Chapter IX. Sammy Lane's Folks.
 

It began on a big southern plantation, where there were several brothers and sisters, with a gentleman father of no little pride, and a lady mother of equal pride and great beauty.

With much care for detail, Jim drew a picture of the big mansion with its wide lawns, flower gardens and tree bordered walks; with its wealth of culture, its servants, and distinguished guests; for, said he, "When you get to be a fine lady, you ought to know that you got as good blood as the best of the thorough-breds." And Sammy, interrupting his speech with a kiss, bade him go on with his story.

Then he told how the one black sheep of that proud southern flock had been cast forth from the beautiful home while still hardly grown; and how, with his horse, gun and violin, the wanderer had come into the heart of the Ozark wilderness, when the print of moccasin feet was still warm on the Old Trail. Jim sketched broadly here, and for some reason did not fully explain the cause of his banishment; neither did he comment in any way upon its justice or injustice.

Time passed, and a strong, clear-eyed, clean-limbed, deep-bosomed mountain lass, with all the mastering passion of her kind, mated the free, half wild, young hunter; and they settled in the cabin by the spring on the southern slope of Dewey. Then the little one came, and in her veins there was mingled the blue blood of the proud southerners and the warm red life of her wilderness mother.

Again Jim's story grew rich in detail. Holding his daughter at arm's length, and looking at her through half-closed eyes, he said, "You're like her, honey; you're mighty like her; same eyes, same hair, same mouth, same build, same way of movin', strong, but smooth and free like. She could run clean to the top of Dewey, or sit a horse all day. Do you ever get tired, girl?"

Sammy laughed, and shook her head; "I've run from here to the signal tree, lots of times, Daddy."

"You're like the old folks, too," mused Jim; "like them in what you think and say."

"Tell me more," said the girl. "Seems like I remember bein' in a big wagon, and there was a woman there too; was she my mother?"

Jim nodded, and unconsciously lowered his voice, as he said, "It was in the old Bald Knobber time. Things happened in them days, honey. Many's the night I've seen the top of old Dewey yonder black with men. It was when things was broke up, that--that your mother and me thought we could do better in Texas; so we went," Jim was again sketching broadly.

"Your mother left us there, girl. Seemed like she couldn't stand it, bein' away from the hills or somethin', and she just give up. I never did rightly know how it was. We buried her out there, way out on the big plains."

"I remember her a little," whispered Sammy. Jim continued; "Then after a time you and me come back to the old place. Your mother named you Samantha, girl, but bein' as there wasn't no boy, I always called you Sammy. It seems right enough that way now, for you've sure been more'n a son to me since we've been alone; and that's one reason why I learned you to ride and shoot with the best of them.

"There's them that says I ain't done right by you, bringing you up without ary woman about the place; and I don't know as I have, but somehow I couldn't never think of no woman as I ought, after living with your mother. And then there was Aunt Mollie to learn you how to cook and do things about the house. I counted a good bit, too, on the old stock, and it sure showed up right. You're like the old folks, girl, in the way you think, but you're like your mother in the way you look."

Sammy's arms went around her father's neck, "You're a good man, Daddy Jim; the best Daddy a girl ever had; and if I ain't all bad, it's on account of you." There was a queer look on the man's dark face. He had sketched some parts of his tale with a broad hand, indeed.

The girl raised her head again; "But, Daddy, I wish you'd do something for me. I--I don't like Wash Gibbs to be a comin' here. I wish you'd quit ridin' with him, Daddy. I'm--I'm afeared of him; he looks at me so. He's a sure bad one--I know he is, Daddy."

Jim laughed and again there was that odd metallic note in his voice; "I've knowed him a long time, honey. Me and his daddy was-- was together when he died; and you used to sit on Wash's knee when you was a little tad. Not that he's so mighty much older than you, but he was a man's size at fifteen. You don't understand, girl, but I've got to go with him sometimes. But don't you fret; Wash Gibbs ain't goin' to hurt me, and he won't come here more'n I can help, either." Then he changed the subject abruptly. "Tell me what you've been doin' while I was away."

Sammy told of' her visit to their friends at the Matthews place, and of the stranger who had come into the neighborhood. As the girl talked, her father questioned her carefully, and several times the metallic note crept into his soft, drawling speech, while into his eyes came that peculiar, searching look, as if he would draw from his daughter even more than she knew of the incident. Once he rose, and, going to the door, stood looking out into the night.

Sammy finished with her answer to Mandy Ford's opinion of the stranger; "You don't reckon a revenue would ask a blessin', do you, Daddy? Seems like he just naturally wouldn't dast; God would make the victuals stick in his throat and choke him sure."

Jim laughed, as he replied, "I don't know, girl; I never heard of a revenue's doin' such. But a feller can't tell."

When Sammy left him to retire for the night, her father picked up the violin again, and placed it beneath his chin as if to play; but he did not touch the strings, and soon hung the instrument in its place above the mantel. Then, going to the doorway, he lighted his pipe, and, for a full hour, sat, looking up the Old Trail toward the Matthews place, his right hand thrust into the bosom of his hickory shirt, where the button was missing.