They were, indeed, the great imprints of Joe Lorey’s hob-nailed boots, quite as she suspected. Long before the sun had risen the young mountaineer, distressed by worries which had made his night an almost sleepless one, had risen and wandered from his little cabin, lonelier in its far solitude, even than the girl’s. For a time he had crouched upon a stump beneath the morning stars with lowering brows, sunk deep in harsh, resentful thought, forgetful of the falling dew, the chill of the keen mountain air, of everything, in fact, save the gnawing apprehension that the “foreigner,” who had invaded this far mountain solitude might, with his better manners, infinitely better education and divers other devilish wiles of the low country, snatch from him the prize which he had grown up longing to possess.
The youthful mountaineer’s distress was not without its pathos. He loved the girl, had loved her since they had been toddling children playing in the hills together. Never for an instant had his firm devotion to her wandered to any other of the mountain girls; never for an instant had he had any hope but that of, some day, winning her. That he recognized the real superiority of Layson made his worry the more tragic, for it made it the more hopeless.
A dull resentment thrilled him, not only against this man, but against the whole tribe of his people, who were, in these uncomfortable days, invading the rough country which, to that time, had been the undisputed domain of the mountaineer. He thought with bitterness about the growing valley towns, which he had sometimes visited on court days when some mountain man had been haled there to trial for moonshining or for a feud “killing.” He did not understand those lowland people who assumed the right to dictate to him and his kind as to the lives which they should lead in their own country, and he hated them instinctively. Vaguely he felt the greater power which education and a rubbing of their elbows with the progress of the world had given them and definitely resented it. Scotch highlander never felt a greater hatred and distrust of lowland men than does the highlander of the old Cumberlands feel for the people who have claimed the rich and fertile bottom lands, filled the towns which have sprung up there, established the prosperity which has, through them, advanced the state. The mountain men of Tennessee and of Kentucky are almost as primitive, to-day, as were their forefathers, who, early in the great transcontinental migration, dropped from its path and spread among the hills a century ago, rather than continue with the weary march to more fertile, fabled lands beyond.
It had not been, as Madge had feared, his definite hatred of Frank Layson which had started him upon the road so early in the morning, but, rather, an unrest born of the whole problem of the “foreigners’” invasion of the mountains. His restless discontent with Layson’s presence had left him ready for excitement over wild tales told in store and cabin of what the young man’s fellows were doing in the valley. He had determined to go thither for himself, to see with his own eyes the wonder-workers, although he hated both the wonders and the men who were accomplishing them.