Chapter II. Sammy Lane.
 

Preachin' Bill, says, "Hit's a plumb shame there ain't more men in th' world built like old man Matthews and that thar boy o' his'n. Men like them ought t' be as common as th' other kind, an' would be too if folks cared half as much 'bout breeding folks as they do 'bout raising hogs an' horses."

Mr. Matthews was a giant. Fully six feet four inches in height, with big bones, broad shoulders, and mighty muscles. At log rollings and chopping bees, in the field or at the mill, or in any of the games in which the backwoodsman tries his strength, no one had ever successfully contested his place as the strongest man in the hills. And still, throughout the country side, the old folks tell with pride tales of the marvelous feats of strength performed in the days when "Old Matt" was young.

Of the son, "Young Matt," the people called him, it is enough to say that he seemed made of the same metal and cast in the same mold as the father; a mighty frame, softened yet by young manhood's grace; a powerful neck and well poised head with wavy red-brown hair; and blue eyes that had in them the calm of summer skies or the glint of battle steel. It was a countenance fearless and frank, but gentle and kind, and the eyes were honest eyes.

Anyone meeting the pair, as they walked with the long swinging stride of the mountaineer up the steep mill road that gray afternoon, would have turned for a second look; such men are seldom seen.

When they reached the big log house that looks down upon the Hollow, the boy went at once with his axe to the woodpile, while the older man busied himself with the milking and other chores about the barn.

Young Matt had not been chopping long when he heard, coming up the hill, the sound of a horse's feet on the Old Trail. The horse stopped at the house and a voice, that stirred the blood in the young man's veins, called, "Howdy, Aunt Mollie."

Mrs. Matthews appeared in the doorway; by her frank countenance and kindly look anyone would have known her at a glance as the boy's mother. "Land sakes, if it ain't Sammy Lane! How are you, honey?"

"I am alright," answered the voice; "I've come over t' stop with you to-night; Dad's away again; Mandy Ford staid with me last night, but she had to go home this evenin'." The big fellow at the woodpile drove his axe deeper into the log.

"It's about time you was a comin' over," replied the woman in the doorway; "I was a tellin' the menfolks this mornin' that you hadn't been nigh the whole blessed week. Mr. Matthews 'lowed maybe you was sick."

The other returned with a gay laugh, "I was never sick a minute in my life that anybody ever heard tell. I'm powerful hungry, though. You'd better put in another pan of corn bread." She turned her pony's head toward the barn.

"Seems like you are always hungry," laughed the older woman, in return. "Well just go on out to the barn, and the men will take your horse; then come right in and I'll mighty soon have something to fill you up."

Operations at the woodpile suddenly ceased and Young Matt was first at the barn-yard gate.

Miss Sammy Lane was one of those rare young women whose appearance is not to be described. One can, of course, put it down that she was tall; beautifully tall, with the trimness of a young pine, deep bosomed, with limbs full-rounded, fairly tingling with the life and strength of perfect womanhood; and it may be said that her face was a face to go with one through the years, and to live still in one's dreams when the sap of life is gone, and, withered and old, one sits shaking before the fire; a generous, loving mouth, red lipped, full arched, with the corners tucked in and perfect teeth between; a womanly chin and nose, with character enough to save them from being pretty; hair dark, showing a touch of gold with umber in the shadows; a brow, full broad, set over brown eyes that had never been taught to hide behind their fringed veils, but looked always square out at you with a healthy look of good comradeship, a gleam of mirth, or a sudden, wide, questioning gaze that revealed depth of soul within.

But what is the use? When all this is written, those who knew Sammy will say, "'Tis but a poor picture, for she is something more than all this." Uncle Ike, the postmaster at the Forks, did it much better when he said to "Preachin' Bill," the night of the "Doin's" at the Cove School, "Ba thundas! That gal o' Jim Lane's jest plumb fills th' whole house. What! An' when she comes a ridin' up t' th' office on that brown pony o' hern, I'll be dad burned if she don't pretty nigh fill th' whole out doors, ba thundas! What!" And the little shrivelled up old hillsman, who keeps the ferry, removed his cob pipe long enough to reply, with all the emphasis possible to his squeaky voice, "She sure do, Ike. She sure do. I've often thought hit didn't look jest fair fer God 'lmighty t' make sech a woman 'thout ary man t' match her. Makes me feel plumb 'shamed o' myself t' stand 'round in th' same county with her. Hit sure do, Ike."

Greeting the girl the young man opened the gate for her to pass.

"I've been a lookin' for you over," said Sammy, a teasing light in her eyes. "Didn't you know that Mandy was stoppin' with me? She's been a dyin' to see you."

"I'm mighty sorry," he replied, fastening the gate and coming to the pony's side. "Why didn't you tell me before? I reckon she'll get over it alright, though," he added with a smile, as he raised his arms to assist the girl to dismount.

The teasing light vanished as the young woman placed her hands on the powerful shoulders of the giant, and as she felt the play of the swelling muscles that swung her to the ground so easily, her face flushed with admiration. For the fraction of a minute she stood facing him, her hands still on his arms, her lips parted as if to speak; then she turned quickly away, and without a word walked toward the house, while the boy, pretending to busy himself with the pony's bridle, watched her as she went.

When the girl was gone, the big fellow led the horse away to the stable, where he crossed his arms upon the saddle and hid his face from the light. Mr. Matthews coming quietly to the door a few minutes later saw the boy standing there, and the rugged face of the big mountaineer softened at the sight. Quietly he withdrew to the other side of the barn, to return later when the saddle and bridle had been removed, and the young man stood stroking the pony, as the little horse munched his generous feed of corn.

The elder man laid his hand on the broad shoulder of the lad so like him, and looked full into the clear eyes. "Is it alright, son?" he asked gruffly; and the boy answered, as he returned his father's look, "It's alright, Dad."

"Then let's go to the house; Mother called supper some time ago."

Just as the little company were seating themselves at the table, the dog in the yard barked loudly. Young Matt went to the door. The stranger, whom Jed had met on the Old Trail, stood at the gate.