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- Down the Ravine - 20/20 -


in this sequestered spot, with the great crags towering above and the darkling vistas of the ravine on either hand. There was a long stretch of sunny weather, and somehow that shifting purple haze accented all its languorous lustres. It seemed a vague sort of poetry a-loose in the air, and color had license. The law which decreed that a leaf should be green was a dead letter. How gallantly red and yellow they flared; and others, how tenderly pink, and gray, and purplish of hue! What poly-tinted fancies underfoot in the moss! Strange visitants came from the north. Flocks of birds, southward bound, skimmed these alien skies. Sometimes they alighted on the tree-tops or along the banks of the torrent, chattering in great excitement, commenting mightily on the country.

Birt had never been so light-hearted as during these days. The cessation of anxiety was itself a sort of happiness. The long, hard ordeal to which the truth had subjected him had ended triumphantly.

"Mighty onexpected things happen in this worl'," he said, reflectively. "It 'pears powerful cur'ous to me, arter all ez hev come an' gone, ez _I_ ain't no loser by that thar gold mine down the ravine."

He himself was surprised that he did not rejoice in Nate's mortification and defeat. But somehow he had struck a moral equilibrium; in mastering his anger and thirst for revenge, he had gained a stronger control of all the more unworthy impulses of his nature.

Meantime there was woe at the tanyard. Jube Perkins had been anxious to have Birt resume his old place on the old terms. The professor, however, would not release the boy from his engagement. It seemed that this man of science could deduce subtle distinctions of character in the mere wielding of a spade. He had never seen, he said, any one dig so conscientiously and so intelligently as Birt. The tanner suddenly found that conscience might prove a factor even in so simple a matter as driving the old mule around the bark-mill. The boy who had taken Birt's place was a sullen, intractable fellow, and brutal. When he yelled and swore and plied the lash, the old mule would occasionally back his ears. The climax came one day when the rash boy kicked the animal. Now this reminded the mild-mannered old mule of his own youthful prowess as a kicker. He revived his reputation. He seemed to stand on his fore-legs and his muzzle, while his hind-legs played havoc behind him. The terrified boy dared not come near him. The bark-mill itself was endangered. Jube Perkins had not done so much work for a twelvemonth as in his efforts to keep the boy, the mule, and the bark-mill going together.

There were no "finds" down by the lick to rejoice the professor, and he went away at last boneless, except in so far as nature had provided him. He left Birt amply rewarded for his labor. So independent did Mrs. Dicey feel with this sum of money in reserve, that she would not agree that Birt should work on the old terms with the tanner. Birt was dismayed by this temerity. Once more, however, he recognized her acumen, for Jubal Perkins, although he left the house in a huff, came back again and promised good wages. Ignorant and simple as she was, her keen instinct for her son's best interest, his true welfare, endowed her words with wisdom. Thenceforth he esteemed no friend, no ally, equal to his mother.

It delighted him to witness her triumph in the proof of his innocence, and indeed she did not in this matter bear herself with meekness. It made him feel so prosperous to note her relapse into her old caustic habit of speech. Ah, if he were hurt or sore beset, every word would be tenderness.

Birt shortly compassed a much desired object. The mule's revival of his ancient glories as a "turrible kicker" had injured his market value, and Birt's earnings enabled him to purchase the animal at a low price. The mule lived to a great age, always with his master as "mild-mannered" as a lamb.

For some time Birt saw nothing of Nate, but one day the quondam friends met face to face on a narrow, precipitous path on the mountain side. Abject fear was expressed in Nate's sharp features, for escape was impossible.

There was no need of either fear or flight.

"How air ye, I'on Pyrite!" cried Birt cheerfully.

The martyr's countenance changed.

"Ye never done me right 'bout that thar mine, Birt Dicey," Nate said reproachfully. "Ye mus' hev knowed from the fust ez them thar rocks war good fur nuthin'."

"Ye air the deceivinest sandy-headed Pyrite that ever war on the top o' this mounting, an' ye knows it," Birt retorted in high good humor; "an' ef it war wuth my while I'd gin ye a old-fashion larrupin' jes' ter pay ye fur the trick ez ye played on me. But I ain't keerin' fur that, now. Stan' back thar, Tennessee!"

Since then, Tennessee, always preserving the influence she wielded that memorable night, has grown to be a woman--never pretty, but, as her brother still stoutly avers, "powerful peart."


Down the Ravine - 20/20

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