Chapter XIII. Sammy Lane's Ambition.
 

"Law sakes!" cried Sammy, looking at the table. "You don't use all them dishes, do you, Dad? You sure must eat a lot."

"Oh, I eat enough," laughed Mr. Howitt; "but it happens that I had company this evening. Young Matt and Pete were here for supper." He brought two chairs outside the cabin.

"Shucks!" exclaimed Sammy, as she seated herself, and removed her sunbonnet; "they must've eat and run. Wish'd I'd got here sooner. Young Matt run away from me this afternoon. And I wanted to see him 'bout Mandy Ford's party next week. I done promised Mandy that I'd bring him. I reckon he'd go with me if I asked him."

"There is not the least doubt about that," observed the man; "I'm sure anyone would be glad for such charming company."

The girl looked up suspiciously; "Are you a jokin'?" she said.

"Indeed, I am not; I am very much in earnest." Then, taking a cob pipe from his pocket, he added, politely, "May I smoke?"

"Heh? O law! yes. What you ask me for?" She watched him curiously, as he filled and lighted the pipe. "I reckon that's because you was raised in the city," he added slowly; "is that the way folks do there?"

"Folks smoke here, sometimes, do they not?" he returned between puffs.

"I don't mean that. Course they smoke and chew, too. And the women dip snuff, some of 'em. Aunt Mollie Matthews don't, though, and I ain't never goin' to, 'cause she don't. But nobody don't ask nobody else if they can. They just go ahead. That ain't the only way you're different from us, though," she continued, looking at Mr. Howitt, with that wide questioning gaze. "You're different in a heap o' ways. 'Tain't that you wear different clothes, for you don't, no more. Nor, 'taint that you act like you were any better'n us. I don't know what it is, but it's somethin'. Take your stayin' here in Mutton Hollow, now; honest, Dad, ain't you afear'd to stay here all alone at nights?"

"Afraid? afraid of what?" he looked at her curiously.

"Hants," said the girl, lowering her voice; "down there." She pointed toward the old ruined cabin under the bluff. "She's sure been seen there. What if he was to come, too? Don't you believe in hants?"

The shepherd's face was troubled, as he answered, "I don't know, Sammy. I scarcely know what I believe. Some marvelous experiences are related by apparently reliable authorities; but I have always said that I could not accept the belief. I--I am not so sure now. After all, the unseen world is not so very far away. Strange forces, of which we know nothing, are about us everywhere. I dare not say that I do not believe."

"But you ain't scared?"

"Why should I fear?"

Sammy shook her head. "Ain't 'nother man or woman in the whole country would dast spend the night here, Dad; except Pete, of course. Not even Young Matt, nor my Daddy would do it; and I don't guess they're afraid of anything--anything that's alive, I mean. You're sure different, Dad; plumb different. I reckon it must be the city that does it. And that's what I've come to see you about this evenin'. You see Ollie's been a tellin' me a lot about folks and things way over there." She waived her hand toward the ridges that shut in the Hollow. "And Ollie he's changed a heap himself since he went there to live. I got a letter to-day, and, when I went home, I hunted up the first one he wrote, and I can tell there's a right smart difference already. You know all about Ollie and me goin' to get married, I reckon?"

Mr. Howitt admitted that he had heard something of that nature; and Sammy nodded, "I 'lowed you'd know. But you don't know how mighty proud and particular Ollie always is. I figure that bein' in the city with all them one folks ain't goin' to make him any less that way than he was. And if he stays there and keeps on a changin', and I stay here, and don't change none, why it might be that I--I--" She faltered and came to a dead stop, twisting her bonnet strings nervously in her confusion. "Ollie he ain't like Young Matt, nohow," she said again. "Such as that wouldn't make no difference with him. But Ollie--well you see--"

There was a twinkle, now, in the shepherd's eye, as he answered; "Yes, I see; I am quite sure that I see."

The girl continued; "You know all about these things, Dad. And there ain't nobody else here that does. Will you learn me to be a sure 'nough lady, so as Ollie won't--so he won't--" Again she paused in confusion. It was evident, from the look on Mr. Howitt's face, that, whatever he saw, it was not this.

"I feel somehow like I could do it, if I had a chance," she murmured.

There was no answer. After a time, Sammy stole a look at her quiet companion. What could the man in the chair be thinking about? His pipe was neglected; his gray head bowed.

"Course," said the young woman, with just a little lifting of her chin; "Course, if I couldn't never learn, there ain't no use to try."

The old scholar raised his head and looked long at the girl. Her splendid form, glowing with the rich life and strength of the wilderness, showed in every line the proud old southern blood. Could she learn to be a fine lady? Mr. Howitt thought of the women of the cities, pale, sickly, colorless, hot-house posies, beside this mountain flower. What would this beautiful creature be, had she their training? What would she gain? What might she not lose? Aloud he said, "My dear child, do you know what it is that you ask?"

Sammy hung her head, abashed at his serious tone. "I 'lowed it would be right smart trouble for you," she said. "But I could let you have Brownie in pay; he ain't only five year old, and is as sound as a button. He's all I've got, Mr. Howitt. But I'd be mighty proud to swap him to you."

"My girl, my girl," said the shepherd, "you misunderstand me. I did not mean that. It would be a pleasure to teach you. I was thinking how little you realized what the real life of the city is like, and how much you have that the 'fine ladies,' as you call them, would give fortunes for, and how little they have after all that could add one ray of brightness to your life."

Sammy laughed aloud, as she cried, "Me got anything that anybody would want? Why, Dad, I ain't got nothin' but Brownie, and my saddle, and--and that's all. I sure ain't got nothing to lose."

The man smiled in sympathy. Then slowly a purpose formed in his mind. "And if you should lose, you will never blame me?" he said at last.

"Never, never," she promised eagerly.

"Alright, it is a bargain. I will help you."

The girl sprang to her feet. "I knew you would. I knew you would. I was plumb sure you would," she cried, fairly quivering with life and excitement. "It's got to be a sure 'nough lady, Dad. I want to be a really truly fine lady, like them Ollie tells about in his letters, you know."

"Yes, Sammy. I understand, a 'sure enough' lady, and we will do it, I am sure. But it will take a great deal of hard work on your part, though."

"I reckon it will," she returned soberly, coming back to her seat. Then drawing her chair a little closer, she leaned toward her teacher, "Begin now," she commanded. "Tell me what I must do first."

Mr. Howitt carefully searched his pockets for a match, and lighted his pipe again, before he said, "First you must know what a 'sure enough' lady is. You see, Sammy, there are several kinds of women who call themselves ladies, but are not real ladies after all; and they all look very much like the 'sure enough' kind; that is, they look like them to most people."

Sammy nodded, "Just like them Thompsons down by Flat Rock. They're all mighty proud, 'cause they come from Illinois the same as the Matthews's. You'd think to hear 'em that Old Matt couldn't near run the ranch without 'em, and some folks, strangers like, might believe it. But we all know they ain't nothing but just low down trash, all the time, and no better than some of them folks over on the Bend."

The shepherd smiled, "Something like that. I see you understand. Now a real lady, Sammy, is a lady in three ways: First, in her heart; I mean just to herself, in the things that no one but she could ever know. A 'sure enough' lady does not pretend to be; she is."

Again the girl broke in eagerly, "That's just like Aunt Mollie, ain't it? Couldn't no one ever have a finer lady heart than her."

"Indeed, you are right," agreed the teacher heartily. "And that is the thing that lies at the bottom of it all, Sammy. The lady heart comes first."

"I won't never forget that," she returned. "I couldn't forget Aunt Mollie, nohow. Tell me more, Dad."

"Next, the 'sure enough' lady must have a lady mind. She must know how to think and talk about the things that really matter. All the fine dresses and jewels in the world can't make a real lady, if she does not think, or if she thinks only of things that are of no value. Do you see?"

Again the girl nodded, and, with a knowing smile, answered quickly, "I know a man like that. And I see now that that is what makes him so different from other folks. It's the things he thinks about all to himself that does it. But I've got a heap to learn, I sure have. I could read alright, if I had something to read, and I reckon I could learn to talk like you if I tried hard enough. What else is there?"

Then, continued the shepherd, "A lady will keep her body as strong and as beautiful as she can, for this is one way that she expresses her heart and mind. Do you see what I mean?"

Sammy answered slowly, "I reckon I do. You mean I mustn't get stooped over and thin chested, and go slouching around, like so many of the girls and women around here do, and I mustn't let my clothes go without buttons, 'cause I am in a hurry, and I must always comb my hair, and keep my hands as white as I can. Is that it?"

"That's the idea," said the shepherd.

Sammy gazed ruefully at a large rent in her skirt, and at a shoe half laced. Then she put up a hand to her tumbled hair. "I--I didn't think it made any difference, when only home folks was around," she said.

"That's just it, my child," said the old man gently. "I think a 'sure enough' lady would look after these things whether there was anyone to see her or not; just for herself, you know. And this is where you can begin. I will send for some books right away, and when they come we will begin to train your mind."

"But the heart, how'll I get a lady heart, Dad?"

"How does the violet get its perfume, Sammy? Where does the rose get its color? How does the bird learn to sing its song?"

For a moment she was puzzled. Then her face lighted; "I see!" she exclaimed. "I'm just to catch it from folks like Aunt Mollie, and--and someone else I know. I'm just to be, not to make believe or let on like I was, but to be a real lady inside. And then I'm to learn how to talk and look, like I know myself to be." She drew a long breath as she rose to go. "It'll be mighty hard, Dad, in some ways; but it'll sure be worth it all when I get out 'mong the folks. I'm mighty thankful to you, I sure am. And I hope you won't never be sorry you promised to help me."

As the girl walked swiftly away through the thickening dusk of the evening, the shepherd watched her out of sight; then turned toward the corral for a last look at the sheep, to see that all was right for the night. "Brave, old fellow," he said to the dog who trotted by his side; "are we going to make another mistake, do you think? We have made so many, so many, you know." Brave looked up into the master's face, and answered with his low bark, as though to declare his confidence. "Well, well, old dog, I hope you are right. The child has a quick mind, and a good heart; and, if I am not mistaken, good blood. We shall see. We shall see."

Suddenly the dog whirled about, the hair on his back bristling as he gave a threatening growl. A man on a dun colored mule was coming up the road.