Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 3

The Gillespies arrived at their simpler log cabin half an hour later than the Brailes at theirs. It was on the border of the settlement, and beyond it for a mile there was nothing but woods, walnut and chestnut and hickory, not growing thickly as the primeval forest grew to the northward along the lake, but standing openly about in the pleasant park-like freedom of the woods-pastures of that gentler latitude. Beyond the wide stretch of trees and meadow lands, the cornfields and tobacco patches opened to the sky again. On their farther border stood a new log cabin, defined by its fresh barked logs in the hovering dark.

Gillespie pulled the leatherwood latch-string which lifted the catch of his door, and pushed it open. "Go in, Jane," he said to his daughter, and the girl vanished slimly through, with a glance over her shoulder at Dylks where he stood aloof a few steps from her father.

Gillespie turned to his guest. "Did you see her?" he asked.

"Yes, I walked over to her house this morning."

"Did any one see you?"

"No. Her man was away."

Gillespie turned with an effect of helplessness, and looked down at the wood-pile where he stood. "I don't know," he said, "what keeps me from spliting your head open with that ax."

"I do," Dylks said.

"Man!" the old man threatened, "Don't go too far."

"It wasn't the fear of God which you pretend is in your heart, but the fear of man." Dylks added with a vulgar drop from the solemn words, "You would hang for it. I haven't put myself in your power without counting all the costs to both of us."

Gillespie waved his answer off with an impatient hand.

"Did she know you?"

"Why not? It hasn't been so long. I haven't changed so much. I wear my hair differently, and I dress better since I've been in Philadelphia. She knew me in a minute as well as I knew her. I didn't ask for her present husband; I thought one at a time was enough."

"What are you going to do?"

"Nothing—first. I might have told her she had been in a hurry. But if she don't bother me, I won't her. We got as far as that. And I reckon she won't, but I thought we'd better have a clear understanding, and she knows now it's bigamy in her case, and bigamy's a penitentiary offense. I made that clear. And now see here, David: I'm going to stay here in this settlement, and I don't want any trouble from you, no matter what you think of my doings, past, present, or future. I don't want you to say anything, or look anything. Don't you let on, even to that girl of yours, that you ever saw me before in your life. If you do, you'll wish you had split my head open with that ax. But I'm not afraid; I've got you safe, and I've got your sister safe."

Gillespie groaned. Then he said desperately, "Listen here, Joseph Dylks! I know what you're after, here, because you always was: other people's money. I've got three hundred dollars saved up since I paid off the mortgage. If you'll take it and go—"

"Three hundred dollars! No, no! Keep your money, old man. I don't rob the poor." Dylks lifted himself, and said with that air of mysterious mastery which afterwards won so many to his obedience, "I work my work. Let no man gainsay me or hinder me." He walked to and fro in the starlight, swelling, with his head up and his mane of black hair cloudily flying over his shoulders as he turned. "I come from God."

Gillespie looked at him as he paced back and forth. "If I didn't know you for a common scoundrel that married my sister against my will, and lived on her money till it was gone, and then left her and let her believe he was dead, I might believe you did come from God—or the Devil, you —you turkey cock, you stallion! But you can't prance me down, or snort me down. I don't agree to anything. I don't say I won't tell who you are when it suits me. I won't promise to keep it from this one or that one or any one. I'll let you go just so far, and then—"

"All right, David, I'll trust you, as I trust your sister. Between you I'm safe. And now, you lay low! That's my advice." He dropped from his mystery and his mastery to a level of colloquial teasing. "I'm going to rest under your humble roof to-night, and to-morrow I'm going to the mansion of Peter Hingston. His gates will be set wide for me, and all the double log-cabin palaces and frame houses of this royal city of Leatherwood will hunger for my presence. You could always hold your tongue, David, and you can easily leave all the whys and wherefores to me. I won't go from your hospitality with an ungrateful tongue; I will proclaim before the assembled multitudes in your temple that I left you secure in the faith, and that I turned to others because they needed me more. I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; they will understand that. So good night, David, and good morning. I shall be gone before even you are up."

Gillespie made no answer as he followed his guest indoors. Long before he slept he heard the man's powerful breathing like that of some strong animal in its sleep; an ox lying in the field, or a horse standing in its stall. At times it broke chokingly and then he snorted it smooth and regular again. At daybreak Gillespie thought of rising, but he drowsed, and he was asleep when his daughter came to the foot of the ladder which climbed to his chamber in the cabin loft, and called to him that his breakfast was ready.

William Dean Howells

Sorry, no summary available yet.