The Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXXVIII. I Ain't Nobody No More.
With the coming of the evening, the shepherd returned to his guest. Dr. Coughlan heard first the bells on the leaders of the flock, and the barking of the dog coming nearer and nearer through the woods. Soon the sheep appeared trooping out of the twilight shadows into the clearing; then came Brave followed by his master.
The countenance of the old scholar wore again that look of calm strength and peace that had marked it before the coming of his friend. "Have you had a good rest, David? Or has your day been long and tiresome? I fear it was not kind of me to leave you alone in this wilderness."
The doctor told how he had passed the time, reading, sleeping and roaming about the clearing and the nearby woods. "And you," he said, looking the other over with a professional eye, "you look like a new man; a new man, Daniel. How do you do it? Some secret spring of youth in the wilderness? Blast it all, wish you would show me. Fool Sarah and the girls, fool them, sure."
"David, have you forgotten the prescription you gave me when you ordered me from the city? You took it you remember from one of our favorite volumes." The shepherd bared his head and repeated,
"If thou art worn and hard beset, With sorrows, that thou wouldst forget; If thou wouldst read a lesson, that will keep Thy heart from fainting and thy soul from sleep, Go to the woods and hills! No tears Dim the sweet look that Nature wears."
"David, I never understood until the past months why the Master so often withdrew alone into the wilderness. There is not only food and medicine for one's body; there is also healing for the heart and strength for the soul in nature. One gets very close to God, David, in these temples of God's own building."
Dr. Coughlan studied his old friend curiously; "Change; remarkable change in you! Remarkable! Never said a thing like that in all your life before, never."
The shepherd smiled, "It's your prescription, Doctor," he said.
They retired early that evening, for the physician declared that his friend must need the rest. "Talk to-morrow," he said; "all day; nothing else to do." He promptly enforced his decision by retiring to his own bunk, leaving the shepherd to follow his example. But not until the doctor was sure that his friend was sleeping soundly did he permit himself to sink into unconsciousness.
It was just past midnight, when the shepherd was aroused by the doctor striking a match to light the lamp. As he awoke, he heard Pete's voice, "Where is Dad? Pete wants Dad."
Dr. Coughlan, thinking it some strange freak of the boy's disordered brain, and not wishing to break his friend's much needed rest, was trying in low tones to persuade the boy to wait until morning.
"What does Pete want?" asked the shepherd entering the room.
"Pete wants Dad; Dad and the other man. They must sure go with Pete right quick."
"Go where with Pete? Who told Pete to come for Dad?" asked Mr. Howitt.
"He told Pete. Right now, he said. And Pete he come. 'Course I come with him. Dad must go, an' the other man too, 'cause he said so."
In sickness or in trouble of any kind the people for miles around had long since come to depend upon the shepherd of Mutton Hollow. The old man turned now to the doctor. "Someone needs me, David. We must go with the boy."
"But, Daniel, Daniel! Blast it all! The boy's not responsible. Where will he take us? Where do you want us to go, boy?"
"Not me; not me; nobody can't go nowhere, can they? You go with Pete, Mister."
"Yes, yes; go with Pete; but where will Pete take us?" persisted the Doctor.
"Now, look at that, Daniel! Look at that. Blast it all; we ought not go; not in the night this way. What would Sarah and the girls say?" Notwithstanding his protests, the doctor was ready even before the shepherd. "Take a gun, Daniel; take a gun, at least," he said.
The other hesitated, then asked, "Does Pete want Dad to take a gun?"
The youth, who stood in the doorway waiting impatiently, shook his head and laughed, "No, no; nothing can't get Dad where Pete goes. God he's there just like Dad says."
"It's all right, David," said the shepherd with conviction. "Pete knows. It is safe to trust him to-night."
And the boy echoed, as he started forward, "It's alright, Mister; Pete knows."
"I wish you had your medicine case, though, David," added Mr. Howitt, as they followed the boy out into the night.
"Got one, Daniel; got one. Always have a pocket case; habit."
Pete led the way down the road, and straight to the old cabin ruin below the corral. Though the stars were hidden behind clouds, it was a little light in the clearing; but, in the timber under the shadow of the bluff, it was very dark. The two men were soon bewildered and stood still. "Which way, Pete?" said the shepherd. There was no answer. "Where's Pete? Tell Pete to come here," said Mr. Howitt again. Still there was on reply. Their guide seemed to have been swallowed up in the blackness. They listened for a sound. "This is strange," mused the shepherd.
A grunt of disgust came from the doctor, "Crazy, man, crazy. There's three of us. Which way is the house? Blast it all, what would--" A spot of light gleamed under the bushes not fifty feet away.
"Come, Dad. Come on, Pete's ready."
They were standing close to the old cabin under the bluff. In a narrow space between the log wall of the house and the cliff, Pete stood with a lighted lantern. The farther end of the passage was completely hidden by a projection of the rock; the overhanging roof touched the ledge above; while the opening near the men was concealed by the heavy growth of ferns and vines and the thick branches of a low cedar. Even in daylight the place would have escaped anything but a most careful search.
Dropping to his knees and to one hand the shepherd pushed aside the screen of vines and branches with the other, and then on all fours crawled into the narrow passage. The Doctor followed. They found their guide crouching in a small opening in the wall of rock. Mr. Howitt uttered an exclamation, "The lost cave! Old man Dewey!"
The boy laughed, "Pete knows. Come, Dad. Come, other man. Ain't nothin' can get you here." He scrambled ahead of them into the low tunnel. Some twenty feet from the entrance, the passage turned sharply to the left and opened suddenly into a hallway along which the shepherd could easily walk erect. Pete went briskly forward as one on very familiar ground, his lantern lighting up the way clearly for his two companions.
For some distance their course dipped downward at a gentle angle, while the ceilings and sides dripped with moisture. Soon they heard the sound of running water, and entering a wider room saw sparkling in the lantern's light a stream that came from under the rocky wall, crossed their path, and disappeared under the other wall of the chamber. "Lost Creek!" ejaculated the shepherd, as he picked his way over the stream on the big stones. And the boy answered, "Pete knows. Pete knows."
From the bank of the creek the path climbed strongly upward, the footing grew firmer, and the walls and ceiling drier; as they went on, the passage, too, grew wider and higher, until they found themselves in a large underground hallway that echoed loudly as they walked. Overhead, pure white stalactites and frost-like formations glittered in the light, and the walls were broken by dark nooks and shelf-like ledges with here and there openings leading who could tell where?
At the farther end of this hallway where the ceiling was highest, the guide paused at the foot of a ledge against which rested a rude ladder. The shepherd spoke again, "Dewey Bald?" he asked. Pete nodded, and began to climb the ladder.
Another room, and another ledge; then a long narrow passage, the ceiling of which was so high that it was beyond the lantern light; then a series of ledges, and they saw that they were climbing from shelf to shelf on one side of an underground canon. Following along the edge of the chasm, the doctor pushed a stone over the brink, and they heard it go bounding from ledge to ledge into the dark heart of the mountain. "No bottom, Daniel. Blast it all, no bottom to it! What would Sarah and the girls say?"
They climbed one more ladder and then turned from the canon into another great chamber, the largest they had entered. The floor was perfectly dry; the air, too, was dry and pure; and, from what seemed to be the opposite side of the huge cavern, a light gleamed like a red eye in the darkness. They were evidently nearing the end of their journey. Drawing closer they found that the light came from the window of a small cabin built partly of rock and partly of logs.
Instinctively the two men stopped. Pete said in a low tone, as one would speak in a sacred presence, "He is there. Come on, Dad. Come, other man. Don't be scared."
Still the boy's companions hesitated. Mr. Howitt asked, "Who, boy? who is there? Do you know who it is?"
"No, no, not me. Nobody can't know nothin', can they?"
"Hopeless case, Daniel; hopeless. Too bad, too bad," muttered the physician, laying his hand upon his friend's shoulder.
The shepherd tried again, "Who does Pete say it is?"
"Oh, Pete says it's him, just him."
"But who does Pete say he is?" suggested Dr. Coughlan.
Again the boy's voice lowered to a whisper, "Sometimes Pete says it must be God, 'cause he's so good. Dad says God is good an' that he takes care of folks, an' he sure does that. 'Twas him that scared Wash Gibbs an' his crowd that night. An' he sent the gold to you, Dad; God's gold it was; he's got heaps of it. He killed that panther, too, when it was a goin' to fight Young Matt. Pete knows. You see, Dad, when Pete is with him, I ain't nobody no more. I'm just Pete then, an' Pete is me. Funny, ain't it? But he says that's the way it is, an' he sure knows."
The two friends listened with breathless interest. "And what does Pete call him?" asked the doctor.
"Pete calls him father, like Dad calls God. He talks to God, too, like Dad does. Do you reckon God would talk to God, mister?"
With a cry the shepherd reeled. The doctor caught him. "Strong, Daniel, strong." Pete drew away from the two men in alarm.
The old scholar's agitation was pitiful. "David, David; tell me, what is this thing? Can it be--my boy--Howard, my son--can it be? My God, David, what am I saying? He is dead. Dead, I tell you. Can the dead come back from the grave, David?" He broke from his friend and ran staggering toward the cabin; but at the door he stopped again. It was as if he longed yet feared to enter, and the doctor and the boy came to his side. Without ceremony Pete pushed open the door.
The room was furnished with a cupboard, table and small cook stove. It was evidently a living room. Through a curtained opening at the right, a light showed from another apartment, and a voice called, "Is that you, Pete?"
A look of pride came into the face of the lad, "That's me," he whispered. "I'm Pete here, an' Pete is me. It's always that way with him." Aloud, he said, "Yes, Father, it's Pete. Pete, an' Dad, an' the other man." As he spoke he drew aside the curtain.
For an instant the two men paused on the threshold. The room was small, and nearly bare of furniture. In the full glare of the lamp, so shaded as to throw the rest of the room in deep shadow, hung a painting that seemed to fill the rude chamber with its beauty. It was the picture of a young woman, standing by a spring of water, a cup brimming full in her outstretched hand.
On a bed in the shadow, facing the picture, lay a man. A voice faltered, "Father. Dr. Coughlan."