Chapter XXIX. Jim Lane Makes a Promise.
 

Sammy went home to find her father getting supper. Rushing into the cabin, the girl gave him a hug that caused Jim to nearly drop the coffee pot. "You poor abused Daddy, to come home from work, all tired and find no supper, no girl, no nothing. Sit right down there, now, and rest, while I finish things."

Jim obeyed with a grin of appreciation. "I didn't fix no taters; thought you wasn't comin'."

"Going to starve yourself, were you? just because I was gone," replied the girl with a pan of potatoes in her hand. "I see right now that I will have to take care of you always--always, Daddy Jim."

The smile suddenly left the man's face. "Where's Ollie Stewart? Didn't he come home with you?"

"Ollie's at home, I suppose. I have been up to the Lookout talking to Pete."

"Ain't Ollie goin' back to the city to-morrow?"

"No, not to-morrow; the next day. He's coming over here to-morrow afternoon. Then he's going away." Then, before Jim could ask another question, she held up the half of a ham; "Daddy, Daddy! How many times have I told you that you must not--you must not slice the ham with your pocket knife? Just look there! What would Aunt Mollie say if she saw that, so haggled and one sided?"

All during the evening meal, the girl kept up a ceaseless merry chatter, changing the subject abruptly every time it approached the question that her father was most anxious to ask. And the man delighted with her gay mood responded to it, as he answered to all her moods, until they were like two school children in their fun. But, when supper was over and the work done, and Jim, taking down his violin, would have made music, Sammy promptly relieved him of his instrument, and seated herself on his knee. "Not to-night, Daddy. I want to talk to-night, real serious."

She told him then of the encounter with Wash Gibbs and his friend at the mill, together with the story that Pete had illustrated so vividly at the Lookout. "And so, Daddy," she finished; "I know now what I shall do. He will come to-morrow afternoon to say good-by, and then he will go away again back to the city and his fine friends for good. And I'll stay and take care of my Daddy Jim. It isn't that he is a bad man like Wash Gibbs. He couldn't be a bad man like that; he isn't big enough. And that's just it. He is too little--body, soul and spirit--he is too little. He will do well in the world; perhaps he will even do big things. But I heard dear old Preachin' Bill say once, that 'some fellers can do mighty big things in a durned little way.' So he is going back to the city, and I am going to stay in the hills."

Jim took no pains to hide his delight. "I knowed it, girl. I knowed it. Bank on the old blood every time. There ain't a drop of yeller in it; not a drop, Sammy. Ollie ain't to say bad, but he ain't just our kind. Lord! But I'd like to o' seen Young Matt a givin' it to Wash Gibbs!" He threw back his head and roared with delight. "Just wait 'till I see Wash. I'll ask him if he thinks Young Matt would need a pry for to lift that mill engine with, now." Then all of a sudden the laugh died out, and the man's dark face was serious, as he said, slowly, "The boy'll have to watch him, though. It'll sure be war from this on; the worst kind of war."

"Daddy, what do you think Wash would have done to me, if Young Matt had not been there?"

That metallic ring was in Jim's voice, now, as he replied, "Wash Gibbs ought to knowed better than to done that. But it was a blessin' Young Matt was there, wasn't it? He'd take care of you anywhere. I wouldn't never be afraid for you with him."

The girl hid her face on her father's shoulder, as she said, "Daddy, will Wash Gibbs come here any more now? It seems to me he wouldn't dare meet you after this."

Jim answered uneasily, "I don't know, girl. I reckon he'll be around again after a time."

There was a pause for a little while; then Sammy, with her arms still about his neck, said, "Daddy, I'm going to stay in the hills with you now. I am going to send Ollie away to-morrow, because as you say, he isn't our kind. Daddy, Wash Gibbs is not our kind either, is he?"

"You don't understand, girl, and I can't tell you now. It all started way back when you was a little trick."

The young woman answered very gently, "Yes, I know. You have told me that often. But, Daddy, what will--what will our friends think, if you keep on with Wash Gibbs now, after what happened at the mill to-day? Young Matt fought Gibbs because he insulted me and was going to hurt me. You say yourself that it will be war between them now? Will you side with Wash? And if you do, won't it look like there was just a little, tiny streak of yellow in us?"

This side of the situation had not struck Jim at first. He got up and walked the floor, while the girl, standing quietly by the fireplace, watched him, a proud, fond light in her eyes. Sammy did not know what the bond between her father and the big ruffian was, but she knew that it was not a light one. Now that the issue was fairly defined, she felt confident that, whatever the cost, the break would be made.

But at this time it was well that she did not know how great the cost of breaking the bond between the two men would be.

Jim stopped before his daughter, and, placing a hand upon each shoulder, said, "Tell me, girl; are you so powerful anxious to have me and Young Matt stay good friends like we've always been?"

"I--I am afraid I am, Daddy."

And then, a rare smile came into the dark face of Jim Lane. He kissed the girl and said, "I'll do it, honey. I ain't afraid to, now."