fain have done so.

Alden was standing very square, alert, and upright. “Mr. Courthope, this
is a very strange thing. There is nothing that Adolphus knows better
than that I believe him to be guilty, and will not defend him.”

The stranger expressed astonishment in word and action. He moved back a
few steps, and sat down weakly on the bench by the wall; but Durgan
observed that he thus neared the door, tho appearing to settle himself
for conversation.

“You are scarcely a hundred yards from the place where this ‘Dolphus
stabbed a beautiful quadroon woman, and left her dead,” said Durgan.
“She was found just here at—-”

“How ghastly!” interrupted the other in unfeigned distress. “I confess
to being afraid of ghosts–horribly afraid. But, gentlemen, I beg you
to think what an awful business it would be to have that poor nigger
hanged.”

There was no doubt as to the truth of the emotion he now displayed, any
more than in the matter of his former terror.

“It isn’t fair, you know,” he said; “for the punishment is out of all
proportion to the crime, even if he is guilty. To be killed suddenly,
when you are not expecting it, you know, is no suffering at all–nothing
to compare with sitting for weeks expecting a horrible and deliberate
end. Then the disgrace, the execration of the public.” His thin voice
had risen now in actual terror at the picture he had conjured up. “Save
the poor devil if you can.” His eyes turned instinctively toward
Durgan’s. “Sir, I do not know who you are, but I recognize a man of
feeling and of honor. I protest the very thought of such a fate for this
poor fellow appals me. I beseech you, have pity on the poor wretch, as
you would desire pity in–in–your worst extremity.”

He rose after he had spoken, moving about restlessly, as if in the
attempt to control himself. His unfeigned appeal seemed to touch even
Alden. His manner to the man suddenly became kinder.

“There is one thing that I can do for you,” said the lawyer. “If you
will write a short letter formally empowering me to find better counsel
for the defence, I will–telegraph to a man I know in Atlanta to
undertake it. Of course you must formally authorize me.”

“Certainly; certainly. I quite understand,” said the stranger eagerly,
coming toward the table where Alden was arranging paper.

“What’s that?” he said sharply, as he sat down.

There was a scrambling upon the hill above, in which Durgan recognized
the well-known run of Bertha with her dogs in leash. He determined at
once to meet her and send her back, altho he hardly knew why.

He said to Courthope evasively, “There are cattle grazing on all these
hills.”

At the moment he felt reproach for the lie, because the stranger seemed
to trust him implicitly, for he seated himself and took the pen.

Alden surreptitiously kicked the damper of the small stove, increasing
its heat, which was already great. He said to the stranger, who sat with
his back to it, “You will catch cold in driving if you do not open your
coat here.”

Durgan left Alden to put the stranger through his paces, and went
hastily round the ledge of the mine and swung himself up to the trail,
meaning to intercept Bertha before she came near. He had not correctly
estimated her pace, for when he emerged on the path she had just passed
over it. He could only follow her, as the girl descended by a light jump
to the rock platform.

She was about forty feet from the door of the hut when she stood still
and, turning, spoke: “My sister has a terrible attack of neuralgia. If
the carriage is going back–we must send for the doctor. Who–who is
it?”

In the next few confused moments Durgan was promising to send the
message, seeking words to persuade her to return, and giving some answer
to her question; while Bertha was trying to hold the dogs still, and
they, on the scent of strange footsteps, were straining on their leashes
toward the door of the hut.

She was, perhaps, little loth to be pulled a few steps forward so that
she could look in at the open door for herself. The lantern, which
burned full in the face of the stranger, writing at the table, sent a
long, bright stream outwards, in which Bertha now stood framed. In
Durgan’s memory afterwards this moment always remained with these two
faces lit up at each end of the beam of light, while all around them was
lost in darkness.

The stranger had thrown back his coat. His face was in clear profile.

Durgan himself was paralyzed by the intensity of emotion which leaped to
Bertha’s face. She gave an inarticulate sound of terrified joy, a moan
of heart-rending joy–or was it terror?

The stranger, turning sharply, saw the girl, her face and figure
illumined. His jaw dropped with terror. He stood up abjectly.

She sank to the ground, and Durgan, bending over her, heard her trying
to gasp a word with a wonderful intonation of tenderness and
astonishment. That word was “Father.” She tried again and again to speak
it aloud.

She seemed fainting. Instinctively Durgan held the dogs, who broke into
a howl of rage against the abject intruder.

As for the stranger, he appeared to become mad. Alden moved to the door
to detain him, and was caught and thrown into the room as a child would
be cast off by an athlete. The man had fled, and was lost in the gloom
of the forest. He disappeared somewhere between the glow of the carriage
lamps and Durgan’s light, rushing down the hill.

Bertha had not wholly fainted. Now she was clinging to the collars of
the dogs with her whole weight, grappling with them on the very floor
of the rock. She was entreating Durgan in almost voiceless whispers to
“Go and bring him back. Go bring him.”

Alden, who heard nothing Bertha said, was on the road shouting to the
driver, “The man is mad. He is dangerous. Head him off down the road.
Don’t let him escape.” The words rang sharp.

That portion of the hill into which the stranger had run was bordered by
the rock precipice, which came up to the road beyond where the carriage
stood.

Alden raised his voice to a reverberating shout, addressing the
fugitive. “Come back. If you don’t come back we will loose the dogs.”

Durgan was trying to take the furious dogs from the girl, but she would
not relax her hold. She was crying and moaning to the dogs to quiet
them, and entreating Durgan to leave her with wild whispers. “Oh, save
him; for God’s sake, save him. Bring him back to me.” She ground her
teeth in anger at Alden’s shout. “For pity’s sake, stop that cruel man
shouting. Call him off,” she demanded, as if Alden were a dog; “call him
off.”

Durgan followed Alden. “She won’t give you the dogs,” he said.

“It was the sight of the dogs that frightened him,” said Alden. “He is a
maddened criminal, and a very dangerous man, whoever he may be. His
weakness was feigned. He’s skulking; but he’s as good as caught, for he
can’t get over the precipice.”

Durgan heard Bertha dragging and coaxing the dogs up the trail. In a few
minutes she would have them shut up. He felt glad of this. In Alden’s
anger there was no mercy.

The driver was making torches with sticks, lamp oil, and a bit of rope.
Before long, the three men had a glare which so illumined the wood that
each tree-trunk threw a sharp, black shadow. They distributed the lights
to lessen the shadows. They hunted all the slope between the road and
the rock wall, but the fugitive was not found.

“If he had fallen over we should certainly have heard the fall,” they
said.

The silent driver added, “He swore he’d be good for forty dollars if I’d
get him here and back; reckon I ain’t the man to lose half a chance of
that. I kep’ my ears open; he ain’t rolled over.”