The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, страница 1
Produced by Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE
JOHN FOX, JR.
ILLUSTRATED BY F. C. YOHN
To F. S.
THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE
She sat at the base of the big tree--her little sunbonnet pushed back,her arms locked about her knees, her bare feet gathered under hercrimson gown and her deep eyes fixed on the smoke in the valley below.Her breath was still coming fast between her parted lips. There weretiny drops along the roots of her shining hair, for the climb had beensteep, and now the shadow of disappointment darkened her eyes. Themountains ran in limitless blue waves towards the mounting sun--but atbirth her eyes had opened on them as on the white mists trailing up thesteeps below her. Beyond them was a gap in the next mountain chain anddown in the little valley, just visible through it, were trailing bluemists as well, and she knew that they were smoke. Where was the greatglare of yellow light that the "circuit rider" had told about--andthe leaping tongues of fire? Where was the shrieking monster that ranwithout horses like the wind and tossed back rolling black plumes allstreaked with fire? For many days now she had heard stories of the"furriners" who had come into those hills and were doing strange thingsdown there, and so at last she had climbed up through the dewy morningfrom the cove on the other side to see the wonders for herself. She hadnever been up there before. She had no business there now, and, if shewere found out when she got back, she would get a scolding and maybesomething worse from her step-mother--and all that trouble and riskfor nothing but smoke. So, she lay back and rested--her little mouthtightening fiercely. It was a big world, though, that was spread beforeher and a vague awe of it seized her straightway and held her motionlessand dreaming. Beyond those white mists trailing up the hills, beyond theblue smoke drifting in the valley, those limitless blue waves must rununder the sun on and on to the end of the world! Her dead sister hadgone into that far silence and had brought back wonderful stories ofthat outer world: and she began to wonder more than ever before whethershe would ever go into it and see for herself what was there. With thethought, she rose slowly to her feet, moved slowly to the cliff thatdropped sheer ten feet aside from the trail, and stood there like agreat scarlet flower in still air. There was the way at her feet--thatpath that coiled under the cliff and ran down loop by loop throughmajestic oak and poplar and masses of rhododendron. She drew a longbreath and stirred uneasily--she'd better go home now--but the path hada snake-like charm for her and still she stood, following it as far downas she could with her eyes. Down it went, writhing this way and thatto a spur that had been swept bare by forest fires. Along this spur ittravelled straight for a while and, as her eyes eagerly followed itto where it sank sharply into a covert of maples, the little creaturedropped of a sudden to the ground and, like something wild, lay flat.
A human figure had filled the leafy mouth that swallowed up the trailand it was coming towards her. With a thumping heart she pushed slowlyforward through the brush until her face, fox-like with cunning andscreened by a blueberry bush, hung just over the edge of the cliff, andthere she lay, like a crouched panther-cub, looking down. For a moment,all that was human seemed gone from her eyes, but, as she watched, allthat was lost came back to them, and something more. She had seen thatit was a man, but she had dropped so quickly that she did not see thebig, black horse that, unled, was following him. Now both man and horsehad stopped. The stranger had taken off his gray slouched hat and he waswiping his face with something white. Something blue was tied looselyabout his throat. She had never seen a man like that before. His facewas smooth and looked different, as did his throat and his hands. Hisbreeches were tight and on his feet were strange boots that were thecolour of his saddle, which was deep in seat, high both in front andbehind and had strange long-hooded stirrups. Starting to mount, the manstopped with one foot in the stirrup and raised his eyes towards herso suddenly that she shrank back again with a quicker throbbing at herheart and pressed closer to the earth. Still, seen or not seen, flightwas easy for her, so she could not forbear to look again. Apparently, hehad seen nothing--only that the next turn of the trail was too steep toride, and so he started walking again, and his walk, as he strode alongthe path, was new to her, as was the erect way with which he held hishead and his shoulders.
In her wonder over him, she almost forgot herself, forgot to wonderwhere he was going and why he was coming into those lonely hills until,as his horse turned a bend of the trail, she saw hanging from theother side of the saddle something that looked like a gun. He was a"raider"--that man: so, cautiously and swiftly then, she pushed herselfback from the edge of the cliff, sprang to her feet, dashed past the bigtree and, winged with fear, sped down the mountain--leaving in a spot ofsunlight at the base of the pine the print of one bare foot in the blackearth.