Chapter VIII. "Why Ain't We Got No Folks."
 

Preachin' Bill says "There's a heap o' difference in most men, but Jim Lane now he's more different than ary man you ever seed. Ain't no better neighbor'n Jim anywhere. Ride out o' his way any time t' do you a favor. But you bet there ain't ary man lives can ask Jim any fool questions while Jim's a lookin' at him. Tried it onct myself. Jim was a waitin' at th' ferry fer Wash Gibbs, an' we was a talkin' 'long right peart 'bout crops an' th' weather an' such, when I says, says I, like a dumb ol' fool, 'How'd you like it down in Texas, Jim, when you was there that time?' I gonies! His jaw shet with a click like he'd cocked a pistol, an' that look o' hisn, like he was a seein' plumb through you, come int' his eyes, an' he says, says he, quiet like, 'D' you reckon that rain over on James yesterday raised th' river much?' An' 'fore I knowed it, I was a tellin' him how that ol' red bull o' mine treed th' Perkins' boys when they was a possum huntin'."

Many stories of the Bald Knobber days, when the law of the land was the law of rifle and rope, were drifting about the country side, and always, when these tales were recited, the name of Jim Lane was whispered; while the bolder ones wondered beneath their breath where Jim went so much with that Wash Gibbs, whose daddy was killed by the Government.

Mr. Lane was a tall man, well set up, with something in his face and bearing that told of good breeding; southern blood, one would say, by the dark skin, and the eyes, hair, and drooping mustache of black.

His companion, Wash Gibbs, was a gigantic man; taller and heavier, even, than the elder Matthews, but more loosely put together than Old Matt; with coarse, heavy features, and, as Grandma Bowles said, "the look of a sheep killin' dog." Grandma, being very near her journey's end, could tell the truth even about Wash Gibbs, but others spoke of the giant only in whispers, save when they spoke in admiration of his physical powers.

As the two men swung stiffly from their saddles, Sammy came running to greet her father with a kiss of welcome; this little exhibition of affection between parent and child was one of the many things that marked the Lanes as different from the natives of that region. Your true backwoodsman carefully hides every sign of his love for either family or friends. Wash Gibbs stood looking on with an expression upon his brutal face that had very little of the human in it.

Releasing his daughter, Mr. Lane said, "Got anything to eat, honey? We're powerful hungry. Wash 'lowed we'd better tie up at the river, but I knew you'd be watching for me. The horses are plumb beat." And Gibbs broke in with a coarse laugh, "I wouldn't mind killin' a hoss neither, if I was t' git what you do at th' end o' th' ride."

To this, Jim made no reply; but began loosening the saddle girths, while Sammy only said, as she turned toward the house, "I'll have supper ready for you directly, Daddy."

While the host was busy caring for his tired horse, the big man, who did not remove the saddle from his mount, followed the girl into the cabin. "Can't you even tell a feller, Howdy?" he exclaimed, as he entered the kitchen.

"I did tell you, Howdy," replied the girl sharply, stirring up the fire.

"'Pears like you might o' been a grain warmer about hit," growled the other, seating himself where he could watch her. "If I'd been Young Matt er that skinny Ollie Stewart, you'd a' been keen enough."

Sammy turned and faced him with angry eyes; "Look a here, Wash Gibbs, I done tol' you last Thursday when you come for Daddy that you'd better let me alone. I don't like you, and I don't aim to ever have anything to do with you. You done fixed yourself with me that time at the Cove picnic. I'll tell Daddy about that if you don't mind. I don't want to make no trouble, but you just got to quit pestering me."

The big fellow sneered. "I 'lowed you might change your mind 'bout that some day. Jim ain't goin' t' say nothin' t' me, an' if he did, words don't break no bones. I'm a heap th' best man in this neck o' th' woods, an' your Paw knows hit. You know it, too."

Under his look, the blood rushed to the girl's face in a burning blush. In spite of her anger she dropped her eyes, and, without attempting a reply, turned to her work.

A moment later, Mr. Lane entered the room; a single glance at his daughter's face, a quick look at Wash Gibbs, as the bully sat following with wolfish eyes every movement of the girl, and Jim stepped quietly in front of his guest. At the same moment, Sammy left the house for a bucket of water, and Wash turned toward his host with a start to find the dark faced man gazing at him with a look that few men could face with composure. Without a word, Jim's right hand crept stealthily inside his hickory shirt, where a button was missing.

For a moment Gibbs tried to return the look. He failed. Something he read in the dark face before him--some meaning light in those black eyes--made him tremble and he felt, rather than saw, Jim's hand resting quietly now inside the hickory shirt near his left arm pit. The big man's face went white beneath the tan, his eyes wavered and shifted, he hung his head and shuffled his feet uneasily, like an overgrown school-boy brought sharply to task by the master.

Then Jim, his hand still inside his shirt, drawled, softly, but with a queer metallic ring in his voice, "Do you reckon it's a goin' t' storm again?"

At the commonplace question, the bully drew a long breath and looked around. "We might have a spell o' weather," he muttered; "but I don't guess it'll be t'night."

Then Sammy returned and they had supper.

Next to his daughter, Jim Lane loved his violin, and with good reason, for the instrument had once belonged to his great- grandfather, who, tradition says, was a musician of no mean ability.

Preachin' Bill "'lowed there was a heap o' difference between a playin' a violin an' jest fiddlin'. You wouldn't know some fellers was a makin' music, if you didn't see 'em a pattin' their foot; but hit ain't that a way with Jim Lane. He sure do make music, real music." As no one ever questioned Bill's judgment, it is safe to conclude that Mr. Lane inherited something of his great- grandfather's ability; along with his treasured instrument.

When supper was over, and Wash Gibbs had gone on his way; Jim took the violin from its peg above the fireplace, and, tucking it lovingly under his chin, gave himself up to his favorite pastime, while Sammy moved busily about the cabin, putting things right for the night.

When her evening tasks were finished, the girl came and stood before her father. At once the music ceased and the violin was laid carefully aside. Sammy seated herself on her father's knee.

"Law', child, but you're sure growin' up," said Jim, with a mock groan at her weight.

"Yes, Daddy, I reckon I'm about growed; I'll be nineteen come Christmas."

"O shucks!" ejaculated the man. "It wasn't more'n last week that you was washin' doll clothes, down by the spring."

The young woman laughed. "I didn't wash no doll clothes last week," she said. Then her voice changed, and that wide, questioning look, the look that made one think so of her father, came into her eyes. "There's something I want to ask you, Daddy Jim. You--you know--Ollie's goin' away, an'--an'--an' I was thinkin' about it all day yesterday, an', Daddy, why ain't we got no folks?"

Mr. Lane stirred uneasily. Sammy continued, "There's the Matthews's, they've got kin back in Illinois; Mandy Ford's got uncles and aunts over on Lang Creek; Jed Holland's got a grandad and mam, and even Preachin' Bill talks about a pack o' kin folks over in Arkansaw. Why ain't we got no folks, Daddy?"

The man gazed long and thoughtfully at the fresh young face of his child; and the black eyes looked into the brown eyes keenly, as he answered her question with another question, "Do you reckon you love him right smart, honey? Are you sure, dead sure you ain't thinkin' of what he's got 'stead of what he is? I know it'll be mighty nice for you to be one of the fine folks and they're big reasons why you ought, but it's goin' to take a mighty good man to match you--a mighty good man. And it's the man you've got to live with, not his money."

"Ollie's good, Daddy," she returned in a low voice, her eyes fixed upon the floor.

"I know, I know," replied Jim. "He wouldn't do nobody no harm; he's good enough that way, and I ain't a faultin' him. But you ought to have a man, a sure enough good man."

"But tell me, Daddy, why ain't we got no folks?"

The faintest glimmer of a smile came into the dark face; "You're sure growed up, girl; you're sure growed up, girl; you sure are. An' I reckon you might as well know." Then he told her.