Updated: Jan 1
By Frank Neilson
Daily Story Publishing Company, August 5, 1903.
Flip th’ piller a leetle higher up, Mirey," said the old man peevishly. Th’ cher hurts my back—an’ th’ sun’s a shinin' right’n my eyes.”
The girl tenderly adjusted the pillow and with masculine strength, lifted the crude chair with its paralyzed burden to a shadier spot under the apple tree.
“Ye ain’t a treatin’ Jake right, Mirey,” grumbled the old man. ‘‘He ain’t said nothin’, but I kin see it; an' you a goin’ ta marry him this fall.”
“Mebbe I am—mebbe I ain’t,” the girl said, impatiently.
The old man looked up at her anxiously.
"I knowed it,” he exclaimed. “I’ve seed it a-comin’ ever sence that Evans, come a snoop-in’ ’round here, a pizenin’ yer mind with his stories ’bout fine houses, an’ great ladies, an’ dresses, an’ dimunds. What brought him ’way up here in this wild place? Who knows, what he is, ennyhow? Like as not he’s one of them revnoo spies.”
“Ye’ve got no call to slander him that a way, pap,” retorted the girl hotly. “Lots of them city folks spends their vacations in th’ mountains. An’ ennybody kin see he’s a gentleman. He ain’t no spy.”
These were hot words over the young city man, leaving the old man sullen and dissatisfied and the girl defiant. As she turned to go he said: “Mirey, they’s sumthin’ I clean forgot to tell Jake when he come by, an’ I must see him. He ain’t more'n half way to th’ still, yit. Run, Mirey, ye must bring him back.”
The girl hurried obediently down the steep path and along the base of the mountain, smiling as she went, “I kin coax him into it after while, she murmured,“an’ then I kin be sumbody. Rob says I kin have ennything I—”
A crash, a rattle of descending stones, a smothered ejaculation, and two struggling, interlocked men rolled down into the path below her. One of them, wrenching the revolver from the other’s hand, arose panting, tall and powerful. His opponent lay quite still, blood trickling from a wound on the curly, handsome head.
With a choking cry Mirey sprang forward and raised the wounded head in her arms. “Ye’ve killed him,” she, moaned.
“He’s only stunned a leetle.”
“You lie, Jake!" the girl cried, defiantly. “An’ this won’t do ye no good, neither.”
The tall man bent down and from the inner pocket of the stylish coat drew a long, official-looking envelope. “Look at that, Mirey,” he cried, with a note of triumph, “From th’, Internal Revnoo D’partment!”
“That ain't his name on it—It’s fer sumbody else,’’ she protested, wildly, “Let me read what's inside.’’
She reached up a trembling hand, took the opened sheet and her sun-browned face turned pale. The wounded head dropped from the encircling arms and she staggered to her feet, swaying, crushing the letter in her hands. The man at her feet stirred and sighed. The tall man knelt and with his handkerchief bound the unresisting hands cruelly tight.
“What ye goin’ to do with him, Jake?” asked the girl, quietly, almost inaudibly.
“Ye’ve heered rumors of what went with ’tother one,” the tall man muttered, with a significant glance. “But ‘tain’t fer me to say. Th’ boys'll decide that.”
The girl shuddered and turned away.
“You’ll have to go an’ tell th’ boys, Mirey. while I watch him. He musn’t git away.”
“I—I kain’t—bring them, Jake. I’ll watch him. He’ll not git away,” savagely. “Give me th’ gun.”
Jake’s eyes looked searchingly into hers. She met the scrutiny unflinchingly.
“Kin I trust ye, Mirey?”
“Don’t I know what'll happen ef he gits away,” she cried, indignantly. “D'ye think I’d send pap and—and you—to prison? I’ll kill him first. Go—an’ hurry.”
She seated herself on a nearby boulder and with drawn face and cold, pitiless eyes regarded the unconscious captive. The bees, home-going, heavy-laden, droned musically among the blossoms, loath to leave.
From the distant river came the faint whistle of a passing boat. A great, black buzzard flapped heavily down upon the dead limb of a sycamore, wiped his hooked beak on his sable plumage and cocked his baleful eye inquisitively at the fallen man.
The captive heaved a long, quivering sigh, opened his eyes, struggled. and sat up, staring about him confusedly. “Mirey,” he said, faintly. “Is that you. Mirey?" He drew his feet under him to rise. “Mirey, have you turned against me?”
“Ye played th’ hypocrite long, enuff Joseph Armacost.” she sneered.
The breeze rustled the letter at her feet. He glanced at It and started. “I guess the play’s over,” he observed, wearily.
She made no reply. After awhile he looked up again and said softly: “Mirey, before they—before I go—will you forgive me?”
She turned away her head to hide the tears of wounded pride that would not be repressed.
“It was mean, cruel, despicable,” he continued, “but we have to do such things sometimes—they’re a part of our orders. I wish you could understand and forgive me. Mirey.”
“Fergive ye!” she burst out. “Fergive ye! Ya lied ta me, made love ta me, learned me ta love—yes, ta love—sich a snake as you. Ya’d have sent poor old pap to prison, an’ made me an outcast—a convict’s darter. Fergive ye? Never—ya hound.”
“Mirey, it wasn’t all a lie. I did admire you—I do yet. And I intended to arrange that your father might escape if—”
“Then ya wouldn’a done yer duty. Ya’da played traitor to both sides. Don't talk to me. I don’t never want ta hear yer voice.”
There was a long silence—then the man remarked: “I suppose Jake has gone after the gang.”
“Don’t mention Jake’s name. Ya ain’t fit ta. He’s a man.”
“Look here, Mirey. Do you realize what you are doing? You are helping murder me, as surely as though you had shot me through the head with that revolver. Do you understand what that means—to take human life—in cold blood? Bad as I am I never did what you are doing now. You are helping murder me, Mirey.”
The girl shuddered again, then steeled herself.
“How da I know what they’ll do with ya? That’s their bizness—not mine. You an’ them fer that.”
“Mirey, you know as well as I that I’ll never see another sunrise if you keep me here 30 minutes longer. You loved me once, Mirey. An hour ago you would have gone with me to the ends of the earth. Do you hate me so now that you will stain your soul with my blood?”
She gave a great sob.
“What kin I do? I dasen’t let ya go. Let me alone. Fer God’s sake don’t tempt me.”
He strained his strong wrists. The handkerchief fell over the supple, pliant hands, and he sprang to his feet, defying the deadly weapon upraised in the shaking hands.
“Stop! I’ll have to shoot! I promised Jake—ye're a spy.”
"Shoot, then. Mirey, I’d better die that way than by torture. Shoot—right here—between the eyes—be sure.”
The dark eyes looked Into his, filled with tears, and the grim muzzle dropped.
“0h, Rob—I kain’t—I’m a coward.”
He sprang forward, seized the weapon, and fired every chamber in the air.
"Now, you’ve done your duty,” he exclaimed, breathlessly. “You’ve fired every bullet at me and only wounded me as I ran. I’ve a boat concealed at the river. Goodby, Mirey.”
She grasped his arm and clung to him desperately.
“Not till I know ya won’t inform on pop and—Jake. I must know that, er I’ll hold ya till they come— an’ they’ve heered th’ shots.”
“Could I betray you—after you’ve saved me? Mirey—girl—look in my eyes—they shall never know.”
She looked, knew, and released him. He stooped to kiss her, but she thrust him back fiercely. He seized the brown right hand, pressed it to his lips, and bounded away. The girl fell on her knees.
“0, Lord, fergive me fer what I’ve done. Fergive me fer the lie I’m about ta tell. An’, 0, God, help me ta fergit him.”
Then she pressed her burning lips to the brown right hand, rubbed the spot madly with the crushed letter, and, with a little moan, cast the paper away, as she cast him from her heart, and rose to face the hurrying men.
Late that night when Jake returned, weary and desperate, from the fruitless search, Mirey, from the old man’s side, stepped forward in the moonlight to meet him. “Jake,” she said, softly, “don’t worry. He’ll never tell. I know.”
Jake looked down, sternly, into the dark eyes. “Mirey—you let him go.”
She laid both brown hands on his arm and looked up, pleadingly, into the grave, rugged face.
“Yes—it was better. I’ve been a fool, Jake. But it’s all past now. An’ —Jake—ya needn’t wait till fall—ef ye’ll have me yit."
Jake stooped, kissed the quivering lips. put his strong arm about her and led her to the smiling old man.