“It’s a giant powder, a million times stronger nor mine.” He reached into the sack and, with cautious fingers, took out the cartridge and the fuse, exhibiting them to her. “See here. I seed ’em take a bomb no bigger nor this one, an’ light a fuse like this, an’ when it caught it ennymost shook down a mounting! I seed a poor chap what war careless with one, an’ when they picked him up, why—”
“Don’t, Joe!” said the girl, looking at the cartridge with the light of horror shining in her eyes. “What you doin’ with such devil’s stuff?”
“I got it for th’ revenuers,” he said frankly. The mountaineers of the old Cumberland, to this day, make no secret of their deadly hatred for the agents of the government excise. “They’re snoopin’ ‘round th’ mountings, an’ if they find my still I plan to blow it into nothin’, an’ them with it.”
She recoiled from him. “No, no, Joe; you’d better gin th’ still up, nor do such work as that!”
“I’ll never gin it up!” said he, with a set face. “It’s mine; it war my father’s long before me. There’s only one thing could ever make me gin it up.”
“What’s that?” The girl was still spellbound by the fascination of the dynamite which she had come so near to treading on. Her eyes were fixed upon the cartridge in his hand with horror, wonder.
He stepped closer to her. “I mout gin it up for you!”
“You know I’ve loved ye sence ye were that high,” said he, and measured with his hand a very little way up the side of the old stump. “Many a time I’ve listened hyar to your evenin’ hymn, an’ thought I’d rather hear you singin’ in my home than hear th’ angels singin’ in th’ courts o’ Heaven. Say th’ word, Madge—say you’ll be my little wife!”
The girl was woe fully affected. Her eyes filled and her bosom heaved with feeling. It cut her to the soul to have to hurt this playmate of her babyhood, defender of her youth, companion of her budding womanhood; their lives had been linked, too, by the great tragedy which, years ago, had orphaned both of them. But, of late, she had felt sure that she could never marry him. She would not admit, even to herself, just why this was; but it was so. “No, no, Joe; it can never be,” she said.
He knew! “And why?” said he, his face blackening with bitter feeling, his brows contracting fiercely. “Because that furriner from the blue grass has come atween us!”
Madge, surprised that he should guess the secret which she had scarcely admitted, even to herself, was, for a second, frightened by his keenness. Had she shown her feelings with such freedom? But she quickly regained self-control and answered with a clever counterfeit of lightness. “Him? Oh, sho! He’d never think o’ me that way!”
“Mebbe so,” said Joe, “but I know you think more o’ th’ books he teaches you from than o’ my company. From th’ thickets borderin’ th’ clearin’ where you’ve studied, I’ve watched you settin’ thar with him, wen I’d give th’ world to be thar in his place. Why, I’d ennymost gin up my life for one kiss, Madge!” He looked at her with pitiful love and longing in his eyes; but this soon changed to a sort of mad determination. “I’ll have it, too!” he cried, advancing toward her.