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by Hapsburg Liebe

Author of "The Lavender Letter," "Godfather to Satan's Kitchen," etc.

HE SAT before a brushwood fire in the mildewed stone fireplace of a moss-covered old cabin low on the breast of Big Blue Smoky. Night had fallen; a chilling Summer thunderstorm was just passing the crest of its fury. He was alone and lonesome; he had made the fire for fight, for comfort, for companionship—all three. On his knee lay a battered brown violin, and in his right hand he held motionless a homemade sourwood bow. His topaz eyes were fastened on the glowing coals; there he saw a picture of a slender young woman, barefooted and dressed in a simple garment of calico, whose leaf-brown hair hung in a single plait.

There came a keen clap of thunder, like a farewell message of defiance from the passing storm, and "Fiddlin' Jim" straightened, smiled a little and lifted his fiddle to his chin. He started to play, more or less imperfectly, Schubert's incomparable "Serenade," which he had learned from the prison chaplain's phonograph, when his born-woodsman's eyes fell upon a thing that he had not before noticed. It was a thing the average person would never have noticed.

One of the worn, flat stones of the mildewed hearth had recently been moved.

Jim Braden put his fiddle down and knelt at the hearth. Another moment and he had taken out the loose stone; still another moment and he held in his two hands a wallet of black leather which contained nearly two thousand dollars in paper money of half a dozen denominations. It represented more than a fortune to Fiddlin' Jim. He stared at it in amazement; then he laughed softly to himself. He closed the wallet and thrust it into a rear pocket of his trousers, replaced the stone, sat down on the soap-box chair that was the only bit of furniture the old cabin had and took up his beloved fiddle.

BEFORE he could lay bow to string, however, the door creaked open on its wooden hinges and he half turned his head to see a slip of a barefooted boy standing on the threshold, his clothing soaking wet and dripping, his slight body shaking from the chill.

"Whatever on earth!" cried Jim Braden. Quickly but with a great tenderness he put the battered brown violin on the floor close beside the soap-box chair.

"Come on in, son! Come up to the fire! My heavens, but it shorely is cold here on Big Blue Smoky, even in the Summer-time, a follerin' one o' these lightnin' starms!"

He threw more brushwood to the flames, which licked hungrily at the fresh fuel.

The boy advanced gingerly, stopped at the edge of the hearth and soberly looked the other over from head to foot. He saw a man of not more than thirty-four, a tall, straight, muscular man whose faatures were strikingly rugged and strong and yet kindly, whose eyes were unmistakably those of a dreamer of dreams.

The man saw in the lad a good deal of himself. The small new-comer had a determined mouth and chin, and his eyes, too, were those of one who knew both the building and the destroying of castles in the air. He was sunburnt and freckled, and his hair was of the yellowish-white color that is the result of living in the open without a hat.

Fiddlin' Jim did not strive to connect the presence of the boy with the money he had just uncovered. He rose, went to the door and closed it, took off his old, wrinkled, moth-eaten coat, returned to the fire and sat down.

"Shed them wet clo'es, son," he drawled good-naturedly, "and put on this whilst ye're a waitin' fo' ye clo'es to dry."

He held the coat out to the fire to warm it. The boy eyed him stolidly and silently for a long minute; then he turned his back to Jim Braden, unbuttoned a few buttons and let his faded waist and short jeans trousers fall to the floor. He looked a slim, beautiful, pale bronze statue of enviable youth. Jim Braden draped tire little figure with his coat, turned its face toward him and buttoned the garment all the way. The boy smiled faintly in his gratitude to the good Samaritan, spread his wet clothing out in order that it would dry quicker and sat down on the hearth.

"I'm much obleeged to ye, shore," he said finally. "I got lost in the starm and I seed the light. I hope ye don't mind it about me a cornin' in, mister."

"Sartinly not," declared Fiddlin' Jim. "It ain't my cabin, nohow. It ain't nobody's in pa'tickler, I reckon. I jest stopped in here a hour or so ago. I'm plum' glad to see ye, son. I was mighty lonesome! Most o' folks 'pears to be afeard o' me 'cause I've been to the penitenchy. I never killed nobody, son, honest I never. I got ketched in a sort o' net, son. I stayed fo' twelve years. The gov'nor, he pardoned me or I might ha' had to stay fo' life, ef I'd ha' lived that long."

"I'm sorry fo' ye, mister," said the lad.

"Thankee! But I shore l'arned somethin' in the penitenchy; I made the most of it, shore," Fiddlin' Jim continued with unusual garrulousness. "The chaplain—it was him, I reckon, that reelly got die gov'nor to pardon me—the chaplain, he said I'd l'arned to look up, fo' one thing."

"Look up?" wondered the lad, drawing the coat closer about his bare legs. "How do ye mean, look up?"

"Why, to see where the acorns comes from," laughed Fiddlin' Jim, "acorns, the manna o' the hawg! A hawg never looks up, son; it hunts fo' acorns under a sycamore tree or a poplar tree the same as it does under a oak. A hawg don't look up to see the sun shine, neither. Also, I l'amed to be glad I'm a-livin'. New gold money ain't any brighter'n life is to me, wi' all I've bore. I shorely don't know why I'm a talkin' thisaway to you, son. I reckon I was so full of it, I jest had to say it. I'd ha' said it to myself, mebbe, ef you hadn't ha' come in to hear it.

"Now s'posen ye tells me a little about yeself, son, eh? I like ye, m'boy; somehow ye 'minds me o' somebody I've knowed somewhere, sometime. Well, come along wi' ye tale, buddy-boy; I'm a listenin'. Tell me whose boy ye are and would ye ruther be a senator, a congressman, or a good fiddler when ye've growed up to be a man?"

The lad looked at Braden solemnly.

"I'd ruther be," he said quite earnestly, "a good fiddler, and I'm Lot Hupple's boy."

Fiddlin' Jim's face showed a big, new interest.

"The one," he asked, "which used to be called 'Bad Lot?' Which used to wear ringlets on his forrard jest to make people laugh at him so's he could pick a quick fight the easier? Big as a skinned hoss and not afeard o' the devil on Friday?"

"That's him," said Lot Hupple's boy. "He still wears them ringlets and he still fights, and they still calls him 'Bad Lot.' I reckon he is a bad lot! The' ain't nobody that can whip him, everybody says. He whipped a whole loggin' outfit oncet—sup'rintendent and all. My name is 'Little Jim' Braden."

"Little Jim Braden!" exploded big Jim Braden. "What—how—how come it Lot named ye that, son?"

"Dunno 'zackly. But I think he used to have a friend named Jim Braden, mebbe. What's yore qame, mister?"


Fiddlin' Jim was again staring at a picture in the glowing coals. He saw the slender, barefooted young woman in calico; he saw himself; he saw Lot Hupple, his friend; and he saw Dana, the young woman, turn from Hupple and go with him. Following this, there came the officers, the accusation, trial by judge and jury, and, finally, imprisonment—all within a few months after his marriage to Dana.

"My name," he drawled absently, "is jest Jim, Fiddlin' Jim." Then he asked: "What was ye mother's name, son, and is she yit alivin'?"

"Dana, and she's yit a-livin'."


Fiddlin' Jim sat stiffly upright on the soap-box chair. He had never known another Dana. Then he believed he understood. His wife had married Bad Lot Hupple, his friend, after the cataclysm. Bad Lot had thought enough of him, Jim Braden, to name his son for him. It was good of Hupple to do it.

He had heard, in prison ten years before, that Dana was dead. Somebody, he didn't remember who, had written the chaplain to that effect, and the chaplain had told him. He hadn't known how to read and write, and neither had Dana. No message, therefore, had passed between them after his being sent to the State's prison. The fact that she was still living and married to Lot Hupple—he hadn't the least doubt of it— came as a very great surprize to him, and he was so intensely human that he hardly knew, at the first, whether to be sorry or glad.

But when a full realization of the thing had broken upon him, he "looked up," as the chaplain had taught him, and was glad.

ONCE more the cabin door creaked suddenly open, and there stepped across the rotting sill a big man, a Goliath of a man, smooth-faced and sunburnt almost to the hue of weathered copper. He wore ill arranged and straggling jet-black ringlets of hair on his forehead, and his countenance branded him as one most sorely distraught. Fiddlin' Jim recognized him immediately, rose and went toard him with outstretched hand.

"H'lo, Lot!" he cried. "Shorely am glad to see ye, old friend!"

Hupple had recognized Braden before entering the cabin; otherwise he would not have entered. He took Braden's hand and pressed it half reluctantly, then dropped it.

"What's the matter wi' ye, Lot?" smiled Fiddlin' Jim. "How come it ye're so pestered in ye mind, old friend?"

Bad Lot, the Goliath, didn't answer. He took two short, staggering steps backward, as do dark villains of the footlights* Jim Braden went on:

"Ye shorely ain't drunk, Lot?" He was still smiling; his topaz eyes were sparkling in the firelight. "Didn't ye know it's as much fun to play off drunk as it is to ackshully be drunk, and a feller don't have no habbergosh taste in his mouth nor no headache in his head the next mornin'! Honest, what's wrong, old friend?"

"It's the law, Fiddlin'!" Hupple exclaimed, his voice hoarse and a little shaken. "I'm in a mess. I——"

He broke off and turned toward the open-mouthed boy on the hearth.

"What're you a-doin' yere, Little Jim?" he demanded.

The answer came quietly, readily:

"Mother sent me to look ye up, pap. She said to tell ye Bill Freer and three other men is a-watchin' the house, and fo' you not to come home ontel she gi' ye a sign by hangin' a white cloth on the cedar in the front yard where she usually hangs the wash."

Bad Lot clenched his hands and swore under his breath. He looked toward the now deeply concerned face of Fiddlin' Jim.

"Tell me about it, Bad," Braden urged.

Hupple turned to the sober-eyed Little Jim. He did not notice that the lad wore Fiddlin' Jim's old coat; Braden and the lad, themselves, had forgotten it for the moment.

"Son," said Hupple, "sneak down to the creek that runs jest below here and ye'll find a path a-takin' square out to the left, along the bank. Put ye feet in that path and it'll carry ye home. Tell ye mother I onderstand. Hurry up, son!"

The boy rose and slipped obediently into the night. Bad Lot crumpled to the soapbox chair.

"I didn't want him to hear, Fiddlin'," Hupple began. "I'm a-goin' to tell ye everything, Fiddlin'. It was thisaway:

"You know how it alius was wi' me. I was borned onder a bad star, seems like. When anything bad was done, it was alius blamed on me. Well, when you was took to the penitench, I thought ye'd never come back, and Dana, she didn't think ye'd ever come back. I got sorry fo' her, aseein' her work so hard to make a livin'— you know Dana well enough to know she wouldn't never be nobody's cook, nor sponge offen nobody. I alius loved her, which same ye also know. You a bein'took to the pen gi' her a divo'ce, natchelly. I begged her to marry me and le' me do the work fo' us, and she fin'lly done it. It was most—mostly 'cause I was yore friend, Fiddlin', that she married me.

"Well, you know how it is when a man's repitation is bad. It's awful easy to hang any sort o' crime on his head, and a man has to pull a crooked deal sometimes to git his due. To come to the kyernel o' the matter, Fiddlin', I was 'cused o' shootin' and robbin' a cattle-buyer who'd started out wi' a fat pocketbook, only yeste'day. The's a pow'ful heap o' evidence that I done it; in fact, the's a plenty to send me up. Sheriff Bill Freer and three o' his depities rid out after me this mornin', but I got away. They're still a-chasin' me, Fiddlin', and I shore don't know what I'm a-goin' to do!"

"And—and Dana?" Jim Braden muttered.

"Dana!" cried Bad Lot Hupple. "It's a worryin' her to death!"

Fiddlin' Jim rubbed his chin thoughtfully, bent his head, folded his arms and began to pace the floor. "It's a-worryin' her to death!" still rang in his ears. It must be true, he reasoned. A woman like Dana wouldn't live with a man for so long if she didn't love him.

After some two minutes of thinking, Braden drew up before Hupple, who now sat with his face buried in his hands.

"Ye did rob the cattle-buyer, Bad," said he, "and ye brung the money here and hid it in the hearth."

Rupple gave no sign that he had heard, but he had. Inwardly he winced.

"Ye did rob the cattle-buyer, Bad," repeated Jim Braden.

Bad Lot straightened on the soap-box. "I ain't said I didn't, did I? Ain't a man got to have his due for a bein' blamed wi' everything?"

"We'fl not argify the p'int," said Fiddlin' Jim. "Listen here, Bad. Are ye plum' shore it's a-worryin' Dana thataway? Are ye shore she loves ye, Bad? We've alius been friends, Bad, and ye cain't tell me nothin' but the truth; ricicollect that."

Hupple looked the fiddler squarely in the eye. It was one of his own particular long suits, looking people squarely in the eye.

"You know Dana," said he. "Do ye think she'd live wi' me fo' ten years ef she didn't love me? Answer me that, Fiddlin'?"

It was along the fine of Braden's own reasoning. Braden nodded. He was satisfied. He leaned slightly forward and put a hand on Hupple's shoulder.

"Would ye be willin' to lead a straight life from now on, old friend," he asked, "ef ye was only out o' this scrape?"

"But who could git me out o' this scrape, Fiddlin'?"

"Me, Bad Lot, mebbe."

"But how could ye do it?"

"I don't know, jest yit. Howsomever, the's a way, Bad; the's got to be a way. It's fo' the sake o' Dana and the boy as well as fo' you, and it's got to be done. Promise me faithful to square up, old friend; that's all ye've got to do, that and ye must stay hid fo' a week or so, ontel I can shift the blame. Are ye a-promisin' me faithful, Bad?"

"Am I?"

Hupple went to his feet. He seized Fiddlin' Jim's hand and wrung it and gave his word with a rather fearful oath.

JUST then there came a tiny noise from the darkness outside; it was the breaking of a wet bit of rotting wood. Jim Braden snatched up the boy's sodden clothing and flung it over the bed of coals in the fireplace, plunging the interior of the cabin into total darkness. Another second and the door creaked on its wooden hinges, and the blinding white rays of an electric flashlight fell full on Fiddlin' Jim's startled countenance.

"Up with 'em—quick!" boomed the voice of Sheriff Bill Freer. "Grab the roof, Lot, grab 'er!"

Braden put up his hands. A deputy slipped from the darkness and snapped manacles over Braden's wrists.

"Search him!" ordered Freer.

The deputy obeyed with alacrity. He found the cattle-buyer's wallet in Fiddlin' Jim's pocket and tossed it to the sheriff's feet. Fiddlin' Jim looked to his right and to his left. Bad Lot was not in the cabin. Then Braden's gaze fell upon the one window, and he knew. Hupple had escaped.

"He ain't got any gun," said the deputy, "and it ain't Lot Hupple!"

"I see it ain't," Freer replied. "Pick up that wallet and see if McAutry's name is on it."

The deputy held the wallet to the light.

"Yes," he nodded. "John B. McAutry. It's full o' bank-notes."

Freer stared hard at Jim Braden, whom he had never seen before.

"How come you wi' this, pardner?" he asked gruffly.

Fiddlin' Jim forced himself to smile. For the sake of his friend, Dana and the boy, he set his feet in the path of sacrifice.

"I reckon the game's up fo' me," he said slowly. "I reckon I might as well confess and be done with it. I held up and robbed John B. McAutry, but I didn't mean to shoot him, honest. The gun went off accident'ly, Mr. Sheriff."

"What's yore name, pardner?"


"Jim what?"

"Jest Jim. Fiddlin' Jim," said Braden. "The rest don't matter."

Freer holstered his revolver, took the John B. McAutry wallet from the hands of his assistant, glanced into it and thrust it into his pocket. Then he stepped heavily toward his prisoner. The soap-box chair was in his way; he kicked it aside.

"Look out!" Braden bellowed. "My fiddle—don't ye step on that fiddle!"

Immediately there was the crashing and splintering of dry wood; the officer's foot had inadvertently demolished the battered but much-loved old instrument. It put Fiddlin' Jim clean beside himself; he sprang at Freer like an enraged panther, his manacled wrists notwithstanding, and drove a knee hard to Freer's stomach. There came a roar from the revolver of the deputy, who didn't quite understand, and Jim Braden crumpled to the floor across the poor remains of his fiddle and lay there very still.

FIDDLIN' JIM sat up and looked about him. It was daylight; it was, in fact, around the middle of the afternoon. He was in a perfectly spotless white bed. On the log walls of the room hung pictures in homemade black-walnut frames that seemed somehow familiar. At his right was a homemade table, and on it were a broken vase filled with mountain flowers and a very beautiful, orange-colored violin. On the floor beside the table sat a boy; he had a barlow knife in his hand and he was busily making a water flutter-wheel of old cornstalks. It was little Jim Braden.

A door opened and a woman, half buxom and pretty, but somewhat worn and anxious looking, entered the room. It all seemed queer. The woman saw that he was sitting up, and she hurried to him. "Jim," she said eagerly, "how do ye feel now?"

He recognized her when she spoke. It was Dana. She sat down on the side of his bed and with a wonderfully gentle hand touched the white bandage that was about his temples. Yes, it was Dana, Lot Hupple's wife; he was a little dazed yet but he knew that much.

"Where's the sheriff?" he muttered. "And what 'come o' the irons that was on my wrists?"

"Bill Freer's gone back to the lowland," answered Dana and she smiled upon him. "The's nothin' ag'in ye now, Jim. Bill Freer said he was awful sorry he busted up ye fiddle and he brung ye a new one. See it there on the table?"

Braden nodded.

"Where's Lot?"



"Dead—and buried." Dana showed no sign of grief.

"How come that?" asked Braden.

"Bill Freer had to shoot him in self-defense. Freer didn't believe it, when you said it was you robbed John McAutry. He went straight on after Lot, and he got him afore dinner-time o' the next day."

Fiddlin' Jim bent his bandaged head and tried hard to remember more clearly.

"How long have I been here, Dana?"

"More'n four days. The doctor said the bullet broke the bone above ye left temple; he said ye had brain fever or somethin'. And he said ef ye come to, ye'd be might' nigh shore to make it; and ye have, Jim, thank God!"

She choked. There was a little period of silence. The boy dropped his barlow knife and climbed to his knees at the bedside; he watched his mother and big Jim Braden wonderingly. Then Braden spoke again:

"So Lot's cashed up. Pore old Lot! Did ye love him, Dana?"

"No," said Dana. "I told him I didn't and never would, when I married him. I married him 'cause he was yore friend—that is, I thought he was—and 'cause I couldn't make it a-workin' by myself, and 'cause Lot told me you had died in the penitenchy! I'm sorry to haf to disapp'int ye in Lot, Jim, | but I've got to do it.

"Jim, Lot owned up to everything afore he went; he seed he'd haf to'die. It was Lot that done the killin' that sent you to the penitenchy, Jim. Him and Ben Rouse had a fight, and he shot Ben. You, hot-headedlike, had threatened to fix Ben, as ye'll rickollect, only the week afore. Lot hired them two low-down Sellarses to swear they seed you do it, and that and yore own foolish threat sent ye up. It's no trouble to put Lot out o' my mind, Jim. I ain't never loved nobody on earth, it seems like now, but you—you and this here one baby o' mine which I named after you. He was two years old when I married Lot Hupple. He's yore own boy, Jim."

"My own boy!" gasped Braden.

"Take my word fo' it," begged Dana. "Count up how old he is, and—and everything. Jim, do ye want me back now?"

Fiddlin' Jim turned his eyes, shining topaz eyes, upward. His kindly, rugged face seemed somehow glorified. Dana was afraid; perhaps, she thought, it was his delirium again.

"What is it, Jim, honey dahlin'?" she half whispered, her voice that of the eternal mother. "What is it ye see?"

"Nothin' much," smiled the man who had learned fine lessons of life behind the iron bars of a prison. "I was jest a-lookin' up to see where the acorns comes from."