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- A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill - 1/51 -
[Illustration: "Do you believe in love, Doctor?"]
A ROMANCE OF BILLY-GOAT HILL
ALICE HEGAN RICE
Author of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch Lovey Mary, Sandy, Etc.
By GEORGE WEIGHT
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Do you believe in love, Doctor?"
The Colonel leaned back upon his knees and glared at Morley
There was a sharp report, a smothered groan, then a heavy fall
She held it to the flame, and watched it burn to ashes on the hearth
Maria began to cry, and forgot to jolt the Boarder
Mrs. Sequin paused with her hand on the banister
"It was a great wrong I did you, Don; can you forgive me?"
"Tell me quick! How do you know about the shooting?"
It was springtime in Kentucky, gay, irresponsible, Southern springtime, that comes bursting impetuously through highways and byways, heedless of possible frosts and impossible fruitions. A glamour of tender new green enveloped the world, and the air was sweet with the odor of young and growing things. The brown river, streaked with green where the fresher currents of the creeks poured in, circled the base of a long hill that dominated the landscape from every direction.
In spite of the fact that impertinent railroads were beginning to crawl about its feet, and the flotsam and jetsam of the adjacent city were gradually being deposited at its base, it nevertheless reared its granite shoulders proudly and defiantly against the sky.
From the early days when the hill and rich surrounding farm lands had been granted to the old pioneer William Carsey, one generation of Carseys after another had lived in the stately old mansion that now stood like the last remaining fortress against the city's invasion. Sagging cornices and discolored walls had not dispelled the atmosphere of contentment that enveloped the place, an effect heightened by the wide front porch which ran straight across the face of it, like a broad, complacent smile. Some old houses, like old gallants, bear an unmistakable air of past prosperity, of past affairs. Romance has trailed her garments near them and the fragrance lingers.
Thornwood, shabby and neglected, could still afford to drowse in the sunshine and smile over the past. It remembered the time when its hospitality was the boast of the countryside, when its stables held the best string of horses in the State; when its smokehouse, now groaning under a pile of lumber, sheltered shoulders of pork, and sides of bacon, and long lines of juicy, sugar-cured hams; when the cellar quartered battalions of cobwebby bottles that stood at attention on the low hanging shelves. It was a house ripe with experience and mellow with memories, a wise, old, sophisticated house, that had had its day, and enjoyed it, and now, through with ambitions, and through with striving, had settled down to a peaceful old age.
On this particular Sunday afternoon Colonel Bob Carsey, the third of his name, sat on the porch in a weather-beaten mahogany rocker, making himself a mint julep. He was a stout, elderly gentleman, and, like the rocking chair, was weather-beaten, and of a slightly mahogany hue. His features, having long ago given up the struggle against encroaching flesh, were now merely slight indentures, and mild protuberances, with the exception of the eyes which still blazed away defiantly, like twinkling lights at the end of a passage. Across his feet with nose on paws lay a dog, and about him was scattered a profusion of fishing paraphernalia.
The Colonel, carefully crushing the mint between his stubby fingers, stirred it with the sugar at the bottom of his tall glass; then, resting the concoction on the broad arm of the rocker, and without turning his head, lifted his voice in stentorian command:
No answer. He turned his head slightly to the left, in the general direction of the negro cabins whose roofs could be seen through the trees, and sent another summons hurtling through the bushes:
Again he waited, and again there was no response. The Colonel sighed resignedly, and spreading a large bordered handkerchief over his obliterated features, clasped his fat hands with some difficulty about his ample girth, and slept. When he awoke he began exactly where he had left off, only this time turning his head slightly to the right, and sending his command toward the kitchen wing.
A door slammed somewhere in the distance, and presently a shuffling of feet was heard in the hall, and a small, alert old negro presented himself to his master with an air of cheerful conciliation.
The Colonel did not turn his head; he gazed with an air of great injury at the tops of the locust trees, clasping his tumbler as it rested on the arm of the rocker.
"Jimpson," he began, after the culprit had suffered his silence some minutes.
"Now, Cunnel," began Jimpson nervously. He had evidently rehearsed this scene in the past.
"Just answer my questions," insisted the Colonel. "_Is_ this my house?"
"Yas, sir, but Carline, she--"
"And are you my nigger?" persisted the Colonel plaintively.
"Yas, sir; but you see, Carline--"
"And haven't I, for twenty years," persisted the Colonel, "been taking a mint julep at half past two on Sunday afternoons?"
"Yas, sir, I was a comin'--"
"Then you don't regard it as an unreasonable request, that a gentleman should ask his own nigger, in his own house, to bring him a small piece of ice?" The Colonel's sense of injury was becoming so overpowering that the offender might have been crushed by contrition had not a laugh made them both look up.
Standing in the doorway was a young girl in a short riding habit, and a small hat of red felt that was carelessly pinned to her bright, tumbled hair. Her eyes were dark, and round like those of a child, and they danced from object to object as if eager to miss none of the good things that the world had to offer. Joy of life and radiant youth seemed to flash from her face and figure.
"What's the matter, Squire Daddy?" she asked, pausing on the threshold. "Mad again?" The Colonel's head twitched in her direction, but he held it stiff.
"Well, please don't kill Uncle Jimpson 'til he finds my gloves. I don't know where I took them off."
"Yas 'm, Miss Lady," Jimpson welcomed the diversion. "I'll find 'em jes as soon as I git yer Paw his ice."
"Oh, Daddy'll wait, won't you, Dad? I'm in a hurry."
For a moment Jimpson and the Colonel eyed each other, then the Colonel's gaze shifted.
"I'll git de ice fer you on my way back," Jimpson whispered reassuringly. "I spec' dat chile _is_ in a hurry."
The young lady in question gave no appearance of haste as she perched herself on the arm of her father's chair, and presented a boot-lace for him to tie.
"Going fishing, Dad?" she asked.
"Yes," said the Colonel, struggling to make a two-loop bow-knot. "Noah Wicker and I are going down below the mill dam. Want to come along?"
"I can't. I'm going riding."
"That's good. Who with?"
"With Don Morley."
The smile that had returned to the Colonel's face during this conversation contracted suddenly, leaving his mouth a round little button of disapprobation.
"What in thunder is he doing up here anyhow; why don't he go on back to town where he belongs?"
"Don?" Miss Lady pretended to effect a part in the few straggling hairs that adorned his forehead. "Why, he's staying over to the Wickers' while he looks around for a farm. Here's a gray hair, Daddy! I'd pull it out only there are two more on that other side now than
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