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- Down the Ravine - 10/20 -
There was a pause. But the luxury of being allowed to talk without contradiction or rebuke presently induced Tim to proceed.
"He war hyar mighty nigh all day long," he said reflectively. "He eat his dinner along of we-uns."
"Who? the Gov'nor o' the State?" exclaimed Birt, astounded.
"Naw, 'twarn't HIM," Tim admitted somewhat reluctantly, since Birt seemed disposed to credit "we-uns" with a gubernatorial guest. "It's the surveyor I'm talkin' 'bout. Nate hed ter pay him three dollars an' better fur medjurin' the land. He tole Nate ez his land war ez steep an' rocky a spot ez thar war in Tennessee from e-end ter e-end. He axed Nate what ailed him ter hanker ter pay taxes on sech a pack o' bowlders an' bresh. He 'lowed the land warn't wuth a cent an acre."
"What did Nate say?" asked Birt, who hung with feverish interest on every thoughtless word.
"Waal, Nate 'lows ez he hev fund a cur'ous metal on his land; he say it air GOLD!" Tim opened his eyes very wide, and smacked his lips, as if the word tasted good. "He 'lowed ez he needn't hev been in sech a hurry ter enter his land, 'kase the entry-taker told it ter him ez it air the law in Tennessee ez ennybody ez finds a mine or val'able min'ral on vacant land hev got six months extry ter enter the land afore ennybody else kin, an' ef ennybody else wants ter enter it, they hev ter gin the finder o' the mine thirty days' notice."
Tim winked, an impressive demonstration but for the insufficiency of eyelashes: -
"The surveyor he misdoubted, an' 'lowed ez gold hed never been fund in these parts. He said they fund gold in them mountings furder east 'bout twenty odd year ago--in 1831, I believe he said. He 'lowed them mountings hain't got no coal like our'n hev, an' the Cumberland Mountings hain't got no gold. An' then in a minit he tuk ter misdoubtin' on the t'other side o' his mouth. He 'lowed ez Nate's min'ral MOUGHT be gold, an' then ag'in it moughtn't."
The essential difference between these two extremes has afforded scope for vacillation to more consistent men than the surveyor.
"Thar's the grant right now, in the pocket o' Nate's coat," said Tim, shifting the garment on his arm to show a stiff, white folded paper sticking out of the breast pocket. "I reckon when he tole me ter tote his gun an' coat home, he furgot the grant war in his pocket, 'kase he fairly dotes on it, an' won't trest it out'n his sight."
Nate was in the habit of exacting similar services from his acquiescent younger brother, and Tim had his hands full, as he tried to hold the gun, and turn the coat on his arm. He finally hung the garment on a peg in the shed, and shouldered the weapon. Suddenly he whirled around toward Rufe, who was still standing by.
"What in the nation air inside o' that thar boy?" he exclaimed. "A chicken, ain't it?"
For a musical treble chirping was heard proceeding apparently from Rufe's pocket. This chicken differed from others that Rufe had put away, in being alive and hearty.
The small boy entered into the conversation with great spirit, to tell that a certain hen which he owned had yesterday come off her nest with fourteen of the spryest deedies that ever stepped. One in especial had so won upon Rufe by its beauty and grace of deportment that he was carrying it about with him, feeding it at close intervals, and housing it in the security of his pocket.
The deedie hardly made a moan. There was no use in remonstrating with Rufe,--everything that came within his eccentric orbit seemed to realize that,--and the deedie was contentedly nestling down in his pocket, apparently resigned to lead the life of a portemonnaie.
Rufe narrated with pardonable pride the fact that, some time before, his great-uncle, Rufus Dicey, had sent to him from the "valley kentry" a present of a pair of game chickens, and that this deedie was from the first egg hatched in the game hen's brood.
But Rufe was not selfish. He offered to give Tim one of the chicks. Now poultry was Tim's weakness. He accepted with more haste than was seemly, and at once asked for the deedie in the small boy's pocket. Rufe, however, refused to part from the chick of his adoption, and presently Tim, with the gun on his shoulder, left the tanyard in company with Rufe, to look over the brood of game chicks, and make a selection from among them.
Birt hardly noticed what they did or said. Every faculty was absorbed in considering the wily game which his false friend had played so successfully. It was all plain enough now. The fruit of his discovery would be plucked by other hands. There was to be no division of the profits. Nate Griggs had coveted the whole. His craft had secured it for himself alone. He had the legal title to the land, the mine--all! There seemed absolutely no vulnerable point in his scheme. With suddenly sharpened perceptions, Birt realized that if he should now claim the discovery and the consequent right of thirty days' notice of Nate's intention, by virtue of the priority of entering land accorded by the statute to the finder of a mine or valuable mineral, it would be considered a groundless boast, actuated by envy and jealousy. He had told no one but Nate of his discovery--and would not Nate now deny it!
However, one thing in the future was certain,--Nathan Griggs should not escape altogether scathless. For a long time Birt sat motionless, revolving vengeful purposes in his mind. Every moment he grew more bitter, as he reflected upon his wrecked scheme, his wonderful fatuity, and the double dealing of his chosen coadjutor. But he would get even with Nate Griggs yet; he promised himself that,--he would get even!
At last the falling darkness warned him home. When he rose his limbs trembled, his head was in a whirl, and the familiar scene swayed, strange and distorted, before him. He steadied himself after a moment, finished the odd jobs he had left undone, and presently was trudging homeward.
A heavy black cloud overhung the woods; an expectant stillness brooded upon the sultry world; an angry storm was in the air. The first vivid flash and simultaneous peal burst from the sky as he reached the passage between the two rooms.
"Ye air powerful perlite ter come a-steppin' home jes' at supper- time," said his mother advancing to meet him. "Ye lef' no wood hyar, an' ye said ye would borry the mule, an' come home early a- purpose to haul some. An' me hyar with nuthin' to cook supper with but sech chips an' blocks an' bresh ez I could pick up off'n the groun'."
Birt's troubles had crowded out the recollection of this domestic duty.
"I clean furgot," he admitted, penitently. Then he asked suddenly, "An' whar war Rufe, an' Pete, an' Joe, ez YE hed ter go ter pickin' up of chips an' sech off'n the groun'?"
He turned toward the group of small boys. "Air you-uns all disabled somehows, ez ye can't pick up chips an' bresh an' sech?" he said. "An' ef ye air, whyn't ye go ter the tanyard arter me?"
"They war all off in the woods, a-lookin' arter Rufe's trap ez ye sot fur squir'ls," Mrs. Dicey explained. "It hed one in it, an' I cooked it fur supper."
Birt said that he could go out early with his axe and cut enough wood for breakfast tomorrow, and then he fell silent. Once or twice his preoccupied demeanor called forth comment.
"Whyn't ye eat some o' the squir'l, Birt?" his mother asked at the supper table. "Pears-like ter me ez it air cooked toler'ble tasty."
Birt could not eat. He soon rose from the table and resumed his chair by the window, and for half an hour no word passed between them.
The thunder seemed to roll on the very roof of the cabin, and it trembled beneath the heavy fall of the rain. At short intervals a terrible blue light quivered through crevices in the "daubin'" between the logs of the wall, and about the rude shutter which closed the glassless window. Now and then a crash from the forest told of a riven tree. But the storm had no terrors for the inmates of this humble dwelling. Pete and Joe had already gone to bed; Tennessee had fallen asleep while playing on the floor, and Rufe dozed peacefully in his chair. Even Mrs. Dicey nodded as she knitted, the needles sometimes dropping from her nerveless hand.
Birt silently watched the group for a time in the red light of the smouldering fire and the blue flashes from without. At length he softly rose and crept noiselessly to the door; the fastening was the primitive latch with a string attached; it opened without a sound in his cautious handling, and he found himself in the pitchy darkness outside, the wild mountain wind whirling about him, and the rain descending in steady torrents.
He had stumbled only a few steps from the house when he thought he indistinctly heard the door open again. He dreaded his mother's questions, but he stopped and looked back.
He saw nothing. There was no sound save the roar of the wind, the dash of the rain, and the commotion among the branches of the trees.
He went on once more, absorbed in his dreary reflections and the fierce anger that burned in his heart.
"I'll git even with Nate Griggs," he said, over and again. "I'll git even with him yit."
When Birt reached the fence, he discovered that the bars were down. Rufe had forgotten to replace them that afternoon when he drove in the cow to be milked. Despite his absorption, Birt paused to put them up, remembering the vagrant mountain cattle that might stray in upon the corn. He found the familiar little job difficult enough, for it seemed to him that there was never before so black a night. Even looking upward, he could not see the great wind-tossed boughs of the chestnut-oak above his head. He only knew they were near,
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