His Unquiet Ghost
by Charles Egbert Craddock
The moon was high in the sky. The wind was laid. So silent was the vast
stretch of mountain wilderness, aglint with the dew, that the tinkle of
a rill far below in the black abyss seemed less a sound than an evidence
of the pervasive quietude, since so slight a thing, so distant, could
compass so keen a vibration. For an hour or more the three men who
lurked in the shadow of a crag in the narrow mountain-pass, heard
nothing else. When at last they caught the dull reverberation of a slow
wheel and the occasional metallic clank of a tire against a stone, the
vehicle was fully three miles distant by the winding road in the valley.
Time lagged. Only by imperceptible degrees the sound of deliberate
approach grew louder on the air as the interval of space lessened. At
length, above their ambush at the summit of the mountain's brow the
heads of horses came into view, distinct in the moonlight between the
fibrous pines and the vast expanse of the sky above the valley. Even
then there was renewed delay. The driver of the wagon paused to rest the
The three lurking men did not move; they scarcely ventured to breathe.
Only when there was no retrograde possible, no chance of escape, when
the vehicle was fairly on the steep declivity of the road, the precipice
sheer on one side, the wall of the ridge rising perpendicularly on the
other, did two of them, both revenue-raiders disguised as mountaineers,
step forth from the shadow. The other, the informer, a genuine
mountaineer, still skulked motionless in the darkness. The "revenuers,"
ascending the road, maintained a slow, lunging gait, as if they had
toiled from far.
Their abrupt appearance had the effect of a galvanic shock to the man
handling the reins, a stalwart, rubicund fellow, who visibly paled. He
drew up so suddenly as almost to throw the horses from their feet.
"G'evenin'," ventured Browdie, the elder of the raiders, in a husky
voice affecting an untutored accent. He had some special ability as a
mimic, and, being familiar with the dialect and manners of the people,
this gift greatly facilitated the rustic impersonation he had essayed.
"Ye're haulin' late," he added, for the hour was close to midnight.
"Yes, stranger; haulin' late, from Eskaqua—a needcessity."
"What's yer cargo?" asked Browdie, seeming only ordinarily inquisitive.
A sepulchral cadence was in the driver's voice, and the disguised
raiders noted that the three other men on the wagon had preserved,
throughout, a solemn silence. "What we-uns mus' all be one day,
Browdie was stultified for a moment. Then, sustaining his assumed
character, he said: "I hope it be nobody I know. I be fairly well
acquainted in Eskaqua, though I hail from down in Lonesome Cove. Who be
There was palpably a moment's hesitation before the spokesman replied:
"Watt Wyatt; died day 'fore yestiddy."
At the words, one of the silent men in the wagon turned his face
suddenly, with such obvious amazement depicted upon it that it arrested
the attention of the "revenuers." This face was so individual that it
was not likely to be easily mistaken or forgotten. A wild, breezy look
it had, and a tricksy, incorporeal expression that might well befit some
fantastic, fabled thing of the woods. It was full of fine script of
elusive meanings, not registered in the lineaments of the prosaic man of
the day, though perchance of scant utility, not worth interpretation.
His full gray eyes were touched to glancing brilliancy by a moonbeam;
his long, fibrously floating brown hair was thrown backward; his
receding chin was peculiarly delicate; and though his well-knit frame
bespoke a hardy vigor, his pale cheek was soft and thin. All the rustic
grotesquery of garb and posture was cancelled by the deep shadow of a
bough, and his delicate face showed isolated in the moonlight.
Browdie silently pondered his vague suspicions for a moment. "Whar did
he die at?" he then demanded at a venture.
"At his daddy's house, fur sure. Whar else?" responded the driver. "I
hev got what's lef' of him hyar in the coffin-box. We expected ter make
it ter Shiloh buryin'-ground 'fore dark; but the road is middlin' heavy,
an' 'bout five mile' back Ben cast a shoe. The funeral warn't over much
"Whyn't they bury him in Eskaqua, whar he died?" persisted Browdie.
"Waal, they planned ter bury him alongside his mother an' gran'dad, what
used ter live in Tanglefoot Cove. But we air wastin' time hyar, an' we
hev got none ter spare. Gee, Ben! Git up, John!"
The wagon gave a lurch; the horses, holding back in bracing attitudes
far from the pole, went teetering down the steep slant, the locked wheel
dragging heavily; the four men sat silent, two in slouching postures at
the head of the coffin; the third, with the driver, was at its foot. It
seemed drearily suggestive, the last journey of this humble mortality,
in all the splendid environment of the mountains, under the vast
expansions of the aloof skies, in the mystic light of the unnoting moon.
"Is this bona-fide?" asked Browdie, with a questioning glance at the
informer, who had at length crept forth.
"I dunno," sullenly responded the mountaineer. He had acquainted the two
officers, who were of a posse of revenue-raiders hovering in the
vicinity, with the mysterious circumstance that a freighted wagon now
and then made a midnight transit across these lonely ranges. He himself
had heard only occasionally in a wakeful hour the roll of heavy wheels,
but he interpreted this as the secret transportation of brush whisky
from the still to its market. He had thought to fix the transgression on
an old enemy of his own, long suspected of moonshining; but he was
acquainted with none of the youngsters on the wagon, at whom he had
peered cautiously from behind the rocks. His actuating motive in giving
information to the emissaries of the government had been the rancor of
an old feud, and his detection meant certain death. He had not expected
the revenue-raiders to be outnumbered by the supposed moonshiners, and
he would not fight in the open. He had no sentiment of fealty to the
law, and the officers glanced at each other in uncertainty.
"This evidently is not the wagon in question," said Browdie,
"I'll follow them a bit," volunteered Ronan, the younger and the more
active of the two officers. "Seems to me they'll bear watching."
Indeed, as the melancholy cortège fared down and down the steep road,
dwindling in the sheeny distance, the covert and half-suppressed
laughter of the sepulchral escort was of so keen a relish that it was
well that the scraping of the locked wheel aided the distance to mask
the incongruous sound.
"What ailed you-uns ter name me as the corpus, 'Gene Barker?" demanded
Walter Wyatt, when he had regained the capacity of coherent speech.
"Oh, I hed ter do suddint murder on somebody," declared the driver, all
bluff and reassured and red-faced again, "an' I couldn't think quick of
nobody else. Besides, I belt a grudge ag'in' you fer not stuffin' mo'
straw 'twixt them jimmyjohns in the coffin-box."
"That's a fac'. Ye air too triflin' ter be let ter live, Watt," cried
one of their comrades. "I hearn them jugs clash tergether in the
coffin-box when 'Gene checked the team up suddint, I tell you. An' them
men sure 'peared ter me powerful suspectin'."
"I hearn the clash of them jimmyjohns," chimed in the driver. "I
really thunk my hour war come. Some informer must hev set them men ter
spyin' round fer moonshine."
"Oh, surely nobody wouldn't dare," urged one of the group, uneasily; for
the identity of an informer was masked in secrecy, and his fate, when
discovered, was often gruesome.
"They couldn't hev noticed the clash of them jimmyjohns, nohow,"
declared the negligent Watt, nonchalantly. "But namin' me fur the dead
one! Supposin' they air revenuers fur true, an' hed somebody along, hid
out in the bresh, ez war acquainted with me by sight——"
"Then they'd hev been skeered out'n thar boots, that's all," interrupted
the self-sufficient 'Gene. "They would hev 'lowed they hed viewed yer
brazen ghost, bold ez brass, standin' at the head of yer own
"Or mebbe they mought hev recognized the Wyatt favor, ef they warn't
acquainted with me," persisted Watt, with his unique sense of injury.
Eugene Barker defended the temerity of his inspiration. "They would hev
jes thought ye war kin ter the deceased, an' attendin' him ter his long
"'Gene don't keer much fur ye ter be alive nohow, Watt Wyatt," one of
the others suggested tactlessly, "'count o' Minta Elladine Riggs."
Eugene Barker's off-hand phrase was incongruous with his sudden gravity
and his evident rancor as he declared: "I ain't carin' fur sech ez
Watt Wyatt. An' they do say in the cove that Minta Elladine Riggs hev
gin him the mitten, anyhow, on account of his gamesome ways, playin'
kyerds, a-bettin' his money, drinkin' apple-jack, an' sech."
The newly constituted ghost roused himself with great vitality as if to
retort floutingly; but as he turned, his jaw suddenly fell; his eyes
widened with a ghastly distension. With an unsteady arm extended he
pointed silently. Distinctly outlined on the lid of the coffin was the
simulacrum of the figure of a man.
One of his comrades, seated on the tailboard of the wagon, had discerned
a significance in the abrupt silence. As he turned, he, too, caught a
fleeting glimpse of that weird image on the coffin-lid. But he was of a
more mundane pulse. The apparition roused in him only a wonder whence
could come this shadow in the midst of the moon-flooded road. He lifted
his eyes to the verge of the bluff above, and there he descried an
indistinct human form, which suddenly disappeared as he looked, and at
that moment the simulacrum vanished from the lid of the box.
The mystery was of instant elucidation. They were suspected, followed.
The number of their pursuers of course they could not divine, but at
least one of the revenue-officers had trailed the wagon between the
precipice and the great wall of the ascent on the right, which had
gradually dwindled to a diminished height. Deep gullies were here and
there washed out by recent rains, and one of these indentations might
have afforded an active man access to the summit. Thus the pursuer had
evidently kept abreast of them, speeding along in great leaps through
the lush growth of huckleberry bushes, wild grasses, pawpaw thickets,
silvered by the moon, all fringing the great forests that had given way
on the shelving verge of the steeps where the road ran. Had he overheard
their unguarded, significant words? Who could divine, so silent were the
windless mountains, so deep a-dream the darksome woods, so spell-bound
the mute and mystic moonlight?
The group maintained a cautious reticence now, each revolving the
problematic disclosure of their secret, each canvassing the question
whether the pursuer himself was aware of his betrayal of his stealthy
proximity. Not till they had reached the ford of the river did they
venture on a low-toned colloquy. The driver paused in mid-stream and
stepped out on the pole between the horses to let down the check-reins,
as the team manifested an inclination to drink in transit; and thence,
as he stood thus perched, he gazed to and fro, the stretch of dark and
lustrous ripples baffling all approach within ear-shot, the watering of
the horses justifying the pause and cloaking its significance to any
But the interval was indeed limited; the mental processes of such men
are devoid of complexity, and their decisions prompt. They advanced few
alternatives; their prime object was to be swiftly rid of the coffin and
its inculpating contents, and with the "revenuer" so hard on their heels
this might seem a troublous problem enough.
"Put it whar a coffin b'longs—in the churchyard," said Wyatt; for at a
considerable distance beyond the rise of the opposite bank could be
seen a barren clearing in which stood a gaunt, bare, little white frame
building that served all the country-side for its infrequent religious
"We couldn't dig a grave before that spy—ef he be a revenuer sure
enough—could overhaul us," Eugene Barker objected.
"We could turn the yearth right smart, though," persisted Wyatt, for
pickax and shovel had been brought in the wagon for the sake of an
aspect of verisimilitude and to mask their true intent.
Eugene Barker acceded to this view. "That's the dinctum—dig a few jes
fer a blind. We kin slip the coffin-box under the church-house 'fore he
gits in sight,—he'll be feared ter follow too close,—an' leave it thar
till the other boys kin wagon it ter the cross-roads' store ter-morrer
The horses, hitherto held to the sober gait of funeral travel, were now
put to a speedy trot, unmindful of whatever impression of flight the
pace might give to the revenue-raider in pursuit. The men were soon
engrossed in their deceptive enterprise in the churchyard, plying pickax
and shovel for dear life; now and again they paused to listen vainly
for the sound of stealthy approach. They knew that there was the most
precarious and primitive of foot-bridges across the deep stream, to
traverse which would cost an unaccustomed wayfarer both time and pains;
thus the interval was considerable before the resonance of rapid
foot-falls gave token that their pursuer had found himself obliged to
sprint smartly along the country road to keep any hope of ever again
viewing the wagon which the intervening water-course had withdrawn from
his sight. That this hope had grown tenuous was evident in his
relinquishment of his former caution, for when they again caught a
glimpse of him he was forging along in the middle of the road without
any effort at concealment. But as the wagon appeared in the perspective,
stationary, hitched to the hedge of the graveyard, he recurred to his
previous methods. The four men still within the inclosure, now busied in
shovelling the earth back again into the excavation they had so swiftly
made, covertly watched him as he skulked into the shadow of the wayside.
The little "church-house," with all its windows whitely aglare in the
moonlight, reflected the pervasive sheen, and silent, spectral, remote,
it seemed as if it might well harbor at times its ghastly neighbors from
the quiet cemetery without, dimly ranging themselves once more in the
shadowy ranks of its pews or grimly stalking down the drear and deserted
aisles. The fact that the rising ground toward the rear of the building
necessitated a series of steps at the entrance, enabled the officer to
mask behind this tall flight his crouching approach, and thus he
ensconced himself in the angle between the wall and the steps, and
looked forth in fancied security.
The shadows multiplied the tale of the dead that the head-boards kept,
each similitude askew in the moonlight on the turf below the slanting
monument. To judge by the motions of the men engaged in the burial and
the mocking antics of their silhouettes on the ground, it must have been
obvious to the spectator that they were already filling in the earth.
The interment may have seemed to him suspiciously swift, but the
possibility was obvious that the grave might have been previously dug in
anticipation of their arrival. It was plain that he was altogether
unprepared for the event when they came slouching forth to the wagon,
and the stalwart and red-faced driver, with no manifestation of
surprise, hailed him as he still crouched in his lurking-place. "Hello,
stranger! Warn't that you-uns runnin' arter the wagon a piece back
yonder jes a while ago?"
The officer rose to his feet, with an intent look both dismayed and
embarrassed. He did not venture on speech; he merely acceded with a nod.
"Ye want a lift, I reckon."
The stranger was hampered by the incongruity between his rustic garb,
common to the coves, and his cultivated intonation; for, unlike his
comrade Browdie, he had no mimetic faculties whatever. Nevertheless, he
was now constrained to "face the music."
"I didn't want to interrupt you," he said, seeking such excuse as due
consideration for the circumstances might afford; "but I'd like to ask
where I could get lodging for the night."
"What's yer name?" demanded Barker, unceremoniously.
"Francis Ronan," the raider replied, with more assurance. Then he added,
by way of explaining his necessity, "I'm a stranger hereabouts."
"Ye air so," assented the sarcastic 'Gene. "Ye ain't even acquainted
with yer own clothes. Ye be a town man."
"Well, I'm not the first man who has had to hide out," Ronan parried,
seeking to justify his obvious disguise.
"Shot somebody?" asked 'Gene, with an apparent accession of interest.
"It's best for me not to tell."
"So be." 'Gene acquiesced easily. "Waal, ef ye kin put up with sech
accommodations ez our'n, I'll take ye home with me."
Ronan stood aghast. But there was no door of retreat open. He was alone
and helpless. He could not conceal the fact that the turn affairs had
taken was equally unexpected and terrifying to him, and the moonshiners,
keenly watchful, were correspondingly elated to discern that he had
surely no reinforcements within reach to nerve him to resistance or to
menace their liberty. He had evidently followed them too far, too
recklessly; perhaps without the consent and against the counsel of his
comrades, perhaps even without their knowledge of his movements and
Now and again as the wagon jogged on and on toward their distant haven,
the moonlight gradually dulling to dawn, Wyatt gave the stranger a
wondering, covert glance, vaguely, shrinkingly curious as to the
sentiments of a man vacillating between the suspicion of capture and the
recognition of a simple hospitality without significance or danger. The
man's face appealed to him, young, alert, intelligent, earnest, and the
anguish of doubt and anxiety it expressed went to his heart. In the
experience of his sylvan life as a hunter Wyatt's peculiar and subtle
temperament evolved certain fine-spun distinctions which were unique; a
trapped thing had a special appeal to his commiseration that a creature
ruthlessly slaughtered in the open was not privileged to claim. He did
not accurately and in words discriminate the differences, but he felt
that the captive had sounded all the gamut of hope and despair, shared
the gradations of an appreciated sorrow that makes all souls akin and
that even lifts the beast to the plane of brotherhood, the bond of
emotional woe. He had often with no other or better reason liberated
the trophy of his snare, calling after the amazed and franticly fleeing
creature, "Bye-bye, Buddy!" with peals of his whimsical, joyous
He was experiencing now a similar sequence of sentiments in noting the
wild-eyed eagerness with which the captured raider took obvious heed of
every minor point of worthiness that might mask the true character of
his entertainers. But, indeed, these deceptive hopes might have been
easily maintained by one not so desirous of reassurance when, in the
darkest hour before the dawn, they reached a large log-cabin sequestered
in dense woods, and he found himself an inmate of a simple, typical
mountain household. It held an exceedingly venerable grandfather,
wielding his infirmities as a rod of iron; a father and mother, hearty,
hospitable, subservient to the aged tyrant, but keeping in filial check
a family of sons and daughters-in-law, with an underfoot delegation of
grandchildren, who seemed to spend their time in a bewildering
manœuver of dashing out at one door to dash in at another. A
tumultuous rain had set in shortly after dawn, with lightning and
wind,—"the tail of a harricane," as the host called it,—and a terrible
bird the actual storm must have been to have a tail of such dimensions.
There was no getting forth, no living creature of free will "took water"
in this elemental crisis. The numerous dogs crowded the children away
from the hearth, and the hens strolled about the large living-room,
clucking to scurrying broods. Even one of the horses tramped up on the
porch and looked in ever and anon, solicitous of human company.
"I brung Ben up by hand, like a bottle-fed baby," the hostess
apologized, "an' he ain't never f'und out fur sure that he ain't folks."
There seemed no possible intimation of moonshine in this entourage, and
the coffin filled with jugs, a-wagoning from some distillers' den in the
range to the cross-roads' store, might well have been accounted only the
vain phantasm of an overtired brain surcharged with the vexed problems
of the revenue service. The disguised revenue-raider was literally
overcome with drowsiness, the result of his exertions and his vigils,
and observing this, his host gave him one of the big feather beds under
the low slant of the eaves in the roof-room, where the other men, who
had been out all night, also slept the greater portion of the day. In
fact, it was dark when Wyatt wakened, and, leaving the rest still torpid
with slumber and fatigue, descended to the large main room of the cabin.
The callow members of the household had retired to rest, but the elders
of the band of moonshiners were up and still actively astir, and Wyatt
experienced a prescient vicarious qualm to note their lack of heed or
secrecy—the noisy shifting of heavy weights (barrels, kegs, bags of
apples, and peaches for pomace), the loud voices and unguarded words.
When a door in the floor was lifted, the whiff of chill, subterranean
air that pervaded the whole house was heavily freighted with spirituous
odors, and gave token to the meanest intelligence, to the most
unobservant inmate, that the still was operated in a cellar, peculiarly
immune to suspicion, for a cellar is never an adjunct to the ordinary
mountain cabin. Thus the infraction of the revenue law went on securely
and continuously beneath the placid, simple, domestic life, with its
reverent care for the very aged and its tender nurture of the very
It was significant, indeed, that the industry should not be
pretermitted, however, when a stranger was within the gates. The reason
to Wyatt, familiar with the moonshiners' methods and habits of thought,
was only too plain. They intended that the "revenuer" should never go
forth to tell the tale. His comrades had evidently failed to follow his
trail, either losing it in the wilderness or from ignorance of his
intention. He had put himself hopelessly into the power of these
desperate men, whom his escape or liberation would menace with
incarceration for a long term as Federal prisoners in distant
penitentiaries, if, indeed, they were not already answerable to the law
for some worse crime than illicit distilling. His murder would be the
extreme of brutal craft, so devised as to seem an accident, against the
possibility of future investigation.
The reflection turned Wyatt deathly cold, he who could not bear unmoved
the plea of a wild thing's eye. He sturdily sought to pull himself
together. It was none of his decree; it was none of his deed, he
argued. The older moonshiners, who managed all the details of the
enterprise, would direct the event with absolute authority and the
immutability of fate. But whatever should be done, he revolted from any
knowledge of it, as from any share in the act. He had risen to leave the
place, all strange of aspect now, metamorphosed,—various disorderly
details of the prohibited industry ever and anon surging up from the
still-room below,—when a hoarse voice took cognizance of his intention
with a remonstrance.
"Why, Watt Wyatt, ye can't go out in the cove. Ye air dead! Ye will
let that t'other revenue-raider ye seen into the secret o' the bresh
whisky in our wagon ef ye air viewed about whenst 'Gene hev spread the
report that ye air dead. Wait till them raiders hev cleared out of the
The effort at detention, to interfere with his liberty, added redoubled
impetus to Wyatt's desire to be gone. He suddenly devised a cogent
necessity. "I be feared my dad mought hear that fool tale. I ain't much
loss, but dad would feel it."
"Oh, I sent Jack thar ter tell him better whenst he drove ter mill
ter-day ter git the meal fer the mash. Jack made yer dad onderstand
'bout yer sudden demise."
"Oh, yeh," interposed the glib Jack; "an' he said ez he couldn't abide
"Shucks!" cried the filial Wyatt. "Dad war full fresky himself in his
young days; I hev hearn his old frien's say so."
"I tried ter slick things over," said the diplomatic Jack. "I 'lowed
young folks war giddy by nature. I 'lowed 't war jes a flash o' fun. An'
he say: 'Flash o' fun be consarned! My son is more like a flash o'
lightning; ez suddint an' mischeevious an' totally ondesirable.'"
The reproach obviously struck home, for Wyatt maintained a disconsolate
silence for a time. At length, apparently goaded by his thoughts to
attempt a defense, he remonstrated:
"Nobody ever war dead less of his own free will. I never elected ter be
a harnt. 'Gene Barker hed no right ter nominate me fer the dear
One of the uncouth younger fellows, his shoulders laden with a sack of
meal, paused on his way from the porch to the trap-door to look up from
beneath his burden with a sly grin as he said, "'Gene war wishin' it war
true, that's why."
"'Count o' Minta Elladine Riggs," gaily chimed in another.
"But 'Gene needn't gredge Watt foot-hold on this yearth fer sech; she
ain't keerin' whether Watt lives or dies," another contributed to the
rough, rallying fun.
But Wyatt was of sensitive fibre. He had flushed angrily; his eyes were
alight; a bitter retort was trembling on his lips when one of the elder
Barkers, discriminating the elements of an uncontrollable fracas, seized
on the alternative.
"Could you-uns sure be back hyar by day-break, Watt?" he asked, fixing
the young fellow with a stern eye.
"No 'spectable ghost roams around arter sun-up," cried Wyatt, fairly
jovial at the prospect of liberation.
"Ye mus' be heedful not ter be viewed," the senior admonished him.
"I be goin' ter slip about keerful like a reg'lar, stiddy-goin' harnt,
an' eavesdrop a bit. It's worth livin' a hard life ter view how a
feller's friends will take his demise."
"I reckon ye kin make out ter meet the wagin kemin' back from the
cross-roads' store. It went out this evenin' with that coffin full of
jugs that ye lef' las' night under the church-house, whenst 'Gene seen
you-uns war suspicioned. They will hev time ter git ter the cross-roads
with the whisky on' back little arter midnight, special' ez we-uns hev
got the raider that spied out the job hyar fast by the leg."
The mere mention of the young prisoner rendered Wyatt the more eager to
be gone, to be out of sight and sound. But he had no agency in the
disaster, he urged against some inward clamor of protest; the
catastrophe was the logical result of the foolhardiness of the officer
in following these desperate men with no backing, with no power to
apprehend or hold, relying on his flimsy disguise, and risking
delivering himself into their hands, fettered as he was with the
knowledge of his discovery of their secret.
"It's nothin' ter me, nohow," Wyatt was continually repeating to
himself, though when he sprang through the door he could scarcely draw
his breath because of some mysterious, invisible clutch at his throat.
He sought to ascribe this symptom to the density of the pervasive fog
without, that impenetrably cloaked all the world; one might wonder how a
man could find his way through the opaque white vapor. It was, however,
an accustomed medium to the young mountaineer, and his feet, too, had
something of that unclassified muscular instinct, apart from reason,
which guides in an oft-trodden path. Once he came to a halt, from no
uncertainty of locality, but to gaze apprehensively through the blank,
white mists over a shuddering shoulder. "I wonder ef thar be any other
harnts aloose ter-night, a-boguing through the fog an' the moon," he
speculated. Presently he went on again, shaking his head sagely. "I
ain't wantin' ter collogue with sech," he averred cautiously.
Occasionally the moonlight fell in expansive splendor through a rift in
the white vapor; amidst the silver glintings a vague, illusory panorama
of promontory and island, bay and inlet, far ripplings of gleaming
deeps, was presented like some magic reminiscence, some ethereal replica
of the past, the simulacrum of the seas of these ancient coves, long
since ebbed away and vanished. The sailing moon visibly rocked, as the
pulsing tides of the cloud-ocean rose and fell, and ever and anon this
supernal craft was whelmed in its surgings, and once more came
majestically into view, freighted with fancies and heading for the haven
of the purple western shores.
In one of these clearances of the mists a light of an alien type caught
the eye of the wandering spectre—a light, red, mundane, of prosaic
suggestion. It filtered through the crevice of a small batten shutter.
The ghost paused, his head speculatively askew. "Who sits so late at the
forge?" he marvelled, for he was now near the base of the mountain, and
he recognized the low, dark building looming through the mists, its roof
aslant, its chimney cold, the big doors closed, the shutter fast. As he
neared the place a sudden shrill guffaw smote the air, followed by a
deep, gruff tone of disconcerted remonstrance. Certain cabalistic words
made the matter plain.
"High, Low, Jack, and game! Fork! Fork!" Once more there arose a high
falsetto shriek of jubilant laughter.
Walter Wyatt crept noiselessly down the steep slant toward the shutter.
He had no sense of intrusion, for he was often one of the merry blades
wont to congregate at the forge at night and take a hand at cards,
despite the adverse sentiment of the cove and the vigilance of the
constable of the district, bent on enforcing the laws prohibiting
gaming. As Wyatt stood at the crevice of the shutter the whole interior
was distinct before him—the disabled wagon-wheels against the walls,
the horse-shoes on a rod across the window, the great hood of the forge,
the silent bellows, with its long, motionless handle. A kerosene lamp,
perched on the elevated hearth of the forge, illumined the group of wild
young mountaineers clustered about a barrel on the head of which the
cards were dealt. There were no chairs; one of the gamesters sat on a
keg of nails; another on an inverted splint basket; two on a rude bench
that was wont to be placed outside the door for the accommodation of
customers waiting for a horse to be shod or a plow to be laid. An
onlooker, not yet so proficient as to attain his ambition of admission
to the play, had mounted the anvil, and from this coign of vantage
beheld all the outspread landscape of the "hands." More than once his
indiscreet, inadvertent betrayal of some incident of his survey of the
cards menaced him with a broken head. More innocuous to the interests of
the play was a wight humbly ensconced on the shoeing-stool, which barely
brought his head to the level of the board; but as he was densely
ignorant of the game, he took no disadvantage from his lowly posture.
His head was red, and as it moved erratically about in the gloom, Watt
Wyatt thought for a moment that it was the smith's red setter. He
grinned as he resolved that some day he would tell the fellow this as a
pleasing gibe; but the thought was arrested by the sound of his own
"Waal, sir," said the dealer, pausing in shuffling the cards, "I s'pose
ye hev all hearn 'bout Walter Wyatt's takin' off."
"An' none too soon, sartain." A sour visage was glimpsed beneath the
wide brim of the speaker's hat.
"Waal," drawled the semblance of the setter from deep in the
clare-obscure, "Watt war jes a fool from lack o' sense."
"That kind o' fool can't be cured," said another of the players. Then he
sharply adjured the dealer. "Look out what ye be doin'! Ye hev gimme
"'Gene Barker will git ter marry Minta Elladine Riggs now, I reckon,"
suggested the man on the anvil.
"An' I'll dance at the weddin' with right good will an' a nimble toe,"
declared the dealer, vivaciously. "I'll be glad ter see that couple
settled. That gal couldn't make up her mind ter let Walter Wyatt go, an'
yit no woman in her senses would hev been willin' ter marry him. He war
ez onresponsible ez—ez—fox-fire."
"An' ez onstiddy ez a harricane," commented another.
"An' no more account than a mole in the yearth," said a third.
The ghost at the window listened in aghast dismay and became pale in
sober truth, for these boon companions he had accounted the best friends
he had in the world. They had no word of regret, no simple human pity;
even that facile meed of casual praise that he was "powerful pleasant
company" was withheld. And for these and such as these he had bartered
the esteem of the community at large and his filial duty and obedience;
had spurned the claims of good citizenship and placed himself in
jeopardy of the law; had forfeited the hand of the woman he loved.
"Minta Elladine Riggs ain't keerin' nohow fer sech ez Watt," said the
semblance of the setter, with a knowing nod of his red head. "I war up
thar at the mill whenst the news kem ter-day, an' she war thar ter git
some seconds. I hev hearn women go off in high-strikes fer a lovyer's
death—even Mis' Simton, though hern was jes her husband, an 'a mighty
pore one at that. But Minta Elladine jes listened quiet an' composed, an'
never said one word."
The batten shutter was trembling in the ghost's hand. In fact, so
convulsive was his grasp that it shook the hook from the staple, and the
shutter slowly opened as he stood at gaze.
Perhaps it was the motion that attracted the attention of the dealer,
perhaps the influx of a current of fresh air. He lifted his casual
glance and beheld, distinct in the light from the kerosene lamp and
imposed on the white background of the mist, that familiar and
individual face, pallid, fixed, strange, with an expression that he had
never seen it wear hitherto. One moment of suspended faculties, and he
sprang up with a wild cry that filled the little shanty with its shrill
terror. The others gazed astounded upon him, then followed the direction
of his starting eyes, and echoed his frantic fright. There was a wild
scurry toward the door. The overturning of the lamp was imminent, but it
still burned calmly on the elevated hearth, while the shoeing-stool
capsized in the rush, and the red head of its lowly occupant was lowlier
still, rolling on the dirt floor. Even with this disadvantage, however,
he was not the hindmost, and reached the exit unhurt. The only specific
damage wrought by the panic was to the big barn-like doors of the place.
They had been stanchly barred against the possible intrusion of the
constable of the district, and the fastenings in so critical an
emergency could not be readily loosed. The united weight and impetus of
the onset burst the flimsy doors into fragments, and as the party fled
in devious directions in the misty moonlight, the calm radiance entered
at the wide-spread portal and illuminated the vacant place where late
had been so merry a crew.
THE UNITED WEIGHT AND IMPETUS OF THE ONSET BURST THE FLIMSY DOORS INTO FRAGMENTS
Walter Wyatt had known the time when the incident would have held an
incomparable relish for him. But now he gazed all forlorn into the empty
building with a single thought in his mind. "Not one of 'em keered a
mite! Nare good word, nare sigh, not even, 'Fare ye well, old mate!'"
His breast heaved, his eyes flashed.
"An' I hev loant money ter Jim, whenst I hed need myself; an' holped
George in the mill, when his wrist war sprained, without a cent o' pay;
an' took the blame when 'Dolphus war faulted by his dad fur lamin' the
horse-critter; an' stood back an' let Pete git the meat whenst we-uns
shot fur beef, bein' he hev got a wife an' chil'ren ter feed. All
leetle favors, but nare leetle word."
He had turned from the window and was tramping absently down the road,
all unmindful of the skulking methods of the spectral gentry. If he had
chanced to be observed, his little farce, that had yet an element of
tragedy in its presentation, must soon have reached its close. But the
fog hung about him like a cloak, and when the moon cast aside the
vapors, it was in a distant silver sheen illumining the far reaches of
the valley. Only when its light summoned forth a brilliant and glancing
reflection on a lower level, as if a thousand sabers were unsheathed at
a word, he recognized the proximity of the river and came to a sudden
"Whar is this fool goin'?" he demanded angrily of space. "To the
graveyard, I declar', ez ef I war a harnt fur true, an' buried sure
enough. An' I wish I war. I wish I war."
He realized, after a moment's consideration, that he had been
unconsciously actuated by the chance of meeting the wagon, returning by
this route from the cross-roads' store. He was tired, disheartened; his
spirit was spent; he would be glad of the lift. He reflected, however,
that he must needs wait some time, for this was the date of a
revival-meeting at the little church, and the distillers' wagon would
lag, that its belated night journey might not be subjected to the
scrutiny and comment of the church-goers. Indeed, even now Walter Wyatt
saw in the distance the glimmer of a lantern, intimating homeward-bound
worshipers not yet out of sight.
"The saints kep' it up late ter-night," he commented.
He resolved to wait till the roll of wheels should tell of the return of
the moonshiners' empty wagon.
He crossed the river on the little foot-bridge and took his way
languidly along the road toward the deserted church. He was close to the
hedge that grew thick and rank about the little inclosure when he
suddenly heard the sound of lamentation from within. He drew back
precipitately, with a sense of sacrilege, but the branches of the
unpruned growth had caught in his sleeve, and he sought to disengage the
cloth without such rustling stir as might disturb or alarm the mourner,
who had evidently lingered here, after the dispersal of the
congregation, for a moment's indulgence of grief and despair. He had a
glimpse through the shaking boughs and the flickering mist of a woman's
figure kneeling on the crude red clods of a new-made grave. A vague,
anxious wonder as to the deceased visited him, for in the sparsely
settled districts a strong community sense prevails. Suddenly in a
choking gust of sobs and burst of tears he recognized his own name in a
voice of which every inflection was familiar. For a moment his heart
seemed to stand still. His brain whirled with a realization of this
unforeseen result of the fantastic story of his death in Eskaqua Cove,
which the moonshiners, on the verge of detection and arrest, had
circulated in Tanglefoot as a measure of safety. They had fancied that
when the truth was developed it would be easy enough to declare the men
drunk or mistaken. The "revenuers" by that time would be far away, and
the pervasive security, always the sequence of a raid, successful or
otherwise, would once more promote the manufacture of the brush whisky.
The managers of the moonshining interest had taken measures to guard
Wyatt's aged father from this fantasy of woe, but they had not dreamed
that the mountain coquette might care. He himself stood appalled that
this ghastly fable should delude his heart's beloved, amazed that it
should cost her one sigh, one sob. Her racking paroxysms of grief over
this gruesome figment of a grave he was humiliated to hear, he was
woeful to see. He felt that he was not worth one tear of the floods with
which she bewept his name, uttered in every cadence of tender regret
that her melancholy voice could compass. It must cease, she must know
the truth at whatever cost. He broke through the hedge and stood in the
flicker of the moonlight before her, pale, agitated, all unlike his
She did not hear, amid the tumult of her weeping, the rustling of the
boughs, but some subtle sense took cognizance of his presence. She half
rose, and with one hand holding back her dense yellow hair, which had
fallen forward on her forehead, she looked up at him fearfully,
tremulously, with all the revolt of the corporeal creature for the
essence of the mysterious incorporeal. For a moment he could not speak.
So much he must needs explain. The next instant he was whelmed in the
avalanche of her words.
WITH ONE HAND HOLDING BACK HER DENSE YELLOW HAIR ... SHE LOOKED UP AT HIM
"Ye hev kem!" she exclaimed in a sort of shrill ecstasy. "Ye hev kem so
far ter hear the word that I would give my life ter hev said before. Ye
knowed it in heaven! An' how like ye ter kem ter gin me the chanst ter
say it at last! How like the good heart of ye, worth all the hearts on
yearth—an' buried hyar!"
With her open palm she smote the insensate clods with a gesture of
despair. Then she went on in a rising tide of tumultuous emotion. "I
love ye! Oh, I always loved ye! I never keered fur nobody else! An' I
war tongue-tied, an' full of fool pride, an' faultin' ye fur yer ways;
an' I wouldn't gin ye the word I knowed ye war wantin' ter hear. But now
I kin tell the pore ghost of ye—I kin tell the pore, pore ghost!"
She buried her swollen, tear-stained face in her hands, and shook her
head to and fro with the realization of the futility of late repentance.
As she once more lifted her eyes, she was obviously surprised to see him
still standing there, and the crisis seemed to restore to him the
faculty of speech.
"Minta Elladine," he said huskily and prosaically, "I ain't dead!"
She sprang to her feet and stood gazing at him, intent and quivering.
"I be truly alive an' kickin', an' ez worthless ez ever," he went on.
She said not a word, but bent and pallid, and, quaking in every muscle,
stood peering beneath her hand, which still held back her hair.
"It's all a mistake," he urged. "This ain't no grave. The top war dug a
leetle ter turn off a revenuer's suspicions o' the moonshiners. They put
that tale out."
Still, evidently on the verge of collapse, she did not speak.
"Ye needn't be afeared ez I be goin' ter take fur true all I hearn ye
say; folks air gin ter vauntin' the dead," he paused for a moment,
remembering the caustic comments over the deal of the cards, then added,
"though I reckon I hev hed some cur'ous 'speriences ez a harnt."
She suddenly threw up both arms with a shrill scream, half nervous
exhaustion, half inexpressible delight. She swayed to and fro, almost
fainting, her balance failing. He caught her in his arms, and she leaned
sobbing against his breast.
"I stand ter every word of it," she cried, her voice broken and lapsed
from control. "I love ye, an' I despise all the rest!"
"I be powerful wild," he suggested contritely.
"I ain't keerin' ef ye be ez wild ez a deer."
"But I'm goin' to quit gamesome company an' playin' kyerds an' sech. I
expec' ter mend my ways now," he promised eagerly.
"Ye kin mend 'em or let 'em stay tore, jes ez ye please," she declared
recklessly. "I ain't snatched my lovyer from the jaws o' death ter want
him otherwise; ye be plumb true-hearted, I know."
"I mought ez well hev been buried in this grave fer the last ten year'
fer all the use I hev been," he protested solemnly; "but I hev learnt a
lesson through bein' a harnt fer a while—I hev jes kem ter life. I'm
goin' ter live now. I'll make myself some use in the world, an' fust
off I be goin' ter hinder the murder of a man what they hev got trapped
up yander at the still."
This initial devoir of his reformation, however, Wyatt found no easy
matter. The event had been craftily planned to seem an accident, a fall
from a cliff in pursuing the wagon, and only the most ardent and cogent
urgency on Wyatt's part prevailed at length. He argued that this
interpretation of the disaster would not satisfy the authorities. To
take the raider's life insured discovery, retribution. But as he had
been brought to the still in the night, it was obvious that if he were
conveyed under cover of darkness and by roundabout trails within
striking distance of the settlements, he could never again find his way
to the locality in the dense wilderness. In his detention he had
necessarily learned nothing fresh, for the only names he could have
overheard had long been obnoxious to suspicion of moonshining, and
afforded no proof. Thus humanity, masquerading as caution, finally
triumphed, and the officer, blindfolded, was conducted through devious
and winding ways many miles distant, and released within a day's travel
of the county town.
Walter Wyatt was scarcely welcomed back to life by the denizens of the
cove generally with the enthusiasm attendant on the first moments of his
resuscitation, so to speak. He never forgot the solemn ecstasy of that
experience, and in later years he was wont to annul any menace of
discord with his wife by the warning, half jocose, half tender: "Ye hed
better mind; ye'll be sorry some day fur treatin' me so mean. Remember,
I hev viewed ye a-weepin' over my grave before now."
A reformation, however complete and salutary, works no change of
identity, and although he developed into an orderly, industrious,
law-abiding citizen, his prankish temperament remained recognizable in
the fantastic fables which he delighted to recount at some genial
fireside of what he had seen and heard as a ghost.
"'Pears like, Watt, ye hed more experiences whenst dead than living',"
said an auditor, as these stories multiplied.
"I did, fur a fack," Watt protested. "I war a powerful onchancy, onquiet
ghost. I even did my courtin' whilst in my reg'lar line o' business
a-harntin' a graveyard."