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The Roof Tree Part 53

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"I hain't doin' this fer yore sake, Bas. Ye richly merits ter die--an' I mis...o...b..s ef ye escapes fur--but I hain't ergoin' ter suffer ye ter contam'nate this tree--an' I aims ter give ye a few minutes' start, ef I kin."

Now she rose from the ankle fetters and the man took a step, to find himself free.

"Begone," ordered the woman, tensely. "Don't tarry--an' don't nuver let me see ye ergin'!"

She saw him cross the fence in the heavy shadow, hardly discernible even to her straining eyes that had grown accustomed to the dark. She heard the light clatter of his feet and knew that he was running, with the speed and desperation of a hounded deer, then she straightened and lifted her eyes to the rustling ma.s.ses of cool serenity overhead.

Across the ranges came a warm, damp scent that promised rain, and the clouds once more parted bringing the tranquil magic of a silver-toned nocturne. The tree stood with its loftiest plumes moving lightly, as though brus.h.i.+ng the heavens, where the clouds were flakes of opal fleece. Then the breeze stiffened a little and the branches swayed with an enhancement of movement and sound--and the murmur was that of a benediction.

Dorothy waited as long as she dared, and her soul was quiet despite the anger which she knew would shortly burst in an eruption over the threshold of her house. When she had stretched her allotted interval to its limit she gave the rope its designated signal of jerk, and saw the door swing to disgorge its impatient humanity. She saw them coming with lanterns held high, saw them halt halfway, and heard their outbursts of angry dismay when the yellow light revealed to them the absence of the victim they had left in her keeping.

But Dorothy turned and stood with her back against the great trunk and her fingers clutching at its seamed bark, and there she felt the confidence of sanctuary.

"I couldn't suffer hit--ter happen hyar," she told them in a steady voice. "Us two was married under this old tree--hit's like a church ter me--I couldn't let no man hang on hit--I turned him loose."

For an instant she thought that Sim Squires would leap upon her with all the transferred rage that she had thwarted on the eve of its glutting.

The others, too, seemed to crouch, poised, waiting for their cue and signal from Sim, but Parish Thornton came over and took her in his arms.

Then with an abrupt transition of mood Sim Squires wheeled to his waiting cohorts.

"Men," he shouted, "we kain't handily blame her--she's a woman, an' I honours her fer bein' tenderhearted, but any other tree'll do jest as well! He kain't hev got fur off yit. Scatter out an' rake ther woods."

She saw them piling over the fence like a pack of human hounds, and she shuddered. The last man carried the rope, which he had paused to pull from the limb. They had already forgotten her and the man they had come to kill. They were running on a fresh scent, and were animated with renewed eagerness.

For a few minutes the two stood silent, then to their ears came a shout, and though he said nothing, the husband thought he recognized the piercing shrillness of the hunchback's voice and the resonant tones of the sheriff. He wondered if Hump Doane had belatedly received an inkling of that night's work and gathered a posse at his back.

There followed a shot--then a fusilade.

But Parish Thornton closed Dorothy in his arms and they stood alone.

"Ther old tree's done worked hits magic ergin, honey," he whispered, "an' this time I reckon ther spell will last so long es we lives."

THE END

[Ill.u.s.tration]

THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.

THE ROOF TREE

_by_ Charles Neville Buck

_Author of "The Tempering," "The Call of the c.u.mberlands," "The Clan Call," etc._

The very breath of the Kentucky Hills is in Charles Neville Buck's novels. In interpreting its elemental life, and its big-boned and big-hearted people, he takes his place beside John Fox, Jr.

Here he tells a tale, the beginnings of which are laid several generations in the past. Then the roof tree was planted, a token of love to celebrate the wedding of Thornton and the first Dorothy Parrish. But the same soil held the blood-watered seed of feud war, and now it was bringing forth bitter fruit again, in the romance of the new Dorothy Parrish and Thornton's descendant.

Under the name of Cal Maggard he had fled from Virginia, where, with the juries packed against him, justice would have been a travesty. In self-defense his sister had killed her husband, and he had taken the guilt.

He sought only a refuge. Returning from a friendly visit to his neighbor's where he met Dorothy, he found nailed to his door, a threat of death if he repeated the visit.

What follows; the strange reopening of an ancient feud, the treachery and hatred--and the conquering loyalty and love; and how in its course, war ends forever in these mountains, makes a story of compelling power and tensity.

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The Roof Tree Part 53 summary

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