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Rose of Old Harpeth

Maria Thompson Daviess

  Produced by Kentuckiana Digital Library, David Garcia, RiikkaTalonpoika and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


  Rose Mary]




  Author of "Miss Selina Lue," "The Road to Providence,""The Melting of Molly," etc.


  By W.B. KING















  "Why, don't you know nothing in the world compliments a loaf of breadlike the asking for a fourth slice," laughed Rose Mary as she reachedup on the stone shelf above her head and took down a large crusty loafand a long knife. "Thick or thin?" she asked as she raised her lashesfrom her blue eyes for a second of hospitable inquiry.

  "Thin," answered Everett promptly, "but two with the butter sticking'em together. Please be careful with that weapon! It's as good as ajuggler's show to watch you, but it makes me slightly--solicitous." Ashe spoke he seated himself on the corner of the wide stone table asnear to Rose Mary and the long knife as seemed advisable. A ray ofsunlight fell through the door of the milk-house and cut across hisred head to lose itself in Rose Mary's close black braids.

  "Make it four," he further demanded over the table.

  "Indeed and I will," answered Rose Mary delightedly. And as she spokeshe held the loaf against her breast and drew the knife through theslices in a fascinatingly dangerous manner. At the intentness of hisregard the color rose up under the lashes that veiled her eyes, andshe hugged the loaf closer with her left hand. "Would you like six?"she asked innocently, as the fourth stroke severed the last piece.

  "Just go on and slice it all up," he answered with a laugh. "I'drather watch you than eat."

  "Wait till I butter these for you and then you can eat--and watchme--me finish working the butter. Won't that do as well? Think what anencouragement your interest will be to me! Really, nothing in theworld paces a woman's work like a man looking on, and if he doesn'tstop her she'll drop under the line. Now, you have your bread andbutter and you can sit over there by the door and help me turn offthis ten pounds in no time."

  As she had been speaking, Rose Mary had spread two of the slices withthe yellow butter from a huge bowl in front of her, clapped on thetops of the sandwiches and then, with a smile, handed them in a blueplate to the man who lounged across the corner of her table. She madea very gracious and lovely picture, did Rose Mary, in her light-bluehomespun gown against the cool gray depths of the milk-house, whichwas fern-lined along the cracks of the old stones and mysterious withthe trickling gurgle of the spring that flowed into the long stonetroughs, around the milk crocks and out under the stone door-sill.From his post by the door Everett watched her as she drove her paddledeep into the hard golden mound in the blue bowl in front of her, and,with a quick turn of her strong, slender wrist slapped and pattedchunk after chunk of the butter into a more compressed form. Thesleeves of her dress were rolled almost to her shoulders and under thewhite, moist flesh of her arms the fine muscles showed plainly. Thestrong curves of her back and shoulders bent and sprung under thegraceful sweep of her arms and her round breasts rose and fell withquickened breath from her energetic movements.

  "Now, you're making me work _too_ hard," she laughed; and she pantedas she rested her hand for a second against the edge of the bowl andlooked up at Everett from under a black tendril curl that had fallendown across her forehead.

  "Miss Rose Mary Alloway, you are one large, husky--witch," calmlyremarked the hungry man as he finished disposing of the last half ofone of the thin bread and butters. "Here I sit enchanted by--by abutter-paddle, when you and I both know that not two miles across themeadows there runs a train that ought to put me into New York in alittle over forty-eight hours. Won't you, won't you let me go--back tomy frantic and imploring employers?"

  "Why no, I can't," answered Rose Mary as she pressed a yellow cake ofbutter on to a blue plate and deftly curled it up with her paddle intoa huge yellow sunflower. "Uncle Tucker captured you roaming loose outin his fields and he trusts you to me while he is at work and I mustkeep you safe. He's fond of you and so are the Aunties and StonewallJackson and Shoofly and Sniffer and--"

  "And anybody else?" demanded Everett, preparing to dispose of the lastbite.

  "Oh, everybody most along Providence Road," answered Rose Maryenthusiastically, though not raising her eyes from the manipulation ofthe third butter flower. "Can't you go out and dig up some more rocksand things? I feel sure you haven't got a sample of all of them. Andthere may be gold and silver and precious jewels just one inch deeperthan you have dug. Are you certain you can't squeeze up some oilsomewhere in the meadow? You told a whole lot of reasons to UncleTucker why you knew you would find some, and now you'll have to stayto prove yourself."

  "No," answered Mark Everett quietly, and, as he spoke, he raised hiseyes and looked at Rose Mary keenly; "no, there is no oil that I candiscover, though the formation, as I explained to your uncle, is justas I expected to find it. I've spent three weeks going over every inchof the Valley and I can't find a trace of grease. I'm sorry."

  "Well, I don't know that I care, except for your sake," answered RoseMary unconcernedly, with her eyes still on her task. "We don't any ofus like the smell of coal-oil, and it gives Aunt Viney asthma. Itwould be awfully disagreeable to have wells of it right here on theplace. They'd be so ugly and smelly."

  "But oil-wells mean--mean a great deal of wealth," ventured Everett.

  "I know, but just think of the money Uncle Tucker gets for this butterI make from the cows that graze on the meadows. Wouldn't it be awfulif they should happen to drink some of the coal-oil and make thebutter we send down to the city taste wrong and spoil the Sweetbriarreputation? I like money though, most awfully, and I want some rightnow. I want to--"

  "Mary of the Rose, stop right there!" said Everett as he came overfrom his post by the door and again seated himself on the corner ofthe table. "I _will_ not listen to you give vent to the nationalcraving. I _will_ hold on to the illusion of having found oneunmercenary human being, even if she had to be buried in the depths ofHarpeth Valley to keep her so." There was banter in Everett's voiceand a smile on his lips, but a bitterness lay in the depths of hiskeen dark eyes and an ugly trace of cynicism filtered through thetones of his voice.

  "And wasn't it funny for me to count the little well-chickens beforethey were even hatched?" laughed Rose Mary. "That's the way of it, gettogether even a little flock of dollars in prospect and they go rightto work hatching out a brood of wants and needs; but it's not wrong ofme to want those false teeth so bad, because it's such a trial to haveyour mouth all sink in and not be able to talk plain and--"

  "Help, woman! What are you talking about? I never saw such teeth asyou have in all my life. One flash of them would put a beauty show outof business and--"

  "Oh, no, not for myself!" Rose Mary hastened to exclaim, and sheturned the whole artillery of the pearl treasures upon him in mirth athis mistake. "It's Aunt Viney I want them for. She only has five left.She says she didn't mind so long as she had any two that hit, but thehitters to all five are gone now and she is so distressed. I'm savingup to take her down to the city to get a brand new set. I have elevendollars now and two little bull calves to sell, though it breaks myheart to let them go, eve
n if they are of the wrong persuasion. Ialways love them better than I do the little heifers, because I haveto give them up. I don't like to have things I love go away. You seeyou mustn't think of going to New York until the spring is all overand summer comes for good," she continued, with the most delightfulingenuousness, as she shaped the last of the ten flowers and glancedfrom her task at him with the most solicitous concern. "Of course, youfeel as if the smash your lung got in that awful rock slide has healedall up, and I know it has, but you'll have to do as the doctor tellsyou about not running any risks with New York spring gales, won'tyou?"

  "Oh, yes, I suppose I will," answered Everett, with a trace ofrestlessness in his voice. "I'm just as sound as a dollar now and I'mwild to go with that gang the firm is sending up into British Columbiato thrash out that copper question. I know they counted on me for thefinal tests. Some other fellow will find it and get the fortune andthe credit, while I--I--"

  He stared moodily out the door of the milk-house and down ProvidenceRoad that wound its calm, even way from across the ridge down throughthe green valley. Rose Mary's milk-house was nestled between thebreasts of a low hill, upon which was perched the wide-winged, oldcountry house which had brooded the fortunes of the Alloways since thewilderness days. The spring which gushed from the back wall of themilk-house poured itself into a stone trough on the side of the Road,which had been placed there generations agone for the refreshment ofbeast, while man had been entertained within the hospitable stonewalls. And at the foot of the Briars, as the Alloway home, hill,spring and meadows had been called from time immemorial, clustered thelittle village of Sweetbriar.

  The store, which also sheltered the post-office, was almost oppositethe spring-house door across the wide Road, the blacksmith shopfarther down and the farm-houses stretched fraternally along eitherside in both directions. Far up the Road, as it wound its way aroundProvidence Nob, could be seen the chimneys and the roofs ofProvidence, while Springfield and Boliver also lay like smoke-wreathedvisions in the distance. Something of the peace and plenty of it allhad begun to smooth the irritated wrinkle from between Mark Everett'sbrows, when Rose Mary's hand rested for a second over his on the tableand her rich voice, with its softest brooding note, came from acrossher bowl.

  "Ah, I know it's hard for you, Mr. Mark," she said, "and I wish--Iwish--The lilacs will be in bloom next week, won't that help some?"And the wooing tone in her voice was exactly what she used in coaxingyoung Stonewall Jackson to bed or Uncle Tucker to tie up his throat ina flannel muffler.

  "It's not lilacs I'm needing with a rose in bloom right--" ButEverett's gallant response to the coaxing was cut short by a sallyfrom an unexpected quarter.

  Down Providence Road at full tilt came Stonewall Jackson, with theSwarm in a cloud of dust at his heels. He jumped across the springbranch and darted in under the milk-house eaves, while the Swarm drewup on the other bank in evident impatience. Swung bundle-wise underhis arm he held a small, tow-headed bunch, and as he landed on thestone door-sill he hastily deposited it on the floor at Rose Mary'sfeet.

  "Say, Rose Mamie," he panted, "you just keep Shoofly for us a littlewhile, won't you? Mis' Poteet have done left her with Tobe to takecare of and he put her on a stump while he chased a polecat that hefell on while it was going under a fence, and now Uncle Tuck isa-burying of him up in the woods lot. Jest joggle her with your footthis way if she goes to cry." And in demonstration of his directionsthe General put one bare foot in the middle of the mite's back andadministered a short series of rotary motions, which immediatelybrought a response of ecstatic gurgles. "We'll come back for her assoon as we dig him up," he added, as he prepared for another flyingleap across the spring stream.

  "But, Stonie, wait and tell me what you mean!" exclaimed Rose Mary,while Everett regarded Stonewall Jackson and his cohorts withdelighted amusement.

  "I told you once, Rose Mamie, that Tobe fell on a polecat under afence he was a-chasing, and he smells so awful Uncle Tuck have burnedhis britches and shirt on the end of a stick and have got him buriedin dirt up to jest his nose. Burying in dirt is the onliest thingthat'll take off the smell. We comed to ask you to watch Shoofly whilehe's buried, cause Mis' Poteet will be mad at him when she comes homeif Shoofly smells. We're all a-going to stay right by him until he'sdug up, 'cause we all sicked him on that polecat and we ought inhonor!"

  Stonie looked at the Swarm for confirmation of this worthy sentiment,and it arose in a murmur. The Swarm was a choice congregation of smallfry that trailed perpetually at the heels of Stonewall Jackson, and atthe moment was in a state of seething excitement. Jennie Rucker'slittle freckled face was pale under its usual sunburn, as a result ofbeing too near the disastrous encounter, and her little nose, turnedup by nature in the outset, looked as if it were in danger of neveragain assuming its normal tilt. She held small Pete by one chubbyhand, and with a wry face he was licking out an absurd little redtongue at least twice each moment, as if uncertain as to whether hisolfactory or gustatory nerves had been offended. Billy was standingwith the nonchalant unconcern of one strong of stomach, and the fourother little Poteets, ranging in size from Shoofly, on the floor, toTobe, the buried, were shuffling their bare feet in the dust withevident impatience to be off to gloat over the prostrated butimportant member of the family. They rolled their wide eyes at almostimpossible angles, and small Peggy sniffed audibly into a corner ofher patched gingham apron.

  "Yes, Stonie," answered Rose Mary judicially, while Everett'sshoulders shook with mirth that he felt it best not to give way to inthe face of the sympathetic Swarm, "you all must stay with Tobe, if hehas to be buried, and go right back as fast as you can. Troubles mustmake us stay close by our friends."

  "If I get much closer to him I'll throw up," sniffed Jennie, and herprotest was echoed by a groan from Peggy into the apron, while thearea which showed above its folds turned white at the prospect ofbeing obliged to draw near to this brother in affliction.

  "Yes, but you sicked Tobe, with the rest of us, and in this _girls_don't count. You've got to go back, smell or no smell, sick or nosick," announced the General firmly, in the decisive tones of oneaccustomed to be obeyed.

  "Yes, Stonie," came in a meek and muffled tone from the apron, "we'llgo back with you."

  "Can't we just set on the fence of the lot--it ain't so far?" pleadedJennie in almost a wail. "I'm afraid Pete will cry from the smell ifwe go any closter. He's most doing it now."

  "Yes, General, let the girls sit on the fence," pleaded Everett, withhis eyes dancing, but a bit of mockery in his voice, "after all theyare--girls, you know."

  "Oh, well, yes, they can," answered Stonewall Jackson in amagnanimously disgusted tone of voice. "They always get girls whenthey don't want to do anything. Come on, Tobe'll be crying if we don'thurry. Billy, you help Jennie drag Pete, so he can go fast!"

  But during the conference the disgusted toddler had been pondering thesituation, and at this mention of his being dragged back to the sceneof offense he had made a quick sally across the plank that spanned thespring branch and with masculine intuition as to the safe place intime of danger, he had plunged head foremost into Rose Mary's skirts,so that only his small fat back showed to the enemy.

  "Please go on, Stonie, and leave him with me--he's just a baby,"pleaded Rose Mary.

  "All right," answered the General, "Tobe don't care about him; he'djust make us go slow," and thus dropping young Peter into the categoryof impedimenta, the General departed at top speed, surrounded, as hecame, by the loyal Swarm. On the day of his birth Aunt Viney's choicefor a name for the General had balanced for some hours between thatof the redoubtable Abner the Valiant, of old Testament fame, and herfavorite modern hero, Jackson of the stonewall nature. And in herfinal choice she had seemed so to impress the infant that he haddeveloped more than a little of the nature of his patron commander. Atall times Stonie commanded the Swarm, and also at all times wasstrictly obeyed.

  Then seeing herself thus deserted by her companions, Shoofly began alow, musical hum
of a wail and walled large eyes up at Everett, atwhose feet she was seated. In instant sympathetic response he appliedthe toe of his shoe to the small of the whimpering tot's back andproceeded awkwardly, though with the best intentions in the world, tofollow the General's directions as to pacification. Rose Mary laughedas she took a tin-cup from a nail in the wall, and filling it withmilk from one of the crocks, she knelt at the side of the deserted oneand held the brim to the red lips of Shoofly's generous mouth. With aseries of gurgles and laps the consoling draft was quickly consumedand the whimperer left by this double ministration in a state ofplacid contentment.

  Peter the wise had stood viewing these attentions to the other babywith stolid imperturbability, but as Rose Mary turned away to hertable he licked out his pink tongue and bobbed his head toward themilk crocks, while his solemn eyes conveyed his desire without words.Peter's vocabulary was both new and limited, and he was at all timesextremely careful against any wastefulness of it. His lips quivered asif in uncertainty as to whether he was to be left out of this lacticdeal, and his eyes grew reproachful.

  "Why, man alive, did you think I had forgotten you!" exclaimed RoseMary as she turned with the cup to one of the crocks standing in thewater, at the sight of which motion relief dawned in the serious eyesof the young petitioner. Filling the cup swiftly, she lifted theyoungster in her arms and came over to sit in the door beside Shooflyat Everett's feet. With dignified deliberation Peter began to consumehis draft in slow gulps, and after each one he lifted his eyes to RoseMary's face as if rendering courteous appreciation for the consumedportion. His chubby fingers were clasped around her wrist as she heldthe cup for him, and her other hand cuddled one of his bare,briar-scratched knees. The picture had its instituted effect onEverett, and he bent toward the little group in the doorway and restedhis elbows on his knees as his world-restless eyes softened and thelines around his mouth melted into a smile.

  "Rose Mary," he said with an almost abashed note in his deep voice,"we'll dispense with the lilacs--they're not needed as retainers, andI don't deserve them."

  "But being good will bring you the lilacs of life; whether you thinkyou deserve them or not, I'm afraid it's inevitable," answered RoseMary, as she smiled up at him with instant appreciation of his changeof mood.

  "Well, I'll try it this once and see what happens," answered Everettwith a laugh. "Indeed, I'm ashamed of having shown you any impatienceat all--to think of impatience in this heaven country of hospitalityamounts to positive sacrilege. Shrive me--and then bring on yourlilacs!"

  "Then you'll stay with us until it's safe for you to go North and Iwon't have to worry about you any more?" exclaimed Rose Mary,delighted, as she beamed up over Pete's tow-head that had dropped withrepletion on her breast. Shoofly, who, true to her appellation, hadbeen making funny little dabs of delight at a fly or two which hadbuzzed in her direction, had crawled nearer and burrowed her headunder Rose Mary's knee, rolled over on her little stomach and goneinstantaneously and exhaustedly to sleep. Rose Mary adjusted asmothering fold of her dress and continued in her rejoicing overEverett's surrender to circumstance inevitable.

  "And do you think you can dig some more in the fields? Don't happinessand hoe mean the same thing to most men?" she questioned with a laugh.

  "Yes, hoe to the death and the devil take the last man at the end ofthe row, fortune to the first!" answered Everett with a return of hiscynical look and tone.

  "Oh, but in the world some men just go along and chop down ugly weeds,stir up the good, smelly earth for things to grow in, reach over tohelp the man in the next furrow if he needs it, and all come home atsundown together--and the women have the supper ready. That's the kindof hoeing I want you to do--please dig me up those teeth for AuntViney and I'll have johnny-cake and fried chicken waiting for youevery night. Please, sir, promise!" And Rose Mary's voice sounded itscoaxing, comforting note, while her deep eyes brooded over him.

  "I promise," answered Everett with a laugh. "I tell you what I think Iwill do. As I understand it, the Briars has about three hundred acres,all told. I have been all over it for the oil and there is none in anypaying quantities. But in this kind of formation any number of otherthings may crop up or out. I am going to go over every acre of itcarefully and find exactly what can be expected of it. There may benothing of any value in a mineral way, but as I go I am going to makesoil tests, and then put it all down on a complete map and figure outjust what your Uncle Tucker ought to plant in each place for years tocome. It will kill a lot of time, and then it might be doing somethingfor you dear people, who have taken a miserable, cross invalid of astranger man in out of the wet and made a well chap of him again.

  "Do you know what you have done for me? That day when I had trampedover from Boliver just to get away from the Citizens' Hotel and myselfand perched upon Mr. Alloway's north lot fence like a miserablefuneral crow, I had reached my limit, and my spirit had turned itsface to the wall. I had been down South six weeks and couldn't seethat I felt one bit stronger. I had just heard of this copperexpedition from one of the chaps, who had written me a heedlesslyexultant letter about it, and I was down and out and no strength leftto fight. I was too weak to take it like a man, and couldn't make upmy mind to cry like a woman, though I wanted to. Just as it was at itsworst your Uncle Tucker appeared on the other side of the fence, andwhen he looked at me with those great, heaven-big eyes of his I fellover into his arms with a funny, help-has-come dying gasp. As youknow, when I woke I was anchored in the middle of that puffy oldfour-poster in my room under the blessed roof of the Briars and youwere pouring something glorious and hot down my throat, while thewonderful old angel-man in the big gray hat, who had got me out in thefield, was flapping his wings around on the other side of the pillows.I went to sleep under your very hands--and I haven't waked upyet--except in ugly, impatient ways. I never want to."

  "I wonder what you would be like--awake?" said Rose Mary softly, asshe gently lowered the head of young Peter down into the hollow of herarm, where, in close proximity to Shoofly's, he nodded off into thedepths. "I think I'm afraid to try waking you. I'm always so happywhen Aunt Viney has snuffed away her asthma with jimson weed and gotdown on her pillow, and I have rubbed all her joints; when the Generalhas said his prayers without stopping to argue in the middle, andUncle Tucker has finished his chapter and pipe in bed without settingus all on fire, that I regard people asleep as in a most blessedcondition. Won't you please try and stay happy, tucked away fast hereat the Briars, without wanting to wake up and go all over New York,when I won't know whether you are getting cold or hungry or wet or apain in your lungs?"

  "Again I promise! Just wake me enough to go out and hoe for you is allI ask--your row and your kind of hoeing."

  "Maybe hoeing in my row will make you finish your own in fine style,"laughed Rose Mary. "And I think it's wonderful of you to study up ourland so Uncle Tucker can do better with it. We never seem to be ableto make any more than just the mortgage interest, and what we'll wearwhen the trunks in the garret are empty I don't see. We'll have togrow feathers. Things like false teeth just seem to be impossible."

  "Do you mean to tell me that the Briars is seriously encumbered?"demanded Everett, with a quick frown showing between his brows and abusiness-keen look coming into his eyes.

  "The mortgage on the Briars covers it as completely as the vines onthe wall," answered Rose Mary quickly, with a humorous quirk at hermouth that relieved the note of pain in her voice. "I know we cannever pay it, but if something could be done to keep it for the oldfolks _always_, I think Stonie and I could stand it. They were bornhere and their roots strike deep and twine with the roots of everytree and bush at the Briars. Their graves are over there behind thestone wall, and all their joys and sorrows have come to them alongProvidence Road. I am not unhappy over it, because I know that theirMaster isn't going to let anything happen to take them away. Everynight before I go to sleep I just leave them to Him until I can wakeup in the morning to begin to keep care of them for Him again. It was
all about--"

  "Wait a minute, let me ask you some questions before you tell me anymore," said Everett, quickly covering the sympathy that showed in hiseyes with his business tone of voice. "Is it Gideon Newsome who holdsthis mortgage?"

  "Why, yes, how did you know?" asked Rose Mary with a mild surprise inher eyes as she raised them to his, bent intently on her. "UncleTucker had to get the money from him six years ago. It--it was a debtof honor--he--we had to pay." A rich crimson spread itself over RoseMary's brow and cheeks and flooded down her white neck under the foldsof her blue dress across her breast. Tears rose to her eyes, but shelifted her head proudly and looked him straight in the face. "There isa reason why I would give my life--why I do and must give my life toprotecting them from the consequences of the disaster. No sacrifice istoo great for me to make to save their home for them."

  "Do you mind telling me how much the mortgage is for?" asked Everett,still in his cool, thoughtful voice.

  "For ten thousand dollars," answered Rose Mary. "The land is worthreally less than fifteen. Nobody but such a--such a friend as Mr.Newsome would have loaned Uncle Tucker so much. He--he has been verykind to us. I--I am very grateful to him and I--" Rose Mary falteredand dropped her eyes. A tear trembled on the edge of her black lashesand then splashed on to the chubby cheek of Peter the reposer.

  "I see," said Everett coolly, and a flint tone made his usually richvoice harsh and tight. For a few minutes he sat quietly looking RoseMary over with an inscrutable look in his eyes that finally fadedagain into the utter world weariness. "I see--and so the bargain andsale goes on even on Providence Road under Old Harpeth. But the oldpeople will never have to give up the Briars while you are here to paythe price of their protection, Rose Mary. Never!"

  "I don't believe they will--my faith in Him makes me sure," answeredRose Mary with lovely unconsciousness as she raised large, comfortedeyes to Everett's. "I don't know how I'm going to manage, but somehowmy cup of faith seems to get filled each day with the wine of courageand the result is mighty apt to be a--song." And Rose Mary's faceblushed out again into a flowering of smiles.

  "A sort of cup of heavenly nectar," answered Everett with an answeringsmile, but the keen look still in his eyes. "See here, I want you topromise me something--don't ever, under any circumstances, tellanybody that I know about this mortgage. Will you?"

  "Of course, I won't if you tell me not to," answered Rose Maryimmediately. "I don't like to think or talk about it. I only told youbecause you wanted to help us. Help offers are the silver linings totrouble clouds, and you brought this one down on yourself, didn't you?Of course, it's selfish and wrong to tell people about your anxieties,but there is just no other way to get so close to a friend. Don't youthink perhaps sometimes the Lord doesn't bother to 'temper the winds,'but just leads you up on the sheltered side of somebody who isstronger than you are and leaves you there until your storm is over?"