The Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXIII. Ollie Comes Home.
The day that Ollie was expected at the cabin on Dewey Bald, Mr. Lane was busy in the field.
"I don't reckon you'll need me at th' house nohow," he said with a queer laugh, as he rose from the dinner table; and Sammy, blushing, told him to go on to his work, or Young Matt would get his planting done first.
Jim went out to get his horse from the stable, but before he left, he returned once more to the house.
"What is it, Daddy? Forget something?" asked Sammy, as her father stood in the doorway.
"Not exactly," drawled Jim. "I ain't got a very good forgetter. Wish I had. It's somethin' I can't forget. Wish I could."
In a moment the girl's arms were about his neck, "You dear foolish old Daddy Jim. I have a bad forgetter, too. You thought when I began studying with Dad Howitt that my books would make me forget you. Well, have they?" A tightening of the long arm about her waist was the only answer. "And now you are making yourself miserable trying to think that Ollie Stewart and his friends will make me forget you; just as if all the folks in the world could ever be to me what you are; you, and Dad, and Uncle Matt, and Aunt Mollie, and Young Matt. Daddy, I am ashamed of you. Honest, I am. Do you think a real genuine lady could ever forget the father who had been so good to her? Daddy, I am insulted. You must apologize immediately."
She pretended to draw away, but the long arm held her fast, while the mountaineer said in a voice that had in it pride and pain, with a world of love, "I know, I know, girl. But you'll be a livin' in the city, when you and Ollie are married, and these old hills will be mighty lonesome with you gone. You see I couldn't never leave the old place. 'Tain't much, I know, so far as money value goes. But there's some things worth a heap more than their money value, I reckon. If you was only goin' t' live where I could ride over once or twice a week to see you, it would be different."
"Yes, Daddy; but maybe I won't go after all. I'm not married, yet, you know."
Something in her voice or manner caused Jim to hold his daughter at arm's length, and look full into the brown eyes; "What do you mean, girl?"
Sammy laughed in an uneasy and embarrassed way. She was not sure that she knew herself all that lay beneath the simple words. She tried to explain. "Why, I mean that--that Ollie and I have both grown up since we promised, and he has been living away out in the big world and going to school besides. He must have seen many girls since he left me. He is sure to be changed greatly, and-- and, maybe he won't want a backwoods wife."
The man growled something beneath his breath, and the girl placed a hand over his lips; "You mustn't say swear words, Daddy Jim. Indeed, you must not. Not in the presence of ladies, anyway."
"You're changed a heap in some ways, too," said Jim.
"Yes, I suppose I am; but my changes are mostly on the inside like; and perhaps he won't see them."
"Would you care so mighty much, Sammy?" whispered the father.
"That's just it, Daddy. How can I tell? We must both begin all over again, don't you see?" Then she sent him away to his work.
Sammy had finished washing the dinner dishes, and was putting things in order about the house, when she stopped suddenly before the little shelf that held her books. Then, with a smile, she carried them every one into her own room, placing them carefully where they could not be seen from the open door. Going next to the mirror, she deliberately took down her hair, and arranged it in the old careless way that Ollie had always known. "You're just the same backwoods girl, Sammy Lane, so far as outside things go," she said to the face in the glass; "but you are not quite the same all the way through. We'll see if he--" She was interrupted by the loud barking of the dog outside, and her heart beat more quickly as a voice cried, "Hello, hello, I say; call off your dog!"
Sammy hurried to the door. A strange gentleman stood at the gate. The strangest gentleman that Sammy had ever seen. Surely this could not be Ollie Stewart; this slender, pale-faced man, with faultless linen, well gloved hands and shining patent leathers. The girl drew back in embarrassment.
But there was no hesitation on the part of the young man. Before she could recover from her astonishment, he caught her in his arms and kissed her again and again, until she struggled from his embrace. "You--you must not," she gasped.
"Why not?" he demanded laughingly. "Has anyone a better right? I have waited a long while for this, and I mean to make up now for lost time."
He took a step toward her again, but Sammy held him off at arm's length, as she repeated, "No--no--you must not; not now." Young Stewart was helpless. And the discovery that she was stronger than this man brought to the girl a strange feeling, as of shame.
"How strong you are," he said petulantly; ceasing his efforts. Then carefully surveying the splendidly proportioned and developed young woman, he added, "And how beautiful!"
Under his look, Sammy's face flushed painfully, even to her neck and brow; and the man, seeing her confusion, laughed again. Then, seating himself in the only rocking-chair in the room, the young gentleman leisurely removed his gloves, looking around the while with an amused expression on his face, while the girl stood watching him. At last, he said impatiently, "Sit down, sit down, Sammy. You look at me as if I were a ghost."
Unconsciously, she slipped into the speech of the old days, "You sure don't look much like you used to. I never see nobody wear such clothes as them. Not even Dad Howitt, when he first come. Do you wear 'em every day?"
Ollie frowned; "You're just like all the rest, Sammy. Why don't you talk as you write? You've improved a lot in your letters. If you talk like that in the city; people will know in a minute that you are from the country."
At this, Sammy rallied her scattered wits, and the wide, questioning look was in her eyes, as she replied quietly, "Thank you. I'll try to remember. But tell me, please, what harm could it do, if people did know I came from the country?"
It was Ollie's turn to be amazed. "Why you can talk!" he said. "Where did you learn?" And the girl answered simply that she had picked it up from the old shepherd.
This little incident put Sammy more at ease, and she skilfully led her companion to speak of the city and his life there. Of his studies the young fellow had little to say, and, to her secret delight, the girl found that she had actually made greater progress with her books than had her lover with all his supposed advantages.
But of other things, of the gaiety and excitement of the great city, of his new home, the wealth of his uncle, and his own bright prospects, Ollie spoke freely, never dreaming the girl had already seen the life he painted in such glowing colors through the eyes of one who had been careful to point out the froth and foam of it all. Neither did the young man discover in the quiet questions she asked that Sammy was seeking to know what in all this new world he had found that he could make his own as the thing most worth while.
The backwoods girl had never seen that type of man to whom the life of the city, only, is life. Ollie was peculiarly fitted by nature to absorb quickly those things of the world, into which he had gone, that were most different from the world he had left; and there remained scarcely a trace of his earlier wilderness training.
But there is that in life that lies too deep for any mere change of environment to touch. Sammy remembered a lesson the shepherd had given her: gentle spirit may express itself in the rude words of illiteracy; it is not therefore rude. Ruffianism may speak the language of learning or religion; it is ruffianism still. Strength may wear the garb of weakness, and still be strong; and a weakling may carry the weapons of strength, but fight with a faint heart. So, beneath all the changes that had come to her backwoods lover, Sammy felt that Ollie himself was unchanged. It was as though he had learned a new language, but still said the same things.
Sammy, too, had entered a new world. Step by step, as the young man had advanced in his schooling, and, dropping the habits and customs of the backwoods, had conformed in his outward life to his new environment, the girl had advanced in her education under the careful hand of the old shepherd. Ignorant still of the false standards and the petty ambitions that are so large a part of the complex world, into which he had gone, she had been introduced to a world where the life itself is the only thing worth while. She had seen nothing of the glittering tinsel of that cheap culture that is death to all true refinement, But in the daily companionship of her gentle teacher, she had lived in touch with true aristocracy, the aristocracy of heart and spirit.
Young Matt and Jim had thought that, in Sammy's education, the bond between the girl and her lover would be strengthened. They had thought to see her growing farther and farther from the life of the hills; the life to which they felt that they must always belong. But that was because Young Matt and Jim did not know the kind of education the girl was getting.
So Ollie had come back to his old home to measure things by his new standard; and he had come back, too, to be measured according to the old, old standard. If the man's eyes were dimmed by the flash and sparkle that play upon the surface of life, the woman's vision was strong and clear to look into the still depths.
Later in the day, as they walked together up the Old Trail to Sammy's Lookout, the girl tried to show him some of the things that had been revealed to her in the past months. But the young fellow could not follow where she led, and answered her always with some flippant remark, or with the superficial philosophy of his kind.
When he tried to turn the talk to their future, she skillfully defeated his purpose, or was silent; and when he would claim a lover's privileges, she held him off. Upon his demanding a reason for her coldness, she answered, "Don't you see that everything is different now? We must learn to know each other over again."
"But you are my promised wife."
"I promised to be the wife of a backwoodsman," she answered. "I cannot keep that promise, for that man is dead. You are a man of the city, and I am scarcely acquainted with you."
Young Stewart found himself not a little puzzled by the situation. He had come home expecting to meet a girl beautiful in face and form, but with the mind of a child to wonder at the things he would tell her. He had found, instead, a thoughtful young woman trained to look for and recognize truth and beauty. Sammy was always his physical superior. She was now his intellectual superior as well. The change that had come to her was not a change by environment of the things that lay upon the surface, but it was a change in the deeper things of life--in the purpose and understanding of life itself. Like many of his kind, Ollie could not distinguish between these things.