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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The “Harnt” that Walks Chilhowee

By Mary Noailles Murfree (Charles Egbert Craddock) (1850–1922)

[Born at Grantlands, near Murfreesboro, Tenn., 1850. Died there, 1922. From the Story by that title.—In the Tennessee Mountains. By Charles Egbert Craddock. 1884.]

THE BREEZE freshened, after the sun went down, and the hop and gourd vines were all astir as they clung about the little porch where Clarsie was sitting now, idle at last. The rain-clouds had disappeared, and there bent over the dark, heavily wooded ridges a pale blue sky, with here and there the crystalline sparkle of a star. A halo was shimmering in the east, where the mists had gathered about the great white moon, hanging high above the mountains. Noiseless wings flitted through the dusk; now and then the bats swept by so close as to wave Clarsie’s hair with the wind of their flight. What an airy, glittering, magical thing was that gigantic spider-web suspended between the silver moon and her shining eyes! Ever and anon there came from the woods a strange, weird, long-drawn sigh, unlike the stir of the wind in the trees, unlike the fret of the water on the rocks. Was it the voiceless sorrow of the sad earth? There were stars in the night besides those known to astronomers: the stellular fire-flies gemmed the black shadows with a fluctuating brilliancy; they circled in and out of the porch, and touched the leaves above Clarsie’s head with quivering points of light. A steadier and an intenser gleam was advancing along the road, and the sound of languid footsteps came with it; the aroma of tobacco graced the atmosphere, and a tall figure walked up to the gate.

“Come in, come in,” said Peter Giles, rising, and tendering the guest a chair. “Ye air Tom Pratt, ez well ez I kin make out by this light. Waal, Tom, we hain’t furgot ye sence ye done been hyar.”

As Tom had been there on the previous evening, this might be considered a joke, or an equivocal compliment. The young fellow was restless and awkward under it, but Mrs. Giles chuckled with great merriment.

“An’ how air ye a-comin’ on, Mrs. Giles?” he asked propitiatorily.

“Jes’ toler’ble, Tom. Air they all well ter yer house?”

“Yes, they’re toler’ble well, too.” He glanced at Clarsie, intending to address to her some polite greeting, but the expression of her shy, half-startled eyes, turned upon the far-away moon, warned him. “Thar never war a gal so skittish,” he thought. “She’d run a mile, skeered ter death, ef I said a word ter her.”

And he was prudently silent.

“Waal,” said Peter Giles, “what’s the news out yer way, Tom? Ennything a-goin’ on?”

“Thar war a shower yander on the Backbone; it rained toler’ble hard fur a while, an’ sot up the corn wonderful. Did ye git enny hyar?”

“Not a drap.”

“’Pears ter me ez I kin see the clouds a-circlin’ round Chilhowee, an’ a-rainin’ on everybody’s corn-field ’ceptin’ ourn,” said Mrs. Giles. “Some folks is the favored of the Lord, an’ t’others hev ter work fur everything an’ git nuthin’. Waal, waal; we-uns will see our reward in the nex’ worl’. Thar’s a better worl’ than this, Tom.”

“That’s a fac’,” said Tom, in orthodox assent.

“An’ when we leaves hyar once, we leaves all trouble an’ care behind us, Tom; fur we don’t come back no more.” Mrs. Giles was drifting into one of her pious moods.

“I dunno,” said Tom. “Thar hev been them ez hev.”

“Hev what?” demanded Peter Giles, startled.

“Hev come back ter this hyar yearth. Thar’s a harnt that walks Chilhowee every night o’ the worl’. I know them ez hev seen him.”

Clarsie’s great dilated eyes were fastened on the speaker’s face. There was a dead silence for a moment, more eloquent with these looks of amazement than any words could have been.

“I reckons ye remember a puny, shrivelled little man, named Reuben Crabb, ez used ter live yander, eight mile along the ridge ter that thar big sulphur spring,” Tom resumed, appealing to Peter Giles. “He war born with only one arm.”

“I ’members him,” interpolated Mrs. Giles, vivaciously. “He war a mighty porely, sickly little critter, all the days of his life. ’Twar a wonder he war ever raised ter be a man,—an’ a pity, too. An’ ’twar powerful comical, the way of his takin’ off; a stunted, one-armed little critter a-ondertakin’ ter fight folks an’ shoot pistols. He bed the use o’ his one arm, sure.”

“Waal,” said Tom, “his house ain’t thar now, ’kase Sam Grim’s brothers burned it ter the ground fur his a-killin’ of Sam. That warn’t all that war done ter Reuben fur killin’ of Sam. The sheriff run Reuben Crabb down this hyar road ’bout a mile from hyar,—mebbe less,—an’ shot him dead in the road, jes’ whar it forks. Waal, Reuben war in company with another evil-doer,—he war from the Cross-Roads, an’ I furgits what he hed done, but he war a-tryin’ ter hide in the mountings, too; an’ the sheriff lef’ Reuben a-lying thar in the road, while he tries ter ketch up with the t’other; but his horse got a stone in his hoof, an’ he los’ time, an’ hed ter gin it up. An’ when he got back ter the forks o’ the road whar he had lef’ Reuben a-lyin’ dead, thar war nuthin’ thar ’ceptin’ a pool o’ blood. Waal, he went right on ter Reuben’s house, an’ them Grim boys hed burnt it ter the ground; but he seen Reuben’s brother Joel. An’ Joel, he tole the sheriff that late that evenin’ he hed tuk Reuben’s body out ’n the road an’ buried it, ’kase it hed been lyin’ thar in the road ever sence early in the mornin’, an’ he couldn’t leave it thar all night, an’ he hedn’t no shelter fur it, sence the Grim boys hed burnt down the house. So he war obleeged ter bury it. An’ Joel showed the sheriff a new-made grave, an’ Reuben’s coat whar the sheriff’s bullet hed gone in at the back an’ kem out’n the breast. The sheriff ’lowed ez they ’d fine Joel fifty dollars fur a-buryin’ of Reuben afore the cor’ner kem; but they never done it, ez I knows on. The sheriff said that when the cor’ner kem the body would be tuk up fur a ’quest. But thar hed been a powerful big frishet, an’ the river ’twixt the corner’s house an’ Chilhowee couldn’t be forded fur three weeks. The cor’ner never kem, an’ so thar it all stayed. That war four year ago.”

“Waal,” said Peter Giles, dryly, “I ain’t seen no harnt yit. I knowed all that afore.”

Clarsie’s wondering eyes upon the young man’s moonlit face had elicited these facts, familiar to the elders, but strange, he knew, to her.

“I war jes’ a-goin’ on ter tell,” said Tom, abashed. “Waal, ever sence his brother Joel died, this spring, Reuben’s harnt walks Chilhowee. He war seen week afore las’, ’bout daybreak, by Ephraim Blenkins, who hed been a-fishin’, an’ war a-goin’ home. Eph happened ter stop in the laurel ter wind up his line, when all in a minit he seen the harnt go by, his face white, an’ his eye-balls like fire, an’ puny an’ one-armed, jes’ like he lived. Eph, be owed me a haffen day’s work; I holped him ter plough las’ month, an’ so he kem ter-day an’ hoed along cornsider’ble ter pay fur it. He say he believes the harnt never seen him, ’kase it went right by. He ’lowed ef the harnt hed so much ez cut one o’ them blazin’ eyes round at him he couldn’t but hev drapped dead. Waal, this mornin’, ’bout sunrise, my brother Bob’s little gal, three year old, strayed off from home while her mother war out milkin’ the cow. An’ we went a-huntin’ of her, mightily worked up, ’kase thar hev been a b’ar prowlin’ round our corn-field twict this summer. An’ I went to the right, an’ Bob went to the lef’. An’ he say ez he war a-pushin’ ’long through the laurel, he seen the bushes ahead of him a-rustlin’. An’ he jes’ stood still an’ watched ’em. An’ fur a while the bushes war still too; an’ then they moved jes’ a little, fust this way an’ then that, till all of a suddint the leaves opened, like the mouth of hell mought hev done, an’ thar he seen Reuben Crabb’s face. He say he never seen sech a face! Its mouth war open, an’ its eyes war a-startin’ out ’n its head, an’ its skin war white till it war blue; an’ ef the devil hed hed it a-hangin’ over the coals that minit it couldn’t hev looked no more skeered. But that war all that Bob seen, ’kase he jes’ shet his eyes an’ screeched an’ screeched like he war destracted. An’ when he stopped a second ter ketch his breath he hearn su’thin’ a-answerin’ him back, sorter weak-like, an’ thar war little Peggy a-pullin’ through the laurel. Ye know she’s too little ter talk good, but the folks down ter our house believes she seen the harnt, too.”

“My Lord!” exclaimed Peter Giles. “I ’low I couldn’t live a minit ef I war ter see that thar harnt that walks Chilhowee!”

“I know I couldn’t,” said his wife.

“Nor me, nuther,” murmured Clarsie.

“Waal,” said Tom, resuming the thread of his narrative, “we hev all been a-talkin’ down yander ter our house ter make out the reason why Reuben Crabb’s harnt hev sot out ter walk jes’ sence his brother Joel died,—’kase it war never seen afore then. An’ ez nigh ez we kin make it out, the reason is ’kase thar ’s nobody lef’ in thish yar worl’ what believes he warn’t ter blame in that thar killin’ o’ Sam Grim. Joel always swore ez Reuben never killed him no more’n nuthin’; that Sam’s own pistol went off in his own hand, an’ shot him through the heart jes’ ez he war a-drawing of it ter shoot Reuben Crabb. An’ I hev hearn other men ez war a-standin’ by say the same thing, though them Grims tells another tale; but ez Reuben never owned no pistol in his life, nor kerried one, it don’t ’pear ter me ez what them Grims say air reasonable. Joel always swore ez Sam Grim war a mighty mean man,—a great big feller like him a-rockin’ of a deformed little critter, an’ a-mockin’ of him, an’ a-hittin’ of him. An’ the day of the fight Sam jes’ knocked him down fur nuthin’ at all; an’ afore ye could wink Reuben jumped up suddint, an’ flew at him like an eagle, an’ struck him in the face. An’ then Sam drawed his pistol, an’ it went off in his own hand, an’ shot him through the heart, an’ killed him dead. Joel said that ef he could hev kep’ that pore little critter Reuben still, an’ let the sheriff arrest him peaceable-like, he war sure the jury would hev let him off; ’kase how war Reuben a-goin’ ter shoot ennybody when Sam Grim never left a-holt of the only pistol between ’em, in life, or in death? They tells me they hed ter bury Sam Grim with that thar pistol in his hand; his grip war too tight fur death to unloose it. But Joel said that Reuben war sartain they’d hang him. He hedn’t never seen no jestice from enny one man, an’ he couldn’t look fur it from twelve men. So he jes’ sot out ter run through the woods, like a painter or a wolf, ter be hunted by the sheriff, an’ he war run down an’ kilt in the road. Joel said he kep’ up arter the sheriff ez well ez he could on foot,—fur the Crabbs never hed no horse,—ter try ter beg fur Reuben, ef he war cotched, an’ tell how little an’ how weakly he war. I never seen a young man’s head turn white like Joel’s done; he said he reckoned it war his troubles. But ter the las’ he stuck ter his rifle faithful. He war a powerful hunter; he war out rain or shine, hot or cold, in sech weather ez other folks would think thar warn’t no use in tryin’ ter do nuthin’ in. I’m mightily afeard o’ seein’ Reuben, now, that’s a fac’,” concluded Tom, frankly; “’kase I hev hearn tell, an’ I believes it, that ef a harnt speaks ter ye, it air sartain ye’re bound ter die right then.”

“’Pears ter me,” said Mrs. Giles, “ez many mountings ez thar air round hyar, he mought hev tuk ter walkin’ some o’ them, stiddier Chilhowee.”

There was a sudden noise close at hand: a great inverted splint-basket, from which came a sound of flapping wings, began to move slightly back and forth. Mrs. Giles gasped out an ejaculation of terror, the two men sprang to their feet, and the coy Clarsie laughed aloud in an exuberance of delighted mirth, forgetful of her shyness. “I declar’ ter goodness, you-uns air all skeered fur true! Did ye think it war the harnt that walks Chilhowee?”

“What’s under that thar basket?” demanded Peter Giles, rather sheepishly as he sat down again.

“Nuthin’ but the duck-legged Dominicky,” said Clarsie, “what air bein’ broke up from settin’.” The moonlight was full upon the dimpling merriment in her face, upon her shining eyes and parted red lips, and her gurgling laughter was pleasant to hear. Tom Pratt edged his chair a trifle nearer, as he, too, sat down.

“Ye oughtn’t never ter break up a duck-legged hen, nor a Dominicky, nuther,” he volunteered, “’kase they air sech a good kind o’ hen ter kerry chickens; but a hen that is duck-legged an’ Dominicky too oughter be let ter set, whether or no.”

Had he been warned in a dream, he could have found no more secure road to Clarsie’s favor and interest than a discussion of the poultry. “I’m a-thinkin’,” she said, “that it air too hot fur hens ter set now, an’ ’twill be till the las’ of August.”

“It don’t ’pear ter me ez it air hot much in June up hyar on Chilhowee,—thar’s a differ, I know, down in the valley; but till July, on Chilhowee, it don’t ’pear ter me ez it air too hot ter set a hen. An’ a duck-legged Dominicky air mighty hard ter break up.”

“That’s a fac’,” Clarsie admitted; “but I’ll hev ter do it, somehow, ’kase I ain’t got no eggs fur her. All my hens air kerryin’ of chickens.”

“Waal!” exclaimed Tom, seizing his opportunity, “I’ll bring ye some ter-morrer night, when I come agin. We-uns hev got eggs ter our house.”

“Thanky,” said Clarsie, shyly smiling.

This unique method of courtship would have progressed very prosperously but for the interference of the elders, who are an element always more or less adverse to love-making. “Ye oughter turn out yer hen now, Clarsie,” said Mrs. Giles, “ez Tom air a-goin’ ter bring ye some eggs ter-morrer. I wonder ye don’t think it’s mean ter keep her up longer’n ye air obleeged ter. Ye oughter remember ye war called a merciful critter jes’ ter-day.”

Clarsie rose precipitately, raised the basket, and out flew the “duck-legged Dominicky,” with a frantic flutter and hysterical cackling. But Mrs. Giles was not to be diverted from her purpose; her thoughts had recurred to the absurd episode of the afternoon, and with her relish of the incongruity of the joke she opened upon the subject at once.

“Waal, Tom,” she said, “we’ll be hevin’ Clarsie married, afore long, I’m a-thinkin’.” The young man sat bewildered. He, too, had entertained views concerning Clarsie’s speedy marriage, but with a distinctly personal application; and this frank mention of the matter by Mrs. Giles had a sinister suggestion that perhaps her ideas might be antagonistic. “An’ who d’ye think hev been hyar ter-day, a-speakin’ of complimints on Clarsie?” He could not answer, but he turned his head with a look of inquiry, and Mrs. Giles continued, “He is a mighty peart, likely boy,—he is.”

There was a growing anger in the dismay on Tom Pratt’s face; he leaned forward to hear the name with a fiery eagerness, altogether incongruous with his usual lack-lustre manner.

“Old Simon Burney!” cried Mrs. Giles, with a burst of laughter. “Old Simon Burney! Jes’ a-speakin’ of complimints on Clarsie!”

The young fellow drew back with a look of disgust. “Why, he’s a old man; he ain’t no fit husband fur Clarsie.”

“Don’t ye be too sure ter count on that. I war jes’ a-layin’ off ter tell Clarsie that a gal oughter keep mighty clar o’ widowers, ’thout she wants ter marry one. Fur I believes,” said Mrs. Giles, with a wild flight of imagination, “ez them men hev got some sort’n trade with the Evil One, an’ he gives ’em the power ter witch the gals, somehow, so’s ter git ’em ter marry; ’kase I don’t think that any gal that’s got good sense air a-goin’ ter be a man’s second ch’ice, an’ the mother of a whole pack of step-chil’ren, ’thout she air under some sort’n spell. But them men carries the day with the gals, ginerally, an’ I’m a-thinkin’ they’re banded with the Devil. Ef I war a gal, an’ a smart, peart boy like Simon Burney kem around a-speakin’ of complimints, an’ sayin’ I war a merciful critter, I’d jes’ give it up, an’ marry him fur second ch’ice. Thar’s one blessin’,” she continued, contemplating the possibility in a cold-blooded fashion positively revolting to Tom Pratt: “he ain’t got no tribe of chil’ren fur Clarsie ter look arter; nary chick nor child hev old Simon Burney got. He had two, but they died.”

The young man took leave presently, in great depression of spirit,—the idea that the widower was banded with the powers of evil was rather overwhelming to a man whose dependence was in merely mortal attractions; and after he had been gone a little while Clarsie ascended the ladder to a nook in the roof, which she called her room.

For the first time in her life her slumber was fitful and restless, long intervals of wakefulness alternating with snatches of fantastic dreams. At last she rose and sat by the rude window, looking out through the chestnut leaves at the great moon, which had begun to dip toward the dark uncertainty of the western ridges, and at the shimmering, translucent, pearly mists that filled the intermediate valleys. All the air was dew and incense; so subtle and penetrating an odor came from that fir-tree beyond the fence that it seemed as if some invigorating infusion were thrilling along her veins; there floated upward, too, the warm fragrance of the clover, and every breath of the gentle wind brought from over the stream a thousand blended, undistinguishable perfumes of the deep forests beyond. The moon’s idealizing glamour had left no trace of the uncouthness of the place which the daylight revealed; the little log house, the great overhanging chestnut-oaks, the jagged precipice before the door, the vague outlines of the distant ranges, all suffused with a magic sheen, might have seemed a stupendous alto-rilievo in silver repoussé. Still, there came here and there the sweep of the bat’s dusky wings; even they were a part of the night’s witchery. A tiny owl perched for a moment or two amid the dew-tipped chestnut-leaves, and gazed with great round eyes at Clarsie as solemnly as she gazed at him.

“I’m thankful enough that ye hed the grace not ter screech while ye war hyar,” she said, after the bird had taken his flight. “I ain’t ready ter die yit, an’ a screech-owel air the sure sign.”

She felt now and then a great impatience with her wakeful mood. Once she took herself to task: “Jes’ a-sittin’ up hyar all night, the same ez ef I war a fox, or that thar harnt that walks Chilhowee!”

And then her mind reverted to Tom Pratt, to old Simon Burney, and to her mother’s emphatic and oracular declaration that widowers are in league with Satan, and that the girls upon whom they cast the eye of supernatural fascination have no choice in the matter. “I wish I knowed ef that thar sayin’ war true,” she murmured, her face still turned to the western spurs, and the moon sinking so slowly toward them.

With a sudden resolution she rose to her feet. She knew a way of telling fortunes which was, according to tradition, infallible, and she determined to try it, and ease her mind as to her future. Now was the propitious moment. “I hev always hearn that it won’t come true ’thout ye try it jes’ before daybreak, an’ a-kneelin’ down at the forks of the road.” She hesitated a moment and listened intently. “They’d never git done a-laffin’ at me, ef they fund it out,” she thought.

There was no sound in the house, and from the dark woods arose only those monotonous voices of the night, so familiar to her ears that she accounted their murmurous iteration as silence too. She leaned far out of the low window, caught the wide-spreading branches of the tree beside it, and swung herself noiselessly to the ground. The road before her was dark with the shadowy foliage and dank with the dew; but now and then, at long intervals, there lay athwart it a bright bar of light, where the moonshine fell through a gap in the trees. Once, as she went rapidly along her way, she saw speeding across the white radiance, lying just before her feet, the ill-omened shadow of a rabbit. She paused, with a superstitious sinking of the heart, and she heard the animal’s quick, leaping rush through the bushes near at hand; but she mustered her courage, and kept steadily on. “Tain’t no use a-goin’ back ter git shet o’ bad luck,” she argued. “Ef old Simon Burney air my fortune, he’ll come whether or no,—ef all they say air true.”

The serpentine road curved to the mountain’s brink before it forked, and there was again that familiar picture of precipice, and far-away ridges, and shining mist, and sinking moon, which was visibly turning from silver to gold. The changing lustre gilded the feathery ferns that grew in the marshy dip. Just at the angle of the divergent paths there rose into the air a great mass of indistinct white blossoms, which she knew were the exquisite mountain azaleas, and all the dark forest was starred with the blooms of the laurel.

She fixed her eyes upon the mystic sphere dropping down the sky, knelt among the azaleas at the forks of the road, and repeated the time-honored invocation:—

“Ef I’m a-goin’ ter marry a young man, whistle, Bird, whistle. Ef I’m a-goin’ ter marry an old man, low, Cow, low. Ef I ain’t a-goin’ ter marry nobody, knock, Death, knock.”

There was a prolonged silence in the matutinal freshness and perfume of the woods. She raised her head, and listened attentively. No chirp of half-awakened bird, no tapping of wood-pecker, or the mysterious death-watch; but from far along the dewy aisles of the forest, the ungrateful Spot, that Clarsie had fed more faithfully than herself, lifted up her voice, and set the echoes vibrating. Clarsie, however, had hardly time for a pang of disappointment. While she still knelt among the azaleas her large, deer-like eyes were suddenly dilated with terror. From around the curve of the road came the quick beat of hastening footsteps, the sobbing sound of panting breath, and between her and the sinking moon there passed an attenuated, one-armed figure, with a pallid, sharpened face, outlined for a moment on its brilliant disk, and dreadful starting eyes, and quivering open mouth. It disappeared in an instant among the shadows of the laurel, and Clarsie, with a horrible fear clutching at her heart, sprang to her feet.

Her flight was arrested by other sounds. Before her reeling senses could distinguish them, a party of horsemen plunged down the road. They reined in suddenly as their eyes fell upon her, and their leader, an eager, authoritative man, was asking her a question. Why could she not understand him? With her nerveless hands feebly catching at the shrubs for support, she listened vaguely to his impatient, meaningless words, and saw with helpless deprecation the rising anger in his face. But there was no time to be lost. With a curse upon the stupidity of the mountaineer, who couldn’t speak when she was spoken to, the party sped on in a sweeping gallop, and the rocks and the steeps were hilarious with the sound.

When the last faint echo was hushed, Clarsie tremblingly made her way out into the road; not reassured, however, for she had a frightful conviction that there was now and then a strange stir in the laurel, and that she was stealthily watched. Her eyes were fixed upon the dense growth with a morbid fascination, as she moved away; but she was once more rooted to the spot when the leaves parted and in the golden moonlight the ghost stood before her. She could not nerve herself to run past him, and he was directly in her way homeward. His face was white, and lined, and thin; that pitiful quiver was never still in the parted lips; he looked at her with faltering, beseeching eyes. Clarsie’s merciful heart was stirred. “What ails ye, ter come back hyar, an’ foller me?” she cried out, abruptly. And then a great horror fell upon her. Was not one to whom a ghost should speak doomed to death, sudden and immediate?

The ghost replied in a broken, shivering voice, like a wail of pain, “I war a-starvin’,—I war a-starvin’,” with despairing iteration.

It was all over, Clarsie thought. The ghost had spoken, and she was a doomed creature. She wondered that she did not fall dead in the road. But while those beseeching eyes were fastened in piteous appeal on hers, she could not leave him. “I never hearn that ’bout ye,” she said, reflectively. “I knows ye hed awful troubles while ye war alive, but I never knowed ez ye war starved.”

Surely that was a gleam of sharp surprise in the ghost’s prominent eyes, succeeded by a sly intelligence.

“Day is nigh ter breakin’,” Clarsie admonished him, as the lower rim of the moon touched the silver mists of the west. “What air ye a-wantin’ of me?”

There was a short silence. Mind travels far in such intervals. Clarsie’s thoughts had overtaken the scenes when she should have died that sudden terrible death: when there would be no one left to feed the chickens; when no one would care if the pigs cried with the pangs of hunger, unless, indeed, it were time for them to be fattened before killing. The mare,—how often would she be taken from the plough, and shut up for the night in her shanty without a drop of water, after her hard day’s work! Who would churn, or spin, or weave? Clarsie could not understand how the machinery of the universe could go on without her. And Towse, poor Towse! He was a useless cumberer of the ground, and it was hardly to be supposed that after his protector was gone he would be spared a blow or a bullet, to hasten his lagging death. But Clarsie still stood in the road, and watched the face of the ghost, as he, with his eager, starting eyes, scanned her open, ingenuous countenance.

“Ye do ez ye air bid, or it’ll be the worse for ye,” said the “harnt,” in the same quivering, shrill tone. “Thar’s hunger in the nex’ worl’ ez well ez in this, an’ ye bring me some vittles hyar this time ter-morrer, an’ don’t ye tell nobody ye hev seen me, nuther, or it’ll be the worse for ye.”

There was a threat in his eyes as he disappeared in the laurel, and left the girl standing in the last rays of moonlight.

A curious doubt was stirring in Clarsie’s mind when she reached home, in the early dawn, and heard her father talking about the sheriff and his posse, who had stopped at the house in the night, and roused its inmates, to know if they had seen a man pass that way.

“Clarsie never hearn none o’ the noise, I’ll be bound, ’kase she always sleeps like a log,” said Mrs. Giles, as her daughter came in with the pail, after milking the cow. “Tell her ’bout’n it.”

“They kem a-bustin’ along hyar a while afore day-break, a-runnin’ arter the man,” drawled Mr. Giles, dramatically. “An’ they knocked me up, ter know ef ennybody hed passed. An’ one o’ them men—I never seen none of ’em afore; they’s all valley folks, I’m a-thinkin’—an’ one of ’em bruk his saddle-girt’ a good piece down the road, an’ he kem back ter borrer mine; an’ ez we war a-fixin’ of it, he tole me what they war all arter. He said that word war tuk ter the sheriff down yander in the valley—’pears ter me them town-folks don’t think nobody in the mountings hev got good sense—word war tuk ter the sheriff ’bout this one-armed harnt that walks Chilhowee; an’ he sot it down that Reuben Crabb warn’t dead at all, an’ Joel jes’ purtended ter hev buried him, an’ it air Reuben hisself that walks Chilhowee. An’ thar air two hunderd dollars blood-money reward fur ennybody ez kin ketch him. These hyar valley folks air powerful cur’ous critters,—two hunderd dollars blood-money reward fur that thar harnt that walks Chilhowee! I jes’ sot myself ter laffin’ when that thar cuss tole it so solemn. I jes’ ’lowed ter him ez he couldn’t shoot a harnt nor hang a harnt, an’ Reuben Crabb hed about got done with his persecutions in this worl’. An’ he said that by the time they hed scoured this mounting, like they hed laid off ter do, they would find that that thar puny little harnt war nuthin’ but a mortal man, an’ could be kep’ in a jail ez handy ez enny other flesh an’ blood. He said the sheriff ’lowed ez the reason Reuben hed jes’ taken ter walk Chilhowee sence Joel died is ’kase thar air nobody ter feed him, like Joel done, mebbe, in the nights; an’ Reuben always war a pore, one-armed, weakly critter, what can’t even kerry a gun, an’ he air driv by hunger out’n the hole whar he stays, ter prowl round the corn-fields an’ hen-coops ter steal suthin’,—an’ that’s how he kem ter be seen frequent. The sheriff ’lowed that Reuben can’t find enough roots an’ yerbs ter keep him up; but law!—a harnt eatin’! It jes’ sot me off ter laffin’. Reuben Crabb hev been too busy in torment fur the las’ four year ter be a-studyin’ ’bout eatin’; an’ it air his harnt that walks Chilhowee.”

The next morning, before the moon sank, Clarsie, with a tin pail in her hand, went to meet the ghost at the appointed place. She understood now why the terrible doom that falls upon those to whom a spirit may chance to speak had not descended upon her, and that fear was gone; but the secrecy of her errand weighed heavily. She had been scrupulously careful to put into the pail only such things as had fallen to her share at the table, and which she had saved from the meals of yesterday. “A gal that goes a-robbin’ fur a hongry harnt,” was her moral reflection, “oughter be throwed bodaciously off’n the bluff.”

She found no one at the forks of the road. In the marshy dip were only the myriads of mountain azaleas, only the masses of feathery ferns, only the constellated glories of the laurel blooms. A sea of shining white mist was in the valley, with glinting golden rays striking athwart it from the great cresset of the sinking moon; here and there the long, dark, horizontal line of a distant mountain’s summit rose above the vaporous shimmer, like a dreary, sombre island in the midst of enchanted waters. Her large, dreamy eyes, so wild and yet so gentle, gazed out through the laurel leaves upon the floating gilded flakes of light, as in the deep coverts of the mountain, where the fulvous-tinted deer were lying, other eyes, as wild and as gentle, dreamily watched the vanishing moon. Overhead, the filmy, lace-like clouds, fretting the blue heavens, were tinged with a faint rose. Through the trees she caught a glimpse of the red sky of dawn, and the glister of a great lucent, tremulous star. From the ground, misty blue exhalations were rising, alternating with the long lines of golden light yet drifting through the woods. It was all very still, very peaceful, almost holy. One could hardly believe that these consecrated solitudes had once reverberated with the echoes of man’s death-dealing ingenuity, and that Reuben Crabb had fallen, shot through and through, amid that wealth of flowers at the forks of the road. She heard suddenly the far-away baying of a hound. Her great eyes dilated, and she lifted her head to listen. Only the solemn silence of the woods, the slow sinking of the noiseless moon, the voiceless splendor of that eloquent day-star.

Morning was close at hand, and she was beginning to wonder that the ghost did not appear, when the leaves fell into abrupt commotion, and he was standing in the road, beside her. He did not speak, but watched her with an eager, questioning intentness, as she placed the contents of the pail upon the moss at the roadside. “I’m a-comin’ agin ter-morrer,” she said, gently. He made no reply, quickly gathered the food from the ground, and disappeared in the deep shades of the woods.

She had not expected thanks, for she was accustomed only to the gratitude of dumb beasts; but she was vaguely conscious of something wanting, as she stood motionless for a moment, and watched the burnished rim of the moon slip down behind the western mountains. Then she slowly walked along her misty way in the dim light of the coming dawn. There was a footstep in the road behind her; she thought it was the ghost once more. She turned, and met Simon Burney, face to face. His rod was on his shoulder, and a string of fish was in his hand.

“Ye air a-doin’ wrongful, Clarsie,” he said, sternly. “It air agin the law fur folks ter feed an’ shelter them ez is a-runnin’ from jestice. An’ ye’ll git yerself inter trouble. Other folks will find ye out, besides me, an’ then the sheriff’ll be up hyar arter ye.”

The tears rose to Clarsie’s eyes. This prospect was infinitely more terrifying than the awful doom which follows the horror of a ghost’s speech.

“I can’t holp it,” she said, however, doggedly swinging the pail back and forth. “I can’t gin my consent ter starvin’ of folks, even ef they air a-hidin’ an’ a-runnin’ from jestice.”

“They mought put ye in jail, too,—I dunno,” suggested Simon Burney.

“I can’t holp that, nuther,” said Clarsie, the sobs rising, and the tears falling fast. “Ef they comes an’ gits me, and puts me in the pen’tiary away down yander, somewhars in the valley, like they done Jane Simpkins, fur a-cuttin’ of her step-mother’s throat with a butcher-knife, while she war asleep,—though some said Jane war crazy,—I can’t gin my consent ter starvin’ of folks.”

A recollection came over Simon Burney of the simile of “hendering the sun from shining.”

“She hev done sot it down in her mind,” he thought, as he walked on beside her and looked at her resolute face. Still he did not relinquish his effort.

“Doin’ wrong, Clarsie, ter aid folks what air a-doin’ wrong, an’ mebbe hev done wrong, air powerful hurtful ter everybody, an’ henders the law an’ jestice.”

“I can’t holp it,” said Clarsie.

“It ’pears toler’ble comical ter me,” said Simon Burney, with a sudden perception of a curious fact which has proved a marvel to wiser men, “that no matter how good a woman is, she ain’t got no respect fur the laws of the country, an’ don’t sot no store by jestice.” After a momentary silence he appealed to her on another basis. “Somebody will ketch him arter a while, ez sure ez ye air born. The sheriff’s a-sarchin’ now, an’ by the time that word gits around, all the mounting boys’ll turn out, ’kase thar air two hunderd dollars blood-money fur him. An’ then he’ll think, when they ketches him,—an’ everybody’ll say so, too,—ez ye war constant in feedin’ him jes’ ter ’tice him ter comin’ ter one place, so ez ye could tell somebody whar ter go ter ketch him, an’ make them gin ye haffen the blood-money, mebbe. That’s what the mounting will say, mos’ likely.”

“I can’t holp it,” said Clarsie, once more.

He left her walking on toward the rising sun, and retraced his way to the forks of the road. The jubilant morning was filled with the song of birds; the sunlight flashed on the dew; all the delicate enamelled bells of the pink and white azaleas were swinging tremulously in the wind; the aroma of ferns and mint rose on the delicious fresh air. Presently he checked his pace, creeping stealthily on the moss and grass beside the road rather than in the beaten path. He pulled aside the leaves of the laurel with no more stir than the wind might have made, and stole cautiously through its dense growth, till he came suddenly upon the puny little ghost, lying in the sun at the foot of a tree. The frightened creature sprang to his feet with a wild cry of terror, but before he could move a step he was caught and held fast in the strong grip of the stalwart mountaineer beside him. “I hev kem hyar ter tell ye a word, Reuben Crabb,” said Simon Burney. “I hev kem hyar ter tell ye that the whole mounting air a-goin’ ter turn out ter sarch fur ye; the sheriff air a-ridin’ now, an’ ef ye don’t come along with me they’ll hev ye afore night, ’kase thar air two hunderd dollars reward fur ye.”

What a piteous wail went up to the smiling blue sky, seen through the dappling leaves above them! What a horror, and despair, and prescient agony were in the hunted creature’s face! The ghost struggled no longer; he slipped from his feet down upon the roots of the tree, and turned that woful face, with its starting eyes and drawn muscles and quivering parted lips, up toward the unseeing sky.

“God A’mighty, man!” exclaimed Simon Burney, moved to pity. “Whyn’t ye quit this hyar way of livin’ in the woods like ye war a wolf? Whyn’t ye come back an’ stand yer trial? From all I’ve hearn tell, it ’pears ter me ez the jury air obleeged ter let ye off, an’ I’ll take keer of ye agin them Grims.”

“I hain’t got no place ter live in,” cried out the ghost, with a keen despair.

Simon Burney hesitated. Reuben Crabb was possibly a murderer,—at the best could but be a burden. The burden, however, had fallen in his way, and he lifted it.

“I tell ye now, Reuben Crabb,” he said, “I ain’t a-goin’ ter holp no man ter break the law an’ hender jestice; but ef ye will go an’ stand yer trial, I’ll take keer of ye agin them Grims ez long ez I kin fire a rifle. An’ arter the jury hev done let ye off, ye air welcome ter live along o’ me at my house till ye die. Ye air no ’count ter work, I know, but I ain’t a-goin’ ter grudge ye fur a livin’ at my house.”

And so it came to pass that the reward set upon the head of the harnt that walked Chilhowee was never claimed.

With his powerful ally, the forlorn little spectre went to stand his trial, and the jury acquitted him without leaving the box. Then he came back to the mountains to live with Simon Burney. The cruel gibes of his burly mockers that had beset his feeble life from his childhood up, the deprivation and loneliness and despair and fear that had filled those days when he walked Chilhowee, had not improved the harnt’s temper. He was a helpless creature, not able to carry a gun or hold a plough, and the years that he spent smoking his cob-pipe in Simon Burney’s door were idle years and unhappy. But Mrs. Giles said she thought he was “a mighty lucky little critter: fust, he hed Joel ter take keer of him an’ feed him, when he tuk ter the woods ter pertend he war a harnt; an’ they do say now that Clarsie Pratt, afore she war married, used ter kerry him vittles, too; an’ then old Simon Burney tuk him up an’ fed him ez plenty ez ef he war a good workin’ hand, an’ gin him clothes an’ house-room, an’ put up with his jawin’ jes’ like he never hearn a word of it. But law! some folks dunno when they air well off.”

There was only a sluggish current of peasant blood in Simon Burney’s veins, but a prince could not have dispensed hospitality with a more royal hand. “Ungrudgingly he gave of his best; valiantly he defended his thankless guest at the risk of his life; with a moral gallantry he struggled with his sloth, and worked early and late, that there might be enough to divide. There was no possibility of a recompense for him, not even in the encomiums of discriminating friends, nor the satisfaction of tutored feelings and a practised spiritual discernment; for he was an uncouth creature, and densely ignorant.

The grace of culture is, in its way, a fine thing, but the best that art can do—the polish of a gentleman—is hardly equal to the best that Nature can do in her higher moods.