“I wish I could take you home with me, Nan,” he said simply.
There was age-old wisdom in the dark eyes when they were lifted to his.
“No, you don’t,” she said firmly. “Your mammy would call me a little heathen, same as she used to; and I reckon that’s what I am—I hain’t had no chanst to be anything else. And you’re goin’ to be a preacher, Tom.”
Why did it rouse a dull anger in his heart to be thus reminded of his own scarce-cooled pledge made on his knees under the shadowing cedars? He could not tell; but the fact remained.
“You hear me, Nan; I’m going to take care of you when I’m able. No matter what happens, I’m going to take care of you,” was what he said; and a low rumbling of thunder and a spattering of rain on the leaves punctuated the promise.
She looked away and was silent. Then, when the rain began to come faster: “Let’s run, Tom. I don’t mind gettin’ wet; but you mustn’t.”
They reached the great rock sheltering the barrel-spring before the shower broke in earnest, and Tom led the way to the right. Half-way up its southern face the big boulder held a water-worn cavity, round, and deeply hollowed, and carpeted with cedar needles. Tom climbed in first and gave her a hand from the mouth of the little cavern. When she was up and in, there was room in the nest-like hollow, but none to spare. And on the instant the summer shower shut down upon the mountain side and closed the cave mouth as with a thick curtain.
There was no speech in that little interval of cloud-lowering and cloud-lifting. The boy tried for it, would have taken up the confidences where the storm-coming had broken them off; but it was blankly impossible. All the curious thrills foregone seemed to culminate now in a single burning desire: to have it rain for ever, that he might nestle there in the hollow of the great rock with Nan so close to him that he could feel the warmth of her body and the quick beating of her heart against his arm.
Yet the sleeping conscience did not stir. The moment of recognition was withheld even when the cloud curtain began to lift and he could see the long lashes drooped over the dark eyes, and the flush in the brown cheek matching his own.
“Nan!” he whispered, catching his breath; “you’re—you’re the—”
She slipped away from him before he could find the word, and a moment later she was calling to him from below that the rain was over and she must hurry.
He walked beside her to the door of the miserable log shack under the second cliff, still strangely shaken, but striving manfully to be himself again. The needed fillip came when the mountaineer staggered to the threshold to swear thickly at his daughter. In times past, Tom would quickly have put distance between himself and Tike Bryerson in the squirrel-eyed stage of intoxication. But now his promise to Nan was behind him, and the Gordon blood was to the fore.