The little silvery shower which had helped to make Sunday charming, sent
along a number of less agreeable members of its family the following day.
Azalea and Carin opened their eyes upon a rain-smitten landscape, and
down the chimney blew a damp wind. It made a failure of breakfast, for
the kitchen stove absolutely refused to draw, and it sent the girls out
finally in a pelting shower.
“You are foolish to go,” Miss Zillah told them, really quite out of
patience with them for the first time. “There will be no pupils at the
school to-day. You might much better stay at home and keep dry. I can’t
think that your parents would approve of your going out in such a storm.”
But what was the use of having rubber boots and raincoats and rubber caps
and umbrellas, if they were not to be used? So the girls argued till
they finally won Miss Zillah’s consent.
It really was rather a lark to be out in a buffeting storm like that.
They could hardly see for the downpour, but they ran on, heads lowered,
skirts gathered close, and were presently in the little schoolhouse.
“We’ll have to light the lamps,” said Azalea. “Not a soul could see to
study in this place to-day.”
“You remind me of Ma McBirney,” said Carin, wiping the rain from her
face. “Your first thought is always to make the room bright. Now me, I
think of myself first.”
Azalea took off her dripping coat, removed the rubber boots from her
slippered feet, released her head from its cap and looked about her,
shivering a little.
“Do you know why?” she asked. “In the old days when my own mamma and I
were wanderers, going from place to place with that terrible show, we
were often so cold and wretched that no words could describe it. Yet
mamma always tried to make some sort of a little cosy spot for me—some
sort of a nest that I could get into. It might only be a ragged
comfortable in a corner of the wagon; or it might be a place under a tree
near the camp fire. She didn’t seem to care how she got along, if only
she could make me happy. I realize now how often she went without food
to feed me well, and how she gave me the best of everything. I was told
about that by poor old Betty Bowen that time Sisson kidnapped me.”
“Oh, don’t talk about that, Azalea,” cried her friend, throwing her arms
about her and kissing her on the cheek with a sort of desperate
tenderness. “I can’t bear it. Oh, those nights that we didn’t know
where you were!”
“I only speak of it,” said Azalea, holding her friend close to her,
“because that explains why I want to make every place cheerful. I can’t
stand gloom and chill and hunger—can’t stand them for myself or anyone
else. And then—don’t laugh at me, Carin, please—there’s another reason.
I want to pass on to others all the goodness that has been done to me
these last lovely months. Oh, Carin, I want to do good the way your
father and mother do. I’d like to give up my whole life to it. You see,
I’ve really no family. I’m very queerly placed in life. There’s gentle
blood in me, and restless blood. I’m different from Ma and Pa McBirney
and dear Jim. I can’t get around that, can I? No matter how much I love
them, no matter how long we live together, I’ll always be different.
Yet, on the other hand, I’ll not know the sort of people that Colonel
Atherton’s granddaughter would be expected to know. They’ll not come
into my life. I—I can’t expect to marry—when I grow up—the sort of—”
“Nonsense,” cried Carin impetuously. “You’ll marry whoever you wish.
And you’ll meet all sorts of people at my house—people who will
But Azalea shook her head.
“No,” she said; “my lot has been cast in with that of simple folk. I’m
glad of it, mind you, and proud to be loved by Mother McBirney. It’s the
sweetest thing that ever happened to me. But all the same, I think I
shall have to choose some sort of a career.”
As she talked, she tidied the schoolroom, lighted the lamps, and ventured
on a little blaze in the fireplace to send away the chill. Carin, less
used to such services, sat fascinatedly watching her friend.
“A career!” she sighed. “Oh, Azalea, what do you mean by that? Of
course I believe girls should have careers,” she added hastily. “I want
to be an artist myself, and if that old dairy doesn’t use up every ounce
of Annie Laurie’s energy, I suppose she’ll be a singer. Anyway, she
could be, if she chose. But what would you do, Zalie?”
“Just do good,” said Azalea simply.
“But that wouldn’t earn a living for you. Weren’t you thinking of
earning a living?”
“It might,” said Azalea. “It would be a great living to have people
coming to you for help and to know you could drive the misery out of
them—and the devils out of them, too.”
“But the money—” continued Carin.
“There would be enough, probably,” said Azalea, still not willing to give
attention to that part of the subject. “I feel, Carin, that somehow
there would be money enough.”
Just then the schoolhouse door blew open with a sweep of rain-laden wind
and it took the combined strength of the two girls to close it again.
“Aunt Zillah was quite right,” said Carin breathlessly after this was
accomplished. “We ought never to have come, Azalea.”
“Oh,” cried Azalea, “there’s some one trying to get in, Carin. Did you
bolt the door?”
“Yes—it wouldn’t stay shut otherwise. Help me open it, Azalea. The bolt
It came back so suddenly at last that Azalea almost lost her footing, and
the next moment, half-blinded by the storm, her poor garments soaked and
dripping, her blouse held together by her single hand, Paralee Panther
stood in the room. If she had been sullen on other days, she was tragic
now. So storm-beaten in body and in spirit was she, that she looked as
if all the world was her foe. Indeed, she always seemed to be thinking
that, and now as she stood there, frowning from under her dripping hair,
the gentle girls at whom she glowered fairly shrank from her.
Then Azalea remembered, as by a swift light of the spirit, how misfortune
could make one misrepresent one’s self. She thought of herself as she
had been in the old days, when, dust-stained, weary, hungry, shy and
often resentful, she had slunk along beside the wagons of Sisson’s All
Star Show, and of how in reality she had been the same as she was now,
friendly and good, loving cleanliness and beauty and all seemliness.
She went forward to the girl and seized her hand.
“Oh, Paralee,” she said, “I’m so glad now that we came. Miss Pace
thought no one would be here; but you started, I suppose, before the
storm began. Come to the fire, do. We can take off your dress and hang
it on the chair backs—”
But she had made a mistake. The girl drew back, her eyes full of that
hurt, animal-like anger which was almost always there.
“I won’t take off my dress,” she said. Azalea guessed why—that she would
not have them see her makeshifts for underclothing.
“Perhaps it would be better not,” Azalea said, as if having thought the
matter over, she reached the same conclusion. “Come to the fire, then.
You will soon dry.”
She turned away to give the girl a chance to make herself comfortable in
her own manner, and lighted the alcohol stove beneath the shining brass
teakettle. She and Carin kept a little store of supplies at
school—dainties designed to help out their light luncheons—and now she
made a selection from these, and spreading a tray daintily, put it before
Paralee. There was the steaming tea, crackers, cookies, cheese, and
“Such a queer little meal,” she laughed apologetically, “but it will help
to get the damp out of you. You must feel quite like a sponge, Paralee.”
The girl looked up from under her heavy brows.
“What is a sponge?” she demanded.
Carin heard Azalea stammeringly trying to make clear to her pupil the
nature of a sponge, and discreetly withdrew to the most distant part of
the schoolroom and began busying herself by making a sketch of the
storm-tossed trees in the wild purple light. She heard Azalea’s voice
going on and on, kindly, gently, insistently; heard Paralee’s gruff
answers; but the rain and the wind drowned the words. It was only when
Azalea called to her that she learned of the nature of the conversation.
Paralee was standing with half dried garments before the fire. She had
eaten her little repast, and with her one poor hand was brushing back the
hair that straggled about her face.
“Paralee,” said Azalea, “wants to be a teacher, Carin. She has to make
her own living, and that is the way she means to do it.”
Not a gleam of Azalea’s eye, not the barest flicker of the voice, told
that she thought such an ambition outrageous. The heavy-faced,
half-clothed child, so dark and hateful, so ugly and suspicious, might
have been the embodiment of light for all that Azalea’s manner betrayed.
Once more Carin’s affectionate appreciation of her friend went out in
“Does she?” asked Carin in the same friendly tone. “Well, we’ll teach
her what we know, and then she can go to some one better fitted to make a
teacher of her.”
They could see the girl peering up furtively from under her hair,
wondering if it could be possible that they believed in her. No one ever
had. But obstinately, passionately, in the face of all things, she
believed in herself.
“I can’t do nothing else,” she said in her deep voice. “I hain’t got but
“She lost the other,” said Azalea in her even, pleasant voice, “when she
was trying to shoot rabbits for the family to eat. She and her
grandmother have come down with her brother while he works at the sawmill
Mrs. Rowantree has set up on the Ravenel Branch.”
“He wouldn’t come ’less I did, too,” explained Paralee. “He didn’t like
to leave home.”
What could the home be that the brother of this girl would hate to leave,
Carin wondered. It seemed as if Paralee must have come out of a cave
rather than a house.
“We Panthers has always lived by ourselves,” the girl said in half angry
explanation. “Jake hain’t used to talking to strange folks. And he
didn’t have no proper clothes for leaving home.”
“Panther is a strange name, isn’t it?” asked Carin. “Are there many
families of your name in these mountains, Paralee?”
“It hain’t our name,” returned the girl. “Our name’s Marr. My granddad
was a fighter, he was. He kilt six men. It was a war. They called him
the Panther of Soco River. Then they called us all Panthers. We don’t
care!” she added defiantly. “One name suits us as well as t’other.”
“Her father,” explained Azalea, “is paralyzed from a tree having fallen
on him. His home is away out on the tongue of the Soco mountain—so far
away it can only be reached by ‘nag travel.’ Paralee says no doctor ever
goes to see him.”
“Once,” said Paralee, “for two years nobody come up the road, and we
didn’t go nowhere. For two whole years!”
The girls let the words rest on the air for a moment, taking in their
“How in heaven’s name do you live?” asked Carin.
“We live ’cause we don’t die. We git up and go to bed,” said the girl.
“It gits so still up there we stop talking. Why, we ’most forget the way
to say words.”
“I should think you would,” said Azalea. “But what do you have to eat?
How do you make money?”
“We don’t need no money. Not much, anyhow. We raise some corn and two
or three hogs; and we have some chickens and a garden patch. Ma does
some weaving. Pa used to hunt. Then, when he got hurt, I tried
hunting.” She looked down at her maimed arm. “That’s all,” she said
bitterly. “The Panthers is well named. They just live up a tree.” She
gave a short, sharp laugh.
“How ever did your brother and you come to leave home?” demanded Azalea.
“Didn’t they need you there?”
“Needed us terrible. But I couldn’t do work to ’mount to nothing, and
Jake was just hanging ’round doing chores Pete could do as well. I
goaded Jake on to coming down to the sawmill. I thought he might get
some comforts for pa. And grandma, she’d got so mean and worried ma so,
I got her to come along.” She paused for a moment, and then gave way to
an outbreak of rage and misery. “We was getting to be like stumps,” she
cried. “That’s what we was getting like—just like the stumps out in the
clearing. You couldn’t tell we was humans. I—I couldn’t stand it no
longer.” As she stood facing them in her ugliness and wretchedness, with
her great mass of hair hanging about her half-bare shoulders, she seemed
to be mysteriously redeemed from mere brutishness by this rebellion. Out
of that sodden silence and poverty, that shame of inaction, her protest
and purpose had sprung into life. For a moment the girls were silent
with sympathy. Then Azalea said:
“We’ll teach you, Paralee, early and late. We’ll help you in every way
“Oh, we will,” agreed Carin. “And we can do so much more than you think,
Paralee. Paralee?” she repeated. “Such an unusual name. Is it a—a
Paralee Panther gave a curious shrug.
“No!” she said with an accent of disgust. “That ain’t a name any more
than Panther. They didn’t name me at all—called me Babe. When I was
six, I got tired of it. I wanted a name—cried for a name—but they didn’t
seem to think of none. I invented that name—Paralee. I thought it awful
pretty then. I don’t think so now,” she added bluntly. “I think it’s a
fool name. I wish my name was anything else—anything!”
“I have a middle name that I don’t need,” said Carin with a laugh. “It’s
Louisa. Now, what if I should give that to you? ‘Louisa Marr!’ How
would that sound?”
“Mr. Summers is coming up to see us by and by,” said Azalea, taking hold
of Paralee’s arm with a girlish squeeze, “and he can name you properly.
He’s a Methodist preacher.” Paralee nodded.
“I know,” she said. “Once he came to see my pa. He said if pa could be
got to an X-ray, or an X-ray could be got to him, maybe he’d be cured.
But it was just talk. He didn’t do nothing,” she added with a return to
her old bitterness.
“Probably he couldn’t do anything,” said Azalea, swift to defend the
husband of her own “pretend cousin,” Barbara Summers, whom she had picked
out of all the world to be her “kin” since she had none of her own. “Mr.
Summers is poor, too, and there are many people that he must do things
“Well, he didn’t do nothing for us,” said the girl. Then she brooded for
a moment in her heavy way. “And we didn’t do nothing for ourselves,” she
broke out. “That was what made me mad—we didn’t do nothing for
“Your folks didn’t know how,” said Azalea. “That was it—they didn’t know
how. They couldn’t help themselves any more than if they had been
“That’s what they are,” the girl cried. “They’re children—they don’t
know nothing. They won’t _do_ nothing. Oh, it’s so awful—not to have
things to eat; to be like this.” She held out her stump of a hand. “To
be like dad—not able to move! Ain’t it a curse?”
“It must be changed,” said Carin decidedly. “It can be and it shall.”
“You don’t know,” replied the mountain girl with a return of despair.
“There’s so much to change.”
“Braid your hair, Paralee,” commanded Azalea. “Then we’ll have a lesson.
I’ll teach you more this morning than you ever learned in any one lesson
in your life. I noticed last week that you knew how to study better than
anyone in the school. You could keep your mind on a thing, and that’s
much more than half the battle. Oh, we’ll make a teacher of you, never
So all that long day of wild wind and rain, Azalea labored with her
pupil. Hitherto, teaching had been a pleasant if tiring experience.
Azalea had felt a cheerful zest in passing on her ideas and her good
practical knowledge. But this morning a holy passion for teaching came
to her. She poured facts into Paralee’s starved mind with the same deep
satisfaction that she would have given her water had she been perishing
of thirst. No other pupils came. Carin, sitting apart, silent and
content with her own occupations, did not interrupt them, and the
mountain girl listened to her ardent young teacher, conned her lessons
untiringly, and throughout the long hours of the school day refused to
rest. It was as if she had come into the house of her own mind; as if
she had opened up the weed-choked door and crossed the threshold,
discovering within fair rooms undreamed of; as if she had put the
shutters back from long-closed windows and let the light stream in.
By four o’clock the rain seemed to have beaten itself out, and the wind
“Study is over!” cried Azalea at length. “Come, Paralee, get your
things. Such a day! I tell you, anyone who can study as you do will
make a success. Isn’t it so, Carin?”
Carin got up from her letter writing.
“Of course it is,” she said. “And I have been writing some letters that
ought to help on. You must go away to school, Paralee. There are
“What good would they do me?” demanded the girl. “How could I pay?”
“I have money to be used for such things as that,” Carin said gently.
“My father gave it to me. I would love to use it for you.”
“What could I give you back, then? When us Panthers has presents give to
us, we pay back.”
“I have not thought yet,” said Carin seriously, “but I will think. I
will let you pay me back. Please, please, don’t think about that now.
“I wish you didn’t have to go home to-night,” said Azalea. “Couldn’t you
stay with us? A six mile walk over gullies like those out there in the
yard doesn’t seem a pleasant prospect.”
The mountain girl looked at her almost with pity—as if for once she
understood something which her instructress did not.
“Do you think I’ll mind gullies?” she asked.
“No,” confessed Azalea; “no, I don’t.”
Paralee Panther had worn neither jacket nor hat, and in her thin blouse
and short skirt, bare-footed, her great braids, half undone, straggling
down her back, she swung off down her mountain trail. Her heavy, awkward
body gave the impression of great strength and for all of her
awkwardness, whoever looked at her felt that she would be brave.
“That’s the best day’s work we’ve done yet,” said Azalea at last, turning
rather wearily to find her things. But Carin had them ready for her, and
when the schoolhouse was locked, the two friends made their way single
file beneath the dripping branches and across the noisy brook, thankful
for their good rubber boots and coats.
“I can’t think where Keefe has been to-day,” said Carin. “It is just the
sort of a day you’d have expected him to come. We might have needed him,
if the storm had grown worse. Weren’t you surprised that he didn’t look
in on us?”
“Yes, I was,” confessed Azalea. “It wasn’t like him to stay away on a
Carin laughed—and her laugh had a touch of vexation.
“How do you know it wasn’t like him?” she demanded. “You know very
little about him, really. You mustn’t go on your impressions too much,
“I know,” confessed Azalea. “Everyone tells me that. Pa McBirney is
forever saying it. Just the same I know it wasn’t like Keefe to stay
away on a stormy day like this and I’d feel better if I knew where he was
They should have been in sight of the Oriole’s Nest by this time, but the
clouds, which had lifted for a time, were settling down again in white
drifting masses. They had not, of course, been able to see the mountain
peaks all day; but now the trees began to disappear as if willed out of
existence by some wonderful necromancer; then their very pathway before
them seemed swallowed up; and finally each looked to the other like a
“Goodness, but it is uncanny!” said Carin. “I’m glad we haven’t far to
go. We could get lost in our own doorway.”
It was then that they heard the cheering whistle of Keefe O’Connor. It
came, apparently, from the cottage.
“He’s been with Aunt Zillah,” said Azalea with a little sigh of relief.
“That was nice of him, wasn’t it? A day like this she’s sure to be
She gave a blithe answer to the whistle, and seizing Carin’s hand, ran on
swift feet to the cottage, laughing as the billowing mist parted and then
closed like water behind her. The little cabin could not be discerned
till she and Carin were fairly upon it. Then they saw the dull glow of a
light in the window, and groping for the door, found the handle just at
the moment Keefe opened it.
“Here they are, Miss Pace,” he called, “quite safe and sound. I’ve
looked in at you several times to-day, if you want to know, but I thought
my room was better than my company.”
“Oh, my, but I’m glad you’re home,” cried Aunt Zillah, helping them off
with their things. “I declare, it’s getting darker every minute. Why,
the mist isn’t white any more—it’s black!”
“We’re in the heart of a black cloud, that’s why,” said Keefe cheerily.
“Well, we’ve wood and oil and food inside, so what do we care?”
“He’s been working around the place all day,” said Aunt Zillah. “And I
must say I was glad to have him take a hand. Mr. McEvoy is an excellent
man, but he certainly does carry his ‘take-it-easy’ philosophy to
extremes. But even he is a comfort. In my opinion, every house needs a
man around it to make it look right.”