Read CHAPTER IX - THE PURSUIT of Frank of Freedom Hill , free online book, by Samuel A. Derieux, on ReadCentral.com.

Cyclone Bill Simmons, burly, hard, and crimson of face, turned an overheated runabout out of the blazing highway and into a grove of oaks where stood the convict camp.

“All right,” he said. “Get out.”

Tom Abercrombie, face drawn, hands manacled, clambered out of the car. He was a man of sixty or thereabout, long, lank, wiry, with a white patriarchal beard and white beetling brows. His cheap suit of black and his black slouch hat were covered with dust.

“This way,” ordered Simmons.

As if he did not hear, the old man glanced about him: at the long, weather-stained tent, open at both ends and at the sides, and showing within two rows of untidy bunks; at the smaller tents that formed a hollow square; at the shed for mules deeper within the grove; at the small group of Negro convicts cooks and trusties who from near the big tent stared curiously at him.

“This way,” repeated Simmons harshly.

The lean cheeks flushed. The old man looked quickly at Simmons, who during the twenty-mile drive from the county seat had not spoken a word to him. Then, head bowed, he followed the man toward one of the smaller tents.

It was plainly the guard tent; it stood at the entrance to the camp, where a path turned in from the road. In front, under the shade of an oak, were two or three splint-bottom chairs. And chained to the oak by a staple driven into the trunk, drowsing in the heat of the summer mid-afternoon, lay a bloodhound.

He had barely looked up when the car drove in. His heavy black body with its tan belly and legs was completely relaxed, and he was panting slightly. His head, which he held up as with an effort, was massive, leonine, rugged, with chops and dewlaps that hung loosely down, giving the impression of a detached and judicial attitude toward life. His expression was grave, thoughtful, melancholy, as if his ancestors, pondering through the centuries on the frailty of humanity as they saw it, had set their indelible stamp of gloom and sorrow on his face. Toward him the burly guard and the tall bearded prisoner made their way.

There are men to whom no dog can be insensible; men with a secret quality of magnetism or understanding which makes any dog, at their approach, look up. When Simmons passed the great hound did not stir; but when Tom Abercrombie came opposite him, he lifted his muzzle, grizzled with age, and his melancholy, amber-coloured eyes met the man’s.

The old man stopped. It was as if he had found, in all this strangeness, a friend. He spoke before he thought half under his breath.

“Old Whiskers,” he said gently. “Old Gray Whiskers.”

Simmons turned in a flash, his face suddenly more crimson than ever, his eyes blazing.

“What did you say to that dog?” he yelled.

The old man looked at him steadily but did not reply.

“Now here!” The guard’s voice rang out in the grove. “I know you, Abercrombie, and I know your game, you bloody, long-whiskered, knife-totin’ throat-cutter. You are tryin’ to make friends with that dog!”

He went to a near-by bush, got out his knife, and cut a heavy switch.

“Take this,” he commanded. “Oh, you can catch hold of it! Catch it with both hands. Never mind the bracelets. Take it. Hit that dog. Hit him!”

The dreamlike state in which the old man had been wandering dissolved. His eyes narrowed to mere slits behind the beetling brows. The cold steel of the mountaineer, the mountaineer who weighs his words, was in the slow-drawled reply:

“Wal, now, I reckon I won’t.”

A moment they faced one another, Simmons’ eyes murderous. Some fear of an investigation if he struck the old man, something daunting, too, that he saw in the mountaineer’s eyes, restrained him.

“Abercrombie,” he said, and moistened his lips with his tongue, “I brought out in that car three boxes of shotgun shells buckshot extra heavy loaded. Get me?”

Such was the initiation of old Tom Abercrombie as a convict. That afternoon he was entered on the books as a “dangerous” prisoner; that night he lay on an iron cot, staring up at the roof of a solitary tent, which, according to law, had to be provided for him. On his ankles were locked two steel anklets connected by a chain eighteen inches long. This chain, in turn, was locked to the cot.

Shame lay with him as he stared upward shame and a terrible loneliness and dread of the future. At sunset he had watched a long line of shackled Negroes, followed by guards with shotguns, file into camp. To-morrow he himself would be one of that gang; and not only to-morrow, but for two years. Assault and Battery with Intent to Kill this was the verdict of the court in Greenville in which he had been tried. And yet he hadn’t intended to kill anybody, he had only meant to remonstrate.

Three young fellows, sitting at a table in a cheap ice-cream parlour it had seemed a crystal palace to the old man and to Molly his wife, fresh from the deepest recesses of the mountains had made fun of Molly and her sunbonnet.

When they did that, the mirrors that lined the walls, the enamelled-top tables, the sunlit street showing through wide-open doors, had all turned red before his eyes. He had risen from his chair and gone toward this seat of the scornful. “You fellers,” he had warned in a low voice, “you fellers don’t want to say anything like that again.”

They had looked at him in sullen astonishment; then they had sprung to their feet. According to the testimony they gave in court, he had confronted one of them, an open knife hidden up his sleeve. This was not true, and he denied it stoutly on the stand. As a matter of fact, he had not thought of his knife until the three young bruisers, habitues of the place and of the questionable pool-room in the rear, rushed him all together, and a dirty-aproned waiter, coming up from behind, hit him a crack that jarred his skull. Then he had sprung back and drawn his knife.

The wounds he inflicted were not serious, he had simply held his assailants off; but the policeman who ran in, followed by a crowd, found the knife in his hand. The testimony was against him; besides, he did not make a good witness. No man does who holds something back. And what old Tom held back was the remark the young men had made.

On that point his lips were stubbornly sealed. He did not even tell his lawyer. As for Molly, she had not heard. Poor girl, she was a bit deaf, her sunbonnet came down close over her ears, and she had been eating her ice cream, oblivious. He did not want her to know, ever. He did not want the court to hear. What’s more, he did not mean that it should hear.

The courts of justice, like the mills of the gods, ought to grind slowly and grind exceeding small sifting carefully the evidence, examining deeply into the character and motives of accuser and accused. But the gods have eternity at their disposal, and their mills are run by unerring, self-administering laws, while the courts are sometimes harassed with a heavy docket that must be got through with and laws are made and administered by erring mortals. When they are overcrowded, there is inevitably, now and then, a victim.

Hence old Tom Abercrombie, chained to a cot, staring up at the roof of a tent, oppressed with a terrible loneliness; thinking of a long double cabin in a mountain-girded valley, far over the Tennessee line, where he and Molly had lived forty years; of the cornfields in a creek bottom, of children and of grandchildren, of widely scattered neighbours and friends.

Next day he was put to driving four mules hitched to a road scraper. Chains clanking, he had to climb as best he could into the iron seat. The humiliation of striped clothes he was spared; that barbarity had been done away with by law. He wore his black trousers, a blue shirt, and his broad-brimmed hat. Once on the seat no one passing along the road could see his shackles, but as if they were heated red-hot these symbols of shame burned into his flesh.

In the road ahead and in the road behind Negro pickers and shovellers toiled away, watched over by guards with shotguns. He saw the eyes of these guards turn constantly toward him. “You want to watch that old devil,” Simmons had warned them. “He’s dangerous.”

The days that followed were all alike: days of toil that began before sunrise, continued through blazing middays, and ended after sundown. Always, before and behind, the gang picked and shovelled, always the eyes of the guards were turning toward him. Always against the horizon the mountains, flecked at midday with clouds and shadows, beckoned him like a mirage.

Sometimes from the top of a hill, under his broad hat, he studied the lay of the land. In his mind he mapped out the water courses and the stretches of woodland that led with least open country to the mountains. Sometimes at night he dreamed of a double cabin in a cool mountain-girded valley.

“You want to watch him,” warned Simmons again and again.

Once Molly came to see him. Simmons himself, at the guard tent, questioned her roughly, then shrugged his shoulders and let her pass. Throughout the interview, though, he sat over there by the guard tent, his eyes always on the two of them; and at his side, but never looking up at him, lay Sheriff, the bloodhound, panting.

She told him how hard she had tried to get him off; how hard his friends had tried. They had been to see the solicitor, the sheriff, and finally the governor himself. “They were all nice to me, Tom,” she declared; “but they say they can’t do nothin’. The governor talked to me a long time in his office. He asked all about us where we lived, how many children we had, how it all happened. But he says he was elected to see the laws carried out, an’ can’t interfere.

“We done everything we could,” she went on, “even the folks that live ‘round here an’ have seen you workin’, po’ man, with the gang even they tried to help. Squire Kirby an’ Mr. Earle, him that lives in that big white house they call Freedom Hill, up the road whar you been workin’, they headed the petition. They are the richest folks ’round here. They heered the trial, Tom. They know you was set upon in that low-down place. Mr. Earle, he went to the capitol with me to see the governor. Him and the governor are ol’ friends. Mr. Earle, he bought my railroad ticket and paid my board in Greenville. He talked to the governor for over an hour.... But” she shook her head “it never done no good.

“Here’s what folks say, though,” she whispered quickly. “If you got away back into Tennessee the law wouldn’t follow you. Mr. Earle, he told me that, just yistiddy, Tom. Squire Kirby he says the same thing. Tom, the sheriff hisself as good as told me. The governor wouldn’t requisition you, they all’s good as said. He wouldn’t, either, Tom. I know he wouldn’t.”

Then her eyes widened with horror. “Oh, I wasn’t goin’ to tell you that!” she gasped. “Don’t try to get away. That man over yonder, he’ll kill you, Tom. Folks said he would said he had killed two. I know he will, since I’ve seen him. He’s awful, awful!”

She went on protesting, in terror that he would try to do the very thing she had suggested. She told him about the bloodhound. The newspaper men said he never lost a trail that nobody who stayed on the ground had ever got away from him.

“They know ever’thing, these newspaper men,” she went on. “They advised me right. Tom, two years ain’t long. We waited longer than that to get married. Remember, Tom? We ain’t old yet....

“Poor old gal,” said Tom.

It was the sight of a dilapidated and deserted blacksmith shop near the road they were widening, and of some rusted fragments of tools scattered about here and there, which caused old Tom, as the road-scraper passed and repassed the spot, to look very closely down into the upturned dirt. And it was the glimpse of something in that dirt which caused him suddenly to rein up the four mules and glance quickly in the direction of the two guards.

It was an afternoon of terrific heat, following a prolonged drought. In the road ahead the gang of Negro convicts toiled silently, sluggishly, in the blinding glare. Simmons had driven off in the direction of Greenville an hour before. The two remaining guards, with shotguns under their arms, stood in the scant shade of two dust-covered trees.

“Jake,” said the old mountaineer calmly to the Negro on the machine behind him, the Negro who handled the levers, “Jake, there’s a bolt loose some-whar’ on this scrape. Reckon I better ’tend to it myself.”

Without any apparent hurry, he clambered down from the seat. Quickly, secretly, he picked out of the upturned earth an object which he thrust into his shirt. Deliberately, as if encountering obstacles which caused him trouble, he hammered away at the supposed loose bolt. When at last he clambered back into the iron seat, heated like the top of a stove, there was just a slight flush on his lean cheeks and a brightness as of triumph in his deep-set eyes.

On the way back to camp they passed Tom Belcher’s store. Here he asked permission of one of the guards (they were not all like Simmons) to go in and buy himself some tobacco. The guard who went in with him saw nothing suspicious in the fact that, along with the tobacco, the old man purchased also a package of chewing gum.

That night he did not sleep. By raising up on his elbows in his cot he could see, in a chair tilted back against an oak tree, the night guard with a gun across his knees and, farther on, in front of the guard tent, the outline of the bloodhound asleep. Once, when he thought the guard nodded, he reached in his shirt. He got out the object he had picked up in the road and rubbed it against his shackles. The rasp of file on steel sounded loud in his tent like an alarm. He thought he saw the guard stir and the bloodhound lift his head. He lay silently down again. Later he punched a hole in the mattress and stuck the file deep into the straw.

Next day he thought of Molly and home. As he sat on the road-scraper the mountains, purple and lofty against the sky, seemed now to be beckoning him. Once within them, once across the state line, the law would not follow him. He was satisfied of that from what Molly had told him.

He bided his time until one stormy night when wind and rain drove the bloodhound within the shelter of the guard tent and, thrashing through the branches of the oaks and flapping the canvas of the big tent, drowned out to all ears but his own the rasp of a file on steel. Next day the continued rain made road work impossible, and as he hobbled back and forth to feed the mules, chewing gum hid two triangular cuts in his shackles. Again that night, storm and rain drowned out the sound that came from the tent where he sat hunched forward on his cot, sawing patiently and methodically away.

Hours before dawn he slipped out of the rear of his tent and walked quickly toward the mule sheds, where he stood listening. Then, hat pulled down low, he hurried through the grove, across a field, and made for the black rim of the surrounding forest.

He could not have picked a better night had choice been given him. The rain, falling steadily, was washing his trail. It was the season of full moon and in spite of storm clouds the night was dimly luminous. He struck straight for the bottoms and the creek, whose swollen turbulence sounded above the rain. He plunged into the water, which at the deepest places came no higher than his waist, and partly by feeling, partly by sight, now and then stumbling over boulders, now and then having to push aside thick underbrush, he made his way for something like two miles up-stream.

Carefully he chose the spot where he left the creek. His eyes, grown accustomed to the night, picked out a tree that grew out of the ground at a distance from the bank, then bent over it. He caught hold of the branches, swung himself up, felt his way like an opossum along the trunk, swung to another tree, and did not touch ground until he was some hundred feet from the shore.

An indistinct, dripping dawn that showed low-driving clouds found him, wet to the skin, like an old fox who has run all night, but confident, like one who has covered up all trace of a trail, making his steady way with long mountaineer’s stride across tangled bottoms, into stretches of woodland, over hills that grew ever steeper and higher, through undergrowth that grew ever denser.

His face was very serious, but not anxious. His nerve was too cool, his courage too steady for him to feel any impulse to run. His lifelong experience as a hunter who travels far had taught him to save his energy. As the light of the gray day grew stronger he distinguished, at no great distance ahead, it seemed, the outlines of misty mountains. He recognized the gap where the highway crossed this first ridge into the recesses of the mountains, beyond the Tennessee line. On the night after to-morrow, he calculated, he could tramp up on his porch and Molly would open the door.

Now and then, as twilight advanced, he stopped and listened. One of the guards, more kindly disposed than Simmons and the other guard, had, during the hour of lunch one day, told him something about the bloodhound, Sheriff. The dog, he said, was not a full-bred bloodhound, his grandfather was a foxhound. Consequently, he ran a man freely, as a hound runs a fox, barking on the trail.

He was hard to hold in, the guard had gone on to say, so hard that Simmons never tried to run him to the leash, but turned him loose to find the track himself. Then Simmons followed as fast as he could. No trouble to follow him. “You never heard such a voice as he’s got in your life,” the guard had added with a grin. “He usually puts a man up a tree inside two hours, and keeps him there till Simmons comes up. No danger of the man comin’ down, either not with that dog at the bottom of the tree.”

And so, remembering these things, old Tom stopped now and then to listen. No sound but the steady dripping of rain from trees no sound of pursuit. Miles lay between him and the camp, and still the rain was washing his trail.

It was on top of a treeless hill that commanded the sights and sounds of the country for miles about that he stopped once more to listen and his white hair stirred on his head, just as the hair of the old fox who has run all night might rise on his back. From far behind through the enveloping mists and over intervening hills, so far that at first he could not be sure, had come the bay of a solitary hound, trailing.

He stood transfixed, his patriarchal beard dripping. Many a creature, fox and wolf, and man himself, has through the centuries trembled at that sound. There was a silence during which he collected his wits, momentarily upset. Then again, faint and far away, like the ringing of a distant bell, came the sound. Miles between where he swung himself out of the creek and where he now stood the hound was coming on his trail. Tom turned like a stag, brushed aside the bushes and began for the first time to run.

At the top of the next hill, not having heard it while he crashed through the undergrowth of the bottom, he stopped again, panting. Though still far away and faint, it was unmistakable now, and there was in the sound a note of melancholy triumph and joy.

The shrewdness of all hunted animals took hold of the old man’s nature. He ran half a mile, then turned and doubled his track. At a stony spot, where a trail does not remain long at best, he stopped, swung his arms and jumped as far as he could to the right. For a quarter of a mile he continued trotting at right angles to the original trail; then he turned once more toward the mountains.

He could hear it most of the time, even when he ran. Occasionally, as the dog crossed a bottom evidently, it was almost inaudible and seemed far away. Then as he reached a highland, it came clearer and surer, more resonant, and closer than ever. And now from back there, farther away than the dog, came a sound that for a moment chilled his blood the wild, faint yell of a man urging the hound on.

Unreasoning rage stirred within the old man, flushed his face with hot blood, made his eyes blaze. Who was he to run from any man? Then quickly rage cooled and calculation took its place. He must throw that hound off his trail.

He back-tracked once more. He turned at right angles to his original trail. He continued for an eighth of a mile, then turned back on his second track. He crossed the original trail at the point where he had left it, and kept straight on forming the letter T. Once more, on this short arm of the T he turned at right angles, this time toward the camp itself, and retracing his steps formed another T.

Thus he made an intricate pattern of trails, comparable somewhat to the visible marks made by a fancy skater. The hound, finding tracks running apparently in every direction, would grow bewildered. He would circle, of course, but the circles themselves would lead him off on tracks that turned back on themselves. As an additional puzzle, wherever the old man doubled, he put his arms about a tree and remained, his body pressed against the trunk a moment, as if he had climbed it. “His whiskers will be whiter than they are now,” he grinned, “before ever he works all that out.”

Two miles farther on, breathing hard, he sat down on a log, for he must have some rest. He knew when the oncoming hound, who had worked out the first and simpler puzzle, struck the second and intricate one. First deathlike silence the hound had come to the end of the trail. Probably he was whiffing the trunks of the trees roundabout, looking up eagerly into them. As if he had been in one of those trees himself, Tom could see it all, so well did he know the way of a hound.

Still silence. The dog would be circling now. Followed an eager bay as he struck one of the misleading trails. He thought he was off! Then silence again, and after a moment the long-drawn howl of a hound, frankly perplexed, and the fierce, angry yell of a man far behind. With fingers that trembled because of the chase he had run, Tom reached in his pocket and got out a cob pipe. This he filled with tobacco, and fumbling in an upper pocket of his shirt, found some matches.

For ten minutes he sat on that fallen pine, smoking and listening to the unseen drama in the bottoms over there beyond the hill, his hopes ever rising, and with these hopes a gratifying sense of achievement and triumph. Once or twice the dog bayed uncertainly. Once or twice the man yelled, it seemed to him with lessened confidence. Once it sounded as if the hound had sat down on his haunches, raised his muzzle on high, and poured out to heaven his perplexity. Tom had seen them do that. Then another silence, as if the chase had died out.

Still Tom sat listening. In his exultation he had forgotten for the time home and Molly and the horrors he had left. Suddenly he rose, and his face was drawn and white. He turned and began to run, but even as he did so he knew that it was all over.

Between him and the farthest outskirts of the pattern he had worked out, had come one long-drawn, triumphant bay after another. The veteran, wiser by far than any dog Tom had ever known in all his knowledge of dogs, had worked the puzzle out, had run in ever-greater circles, keeping his head, knowing that somewhere, cutting the circumference of a greater circle, he would find the true and straight trail.

And he was coming, coming fast. He could not be more than a mile behind. He must be at the top of the hill where Tom had enjoyed his brief triumph, he must be smelling the very log on which Tom had sat. He had left the log. The sound burst on the old fugitive now, almost like a chorus, menacing, terrible, inexorable as fate. All the hills, all the valleys, were echoing as if a whole pack were running. How much worse than futile had been his tricks! They had only halted the great bloodhound long enough for men and shotguns to come up!

From now on he kept straight forward, sometimes walking, sometimes trotting, sometimes breaking into a run. Now and then he stumbled with weariness, once he fell face downward. Anybody but a fighter would have taken to a tree, like an opossum, run at last to shelter.

Out of breath, he came at length to the top of a ridge, and through an opening in the trees looked across a wooded valley beyond which rose the lofty undulations of the Tennessee mountains. The clouds had been growing thin, and now the sun burst through, and flooded those mountains with light.

“They ain’t a-goin’ to take me,” said the old mountaineer “not alive!”

Not even the fox waits for hounds to seize him; but, his race over, turns at bay and dies with his face to his enemies. And now, in the woods of the extensive bottoms that lay between the ridge and the mountains, old Tom Abercrombie, his race over, stopped and turned his face, toward his pursuers.

And as he did so all fear left him. His mind became as clear as the sparkling sunlight about him. He was no longer a fleeing animal matching wits with a pursuing one. He was a man standing upright, looking oncoming fate in the face.

Old Tom did not think of it this way. And yet, perhaps because of some sense of the fitness of things, he took off his hat and dropped it beside him. Near at hand a giant sycamore, dead and leafless, rose loftily above the smaller growth into the sky. Beside this tree he stood, his white hair and beard dishevelled and glistening in the sun, his eyes, that had shown a momentary despair when he sprang up from the log, steady, fierce, undismayed.

If the hound attacked him he would fight fight with his hands, for he had no other weapon. If the hound merely bayed him, he would wait until the guards came up. Their commands he would disregard: he would not even throw up his hands. He knew what the result would be, he had no illusions about that: Simmons would kill him.

He did think of Molly. He saw her, all her life tramping back and forth from the spring to the house, solitary and lonely; he saw the cornfield in the bottom, where he had ploughed so many springs. He saw the faces of children and grandchildren, one by one. These things made him choke, but they had no effect upon his mind: that was made up. Life is good but it is not worth some things.

All these impressions ran through his mind, swiftly, independent of the element of time. As a matter of fact, there was not sufficient interval for connected thought. Ahead of him was an open place in the woods, a place strewn with flinty stones and arrowheads, with now and then a black and rounded boulder, rolled there by glaciers that had once moved over the face of the earth. This open spot, made barren by forces older than man himself, he had crossed in one last effort to make his trail difficult for the hound.

His eyes were fastened on it now. The sun, hot and brilliant since the passing of the storms, blazed down upon it. On the other side the forest grew dense and high like a wall of green. And now out of this forest, into the ancient opening, came the hound.

Tom had never felt any grudge against the dog he was only obeying a law of his nature, only running a trail. Fascinated, he watched the animal, oblivious for the moment of the significance of his presence. He had been running fast in the forest, but now on this flinty and difficult ground he slackened his pace and came on slowly, like a patient, methodical fellow who makes sure he’s right as he goes along. His nose, almost touching the ground, never left the trail.

In crossing the opening the old man’s foot had turned on a stone; he had staggered, and placed his hand against one of the black boulders for support. And now, when the hound came to this spot he stopped; he lifted his head and whiffed the rock the man had touched with his hand. Next, he reared up on the boulder and looked at its top. Then he came on, nose low once more, pendulous ears actually dragging on the ground, tail erect and now and then wagging stiffly as with joy.

While Tom still watched him he raised his muzzle; and there came from his throat a deep, musical, bell-like challenge that echoed loudly in the opening itself and more airily and sweetly between the ridge and the mountains beyond. In answer, from a mile behind, so Tom calculated, came a far more terrible sound the wild, savage yells of two men, one wilder and more savage than the other.

The old man took a deep breath and his beard was thrust suddenly forward. But for the dog, those men would be helpless. But for the dog, he could turn now, and the woods would swallow him up. In a flash an inspiration was born, a conquering purpose such as must have entered the mind of prehistoric man. He waited, his eyes on the hound.

A dog is nearsighted at best, and Sheriff was old. When he was a short two hundred feet from the tree there came to his nose the smell, not of a trail itself, but of the man who made the trail. He stopped and lifted his head. A moment he stared. Then he raised his grizzled muzzle to the sky and poured out to high heaven the announcement that here in the woods at the end of the trail, standing beside a tree, was a man!

Then he started back, amazed, for this man, instead of climbing the tree, as all men did when he bayed them, was coming straight toward him. His hand was outstretched, his eyes were blazing, and there was a smile on his face. “Old Whiskers!” he was saying. “Hush, now, hush! Hush!” The man had stooped down, his hand still extended. “Come here!” he commanded.

The great hound began to tremble. Those terrible eyes were looking deep into his. They were commanding him, they were pleading, too. He had seen them before, back there in the camp, and he had not forgotten.

He heard behind him another yell. He tried to look back, but the eyes held him. “No!” the man cried sternly then, “Old boy old Whiskers!” He began to pant; the bay he would have uttered died in his throat. Another yell and another, still he did not reply. His tail was tucked now. He was looking at the man wonderingly, beseechingly. His universe was changing, was centring in that man before him, that man who understood.

Again the yells, and now, beyond the opening behind, the faint crash of running footsteps. His hair rose on his back with rage. His world had turned about. Those were his enemies coming. All the loyalty of his dog’s soul had gone out to this man who understood, all his hatred to those who never had. He started to turn about. He would meet them in the opening. He would rush at them.

“No!” cried the man who understood.

When he looked at Tom once more the miracle of ages past had been repeated; the man saw in the eyes of the dog, trust, humility, undying devotion. His voice trembled for the first time.

“Old Whiskers,” he said gently. “Old Gray Whiskers! Quick now!”

The pursuing guards never knew why the woods ahead of them grew suddenly silent, why the tree-bay of the bloodhound that had sounded once clear and unmistakable sounded no more, though as they ran they filled the morning with their yells. They did not see the great hound go trembling to the man. They did not see the old man for just a second catch the massive head between his hands.

They did not see the two turn and disappear, swiftly, silently, into the undergrowth that grew densely behind the open space and the giant sycamore tree.

When, all out of breath, they reached the spot from whence had proceeded the solitary tree-bay, they looked about at vacant woods. Frantically they searched the undergrowth, shotguns ready, calling to each other in their excitement. Man and dog had vanished as if they had never been.

But Simmons did not believe in miracles. “The old devil killed the dog!” he cried. “He had a knife about him. But where’s the blood and where’s the body?”

They hurried here and there as they glimpsed red spots, only to find a leaf killed by the sun and fallen before season, or a bush reddened by berries.

“We miscalculated the spot,” swore Simmons. “It wasn’t here it happened.”

And he sat down out of breath and leaned his burly back against the trunk of a giant sycamore tree.

The sun was dropping over the mountains when the two guards, empty-handed, got back to camp. The valleys lay in shadow, but far up in the enormous folds of the Tennessee mountains its last crimson rays shone on a bearded old man trudging along a narrow road toward the west.

He looked weary and footsore and his clothes were torn by briers. But his face was alight, as if with anticipation of to-morrow. Now and then he spoke. And behind him a great, strange-looking, long-eared hound lifted his head, as if drinking in the sound of his voice.