The Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXXV. "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes Unto the Hills."
When Sammy opened her eyes, she was on the bed in her own room. In the other room someone was moving about, and the light from a lamp shone through the door.
At first the girl thought that she had awakened from a night's sleep, and that it was her father whom she heard, building the fire before calling her, as his custom was. But no, he was not building the fire, he was scrubbing the floor. How strange. She would call presently and ask what he meant by getting up before daylight, and whether he thought to keep her from scolding him by trying to clean up what he had spilled before she should see it.
She had had a bad dream of some kind, but she could not remember just what it was. It was very strange that something seemed to keep her from calling to her father just then. She would call presently. She must remember first what that dream was. She felt that she ought to get up and dress, but she did not somehow wish to move. She was strangely tired. It was her dream, she supposed. Then she discovered that she was already fully dressed, and that her clothing was wet, muddy and torn. And with this discovery every incident of the night came vividly before her. She hid her face.
After awhile, she tried to rise to her feet, but fell back weak and dizzy, Who was that in the other room? Could it be her father? Would he never finish scrubbing the floor in that corner? When she could bear the suspense no longer, she called in a voice that sounded weak and far away; "Daddy, Oh, Daddy."
Instantly the noise ceased; a step crossed the room; and the shepherd appeared in the doorway. Placing the lamp on a little stand, the old man drew a chair to the side of the bed, and laid his hand upon her forehead, smoothing back the tangled hair. He spoke no word, but in his touch there was a world of tenderness.
Sammy looked at him in wonder. Where had he come from? Why was he there at all? And in her room? She glanced uneasily about the apartment, and then back to the kind face of her old teacher. "I-- don't think I understand."
"Never mind, now, dear. Don't try to understand just yet. Aunt Mollie will be here in a few minutes. Matt has gone for her. When she comes and you are a little stronger, we shall talk."
The girl caught his hand; "You--you won't leave me, Dad? You won't leave me alone? I'm afraid, Dad. I never was before."
"No, no, my child; I shall not leave you. But you must have something warm to drink. I have been preparing it." He stepped into the other room, soon returning with a steaming cup. When she had finished the strengthening draught, Young Matt, with his mother and father, arrived.
While helping the girl into clean, dry clothing, Aunt Mollie spoke soothingly to her, as one would reassure a frightened child. But Sammy could hear only the three men, moving about in the other room, doing something and talking always in low tones. She did not speak, but in her brown eyes, that never left the older woman's face, was that wide, questioning look.
When Mrs. Matthews had done what she could for the comfort of the girl, and the men had finished whatever they were doing in the other room, Sammy said, "Aunt Mollie, I want to know. I must know. Won't you tell Dad to come, please?" Instinctively she had turned to her teacher.
When the shepherd came, she met him with the old familiar demand, "Tell me everything, Dad; everything. I want to be told all about it."
"You will be brave and strong, Sammy?"
Instantly, as ever, her quick mind grasped the meaning that lay back of the words and her face grew deathly white. Then she answered, "I will be brave and strong. But first, please open the window, Dad." He threw up the sash. It was morning, and the mists were over the valley, but the mountain tops were bathed in light.
Sammy arose, and walked steadily to a chair by the open window. Looking out upon the beautiful scene, her face caught the light that was on the higher ground, and she said softly, "'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills.' That's our word, now, isn't it, Dad? I can share it with you, now." Then the shepherd told her. Young Matt had been at the ranch with Mr. Howitt since early in the evening, and was taking his leave for the night when they heard horses stopping at the corral, and a voice calling. Upon their answering, the voice said, "There is trouble at Jim Lane's. Take these horses and go quick." And then as they had run from the house, the messenger had retreated into the shadow of the bluff, saying, "Never mind me. If you love Sammy, hurry." At this they mounted and had ridden as fast as possible.
The old man did not tell the girl that he had found his saddle wet and slippery, and that when he reached the light his hands were red.
They had found the officers ready to leave with their prisoners. All but two of the men were captured with their booty--Wash Gibbs alone escaping badly hurt, they thought, after killing one of the posse.
When they had asked for Sammy, one of the officers told them that she was at Ford's over on Jake Creek, but another declared that he had heard a woman scream as they were making the attack. Young Matt had found her unconscious on the ground behind the cabin.
When the shepherd finished his brief account, the girl said, "Tell me all, Dad. I want to know all. Did--did they take Daddy away?"
The old man's eyes were dim as he answered gently, "No, dear girl; they did not take him away." Then Sammy knew why Dad had scrubbed the cabin floor, and what the three men who talked so low had been doing in the other room.
She made no outcry, only a moan, as she looked away across the silent hills and the valley, where the mists were slowly lifting; lifting slowly like the pale ghost of the starlight that was. "Oh, Daddy, Daddy Jim. You sure kept your promise. You sure did. I'm glad--glad they didn't get you, Daddy. They never would have believed what I know; never--never."
But there were no tears, and the shepherd, seeing after a little touched her hand. "Everything is ready, dear; would you like to go now?"
"Not just yet, Dad. I must tell you first how I came to be at home, and why I am glad--oh, so glad, that I was here. But call the others, please; I want them all to know."
When the three, who with her teacher loved her best, had come, Sammy told her story; repeating almost word for word what she had heard her father say to the men. When she had finished, she turned her face again to the open window. The mists were gone. The landscape lay bright in the sun. But Sammy could not see.
"It is much better, so much better, as it is, my child," said the old scholar. "You see, dear, they would have taken him away. Nothing could have saved him. It would have been a living death behind prison walls away from you."
"Yes, I know, Dad. I understand. It is better as it is. Now, we will go to him, please." They led her into the other room. The floor in the corner of the cabin where the shepherd had washed it was still damp.
Through it all, Sammy kept her old friend constantly by her side. "It is easier, Dad, when you are near." Nor would she leave the house until it was all over, save to walk a little way with her teacher.
Young Matt and his father made the coffin of rough boards, sawed at the mill; and from the country round about, the woods-people came to the funeral, or, as they called it in their simple way, the "burying." The grave was made in a little glen not far from the house. When some of the neighbors would have brought a minister from the settlement, Sammy said, "No." Dad would say all that was necessary. So the shepherd, standing under the big trees, talked a little in his simple kindly way, and spoke the words, "Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes." "As good," declared some, "as any preacher on earth could o' done hit;" though one or two held "it warn't jest right to put a body in th' ground 'thout a regular parson t' preach th' sermon."
When the last word was spoken, and the neighbors had gone away over the mountains and through the woods to their homes, Aunt Mollie with her motherly arm about the girl, said, "Come, honey; you're our girl now. As long as you stay in the hills, you shall stay with us." And Old Matt added, "You're the only daughter we've got, Sammy; and we want you a heap worse than you know."
When Sammy told them that she was not going to the city to live, they cried in answer, "Then you shall be our girl always," and they took her home with them to the big log house on the ridge.
For a week after that night at the Lane cabin, Pete was not seen. When at last, he did appear, it was to the shepherd on the hill, and his voice and manner alarmed Dad. But the boy's only reply to Mr. Howitt's question was, "Pete knows; Pete knows." Then in his own way he told something that sent the shepherd to Young Matt, and the two followed the lad to a spot where the buzzards were flying low through the trees.
By the shreds of clothing and the weapons lying near, they knew that the horrid thing, from which as they approached, carrion birds flapped their wings in heavy flight, was all that remained of the giant, Wash Gibbs.
Many facts were brought out at the trial of the outlaws and it was made clear that Jim Lane had met his death at the hands of Wash Gibbs, just at the beginning of the attack, and that Gibbs himself had been wounded a moment later by one of the attacking posse.
Thus does justice live even in the hills.