'if you're not obedient to my whims i'll choke you until you are!' that was precisely what he meant. that he was capable of any depth of degradation, and that he meant to drag her with him, there could be no longer the shadow of a doubt.
she could not endure another scene like that. she sprang to her feet again, shivering with terror. she could hear the hum of the conversation in the next room. he was persuading his mother to join in his criminal career. he was busy with his oily tongue transforming the simple, ignorant, lonely old woman into an avaricious fiend who would receive his blood-stained booty and rejoice in it. he was laughing again. she put her trembling hands over her ears to shut out the sound. he had laughed at her shame and cowardice. it made her flesh creep to hear it.
she would escape. the mountain road was dark and narrow and crooked. she would lose her way in the night, perhaps. no matter. she could keep warm by walking. at dawn she would find her way to a cabin and ask protection. if she could reach asheville, a telegram would bring her father. she wouldn't lose a minute. her hat and coat were in the living-room. she would go bareheaded and without a coat. in the morning she could borrow one from the woman at the mount mitchell house.
she crept cautiously along the walls of the room searching for a door or window. there must be a way out. she made the round without discovering an opening of any kind. there must be a window of some kind high up for ventilation. there was no glass in it, of course. it was closed by a board shutter--if she could reach it. she began at the door, found the corner of the room and stretched her arms upward until they touched the low, rough joist. over every foot of its surface she ran her fingers, carefully feeling for a window. there was none!
she found an open crack and peered through. the stars were shining cold and clear in the december sky. the twinkling heavens reminded her that it was christmas eve. the dawn she hoped to see in the woods, if she could escape, would be christmas morning. there was no time for idle tears of self-pity.
the one thought that beat in every throb of her heart now was to escape from her cell and put a thousand miles between her body and the beast who had strangled her. she might break through the roof!
as a rule the shed-rooms of these rude mountain cabins were covered with split boards lightly nailed to narrow strips eighteen inches apart. if there were no ceiling, or if the ceiling were not nailed down and she should move carefully, she might break through near the eaves and drop to the ground. the cabin was not more than nine feet in height. she raised herself on the footrail of the bed and felt the ceiling. there could be no mistake. it was there. she pressed gently at first and then with all her might against each board. they were nailed hard and fast.
she sank to the bed again in despair. she had barred herself in a prison cell. there was no escape except by the door through which the beast had driven her. and he would probably draw the couch against it and sleep there. and then came the crushing conviction that such flight would be of no avail in a struggle with a man of donald's character. his laughing words of triumph rang through her soul now in all their full, sinister meaning.
"the world ain't big enough for you to get away from me, kiddo!"
it wasn't big enough. she knew it with tragic and terrible certainty.
he would follow her to the ends of the earth and kill any living thing that stood in his way. and when he found her at last he would kill her.
how could she have been so blind! there was no longer any mystery about his personality. the slender hands and feet were merely the hands and feet of a thief. the strength of jaw and neck and shoulders had made him the most daring of all thieves--a burglar.
his strange moods were no longer strange. he laughed for joy at the wild mountain gorges and crags because he saw safety for the hiding-place of priceless jewels he meant to steal.
there could be no escape in divorce from such a brute. he was happy in her cowardly submission. he would laugh at the idea of divorce. should she dare to betray the secrets of his life of crime, he would kill her as he would grind a snake under his heel.
a single clause from the marriage ceremony kept ringing its knell--
"until death do us part!"
she knelt at last and prayed for death.
"oh, dear god, let me die, let me die!"
suicide was a crime unthinkable to her pious mind. only god now could save her in his infinite mercy.