April 27 , 2008

Dixie Hart


IN a blaze of splendor the morning sun broke over the mountain, throwing its scraggy brown bowlders, spruce-pines, thorn-bushes, and tangled vines into impenetrable shadow. Massed at the base and along the rocky sides were mists as dense as clouds, through the filmy upper edges of which the yellow light shone as through a mighty prism, dancing on the dew-coated corn-blades, cotton-plants, and already drinking from the fresh-ploughed, mellow soil of the farm-lands which fell away in gentle undulations to the confines of the village hard by. "A fellow couldn't ask for a prettier day than this, no matter how greedy he was," Alfred Henley mused as he stood in the doorway of his barn and heard the gnawing of the horses he had just fed in the stalls behind him. A hundred yards distant, on the main-travelled road which ran into the village of Chester, only half a mile away, stood his house, the eight rooms of which were divided into two equal parts by an open veranda, in which there was a shelf for water-pails, tin wash-basins, and a towel on a clumsy roller. A slender woman, with harsh, sharp features, older-looking than her thirty years would have justified, and a stiff figure disguised by few attempts at adornment, was sweeping the veranda floor, and in chairs propped back against the weather-boarding sat an old man and an old woman in the plainest of mountain attire. For a moment Henley's eyes rested on the group, and he sighed deeply. "Yes, she's my wife," he said. "I owe her every duty, and, before God, I'll stick to my vows and do what's right by her, come what may! She was the only woman I thought I wanted, or ever could want. They say every cloud has a silvery lining, but my cloud was made out of lead—and not rubbed bright at that. I reckon, if the truth must be told, that the whole mistake was of my own making. Whatever the Creator does for good or ill, He don't seem to bother about hitching folks together; He leaves that job to the fools that are roped in. Well, I'm going to stick to the helm and guide my boat the best I can. I made my bed, and I'm as good a sleeper as the average." Here the attention of the man, who was tall, strong, good-looking, and about thirty-five years of age, was attracted by the dull blows of an axe falling on wood, and, looking over the rail-fence into the yard of an adjoining farm-house, a diminutive affair of only four rooms and a box-like porch, he saw an attractive figure. It was that of a graceful young woman about twenty-two years of age. Her hair, which was a rich golden brown, and had a tendency to curl, was unbound, and as she raised and lowered her bare arms it swung to and fro on her shapely shoulders.
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