The Phantoms of the Foot-Bridge
And Other Stories
CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK
"IN THE 'STRANGER PEOPLE'S' COUNTRY" ETC.
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1895, by Harper & Brothers
All rights reserved.
|THE PHANTOMS OF THE FOOT-BRIDGE
|HIS "DAY IN COURT"
|'WAY DOWN IN LONESOME COVE
|THE MOONSHINERS AT HOHO-HEBEE FALLS
|THE RIDDLE OF THE ROCKS
THE PHANTOMS OF THE FOOT-BRIDGE
Across the narrow gorge the little foot-bridge stretched—a brace
of logs, the upper surface hewn, and a slight hand-rail formed of a
cedar pole. A flimsy structure, one might think, looking down at the
dark and rocky depths beneath, through which flowed the mountain stream,
swift and strong, but it was doubtless substantial enough for all
ordinary usage, and certainly sufficient for the imponderable and
elusive travellers who by common report frequented it.
"We ain't likely ter meet nobody. Few folks kem this way nowadays,
'thout it air jes' ter ford the creek down along hyar a piece, sence
harnts an' sech onlikely critters hev been viewed a-crossin' the
foot-bredge. An' it hev got the name o' bein' toler'ble onlucky, too,"
His interlocutor drew back slightly. He had his own reasons to recoil
from the subject of death. For him it was invested with a more immediate
terror than is usual to many of the living, with that flattering
persuasion of immortality in every strong pulsation repudiating all
possibility of cessation. Then, lifting his gloomy, long-lashed eyes to
the bridge far up the stream, he asked, "Whose 'harnts'?"
His voice had a low, repressed cadence, as of one who speaks seldom,
grave, even melancholy, and little indicative of the averse interest
that had kindled in his sombre eyes. In comparison the drawl of the
mountaineer, who had found him heavy company by the way, seemed imbued
with an abnormal vivacity, and keyed a tone or two higher than was its
"Thar ain't a few," he replied, with a sudden glow of the pride of the
cicerone. "Thar's a graveyard t'other side o' the gorge, an' not more
than a haffen-mile off, an' a cornsider'ble passel o' folks hev been
buried thar off an' on, an' the foot-bredge ain't in nowise
ill-convenient ter them."
Thus demonstrating the spectral resources of the locality, he rode his
horse well into the stream as he spoke, and dropped the reins that the
animal's impatient lips might reach the water. He sat facing the
foot-bridge, flecked with the alternate shifting of the sunshine and the
shadows of the tremulous firs that grew on either side of the high banks
on the ever-ascending slope, thus arching both above and below the
haunted bridge. His companion had joined him in the centre of the
stream; but while the horses drank, the stranger's eyes were
persistently bent on the concentric circles of the water that the
movement of the animals had set astir in the current, as if he feared
that too close or curious a gaze might discern some pilgrim, whom he
cared not to see, traversing that shadowy quivering foot-bridge. He was
mounted on a strong, handsome chestnut, as marked a contrast to his
guide's lank and trace-galled sorrel as were the two riders. A
slender gloved hand had fallen with the reins to the pommel of the
saddle. His soft felt hat, like a sombrero, shadowed his clear-cut face.
He was carefully shaven, save for a long drooping dark mustache and
imperial. His suit of dark cloth was much concealed by a black cloak,
one end of which thrown back across his shoulder showed a bright blue
lining, the color giving a sudden heightening touch to his attire, as if
he were "in costume." It was a fleeting fashion of the day, but it added
a certain picturesqueness to a horseman, and seemed far enough from the
times that produced the square-tailed frock-coat which the mountaineer
wore, constructed of brown jeans, the skirts of which stood stiffly out
on each side of the saddle, and gave him, with his broad-brimmed hat, a
certain Quakerish aspect.
"I dun'no' why folks be so 'feared of 'em," Roxby remarked,
speculatively. "The dead ain't so oncommon, nohow. Them ez hev been in
the war, like you an' me done, oughter be in an' 'bout used ter
corpses—though I never seen none o' 'em afoot agin. Lookin' at a
smit field o' battle, arter the rage is jes' passed, oughter gin a body
a realizin' sense how easy the sperit kin flee, an' what pore vessels
fur holdin' the spark o' life human clay be."
Simeon Roxby had a keen, not unkindly face, and he had that look of
extreme intelligence which is entirely distinct from intellectuality,
and which one sometimes sees in a minor degree in a very clever dog or a
fine horse. One might rely on him to understand instinctively everything
one might say to him, even in its subtler æsthetic values,
although he had consciously learned little. He was of the endowed
natures to whom much is given, rather than of those who are set to
acquire. He had many lines in his face—even his simple life had
gone hard with him, its sorrows unassuaged by its simplicity. His hair
was grizzled, and hung long and straight on his collar. He wore a
grizzled beard cut broad and short. His boots had big spurs, although
the lank old sorrel had never felt them. He sat his horse like the
cavalryman he had been for four years of hard riding and raiding, but
his face had a certain gentleness that accented the Quaker-like
suggestion of his garb, a look of communing with the higher things.
"I never blamed 'em," he went on, evidently reverting to the spectres of
the bridge—"I never blamed 'em for comin' back wunst in a while.
It 'pears ter me 'twould take me a long time ter git familiar with
heaven, an' sociable with them ez hev gone before. An', my Lord, jes'
think what the good green yearth is! Leastwise the mountings. I ain't
settin' store on the valley lands I seen whenst I went ter the wars. I
kin remember yit what them streets in the valley towns smelt like."
He lifted his head, drawing a long breath to inhale the exquisite
fragrance of the fir, the freshness of the pellucid water, the aroma of
the autumn wind, blowing through the sere leaves still clinging red and
yellow to the boughs of the forest.
"Naw, I ain't blamin' 'em, though I don't hanker ter view 'em," he
resumed. "One of 'em I wouldn't be afeard of, though. I feel mighty
sorry fur her. The old folks used ter tell about her. A young 'oman
she war, a-crossin' this bredge with her child in her arms. She war
young, an' mus' have been keerless, I reckon; though ez 'twar her fust
baby, she moughtn't hev been practised in holdin' it an' sech, an'
somehows it slipped through her arms an' fell inter the ruver, an' war
killed in a minit, dashin' agin the rocks. She jes' stood fur a second
a-screamin' like a wild painter, an' jumped off'n the bredge arter it.
She got it agin; for when they dragged her body out'n the ruver she hed
it in her arms too tight fur even death ter onloose. An' thar they air
together in the buryin'-ground."
He gave a nod toward the slope of the mountain that intercepted the
melancholy view of the graveyard.
"Got it yit!" he continued; "bekase" (he lowered his voice) "on windy
nights, whenst the moon is on the wane, she is viewed kerryin' the baby
along the bredge—kerryin' it clear over, safe an' sound, like
she thought she oughter done, I reckon, in that one minute, whilst she
stood an' screamed an' surveyed what she hed done. That child would hev
been nigh ter my age ef he hed lived."
Only the sunbeams wavered athwart the bridge now as the firs swayed
above, giving glimpses of the sky, and their fibrous shadows flickered
back and forth. The wild mountain stream flashed white between the brown
bowlders, and plunged down the gorge in a succession of cascades, each
seeming more transparently green and amber and brown than the other. The
chestnut horse gazed meditatively at these limpid out-gushings, having
drunk his fill; then thought better of his moderation, and once more
thrust his head down to the water. The hand of his rider, which had made
a motion to gather up the reins, dropped leniently on his neck, as
Simeon Roxby spoke again:
"Several—several others hev been viewed, actin' accordin' ter thar
motions in life. Now thar war a peddler—some say he slipped one
icy evenin', 'bout dusk in winter—some say evil ones waylaid him
fur his gear an' his goods in his pack, but the settlemint mostly
believes he war alone whenst he fell. His pack 'pears ter be full still,
they say—but ye air 'bleeged ter know he hev hed ter set that pack
down fur good 'fore this time. We kin take nuthin' out'n this world, no
matter what kind o' a line o' goods we kerry in life. Heaven's no place
fur tradin', I understan', an' I do wonder sometimes how in the worl'
them merchants an' sech in the valley towns air goin' ter entertain
tharse'fs in the happy land o'Canaan. It's goin' ter be sorter bleak fur
them, sure's ye air born."
With a look of freshened recollection, he suddenly drew a plug of
tobacco from his pocket, and he talked on even as he gnawed a piece from
"Durin' the war a cavalry-man got shot out hyar whilst runnin' 'crost
that thar foot-bredge. Thar hed been a scrimmage an' his horse war kilt,
an' he tuk ter the bresh on foot, hopin' ter hide in the laurel. But ez
he war crossin' the foot-bredge some o' the pursuin' party war fordin'
the ruver over thar, an' thinkin' he'd make out ter escape they fired on
him, jes' ez the feller tried ter surrender. He turned this way an'
flung up both arms—but thar's mighty leetle truce in a
pistol-ball. That minute it tuk him right through the brain. Seems
toler'ble long range fur a pistol, don't it? He kin be viewed now most
enny moonlight night out hyar on the foot-bredge, throwin' up both hands
in sign of surrender."
The wild-geese were a-wing on the way southward. Looking up to that
narrow section of the blue sky which the incision of the gorge into the
very depths of the woods made visible, he could see the tiny files
deploying along the azure or the flecking cirrus, and hear the vague
clangor of their leader's cry. He lifted his head to mechanically follow
their flight. Then, as his eyes came back to earth, they rested again on
the old bridge.
"Strange enough," he said, suddenly, "the skerriest tale I hev ever
hearn 'bout that thar old bredge is one that my niece set a-goin'. She
seen the harnt herself, an' it shakes me wuss 'n the idee o' all the
His companion's gloomy gaze was lifted for a moment with an expression
of inquiry from the slowly widening circles of the water about the
horse's head as he drank. But Roxby's eyes, with a certain gleam of
excitement, a superstitious dilation, still dwelt upon the bridge at the
end of the upward vista. He went on merely from the impetus of the
subject. "Yes, sir—she seen it a-pacin' of its sorrowful way
acrost that bredge, same ez the t'others of the percession o' harnts.
'Twar my niece, Mill'cent—brother's darter—by name,
Mill'cent Roxby. Waal, Mill'cent an' a lot o' young fools o' her
age—little over fryin' size—they 'tended camp-meetin' down
hyar on Tomahawk Creek—'tain't so long ago—along with
the old folks. An' 'bout twenty went huddled up tergether in a
road-wagin. An', lo! the wagin it bruk down on the way home, an' what
with proppin' it up on a crotch, they made out ter reach the cross-roads
over yander at the Notch, an' thar the sober old folks called a halt,
an' hed the wagin mended at the blacksmith-shop. Waal, it tuk some two
hours, fur Pete Rodd ain't a-goin' ter hurry hisself—in my opinion
the angel Gabriel will hev ter blow his bugle oftener'n wunst at the
last day 'fore Pete Rodd makes up his mind ter rise from the dead an'
answer the roll-call—an' this hyar young lot sorter found it
tiresome waitin' on thar elders' solemn company. The old folks, whilst
waitin', set outside on the porches of the houses at the settlemint, an'
repeated some o' the sermons they hed hearn at camp, an' more'n one
raised a hyme chune. An' the young fry—they hed hed a steady diet
o' sermons an' hyme chunes fur fower days—they tuk ter stragglin'
off down the road, two an' two, like the same sorter idjits the world
over, leavin' word with the old folks that the wagin would overtake 'em
an' pick 'em up on the road when it passed. Waal, they walked several
mile, an' time they got ter the crest o' the hill over yander the moon
hed riz, an' they could look down an' see the mist in the valley. The
moon war bright in the buryin'-groun' when they passed it, an' the
head-boards stood up white an' stiff, an' a light frost hed fell on the
mounds, an' they showed plain, an' shone sorter lonesome an' cold. The
young folks begun ter look behind em' fur the wagin. Some
said—I b'lieve 'twar Em'ry Keenan—they could read the names
on the boards plain, 'twar so light, the moon bein' nigh the full: but
Em'ry never read nuthin' at night by the moon in his life; he ain't enny
too capable o' wrastlin' with the alphabet with a strong daytime on his
book ter light him ter knowledge. An' the shadows war black an' still,
an' all the yearth looked ez ef nuthin' lived nor ever would agin, an'
they hearn a wolf howl. Waal, that disaccommodated the gals mightily,
an' they hed a heap more interes' in that old wagin, all smellin' rank
with wagin-grease an' tar, than they did in thar lovyers; an' they hed
ruther hev hearn that old botch of a wheel that Pete Rodd hed set onto
it comin' a-creakin' an' a-complainin' along the road than the sweetest
words them boys war able ter make up or remember. So they stood thar in
the road—a-stare-gazin' them head-boards, like they expected every
grave ter open an' the reveilly ter sound—a-waitin' ter be
overtook by the wagin, a-listenin', but hearin' nuthin' in the silence
o' the frost—not a dead leaf a-twirlin', nor a frozen blade o'
grass astir. An' then two or three o' the gals 'lowed they hed ruther
walk back ter meet the wagin, an' whenst the boys 'lowed ter go
on—nuthin' war likely ter ketch 'em—one of 'em bust out
a-cryin'. Waal, thar war the eend o' that much! So the gay party set out
on the back track, a-keepin' step ter sobs an' sniffles, an' that's how
kem they seen no harnt. But Mill'cent an' three or four o' the
t'others 'lowed they'd go on. They warn't two mile from home, an' full
five from the cross-roads. So Em'ry Keenan—he hev been
waitin' on her sence the year one—so he put his skeer in his
pocket an' kem along with her, a-shakin' in his shoes, I'll be bound! So
down the hill in the frosty moonlight them few kem—purty nigh beat
out, I reckon, Mill'cent war, what with the sermonizin' an' the
hyme-singin' an' hevin' ter look continual at the sheep's-eyes o' Em'ry
Keenan—he wears my patience ter the bone! So she concluded ter
take the short-cut. An' Em'ry he agreed. So they tuk the lead, the rest
a followin', an' kem down thar through all that black growth"—he
lifted his arm and pointed at the great slope, dense with fir and pine
and the heavy underbrush—"keepin' the bridle-path—easy
enough even at night, fur the bresh is so thick they couldn't lose thar
way. But the moonlight war mightily slivered up, fallin' through the
needles of the pines an' the skeins of dead vines, an' looked bleached
and onnatural, an' holped the dark mighty leetle. An' they seen the
water a-shinin' an' a-plungin' down the gorge, an' the glistenin' of the
frost on the floor o' the bredge. Thar war a few icicles on the
hand-rail, an' the branches o' the firs hung ez still ez death; only
that cold, racin', shoutin', jouncin' water moved. Jes ez they got
toler'ble nigh the foot-bredge a sudden cloud kem over the face o' the
sky. Thar warn't no wind on the yearth, but up above the air war
a-stirrin'. An' Em'ry he 'lowed Mill'cent shouldn't cross the
foot-bredge whilst the light warn't clar—I wonder the critter hed
that much sense! An' she jes' drapped down on that rock thar ter
rest"—he pointed up the slope to a great fragment that had broken
off from the ledges and lay near the bank: the bulk of the mass
was overgrown with moss and lichen, but the jagged edges of the recent
fracture gleamed white and crystalline among the brown and olive-green
shadows about it. A tree was close beside it. "Agin that thar pine trunk
Em'ry he stood an' leaned. The rest war behind, a-comin' down the hill.
An' all of a suddenty a light fell on the furder eend o' the
foot-bredge—a waverin' light, mighty white an' misty in the
darksomeness. Mill'cent 'lowed ez fust she thunk it war the moon. An'
lookin' up, she seen the cloud; it held the moon close kivered. An'
lookin' down, she seen the light war movin'—movin' from the furder
eend o' the bredge, straight acrost it. Sometimes a hand war held afore
it, ez ef ter shield it from the draught, an' then Mill'cent 'seen twar
a candle, an' the white in the mistiness war a 'oman wearin' white an'
carryin' it. Lookin' ter right an' then ter lef' the 'oman kem, with now
her right hand shieldin' the candle she held, an' now layin' it on the
hand-rail. The candle shone on the water, fur it didn't flare, an' when
the 'oman held her hand before it the light made a bright spot on the
foot-bredge an' in the dark air about her, an' on the fir branches over
her head. An' a thin mist seemed to hang about her white frock, but not
over her face, fur when she reached the middle o' the foot-bredge she
laid her hand agin on the rail, an' in the clear light o' the candle
Mill'cent seen the harnt's face. An' thar she beheld her own face; her
own face she looked upon ez she waited thar under the tree watchin' the
foot-bredge; her own face pale an' troubled; her own self dressed
in white, crossin' the foot-bredge, an' lightin' her steps with a
corpse's candle." He drew up the reins abruptly. He seemed in sudden
haste to go.
THE PHANTOM OF THE FOOT-BRIDGE
His companion looked with deepening interest at the bridge, although he
followed his guide's surging pathway to the opposite bank. As the two
dripping horses struggled up the steep incline he asked, "Did the man
with her see the manifestation also?"
"He 'lows he did," responded Roxby, equivocally. "But when Mill'cent
fust got so she could tell it, 'peared ter me ez Em'ry Keenan fund it ez
much news ez the rest o' we-uns. Mill'cent jes' drapped stone-dead,
accordin' ter all accounts, an' he an' the t'other young folks flung
water in her face till she kem out'n her faint; an' jes' then they hearn
the wagin a-rattlin' along the road, an' they stopped it an' fetched her
home in it. She never told the tale till she war home, an' it skeered me
an' my mother powerful, fur Mill'cent is all the kin we hev got.
Mill'cent is gran'daddy an' gran'mammy, sons an' daughters, uncles an'
aunts, cousins, nieces, an' nephews, all in one. The only thing I ain't
pervided with is a nephew-in-law, an' I don't need him. Leastwise I
ain't lookin' fur Em'ry Keenan jes' at present."
The pace was brisker when the two horses, bending their strength
sturdily to the task, had pressed up the massive slope from the deep
cleft of the gorge. As the road curved about the outer verge of the
mountain, the valley far beneath came into view, with intersecting
valleys and transverse ranges, dense with the growths of primeval
wildernesses, and rugged with the tilted strata of great upheavals,
and with chasms cut in the solid rock by centuries of erosion, traces of
some remote cataclysmal period, registering thus its throes and
turmoils. The blue sky, seen beyond a gaunt profile of one of the
farther summits that defined its craggy serrated edge against the
ultimate distances of the western heavens, seemed of a singularly suave
tint, incongruous with the savagery of the scene, which clouds and
portents of storm might better have befitted. The little graveyard,
which John Dundas discerned with recognizing eyes, albeit they had never
before rested upon it, was revealed suddenly, lying high on the opposite
side of the gorge. No frost glimmered now on the lowly mounds; the
flickering autumnal sunshine loitered unafraid among them, according to
its languid wont for many a year. Shadows of the gray unpainted
head-boards lay on the withered grass, brown and crisp, with never a
cicada left to break the deathlike silence. A tuft of red leaves,
vagrant in the wind, had been caught on one of the primitive monuments,
and swayed there with a decorative effect. The enclosure seemed, to
unaccustomed eyes, of small compass, and few the denizens who had found
shelter here and a resting-place, but it numbered all the dead of the
country-side for many a mile and many a year, and somehow the loneliness
was assuaged to a degree by the reflection that they had known each
other in life, unlike the great herds of cities, and that it was a
common fate which the neighbors, huddled together, encountered in
It had no discordant effect in the pervasive sense of gloom, of mighty
antagonistic forces with which the scene was replete; it fostered a
realization of the pitiable minuteness and helplessness of human nature
in the midst of the vastness of inanimate nature and the evidences of
infinite lengths of forgotten time, of the long reaches of unimagined
history, eventful, fateful, which the landscape at once suggested and
revealed and concealed.
Like the sudden flippant clatter of castanets in the pause of some
solemn funeral music was the impression given by the first glimpse along
the winding woodland way of a great flimsy white building, with its many
pillars, its piazzas, its "observatory," its band-stand, its garish
intimations of the giddy, gay world of a summer hotel. But, alack! it,
too, had its surfeit of woe.
"The guerrillas an' bushwhackers tuk it out on the old hotel, sure!"
observed Sim Roxby, by way of introduction. "Thar warn't much fightin'
hyar-abouts, an' few sure-enough soldiers ever kem along. But wunst in a
while a band o' guerrillas went through like a suddint wind-storm, an' I
tell ye they made things whurl while they war about it. They made a
sorter barracks o' the old place. Looks some like lightning hed struck
He had reined up his horse about one hundred yards in front of the
edifice, where the weed-grown gravelled drive—carefully tended ten
years agone—had diverged from the straight avenue of poplars,
sweeping in a circle around to the broad flight of steps.
"Though," he qualified abruptly, as if a sudden thought had struck
him, "ef ye air countin' on buyin' it, a leetle money spent ter keerful
purpose will go a long way toward makin' it ez good ez new."
His companion did not reply, and for the first time Roxby cast upon him
a covert glance charged with the curiosity which would have been earlier
and more easily aroused in another man by the manner of the stranger. A
letter—infrequent missive in his experience—had come from an
ancient companion-in-arms, his former colonel, requesting him in behalf
of a friend of the old commander to repair to the railway station,
thirty miles distant, to meet and guide this prospective purchaser of
the old hotel to the site of the property. And now as Roxby looked at
him the suspicion which his kind heart had not been quick to entertain
was seized upon by his alert brain.
"The cunnel's been fooled somehows," he said to himself.
For the look with which John Dundas contemplated the place was not the
gaze of him concerned with possible investment—with the problems
of repair, the details of the glazier and the painter and the plasterer.
The mind was evidently neither braced for resistance nor resigned to
despair, as behooves one smitten by the foreknowledge of the certainty
of the excess of the expenditures over the estimates. Only with pensive,
listless melancholy, void of any intention, his eyes traversed the long
rows of open doors, riven by rude hands from their locks, swinging
helplessly to and fro in the wind, and giving to the deserted and
desolate old place a spurious air of motion and life. Many of the
shutters had been wrenched from their hinges, and lay rotting on the
floors. The ball-room windows caught on their shattered glass the
reflection of the clouds, and it seemed as if here and there a wan face
looked through at the riders wending along the weed-grown path. Where so
many faces had been what wonder that a similitude should linger in the
loneliness! The pallid face seemed to draw back as they glanced up while
slowly pacing around the drive. A rabbit sitting motionless on the front
piazza did not draw back, although observing them with sedate eyes as he
poised himself upright on his haunches, with his listless fore-paws
suspended in the air, and it occurred to Dundas that he was probably
unfamiliar with the presence of human beings, and had never heard the
crack of a gun. A great swirl of swallows came soaring out of the big
kitchen chimneys and circled in the sky, darting down again and again
upward. Through an open passage was a glimpse of a quadrangle, with its
weed-grown spaces and litter of yellow leaves. A tawny streak, a red
fox, sped through it as Dundas looked. A half-moon, all a-tilt, hung
above it. He saw the glimmer through the bare boughs of the leafless
locust-trees here and there still standing, although outside on the lawn
many a stump bore token how ruthlessly the bushwhackers had furnished
"That thar moon's a-hangin' fur rain," said the mountaineer, commenting
upon the aspect of the luminary, which he, too, had noticed as they
passed. "I ain't s'prised none ef we hev fallin' weather agin 'fore
day, an' the man—by name Morgan Holden—that hev charge o'
the hotel property can't git back fur a week an' better."
A vague wonder to find himself so suspicious flitted through his mind,
with the thought that perhaps the colonel might have reckoned on this
delay. "Surely the ruvers down yander at Knoxville mus' be a-boomin',
with all this wet weather," he said to himself.
Then aloud: "Morgan Holden he went ter Colbury ter 'tend ter some
business in court, an' the ruvers hev riz so that, what with the bredges
bein' washed away an' the fords so onsartain an' tricky, he'll stay till
the ruver falls. He don't know ye war kemin', ye see. The mail-rider hev
quit, 'count o' the rise in the ruver, an' thar's no way ter git word
ter him. Still, ef ye air minded ter wait, I'll be powerful obligated
fur yer comp'ny down ter my house till the ruver falls an' Holden he
The stranger murmured his obligations, but his eyes dwelt lingeringly
upon the old hotel, with its flapping doors and its shattered windows.
Through the recurrent vistas of these, placed opposite in the rooms,
came again broken glimpses of the grassy space within the quadrangle,
with its leafless locust-trees, first of all to yield their foliage to
the autumn wind, where a tiny owl was shrilling stridulously under the
lonely red sky and the melancholy moon.
"Hed ye 'lowed ter put up at the old hotel?" asked Roxby, some inherent
quickness supplying the lack of a definite answer.
For the first time the stranger turned upon him a look more expressive
than the casual fragmentary attention with which he had half
heeded, half ignored his talk since their first encounter at the railway
"A simple fellow, but good as gold," was the phrase with which Simeon
Roxby had been commended as guide and in some sort guard.
"Not so simple, perhaps," the sophisticated man thought as their eyes
met. Not so simple but that the truth must serve. "The colonel suggested
that it might be best," he replied, more alert to the present moment
than his languid preoccupation had heretofore permitted.
The answer was good as far as it went. A few days spent in the old
hostelry certainly would serve well to acquaint the prospective
purchaser with its actual condition and the measures and means needed
for its repair; but as Sim Roxby stood there, with the cry of the owl
shrilling in the desert air, the lonely red sky, the ominous tilted
moon, the doors drearily flapping to and fro as the wind stole into the
forlorn and empty place and sped back affrighted, he marvelled at the
"I believe there is some of the furniture here yet. We could contrive to
set up a bed from what is left. The colonel could make it all right with
Holden, and I could stay a day or two, as we originally planned."
"Ye-es. I don't mind Holden: a man ain't much in charge of a place ez
ain't got a lock or a key ter bless itself with, an' takes the owel an'
the fox an' the gopher fur boarders; but, ennyhow, kem with me home ter
supper. Mill'cent will hev it ready by now ennyhows, an' ye need
suthin' hearty an' hot ter stiffen ye up ter move inter sech quarters ez
these." Dundas hesitated, but the mountaineer had already taken assent
for granted, and pushed his horse into a sharp trot. Evidently a refusal
was not in order. Dundas pressed forward, and they rode together along
the winding way past the ten-pin alley, its long low roof half hidden in
the encroaching undergrowth springing up apace beneath the great trees;
past the stables; past a line of summer cottages, strangely staring of
aspect out of the yawning doors and windows, giving, instead of an
impression of vacancy, a sense of covert watching, of secret occupancy.
If one's glances were only quick enough, were there not faces pressed to
those shattered panes—scarcely seen—swiftly withdrawn?
He was in a desert; he had hardly been so utterly alone in all his life;
yet he bore through the empty place a feeling of espionage, and ever and
anon he glanced keenly at the overgrown lawns, with their deepening
drifts of autumn leaves, at the staring windows and flaring doors, which
emitted sometimes sudden creaking wails in the silence, as if he sought
to assure himself of the vacancy of which his mind took cognizance and
yet all his senses denied.
Little of his sentiment, although sedulously cloaked, was lost on Sim
Roxby; and he was aware, too, in some subtle way, of the relief his
guest experienced when they plunged into the darkening forest and left
the forlorn place behind them. The clearing in which it was situated
seemed an oasis of light in the desert of night in which the rest
of the world lay. From the obscurity of the forest Dundas saw, through
the vistas of the giant trees, the clustering cottages, the great hotel,
gables and chimneys and tower, stark and distinct as in some weird
dream-light in the midst of the encircling gloom. The after-glow of
sunset was still aflare on the western windows; the whole empty place
was alight with a reminiscence of its old aspect—its old gay life.
Who knows what memories were a-stalk there—what semblance of
former times? What might not the darkness foster, the impunity of
desertion, the associations that inhabited the place with almost the
strength of human occupancy itself? Who knows—who knows?
He remembered the scene afterward, the impression he received. And from
this, he thought, arose his regret for his decision to take up here his
The forest shut out the illumined landscape, and the night seemed indeed
at hand; the gigantic boles of the trees loomed through the encompassing
gloom, that was yet a semi-transparent medium, like some dark but clear
fluid through which objects were dimly visible, albeit tinged with its
own sombre hue. The lank, rawboned sorrel had set a sharp pace, to which
the chestnut, after momentary lagging, as if weary with the day's
travel, responded briskly. He had received in some way intimations that
his companion's corn-crib was near at hand, and if he had not deduced
from these premises the probability of sharing his fare, his mental
processes served him quite as well as reason, and brought him to the
same result. On and on they sped, neck and neck, through the darkening
woods; fire flashed now and again from their iron-shod hoofs; often a
splash and a shower of drops told of a swift dashing through the
mud-holes that recent rains had fostered in the shallows. The dank odor
of dripping boughs came on the clear air. Once the chestnut shied from a
sudden strange shining point springing up in the darkness close at hand,
which the country-bred horse discriminated as fox-fire, and kept
steadily on, unmindful of the rotting log where it glowed. Far in
advance, in the dank depths of the woods, a Will-o'-the-wisp danced and
flickered and lured the traveller's eye. The stranger was not sure of
the different quality of another light, appearing down a vista as the
road turned, until the sorrel, making a tremendous spurt, headed for it,
uttering a joyous neigh at the sight.
The deep-voiced barking of hounds rose melodiously on the silence, and
as the horses burst out of the woods into a small clearing, Dundas
beheld in the brighter light a half-dozen of the animals nimbly afoot in
the road, one springing over the fence, another in the act of climbing,
his fore-paws on the topmost rail, his long neck stretched, and his head
turning about in attitudes of observation. He evidently wished to assure
himself whether the excitement of his friends was warranted by the facts
before he troubled himself to vault over the fence. Three or four still
lingered near the door of a log-cabin, fawning about a girl who stood on
the porch. Her pose was alert, expectant; a fire in the dooryard,
where the domestic manufacture of soap had been in progress, cast a red
flare on the house, its appurtenances, the great dark forest looming all
around, and, more than the glow of the hearth within, lighted up the
central figure of the scene. She was tall, straight, and strong; a
wealth of fair hair was clustered in a knot at the back of her head, and
fleecy tendrils fell over her brow; on it was perched a soldier's cap;
and certainly more gallant and fearless eyes had never looked out from
under the straight, stiff brim. Her chin, firm, round, dimpled, was
uplifted as she raised her head, descrying the horsemen's approach. She
wore a full dark-red skirt, a dark brown waist, and around her neck was
twisted a gray cotton kerchief, faded to a pale ashen hue, the
neutrality of which somehow aided the delicate brilliancy of the blended
roseate and pearly tints of her face. Was this the seer of
ghosts—Dundas marvelled—this the Millicent whose pallid and
troubled phantom already paced the foot-bridge?
He did not realize that he had drawn up his horse suddenly at the sight
of her, nor did he notice that his host had dismounted, until Roxby was
at the chestnut's head, ready to lead the animal to supper in the barn.
His evident surprise, his preoccupation, were not lost upon Roxby,
however. His hand hesitated on the girth of the chestnut's saddle when
he stood between the two horses in the barn. He had half intended to
disregard the stranger's declination of his invitation, and stable the
creature. Then he shook his head slowly; the mystery that hung
about the new-comer was not reassuring. "A heap o' wuthless cattle
'mongst them valley men," he said; for the war had been in some sort an
education to his simplicity. "Let him stay whar the cunnel expected him
ter stay. I ain't wantin' no stranger a-hangin' round about Mill'cent,
nohow. Em'ry Keenan ain't a pattern o' perfection, but I be toler'ble
well acquainted with the cut o' his foolishness, an' I know his daddy
an' mammy, an' both sets o' gran'daddies an' gran'mammies, an' I could
tell ye exac'ly which one the critter got his nose an' his mouth from,
an' them lean sheep's-eyes o' his'n, an' nigh every tone o' his voice.
Em'ry never thunk afore ez I set store on bein' acquainted with him. He
'lowed I knowed him too well."
He laughed as he glanced through the open door into the darkening
landscape. Horizontal gray clouds were slipping fast across the pearly
spaces of the sky. The yellow stubble gleamed among the brown earth of
the farther field, still striped with its furrows. The black forest
encircled the little cleared space, and a wind was astir among the
tree-tops. A white star gleamed through the broken clapboards of the
roof, the fire still flared under the soap-kettle in the dooryard, and
the silence was suddenly smitten by a high cracked old voice, which told
him that his mother had perceived the dismounted stranger at the gate,
and was graciously welcoming him.
She had come to the door, where the girl still stood, but half withdrawn
in the shadow. Dundas silently bowed as he passed her, following his
aged hostess into the low room, all bedight with the firelight of a
huge chimney-place, and comfortable with the realization of a journey's
end. The wilderness might stretch its weary miles around, the weird wind
wander in the solitudes, the star look coldly on unmoved by aught it
beheld, the moon show sad portents, but at the door they all failed, for
here waited rest and peace and human companionship and the sense of
"Take a cheer, stranger, an' make yerself at home. Powerful glad ter see
ye—war 'feard night would overtake ye. Ye fund the water toler'ble
high in all the creeks an' sech, I reckon, an' fords shifty an'
onsartain. Yes, sir. Fall rains kem on earlier'n common, an' more'n we
need. Wisht we could divide it with that thar drought we had in the
summer. Craps war cut toler'ble short, sir—toler'ble short."
Mrs. Roxby's spectacles beamed upon him with an expression of the utmost
benignity as the firelight played on the lenses, but her eyes peering
over them seemed endowed in some sort with independence of outlook. It
was as if from behind some bland mask a critical observation was poised
for unbiased judgment. He felt in some degree under surveillance. But
when a light step heralded an approach he looked up, regardless of the
betrayal of interest, and bent a steady gaze upon Millicent as she
paused in the doorway.
And as she stood there, distinct in the firelight and outlined against
the black background of the night, she seemed some modern half-military
ideal of Diana, with her two gaunt hounds beside her, the rest of
the pack vaguely glimpsed at her heels outside, the perfect outline and
chiselling of her features, her fine, strong, supple figure, the look of
steady courage in her eyes, and the soldier's cap on her fair hair. Her
face so impressed itself upon his mind that he seemed to have seen her
often. It was some resemblance to a picture of a vivandière,
doubtless, in a foreign gallery—he could not say when or where; a
remnant of a tourist's overcrowded impressions; a half-realized
reminiscence, he thought, with an uneasy sense of recognition.
"Hello, Mill'cent! home agin!" Roxby cried, in cheery greeting as he
entered at the back door opposite. "What sorter topknot is that ye got
on?" he demanded, looking jocosely at her head-gear.
The girl put up her hand with an expression of horror. A deep red flush
dyed her cheek as she touched the cap. "I forgot 'twar thar," she
murmured, contritely. Then, with a sudden rush of anger as she tore it
off: "'Twar granny's fault. She axed me ter put it on, so ez ter see
which one I looked most like."
"Stranger," quavered the old woman, with a painful break in her voice,
"I los' fower sons in the war, an' Mill'cent hev got the fambly favor."
"Ye mought hev let me know ez I war a-perlitin' round in this hyar
men's gear yit," the girl muttered, as she hung the cap on a prong of
the deer antlers on which rested the rifle of the master of the house.
Roxby's face had clouded at the mention of the four sons who had gone
out from the mountains never to return, leaving to their mother's
aching heart only the vague comfort of an elusive resemblance in a
girl's face; but as he noted Millicent's pettish manner, and divined her
mortification because of her unseemly head-gear in the stranger's
presence, he addressed her again in that jocose tone without which he
seldom spoke to her.
"Warn't you-uns apologizin' ter me t'other day fur not bein' a nephew
'stiddier a niece? Looked sorter like a nephew ter-night."
She shook her head, covered now only with its own charming tresses
waving in thick undulations to the coil at the nape of her neck—a
trifle dishevelled from the rude haste with which the cap had been torn
Roxby had seated himself, and with his elbows on his knees he looked up
at her with a teasing jocularity, such as one might assume toward a
"Ye war," he declared, with affected solemnity—"ye war
'pologizin' fur not bein' a nephew, an' 'lowed ef ye war a nephew we
could go a-huntin' tergether, an' ye could holp me in all my quar'ls an'
fights. I been aging some lately, an' ef I war ter go ter the settlemint
an' git inter a fight I mought not be able ter hold my own. Think what
'twould be ter a pore old man ter hev a dutiful nephew step up
an'"—he doubled his fists and squared off—"jes' let daylight
through some o' them cusses. An' didn't ye say"—he dropped his
belligerent attitude and pointed an insistent finger at her, as if to
fix the matter in her recollection—"ef ye war a nephew 'stiddier a
niece ye could fire a gun 'thout shettin' yer eyes? An' I told ye
then ez that would mend yer aim mightily. I told ye that I'd be powerful
mortified ef I hed a nephew ez hed ter shet his eyes ter keep the noise
out'n his ears whenst he fired a rifle. The tale would go mighty hard
with me at the settlemint."
The girl's eyes glowed upon him with the fixity and the lustre of those
of a child who is entertained and absorbed by an elder's jovial wiles. A
flash of laughter broke over her face, and the low, gurgling,
half-dreamy sound was pleasant to hear. She was evidently no more than a
child to these bereft old people, and by them cherished as naught else
"An' didn't I tell you-uns," he went on, affecting to warm to the
discussion, and in reality oblivious of the presence of the
guest—"didn't I tell ye ez how ef ye war a nephew 'stiddier a
niece ye wouldn't hev sech cattle ez Em'ry Keenan a-danglin' round
underfoot, like a puppy ye can't gin away, an' that won't git lost,
an' ye ain't got the heart ter kill?"
The girl's lip suddenly curled with scorn. "Yer nephew would be
obligated ter make a ch'ice fur marryin' 'mongst these hyar mounting
gals—Parmely Lepstone, or Belindy M'ria Matthews, or one o' the
Windrow gals. Waal, sir, I'd ruther be yer niece—even ef Em'ry
Keenan air like a puppy underfoot, that ye can't gin away, an' won't
git lost, an' ye ain't got the heart ter kill." She laughed again,
showing her white teeth. She evidently relished the description of the
persistent adherence of poor Emory Keenan. "But which one o' these
hyar gals would ye recommend ter yer nephew ter marry—ef ye hed a
She looked at him with flashing eyes, conscious of having propounded a
He hesitated for a moment. Then—"I'm surrounded," he said, with a
laugh. "Ez I couldn't find a wife fur myself, I can't ondertake ter
recommend one ter my nephew. Mighty fine boy he'd hev been, an'
saaft-spoken an' perlite ter aged men—not sassy an' makin' game o'
old uncles like a niece. Mighty fine boy!"
"Ye air welcome ter him," she said, with a simulation of scorn, as she
turned away to the table.
Whether it were the military cap she had worn, or the fancied
resemblance to the young soldiers, never to grow old, who had gone forth
from this humble abode to return no more, there was still to the guest's
mind the suggestion of the vivandière about her as she set the
table and spread upon it the simple fare. To and from the fireplace she
was followed by two or three of the younger dogs, their callowness
expressed in their lack of manners and perfervid interest in the
approaching meal. This induced their brief journeys back and forth,
albeit embarrassed by their physical conformation, short turns on four
legs not being apparently the easy thing it would seem from so much
youthful suppleness. The dignity of the elder hounds did not suffer them
to move, but they looked on from erect postures about the hearth with
glistening eyes and slobbering jaws.
Ever and anon the deep blue eyes of Millicent were lifted to the outer
gloom, as if she took note of its sinister aspect. She showed scant
interest in the stranger, whose gaze seldom left her as he sat beside
the fire. He was a handsome man, his face and figure illumined by the
firelight, and it might have been that he felt a certain pique, an
unaccustomed slight, in that his presence was so indifferent an element
in the estimation of any young and comely specimen of the feminine sex.
Certainly he had rarely encountered such absolute preoccupation as her
smiling far-away look betokened as she went back and forth with her
young canine friends at her heels, or stood at the table deftly slicing
the salt-rising bread, the dogs poised skilfully upon their hind-legs to
better view the appetizing performance; whenever she turned her face
toward them they laid their heads languishingly askew, as if to remind
her that supper could not be more fitly bestowed than on them. One, to
steady himself, placed unobserved his fore-paw on the edge of the table,
his well-padded toes leaving a vague imprint as of fingers upon the
coarse white cloth; but John Dundas was a sportsman, and could the
better relax an exacting nicety where so pleasant-featured and affable a
beggar was concerned. He forgot the turmoils of his own troubles as he
gazed at Millicent, the dreary aspect of the solitudes without, the
exile from his accustomed sphere of culture and comfort, the poverty and
coarseness of her surroundings. He was sorry that he had declined a
longer lease of Roxby's hospitality, and it was in his mind to
reconsider when it should be again proffered. Her attitude, her gesture,
her face, her environment, all appealed to his sense of beauty, his
interest, his curiosity, as little ever had done heretofore. Slice after
slice of the firm fragrant bread was deftly cut and laid on the plate,
as again and again she lifted her eyes with a look that might seem to
expect to rest on summer in the full flush of a June noontide without,
rather than on the wan, wintry night sky and the plundered, quaking
woods, while the robber wind sped on his raids hither and thither so
swiftly that none might follow, so stealthily that none might hinder. A
sudden radiance broke upon her face, a sudden shadow fell on the firelit
floor, and there was entering at the doorway a tall, lithe young
mountaineer, whose first glance, animated with a responsive brightness,
was for the girl, but whose punctilious greeting was addressed to the
"Howdy, Mis' Roxby—howdy? Air yer rheumatics mendin' enny?" he
demanded, with the condolent suavity of the would-be son-in-law, or
grandson-in-law, as the case may be. And he hung with a transfixed
interest upon her reply, prolix and discursive according to the wont of
those who cultivate "rheumatics," as if each separate twinge racked his
own sympathetic and filial sensibilities. Not until the tale was ended
did he set his gun against the wall and advance to the seat which Roxby
had indicated with the end of the stick he was whittling. He observed
the stranger with only slight interest, till Dundas drew up his chair
opposite at the table. There the light from the tallow dip, guttering in
the centre, fell upon his handsome face and eyes, his carefully tended
beard and hair, his immaculate cuffs and delicate hand, the
seal-ring on his taper finger.
"Like a gal, by gum!" thought Emory Keenan. "Rings on his
fingers—yit six feet high!"
He looked at his elders, marvelling that they so hospitably repressed
the disgust which this effeminate adornment must occasion, forgetting
that it was possible that they did not even observe it. In the gala-days
of the old hotel, before the war, they had seen much "finicking finery"
in garb and equipage and habits affected by the jeunesse dorée
who frequented the place in those halcyon times, and were accustomed to
such details. It might be that they and Millicent approved such flimsy
daintiness. He began to fume inwardly with a sense of inferiority in her
estimation. One of his fingers had been frosted last winter, and with
the first twinge of cold weather it was beginning to look very red and
sad and clumsy, as if it had just remembered its ancient woe; he glanced
from it once more at the delicate ringed hand of the stranger.
Dundas was looking up with a slow, deferential, decorous smile that
nevertheless lightened and transfigured his expression. It seemed
somehow communicated to Millicent's face as she looked down at him from
beneath her white eyelids and long, thick, dark lashes, for she was
standing beside him, handing him the plate of bread. Then, still
smiling, she passed noiselessly on to the others.
Emory was indeed clumsy, for he had stretched his hand downward to offer
a morsel to a friend of his under the table—he was on terms of
exceeding amity with the four-footed members of the house
hold—and in his absorption not withdrawing it as swiftly as one
accustomed to canine manners should do, he had his frosted finger well
mumbled before he could, as it were, repossess himself of it.
"I wonder what they charge fur iron over yander at the settlemint,
Em'ry?" observed Sim Roxby presently.
"Dun'no', sir," responded Emory, glumly, his sullen black eyes full of
smouldering fire—"hevin' no call ter know, ez I ain't no
"I war jes' wonderin' ef tenpenny nails didn't cost toler'ble high ez
reg'lar feed," observed Roxby, gravely.
But his mother laughed out with a gleeful cracked treble, always a ready
sequence of her son's rustic sallies. "He got ye that time, Em'ry," she
A forced smile crossed Emory's face. He tossed back his tangled dark
hair with a gasp that was like the snort of an unruly horse submitting
to the inevitable, but with restive projects in his brain. "I let the
dog hyar ketch my finger whilst feedin' him," he said. His plausible
excuse for the tenpenny expression was complete; but he added, his
darker mood recurring instantly, "An', Mis' Roxby, I hev put a stop ter
them ez hev tuk ter callin' me Em'ly, I hev."
The old woman looked up, her small wrinkled mouth round and amazed. "I
never called ye Emily," she declared.
Swift repentance seized him.
"Naw, 'm," he said, with hurried propitiation. "I 'lowed ye did."
"I didn't," said the old woman. "But ef I war ter find it toothsome
ter call ye 'Emily,' I dun'no' how ye air goin' ter pervent it. Ye can't
go gunnin' fur me, like ye done fur the men at the mill, fur callin' ye
"Law, Mis' Roxby!" he could only exclaim, in his horror and contrition
at this picture he had thus conjured up. "Ye air welcome ter call me
ennything ye air a mind ter," he protested.
And then he gasped once more. The eyes of the guest, contemptuous,
amused, seeing through him, were fixed upon him. And he himself had
furnished the lily-handed stranger with the information that he had been
stigmatized "Em'ly" in the banter of his associates, until he had taken
up arms, as it were, to repress this derision.
"It takes powerful little ter put ye down, Em'ry," said Roxby, with
rallying laughter. "Mam hev sent ye skedaddlin' in no time at all. I
don't b'lieve the Lord made woman out'n the man's rib. He made her out'n
the man's backbone; fur the man ain't hed none ter speak of sence."
Millicent, with a low gurgle of laughter, sat down beside Emory at the
table, and fixed her eyes, softly lighted with mirth, upon him. The
others too had laughed, the stranger with a flattering intonation, but
young Keenan looked at her with a dumb appealing humility that did not
altogether fail of its effect, for she busied herself to help his plate
with an air of proprietorship as if he were a child, and returned it
with a smile very radiant and sufficient at close range. She then
addressed herself to her own meal. The young dogs under the table ceased
to beg, and gambolled and gnawed and tugged at her stout little
shoes, the sound of their callow mirthful growls rising occasionally
above the talk. Sometimes she rose again to wait on the table, when they
came leaping out after her, jumping and catching at her skirts, now and
then casting themselves on the ground prone before her feet, and rolling
over and over in the sheer joy of existence.
The stranger took little part in the talk at the table. Never a question
was asked him as to his mission in the mountains, or the length of his
stay, his vocation, or his home. That extreme courtesy of the
mountaineers, exemplified in their singular abstinence from any
expressions of curiosity, accepted such account of himself as he had
volunteered, and asked for no more. In the face of this standard of
manners any inquisitiveness on his part, such as might have elicited
points of interest for his merely momentary entertainment, was tabooed.
Nevertheless, silent though he was for the most part, the relish with
which he listened, his half-covert interest in the girl, his quick
observation of the others, the sudden very apparent enlivening of his
mental atmosphere, betokened that his quarters were not displeasing to
him. It seemed only a short time before the meal was ended and the
circle all, save Millicent, with pipes alight before the fire again. The
dogs, well fed, had ranged themselves on the glowing hearth, lying prone
on the hot stones; one old hound, however, who conserved the air of
listening to the conversation, sat upright and nodded from time to time,
now and again losing his balance and tipping forward in a truly human
fashion, then gazing round on the circle with an open luminous eye,
as who should say he had not slept.
It was all very cheerful within, but outside the wind still blared
mournfully. Once more Dundas was sorry that he had declined the
invitation to remain, and it was with a somewhat tentative intention
that he made a motion to return to the hotel. But his host seemed to
regard his resolution as final, and rose with a regret, not an
insistence. The two women stared in silent amazement at the mere idea of
his camping out, as it were, in the old hotel. The ascendency of
masculine government here, notwithstanding Roxby's assertion that Eve
was made of Adam's backbone, was very apparent in their mute
acquiescence and the alacrity with which they began to collect various
articles, according to his directions, to make the stranger's stay more
"Em'ry kin go along an' holp," he said, heartlessly; for poor Emory's
joy in perceiving that the guest was not a fixture, and that his
presence was not to be an embargo on any word between himself and
Millicent during the entire evening, was pitiably manifest. But the
situation was still not without its comforts, since Dundas was to go
too. Hence he was not poor company when once in the saddle, and was
civil to a degree of which his former dismayed surliness had given no
Night had become a definite element. The twilight had fled. Above their
heads, as they galloped through the dank woods, the bare boughs of the
trees clashed together—so high above their heads that to the town
man, unaccustomed to these great growths, the sound seemed not of
the vicinage, but unfamiliar, uncanny, and more than once he checked his
horse to listen. As they approached the mountain's verge and overlooked
the valley and beheld the sky, the sense of the predominance of darkness
was redoubled. The ranges gloomed against the clearer spaces, but a
cloud, deep gray with curling white edges, was coming up from the west,
with an invisible convoy of vague films, beneath which the stars,
glimmering white points, disappeared one by one. The swift motion of
this aerial fleet sailing with the wind might be inferred from the
seemingly hurried pace of the moon making hard for the west. Still
bright was the illumined segment, but despite its glitter the shadowy
space of the full disk was distinctly visible, its dusky field spangled
with myriads of minute, dully golden points. Down, down it took its way
in haste—in disordered fright, it seemed, as if it had no heart to
witness the storm which the wind and the clouds foreboded—to
fairer skies somewhere behind those western mountains. Soon even its
vague light would encroach no more upon the darkness. The great hotel
would be invisible, annihilated as it were in the gloom, and not even
thus dimly exist, glimmering, alone, forlorn, so incongruous to the
wilderness that it seemed even now some mere figment of the brain, as
the two horsemen came with a freshened burst of speed along the deserted
avenue and reined up beside a small gate at the side.
"No use ter ride all the way around," observed Emory Keenan. "Mought jes
ez well 'light an' hitch hyar."
The moon gave him the escort of a great grotesque shadow as he threw
himself from his horse and passed the reins over a decrepit
hitching-post near at hand. Then he essayed the latch of the small gate.
He glanced up at Dundas, the moonlight in his dark eyes, with a smile as
it resisted his strength.
He was a fairly good-looking fellow when rid of the self-consciousness
of jealousy. His eyes, mouth, chin, and nose, acquired from reliable and
recognizable sources, were good features, and statuesque in their
immobility beneath the drooping curves of his broad soft hat. He was
tall, with the slenderness of youth, despite his evident weight and
strength. He was long-waisted and lithe and small of girth, with broad
square shoulders, whose play of muscles as he strove with the gate was
not altogether concealed by the butternut jeans coat belted in with his
pistols by a broad leathern belt. His boots reached high on his long
legs, and jingled with a pair of huge cavalry spurs. His stalwart
strength seemed as if it must break the obdurate gate rather than open
it, but finally, with a rasping creak, dismally loud in the silence, it
swung slowly back.
The young mountaineer stood gazing for a moment at the red rust on the
hinges. "How long sence this gate must hev been opened afore?" he said,
again looking up at Dundas with a smile.
Somehow the words struck a chill to the stranger's heart. The sense of
the loneliness of the place, of isolation, filled him with a sort of
awe. The night-bound wilderness itself was not more daunting than
these solitary tiers of piazzas, these vacant series of rooms and
corridors, all instinct with vanished human presence, all alert with
echoes of human voices. A step, a laugh, a rustle of garments—he
could have sworn he heard them at any open doorway as he followed his
guide along the dim moonlit piazza, with its pillars duplicated at
regular intervals by the shadows on the floor. How their tread echoed
down these lonely ways! From the opposite side of the house he heard
Keenan's spurs jangling, his soldierly stride sounding back as if their
entrance had roused barracks. He winced once to see his own shadow with
its stealthier movement. It seemed painfully furtive. For the first time
during the evening his jaded mind, that had instinctively sought the
solace of contemplating trifles, reverted to its own tormented
processes. "Am I not hiding?" he said to himself, in a sort of sarcastic
pity of his plight.
The idea seemed never to enter the mind of the transparent Keenan. He
laughed out gayly as they turned into the weed-grown quadrangle, and the
red fox that Dundas had earlier observed slipped past him with
affrighted speed and dashed among the shadows of the dense shrubbery of
the old lawn without. Again and again the sound rang back from wall to
wall, first with the jollity of seeming imitation, then with an appalled
effect sinking to silence, and suddenly rising again in a grewsome
staccato that suggested some terrible unearthly laughter, and bore but
scant resemblance to the hearty mirth which had evoked it. Keenan paused
and looked back with friendly gleaming eyes. "Oughter been a leetle
handier with these hyar consarns," he said, touching the pistols in his
It vaguely occurred to Dundas that the young man went strangely heavily
armed for an evening visit at a neighbor's house. But it was a lawless
country and lawless times, and the sub-current of suggestion did not
definitely fix itself in his mind until he remembered it later. He was
looking into each vacant open doorway, seeing the still moonlight
starkly white upon the floor; the cobwebbed and broken window-panes,
through which a section of leafless trees beyond was visible; bits of
furniture here and there, broken by the vandalism of the guerillas. Now
and then a scurrying movement told of a gopher, hiding too, and on one
mantel-piece, the black fireplace yawning below, sat a tiny tawny-tinted
owl, whose motionless bead-like eyes met his with a stare of stolid
surprise. After he had passed, its sudden ill-omened cry set the silence
Keenan, leading the way, paused in displeasure. "I wisht I hed viewed
that critter," he said, glumly. "I'd hev purvented that screechin' ter
call the devil, sure. It's jes a certain sign o' death."
He was about to turn, to wreak his vengeance, perchance. But the bird,
sufficiently fortunate itself, whatever woe it presaged for others,
suddenly took its awkward flight through sheen and shadow across the
quadrangle, and when they heard its cry again it came from some remote
section of the building, with a doleful echo as a refrain.
The circumstance was soon forgotten by Keenan. He seemed a happy,
mercurial, lucid nature, and he began presently to dwell with interest
on the availability of the old music-stand in the centre of the square
as a manger. "Hyar," he said, striking the rotten old structure with a
heavy hand, which sent a quiver and a thrill through all the
timbers—"hyar's whar the guerillas always hitched thar beastises.
Thar feed an' forage war piled up thar on the fiddlers' seats. Ye can't
do no better'n ter pattern arter them, till ye git ready ter hev
fiddlers an' sech a-sawin' away in hyar agin."
And he sauntered away from the little pavilion, followed by Dundas, who
had not accepted his suggestion of a room on the first floor as being
less liable to leakage, but finally made choice of an inner apartment in
the second story. He looked hard at Keenan, when he stood in the doorway
surveying the selection. The room opened into a cross-hall which gave
upon a broad piazza that was latticed; tiny squares of moonlight were
all sharply drawn on the floor, and, seen through a vista of gray
shadow, seemed truly of a gilded lustre. From the windows of this room
on a court-yard no light could be visible to any passer-by without.
Another door gave on an inner gallery, and through its floor a staircase
came up from the quadrangle close to the threshold. Dundas wondered if
these features were of possible significance in Keenan's estimation. The
young mountaineer turned suddenly, and snatching up a handful of slats
broken from the shutters, remarked:
"Let's see how the chimbly draws—that's the main p'int."
There was no defect in the chimney's constitution. It drew admirably,
and with the white and red flames dancing in the fireplace, two or three
chairs, more or less disabled, a table, and an upholstered lounge
gathered at random from the rooms near at hand, the possibility of
sojourning comfortably for a few days in the deserted hostelry seemed
Once more Dundas gazed fixedly at the face of the young mountaineer, who
still bent on one knee on the hearth, watching with smiling eyes the
triumphs of his fire-making. It seemed to him afterwards that his
judgment was strangely at fault; he perceived naught of import in the
shallow brightness of the young man's eyes, like the polished surface of
jet; in the instability of his jealousy, his anger; in his hap-hazard,
mercurial temperament. Once he might have noted how flat were the spaces
beneath the eyes, how few were the lines that defined the lid, the
socket, the curve of the cheekbone, the bridge of the nose, and how
expressionless. It was doubtless the warmth and glow of the fire, the
clinging desire of companionship, the earnest determination to be
content, pathetic in one who had but little reason for optimism, that
caused him to ignore the vacillating glancing moods that successively
swayed Keenan, strong while they lasted, but with scanty augury because
of their evanescence. He was like some newly discovered property in
physics of untried potentialities, of which nothing is ascertained but
And yet he seemed to Dundas a simple country fellow, good-natured
in the main, unsuspicious, and helpful. So, giving a long sigh of relief
and fatigue, Dundas sank down in one of the large arm-chairs that had
once done duty for the summer loungers on the piazza.
In the light of the fire Emory was once more looking at him. A certain
air of distinction, a grace and ease of movement, an indescribable
quality of bearing which he could not discriminate, yet which he
instinctively recognized as superior, offended him in some sort. He
noticed again the ring on the stranger's hand as he drew off his glove.
Gloves! Emory Keenan would as soon have thought of wearing a petticoat.
Once more the fear that these effeminate graces found favor in
Millicent's estimation smote upon his heart. It made the surface of his
opaque eyes glisten as Dundas rose and took up a pipe and tobacco pouch
which he had laid on the mantel-piece, his full height and fine figure
shown in the changed posture.
"Ez tall ez me, ef not taller, an', by gum! a good thirty pound
heavier," Emory reflected, with a growing dismay that he had not those
stalwart claims to precedence in height and weight as an offset to the
smoother fascinations of the stranger's polish.
He had risen hastily to his feet. He would not linger to smoke
fraternally over the fire, and thus cement friendly relations.
"I guided him hyar, like old Sim Roxby axed me ter do, an' that's all. I
ain't keerin' ef I never lay eyes on him again," he said to
"Going?" said Dundas, pleasantly, noticing the motion. "You'll look in
again, won't you?"
"Wunst in a while, I reckon," drawled Keenan, a trifle thrown off his
balance by this courtesy.
He paused at the door, looking back over his shoulder for a moment at
the illumined room, then stepped out into the night, leaving the tenant
of the lonely old house filling his pipe by the fire.
His tread rang along the deserted gallery, and sudden echoes came
tramping down the vacant halls as if many a denizen of the once populous
place was once more astir within its walls. Long after Dundas had heard
him spring from the lower piazza to the ground, and the rusty gate clang
behind him, vague footfalls were audible far away, and were still again,
and once more a pattering tread in some gaunt and empty apartment near
at hand, faint and fainter yet, till he hardly knew whether it were the
reverberations of sound or fancy that held his senses in thrall.
And when all was still and silent at last he felt less solitary than
when these elusive tokens of human presence were astir.
Late, late he sat over the dwindling embers. His mind, no longer
diverted by the events of the day, recurred with melancholy persistence
to a theme which even they, although fraught with novelty and presage of
danger, had not altogether crowded out. And as the sense of peril
dulled, the craft of sophistry grew clumsy. Remorse laid hold upon him
in these dim watches of the night. Self-reproach had found him out here,
defenceless so far from the specious wiles and ways of men. All the line
of provocations seemed slight, seemed naught, as he reviewed them
and balanced them against a human life. True, it was not in some mad
quarrel that his skill had taken it and had served to keep his
own—a duel, a fair fight, strictly regular according to the code
of "honorable men" for ages past—and he sought to argue that it
was doubtless but the morbid sense of the wild fastnesses without, the
illimitable vastness of the black night, the unutterable indurability of
nature to the influences of civilization, which made it taste like
murder. He had brought away even from the scene of action, to which he
had gone with decorous deliberation—his worldly affairs arranged
for the possibility of death, his will made, his volition surrendered,
and his sacred honor in the hands of his seconds—a humiliating
recollection of the sudden revulsion of the aspect of all things; the
criminal sense of haste with which he was hurried away after that first
straight shot; the agitation, nay, the fright of his seconds; their
eagerness to be swiftly rid of him, their insistence that he should go
away for a time, get out of the country, out of the embarrassing purview
of the law, which was prone to regard the matter as he himself saw it
now, and which had an ugly trick of calling things by their right names
in the sincere phraseology of an indictment. And thus it was that he was
here, remote from all the usual lines of flight, with his affectation of
being a possible purchaser for the old hotel, far from the railroad, the
telegraph, even the postal service. Some time—soon, indeed, it
might be, when the first flush of excitement and indignation should be
overpast, and the law, like a barking dog that will not bite,
should have noisily exhausted the gamut of its devoirs—he would go
back and live according to his habit in his wonted place, as did other
men whom he had known to be "called out," and who had survived their
opponents. Meantime he heard the ash crumble; he saw the lighted room
wane from glancing yellow to a dull steady red, and so to dusky brown;
he marked the wind rise, and die away, and come again, banging the doors
of the empty rooms, and setting timbers all strangely to creaking as
under sudden trampling feet; then lift into the air with a rustling
sound like the stir of garments and the flutter of wings, calling out
weirdly in the great voids of the upper atmosphere.
He had welcomed the sense of fatigue earlier in the evening, for it
promised sleep. Now it had slipped away from him. He was strong and
young, and the burning sensation that the frosty air had left on his
face was the only token of the long journey. It seemed as if he would
never sleep again as he lay on the lounge watching the gray ash
gradually overgrow the embers, till presently only a vague dull glow
gave intimation of the position of the hearth in the room. And then,
bereft of this dim sense of companionship, he stared wide-eyed in the
darkness, feeling the only creature alive and awake in all the world.
No; the fox was suddenly barking within the quadrangle—a strangely
wild and alien tone. And presently he heard the animal trot past his
door on the piazza, the cushioned footfalls like those of a swift dog.
He thought with a certain anxiety of the tawny tiny owl that had
sat like a stuffed ornament on the mantel-piece of a neighboring
room, and he listened with a quaking vicarious presentiment of woe for
the sounds of capture and despair. He was sensible of waiting and hoping
for the fox's bootless return, when he suddenly lost consciousness.
How long he slept he did not know, but it seemed only a momentary
respite from the torture of memory, when, still in the darkness,
thousands of tremulous penetrating sounds were astir, and with a great
start he recognized the rain on the roof. It was coming down in steady
torrents that made the house rock before the tumult of his plunging
heart was still, and he was longing again for the forgetfulness of
sleep. In vain. The hours dragged by; the windows slowly, slowly defined
their dull gray squares against the dull gray day dawning without. The
walls that had been left with only the first dark coat of plaster,
awaiting another season for the final decoration, showed their drapings
of cobweb, and the names and pencilled scribblings with which the fancy
of transient bushwhackers had chosen to deface them. The locust-trees
within the quadrangle drearily tossed their branches to and fro in the
wind, the bark very black and distinct against the persistent gray lines
of rain and the white walls of the galleried buildings opposite; the
gutters were brimming, roaring along like miniature torrents; nowhere
was the fox or the owl to be seen. Somehow their presence would have
been a relief—the sight of any living thing reassuring. As he
walked slowly along the deserted piazzas, in turning sudden corners,
again and again he paused, expecting that something, some one, was
approaching to meet him. When at last he mounted his horse, that had
neighed gleefully to see him, and rode away through the avenue and along
the empty ways among the untenanted summer cottages, all the drearier
and more forlorn because of the rain, he felt as if he had left an
aberration, some hideous dream, behind, instead of the stark reality of
the gaunt and vacant and dilapidated old house.
The transition to the glow and cheer of Sim Roxby's fireside was like a
rescue, a restoration. The smiling welcome in the women's eyes, their
soft drawling voices, with mellifluous intonations that gave a value to
each commonplace simple word, braced his nerves like a tonic. It might
have been only the contrast with the recollections of the night, with
the prospect visible through the open door—the serried lines of
rain dropping aslant from the gray sky and elusively outlined against
the dark masses of leafless woods that encircled the clearing; the
dooryard half submerged with puddles of a clay-brown tint, embossed
always with myriads of protruding drops of rain, for however they melted
away the downpour renewed them, and to the eye they were stationary,
albeit pervaded with a continual tremor—but somehow he was
cognizant of a certain coddling tenderness in the old woman's manner
that might have been relished by a petted child, an unaffected
friendliness in the girl's clear eyes. They made him sit close to the
great wood fire; the blue and yellow flames gushed out from the piles of
hickory logs, and the bed of coals gleamed at red and white heat
beneath. They took his hat to carefully dry it, and they spread out his
cloak on two chairs at one side of the room, where it dismally dripped.
When he ventured to sneeze, Mrs. Roxby compounded and administered a
"yerb tea," a sovereign remedy against colds, which he tasted on
compulsion and in great doubt, and swallowed with alacrity and
confidence, finding its basis the easily recognizable "toddy." He had
little knowledge how white and troubled his face had looked as he came
in from the gray day, how strongly marked were those lines of sharp
mental distress, how piteously apparent was his mute appeal for sympathy
"Mill'cent," said the old woman in the shed-room, as they washed and
wiped the dishes after the cozy breakfast of venison and corn-dodgers
and honey and milk, "that thar man hev run agin the law, sure's ye air
Millicent turned her reflective fair face, that seemed whiter and more
delicate in the damp dark day, and looked doubtfully out over the
fields, where the water ran in steely lines in the furrows.
"Mus' hev been by accident or suthin'. He ain't no hardened sinner."
"Shucks!" the old woman commented upon her reluctant acquiescence. "I
ain't keerin' for the law! 'Tain't none o' my job. The tomfool men make
an' break it. Ennybody ez hev seen this war air obleeged to take note o'
the wickedness o' men in gineral. This hyer man air a sorter pitiful
sinner, an' he hev got a look in his eyes that plumb teches my
heart. I 'ain't got no call ter know nuthin' 'bout the law, bein' a
'oman an' naterally ignorunt. I dun'no' ez he hev run agin it."
"Mus' hev been by accident," said Millicent, dreamily, still gazing over
the sodden fields.
The suspicion did nothing to diminish his comfort or their cordiality.
The morning dragged by without change in the outer aspects. The noontide
dinner came and went without Roxby's return, for the report of the
washing away of a bridge some miles distant down the river had early
called him out to the scene of the disaster, to verify in his own
interests the rumor, since he had expected to haul his wheat to the
settlement the ensuing day. The afternoon found the desultory talk still
in progress about the fire, the old woman alternately carding cotton and
nodding in her chair in the corner; the dogs eying the stranger,
listening much of the time with the air of children taking instruction,
only occasionally wandering out-of-doors, the floor here and there
bearing the damp imprint of their feet; and Millicent on her knees in
the other corner, the firelight on her bright hair, her delicate cheek,
her quickly glancing eyes, as she deftly moulded bullets.
"Uncle Sim hed ter s'render his shootin'-irons," she explained, "an' he
'ain't got no ca'tridge-loadin' ones lef'. So he makes out with his old
muzzle-loadin' rifle that he hed afore the war, an' I moulds his bullets
for him rainy days."
As she held up a moulded ball and dexterously clipped off the surplus
lead, the gesture was so culinary in its delicacy that one of the dogs
in front of the fire extended his head, making a long neck, with a
tentative sniff and a glistening gluttonous eye.
"Ef I swallered enny mo' lead, I wouldn't take it hot, Towse," she said,
holding out the bullet for canine inspection. "'Tain't healthy!"
But the dog, perceiving the nature of the commodity, drew back with a
look of deep reproach, rose precipitately, and with a drooping tail went
out skulkingly into the wet gray day.
"Towse can't abide a bullet," she observed, "nor nuthin' 'bout a gun. He
got shot wunst a-huntin', an' he never furgot it. Jes show him a gun an'
he ain't nowhar ter be seen—like he war cotch up in the clouds."
"Good watch-dog, I suppose," suggested Dundas, striving to enter into
the spirit of her talk.
"Naw; too sp'ilt for a gyard-dog—granny coddled him so whenst he
got shot. He's jest vally'ble fur his conversation, I reckon," she
continued, with a smile in her eyes. "I dun'no' what else, but he is
toler'ble good company."
The other dogs pressed about her, the heads of the great hounds as high
as her own as she sat among them on the floor. With bright eyes and
knitted brows they followed the motions of pouring in the melted metal,
the lifting of the bullets from the mould, the clipping off of the
surplus lead, and the flash of the keen knife.
Outside the sad light waned; the wind sighed and sighed; the dreary rain
fell; the trees clashed their boughs dolorously together, and their
turbulence deadened the sound of galloping horses. As Dundas sat
and gazed at the girl's intent head, with its fleecy tendrils and its
massive coil, the great hounds beside her, all emblazoned by the
firelight upon the brown wall near by, with the vast fireplace at hand,
the whole less like reality than some artist's pictured fancy, he knew
naught of a sudden entrance, until she moved, breaking the spell, and
looked up to meet the displeasure in Roxby's eyes and the dark scowl on
Emory Keenan's face.
That night the wind shifted to the north. Morning found the chilled
world still, ice where the water had lodged, all the trees incased in
glittering garb that followed the symmetry alike of every bough and the
tiniest twig, and made splendid the splintered remnants of the
lightning-riven. The fields were laced across from furrow to furrow, in
which the frozen water still stood gleaming, with white arabesques which
had known a more humble identity as stubble and crab-grass; the sky was
slate-colored, and from its sad tint this white splendor gained added
values of contrast. When the sun should shine abroad much of the effect
would be lost in the too dazzling glister; but the sun did not shine.
All day the gray mood held unchanged. Night was imperceptibly sifting
down upon all this whiteness, that seemed as if it would not be
obscured, as if it held within itself some property of luminosity, when
Millicent, a white apron tied over her golden head, improvising a hood,
its superfluous fulness gathered in many folds and pleats around her
neck, fichu-wise, stood beside the ice-draped fodder-stack and essayed
with half-numbed hands to insert a tallow dip into the socket of a
lantern, all incrusted and clumsy with previous drippings.
"I dun'no' whether I be a-goin' ter need this hyar consarn whilst
milkin' or no," she observed, half to herself, half to Emory, who,
chewing a straw, somewhat surlily had followed her out for a word apart.
"The dusk 'pears slow ter-night, but Spot's mighty late comin' home, an'
old Sue air fractious an' contrairy-minded, and feels mighty anxious an'
oneasy 'boutn her calf, that's ez tall ez she is nowadays, an' don't
keer no mo' 'bout her mammy 'n a half-grown human does. I tell her she
oughtn't ter be mad with me, but with the way she brung up her chile, ez
won't notice her now."
She looked up with a laugh, her eyes and teeth gleaming; her golden hair
still showed its color beneath the spotless whiteness of her voluminous
headgear, and the clear tints of her complexion seemed all the more
delicate and fresh in the snowy pallor of the surroundings and the
grayness of the evening.
"I reckon I'd better take it along," and once more she addressed herself
to the effort to insert the dip into the lantern.
Emory hardly heard. His pulse was quick. His eye glittered. He breathed
hard as, with both hands in his pockets, he came close to her.
"Mill'cent," he said, "I told ye the t'other day ez ye thunk a heap too
much o' that thar stranger—"
"An' I tole ye, bubby, that I didn't think nuthin' o' nobody but
you-uns," she interrupted, with an effort to placate his jealousy. The
little jocularity which she affected dwindled and died before the
steady glow of his gaze, and she falteringly looked at him, her unguided
hands futilely fumbling with the lantern.
"Ye can't fool me," he stoutly asseverated. "Ye think mo' o' him 'n o'
me, kase ye 'low he air rich, an' book-larned, an' smooth-fingered, an'
finified ez a gal, an' goin' ter buy the hotel. I say, hotel! Now
I'll tell ye what he is—I'll tell ye! He's a criminal. He's
runnin' from the law. He's hidin' in the old hotel that he's purtendin'
She stared wide-eyed and pallid, breathless and waiting.
He interpreted her expression as doubt, denial.
"It's gospel sure," he cried. "Fur this very evenin' I met a gang o' men
an' the sheriff's deputy down yander by the sulphur spring 'bout
sundown, an' he 'lowed ez they war a-sarchin' fur a criminal ez war
skulkin' round hyarabout lately—ez they wanted a man fur hevin'
"But ye didn't accuse him, surely; ye hed no right ter s'picion him.
Uncle Sim! Oh, my Lord! Ye surely wouldn't! Oh, Uncle Sim!"
Her tremulous words broke into a quavering cry as she caught his arm
convulsively, for his face confirmed her fears. She thrust him wildly
away, and started toward the house.
"Ye needn't go tattlin' on me," he said, roughly pushing her aside.
"I'll tell Mr. Roxby myself. I ain't 'shamed o' what I done. I'll tell
him. I'll tell him myself." And animated with this intention to
forestall her disclosure, his long strides bore him swiftly past and
into the house.
It seemed to him that he lingered there only a moment or two, for
Roxby was not at the cabin, and he said nothing of the quarrel to the
old woman. Already his heart had revolted against his treachery, and
then there came to him the further reflection that he did not know
enough to justify suspicion. Was not the stranger furnished with the
fullest credentials—a letter to Roxby from the Colonel? Perhaps he
had allowed his jealousy to endanger the man, to place him in jeopardy
even of his life should he resist arrest.
Keenan tarried at the house merely long enough to devise a plausible
excuse for his sudden excited entrance, and then took his way back to
It was vacant. The cows still stood lowing at the bars; the sheep
cowered together in their shed; the great whitened cone of the
fodder-stack gleamed icily in the purple air; beside it lay the lantern
where Millicent had cast it aside. She was gone! He would not believe it
till he had run to the barn, calling her name in the shadowy place,
while the horse at his manger left his corn to look over the walls of
his stall with inquisitive surprised eyes, luminous in the dusk. He
searched the hen-house, where the fowls on their perches crowded close
because of the chill of the evening. He even ran to the bars and looked
down across the narrow ravine to which the clearing sloped. Beyond the
chasm-like gorge he saw presently on the high ascent opposite footprints
that had broken the light frost-like coating of ice on the dead leaves
and moss—climbing footprints, swift, disordered. He looked back
again at the lantern where Millicent had flung it in her haste. Her
mission was plain now. She had gone to warn Dundas. She had taken a
direct line through the woods. She hoped to forestall the deputy sheriff
and his posse, following the circuitous mountain road.
Keenan's lip curled in triumph. His heart burned hot with scornful anger
and contempt of the futility of her effort. "They're there afore she
started!" he said, looking up at the aspects of the hour shown by the
sky, and judging of the interval since the encounter by the spring.
Through a rift in the gray cloud a star looked down with an icy
scintillation and disappeared again. He heard a branch in the woods snap
beneath the weight of ice. A light sprang into the window of the cabin
hard by, and came in a great gush of orange-tinted glow out into the
snowy bleak wintry space. He suddenly leaped over the fence and ran like
a deer through the woods.
Millicent too had been swift. He had thought to overtake her before he
emerged from the woods into the more open space where the hotel stood.
In this quarter the cloud-break had been greater. Toward the west a
fading amber glow still lingered in long horizontal bars upon the opaque
gray sky. The white mountains opposite were hung with purple shadows
borrowed from a glimpse of sunset somewhere far away over the valley of
East Tennessee; one distant lofty range was drawn in elusive snowy
suggestions, rather than lines, against a green space of intense yet
pale tint. The moon, now nearing the full, hung over the wooded valley,
and aided the ice and the crust of snow to show its bleak, wan, wintry
aspect; a tiny spark glowed in its depths from some open door of an
isolated home. Over it all a mist was rising from the east, drawing its
fleecy but opaque curtain. Already it had climbed the mountain-side and
advanced, windless, soundless, overwhelming, annihilating all before and
beneath it. The old hotel had disappeared, save that here and there a
gaunt gable protruded and was withdrawn, showed once more, and once more
A horse's head suddenly looking out of the enveloping mist close to his
shoulder gave him the first intimation of the arrival, the secret silent
waiting, of those whom he had directed hither. That the saddles were
empty he saw a moment later. The animals stood together in a row,
hitched to the rack. No disturbance sounded from the silent building.
The event was in abeyance. The fugitive in hiding was doubtless at ease,
unsuspecting, while the noiseless search of the officers for his
quarters was under way.
With a thrill of excitement Keenan crept stealthily through an open
passage and into the old grass-grown spaces of the quadrangle. Night
possessed the place, but the cloud seemed denser than the darkness. He
was somehow sensible of its convolutions as he stood against the wall
and strained his eyes into the dusk. Suddenly it was penetrated by a
milky-white glimmer, a glimmer duplicated at equidistant points, each
fading as its successor sprang into brilliance. The next moment he
understood its significance. It had come from the blurred windows of the
old ball-room. Millicent had lighted her candle as she searched for
the fugitive's quarters; she was passing down the length of the old
house on the second story, and suddenly she emerged upon the gallery.
She shielded the feeble flicker with her hand; her white-hooded head
gleamed as with an aureola as the divergent rays rested on the opaque
mist; and now and again she clutched the baluster and walked with
tremulous care, for the flooring was rotten here and there, and ready to
crumble away. Her face was pallid, troubled; and Dundas, who had been
warned by the tramp of horses and the tread of men, and who had
descended the stairs, revolver in hand, ready to slip away if he might
under cover of the mist, paused appalled, gazing across the quadrangle
as on an apparition—the sight so familiar to his senses, so
strange to his experience. He saw in an abrupt shifting of the mist that
there were other figures skulking in doorways, watching her progress.
The next moment she leaned forward to clutch the baluster, and the light
of the candle fell full on Emory Keenan, lurking in the open passage.
A sudden sharp cry of "Surrender!"
The young mountaineer, confused, swiftly drew his pistol. Others were
swifter still. A sharp report rang out into the chill crisp air, rousing
all the affrighted echoes—a few faltering steps, a heavy fall, and
for a long time Emory Keenan's life-blood stained the floor of the
promenade. Even when it had faded, the rustic gossips came often and
gazed at the spot with morbid interest, until, a decade later, an
enterprising proprietor removed the floor and altered the shape of that
section of the building out of recognition.
The escape of Dundas was easily effected. The deputy sheriff, confronted
with the problem of satisfactorily accounting for the death of a man who
had committed no offence against public polity, was no longer
formidable. His errand had been the arrest of a horse-thief, well-known
to him, and he had no interest in pursuing a fugitive, however obnoxious
to the law, whose personal description was so different from that of the
object of his search.
Time restored to Dundas his former place in life and the esteem of his
fellow-citizens. His stay in the mountains was an episode which he will
not often recall, but sometimes volition fails, and he marvels at the
strange fulfilment of the girl's vision; he winces to think that her
solicitude for his safety should have cost her her lover; he wonders
whether she yet lives, and whether that tender troubled phantom, on
nights when the wind is still and the moon is low and the mists rise,
again joins the strange, elusive, woful company crossing the quaking
HIS "DAY IN COURT"
It had been a hard winter along the slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains,
and still the towering treeless domes were covered with snow, and the
vagrant winds were abroad, rioting among the clifty heights where they
held their tryst, or raiding down into the sheltered depths of the Cove,
where they seldom intruded. Nevertheless, on this turbulent rush was
borne in the fair spring of the year. The fragrance of the budding
wild-cherry was to be discerned amidst the keen slanting javelins of the
rain. A cognition of the renewal and the expanding of the forces of
nature pervaded the senses as distinctly as if one might hear the grass
growing, or feel along the chill currents of the air the vernal pulses
thrill. Night after night in the rifts of the breaking clouds close to
the horizon was glimpsed the stately sidereal Virgo, prefiguring and
promising the harvest, holding in her hand a gleaming ear of corn. But
it was not the constellation which the tumultuous torrent at the
mountain's base reflected in a starry glitter. From the hill-side above
a light cast its broken image among the ripples, as it shone for an
instant through the bosky laurel, white, stellular, splendid—only
a tallow dip suddenly placed in the window of a log-cabin, and as
For a gruff voice within growled out a remonstrance: "What ye doin' that
fur, Steve? Hev that thar candle got enny call ter bide in that thar
The interior, contrary to the customary aspect of the humble homes of
the region, was in great disarray. Cooking utensils stood uncleaned
about the hearth; dishes and bowls of earthen-ware were assembled upon
the table in such numbers as to suggest that several meals had been
eaten without the ceremony of laying the cloth anew, and that in default
of washing the crockery it had been re-enforced from the shelf so far as
the limited store might admit. Saddles and spinning-wheels, an ox-yoke
and trace-chains, reels and wash-tubs, were incongruously pushed
together in the corners. Only one of the three men in the room made any
effort to reduce the confusion to order. This was the square-faced,
black-bearded, thick-set young fellow who took the candle from the
window, and now advanced with it toward the hearth, holding it at an
angle that caused the flame to swiftly melt the tallow, which dripped
generously upon the floor.
"I hev seen Eveliny do it," he said, excitedly justifying himself. "I
noticed her sot the candle in the winder jes' las' night arter supper."
He glanced about uncertainly, and his patience seemed to give way
suddenly. "Dad-burn the old candle! I dunno whar ter set it," he
cried, desperately, as he flung it from him, and it fell upon the floor
close to the wall.
The dogs lifted their heads to look, and one soft-stepping old hound got
up with the nimbleness of expectation, and, with a prescient
gratitude astir in his tail, went and sniffed at it. His aspect drooped
suddenly, and he looked around in reproach at Stephen Quimbey, as if
suspecting a practical joke. But there was no merriment in the young
mountaineer's face. He threw himself into his chair with a heavy sigh,
and desisted for a time from the unaccustomed duty of clearing away the
dishes after supper.
"An' 'ain't ye got the gumption ter sense what Eveliny sot the candle in
the winder fur?" his brother Timothy demanded, abruptly—"ez a sign
ter that thar durned Abs'lom Kittredge."
The other two men turned their heads and looked at the speaker with a
poignant intensity of interest. "I 'lowed ez much when I seen that light
ez I war a-kemin' home las' night," he continued; "it shined spang down
the slope acrost the ruver an' through all the laurel; it looked plumb
like a star that hed fell ter yearth in that pitch-black night. I dunno
how I s'picioned it, but ez I stood thar an' gazed I knowed somebody war
a-standin' an' gazin' too on the foot-bredge a mite ahead o' me. I
couldn't see him, an' he couldn't turn back an' pass me, the bredge
bein' too narrer. He war jes obligated ter go on. I hearn him breathe
quick; then—pit-pat, pit-pat, ez he walked straight toward that
light. An' he be 'bleeged ter hev hearn me, fur arter I crost I stopped.
Nuthin'. Jes' a whisper o' wind, an' jes' a swishin' from the ruver. I
knowed then he hed turned off inter the laurel. An' I went on,
a-whistlin' ter make him 'low ez I never s'picioned nuthin'. An' I kem
inter the house an' tole dad ez he'd better be a-lookin' arter
Eveliny, fur I b'lieved she war a-settin' her head ter run away an'
marry Abs'lom Kittredge."
"Waal, I ain't right up an' down sati'fied we oughter done what we
done," exclaimed Stephen, fretfully. "It don't 'pear edzacly right fur
three men ter fire on one."
Old Joel Quimbey, in his arm-chair in the chimney-corner, suddenly
lifted his head—a thin head with fine white hair, short and
sparse, upon it. His thin, lined face was clear-cut, with a pointed chin
and an aquiline nose. He maintained an air of indignant and rebellious
grief, and had hitherto sat silent, a gnarled and knotted hand on either
arm of his chair. His eyes gleamed keenly from under his heavy brows as
he turned his face upon his sons. "How could we know thar warn't but
He had not been a candidate for justice of the peace for nothing; he had
absorbed something of the methods and spirit of the law through sheer
propinquity to the office. "We-uns wouldn't be persumed ter know." And
he ungrudgingly gave himself all the benefit of the doubt that the law
"That's a true word!" exclaimed Stephen, quick to console his
conscience. "Jes' look at the fac's, now. We-uns in a plumb black
midnight hear a man a-gittin' over our fence; we git our rifles;
a-peekin' through the chinkin' we ketch a glimge o' him—"
"Ha!" cried out Timothy, with savage satisfaction, "we seen him by the
light she set ter lead him on!"
"OLD JOEL QUIMBEY"
was tall and lank, with a delicately hooked nose, high cheek-bones,
fierce dark eyes, and dark eyebrows, which were continually elevated,
corrugating his forehead. His hair was black, short and straight, and he
was clad in brown jeans, as were the others, with great cowhide boots
reaching to the knee. He fixed his fiery intent gaze on his brother as
the slower Stephen continued, "An' so we blaze away—"
"An' one durned fool's so onlucky ez ter hit him an' not kill him,"
growled Timothy, again interrupting. "An' so whilst Eveliny runs out
a-screamin', 'He's dead! he's dead!—ye hev shot him dead!' we-uns
make no doubt but he is dead, an' load up agin, lest his frien's
mought rush in on we-uns whilst we hedn't no use o' our shootin'-irons.
An' suddint—ye can't hear nuthin' but jes' a owel hootin' in the
woods, or old Pa'son Bates's dogs a-howlin' acrost the Cove. An' we go
out with a lantern, an' thar's jes' a pool o' blood in the dooryard, an'
bloody tracks down ter the laurel."
"Eveliny gone!" cried the old man, smiting his hands together; "my
leetle darter! The only one ez never gin me enny trouble. I couldn't hev
made out ter put up with this hyar worl' no longer when my wife died ef
it hedn't been fur Eveliny. Boys war wild an' mischeevious, an' folks
outside don't keer nuthin' 'bout ye—ef they war ter 'lect ye ter
office 'twould be ter keep some other feller from hevin' it, 'kase they
'spise him more'n ye. An' hyar she's runned off an' married old Tom
Kittredge's gran'son, Josiah Kittredge's son—when our folks
'ain't spoke ter none o' 'em fur fifty year—Josiah Kittredge's
son—ha! ha! ha!" He laughed aloud in tuneless scorn of himself and
of this freak of froward destiny and then fell to wringing his hands and
calling upon Evelina.
The flare from the great chimney place genially played over the huddled
confusion of the room and the brown logs of the wall, where the gigantic
shadows of the three men mimicked their every gesture with grotesque
exaggeration. The rainbow yarn on the warping bars, the strings of
red-pepper hanging from the ceiling, the burnished metallic flash from
the guns on their racks of deer antlers, served as incidents in the
monotony of the alternate yellow flicker and brown shadow. Deep under
the blaze the red coals pulsated, and in the farthest vistas of the fire
quivered a white heat.
"Old Tom Kittredge," the father resumed, after a time, "he jes' branded
yer gran'dad's cattle with his mark; he jes' cheated yer gran'dad, my
dad, out'n six head o' cattle."
"But then," said the warlike Timothy, not willing to lose sight of
reprisal even in vague reminiscence, "he hed only one hand ter rob with
arter that, fur I hev hearn ez how when gran'dad got through with him
the doctor hed ter take his arm off."
"Sartainly, sartainly," admitted the old man, in quiet assent "An'
Josiah Kittredge he put out the eyes of a horse critter o' mine right
thar at the court-house door—"
"Waal, arterward, we-uns fired his house over his head," put in Tim.
"An' Josiah Kittredge an' me," the old man went on, "we-uns clinched
every time we met in this mortal life. Every time I go past the
graveyard whar he be buried I kin feel his fingers on my throat. He had
a nervy grip, but no variation; he always tuk holt the same way."
"'Pears like ter me ez 'twar a fust-rate time ter fetch out the rifles
again," remarked Tim, "this mornin', when old Pa'son Bates kem up hyar
an' 'lowed ez he hed married Eveliny ter Abs'lom Kittredge on his
death-bed; 'So be, pa'son,' I say. An' he tuk off his hat an' say,
'Thank the Lord, this will heal the breach an' make ye frien's!' An' I
say, 'Edzacly, pa'son, ef it air Abs'lom's death-bed; but them
Kittredges air so smilin' an' deceivin' I be powerful feared he'll cheat
the King o' Terrors himself. I'll forgive 'em ennything—over his
"Pa'son war tuk toler'ble suddint in his temper," said the literal
Steve. "I hearn him call yer talk onchristian, cussed sentiments, ez he
"Ye mus' keep up a Christian sperit, boys; that's the main thing," said
the old man, who was esteemed very religious, and a pious Mentor in his
own family. He gazed meditatively into the fire. "What ailed Eveliny ter
git so tuk up with this hyar Abs'lom? What made her like him?" he
"His big eyes, edzacly like a buck's, an' his long yaller hair," sneered
the discerning Timothy, with the valid scorn of a big ugly man for a
slim pretty one. "'Twar jes 'count o' his long yaller hair his mother
called him Abs'lom. He war named Pete or Bob, I disremember
what—suthin' common—till his hair got so long an' curly, an'
he sot out ter be so plumb all-fired beautiful, an' his mother
named him agin; this time Abs'lom, arter the king's son, 'count o' his
"Git hung by his hair some o' these days in the woods, like him the
Bible tells about; that happened ter the sure-enough Abs'lom," suggested
"Naw, sir," said Tim; "when Abs'lom Kittredge gits hung it'll be with
suthin' stronger'n hair; he'll stretch hemp." He exchanged a glance of
triumphant prediction with his brother, and anon gazed ruefully into the
"Ye talk like ez ef he war goin' ter live, boys," said old Joel Quimbey,
irritably. "Pa'son 'lowed he war powerful low."
"Pa'son said he'd never hev got home alive 'thout she'd holped him,"
said Stephen. "She jes' tuk him an' drug him plumb ter the bars, though
I don't see how she done it, slim leetle critter ez she be; an' thar she
holped him git on his beastis; an' then—I declar' I feel ez ef I
could kill her fur a-demeanin' of herself so—she led that thar
horse, him a-ridin' an' a-leanin' on the neck o' the beastis, two mile
up the mountain, through the night."
"Waal, let her bide thar. I'll look on her face no mo'," declared the
old man, his toothless jaw shaking. "Kittredge she be now, an' none o'
the name kin come a-nigh me. How be I ever a-goin' 'bout 'mongst the
folks at the settlement agin with my darter married ter a Kittredge? How
Josiah an' his dad mus' be a-grinnin' in thar graves at me this night!
An' I 'low they hev got suthin' ter grin about."
And suddenly his grim face relaxed, and once more he began to smite
his hands together and to call aloud for Evelina.
Timothy could offer no consolation, but stared dismally into the fire,
and Stephen rose with a sigh and addressed himself to pushing the
spinning-wheels and tubs and tables into the opposite corner of the
room, in the hope of solving the enigma of its wonted order.
It seemed to Evelina afterward that when she climbed the rugged ways of
the mountain slope in that momentous night she left forever in the
depths of the Cove that free and careless young identity which she had
been. She did not accurately discriminate the moment in which she began
to realize that she was among her hereditary enemies, encompassed by a
hatred nourished to full proportions and to a savage strength long
before she drew her first breath. The fact only gradually claimed its
share in her consciousness as the tension of anxiety for Absalom's sake
relaxed, for the young mountaineer's strength and vitality were promptly
reasserted, and he rallied from the wound and his pallid and forlorn
estate with the recuperative power of the primitive man. By degrees she
came to expect the covert unfriendly glances his brother cast upon her,
the lowering averted mien of her sister-in-law, and now and again she
surprised a long, lingering, curious gaze in his mother's eyes. They
were all Kittredges! And she wondered how she could ever have dreamed
that she might live happily among them—one of them, for her name
was theirs. And then perhaps the young husband would stroll
languidly in, with his long hair curling on his blue jeans coat-collar,
and an assured smile in his dark brown eyes, and some lazy jest on his
lips, certain of a welcoming laugh, for he had been so near to death
that they all had a sense of acquisition in that he had been led back.
For his sake they had said little; his mother would busy herself in
brewing his "yerb" tea, and his brother would offer to saddle the mare
if he felt that he could ride, and they would all be very friendly
together; and his alien wife would presently slip out unnoticed into the
"gyarden spot," where the rows of vegetables grew as they did in the
Cove, turning upon her the same neighborly looks they wore of yore, and
showing not a strange leaf among them. The sunshine wrapped itself in
its old fine gilded gossamer haze and drowsed upon the verdant slopes;
the green jewelled "Juny-bugs" whirred in the soft air; the mould was as
richly brown as in Joel Quimbey's own enclosure; the flag-lilies bloomed
beside the onion bed; and the woolly green leaves of the sage wore their
old delicate tint and gave out a familiar odor.
Among this quaint company of the garden borders she spent much of her
time, now hoeing in a desultory fashion, now leaning on the long handle
of the implement and looking away upon the far reaches of the purple
mountains. As they stretched to vague distances they became blue, and
farther on the great azure domes merged into a still more tender hue,
and this in turn melted into a soft indeterminate tint that embellished
the faint horizon. Her dreaming eyes would grow bright and
wistful; her rich brown curling hair, set free by the yellow
sun-bonnet that slipped off her head and upon her shoulders, would
airily float backward in the wind; there was a lithe grace in the
slender figure, albeit clad in a yellow homespun of a deep dye, and the
faded purplish neckerchief was caught about a throat fairer even than
the fair face, which was delicately flushed. Absalom's mother, standing
beside Peter, the eldest son, in the doorway, watched her long one day.
"It all kem about from that thar bran dance," said Peter, a homely man,
with a sterling, narrow-minded wife and an ascetic sense of religion.
"Thar Satan waits, an' he gits nimbler every time ye shake yer foot. The
fiddler gin out the figger ter change partners, an' this hyar gal war
dancin' opposite Abs'lom, ez hed never looked nigh her till that day.
The gal didn't know what ter do; she jes' stood still; but Abs'lom he
jes' danced up ter her ez keerless an' gay ez he always war, jes' like
she war ennybody else, an' when he held out his han' she gin him hern,
all a-trembly, an' lookin' up at him, plumb skeered ter death, her eyes
all wide an' sorter wishful, like some wild thing trapped in the woods.
An' then the durned fiddler, moved by the devil, I'll be bound, plumb
furgot ter change 'em back. So they danced haff'n the day tergether. An'
arter that they war forever a-stealin' off an' accidentally meetin' at
the spring, an' whenst he war a-huntin' or she drivin' up the cow, an'
a-courtin' ginerally, till they war promised ter marry."
"'Twarn't the bran dance; 'twar suthin' ez fleetin' an' ez useless,"
said his mother, standing in the door and gazing at the unconscious
girl, who was leaning upon the hoe, half in the shadow of the blooming
laurel that crowded about the enclosure and bent over the rail fence,
and half in the burnished sunshine; "she's plumb beautiful—thar's
the snare ez tangled Abs'lom's steps. I never 'lowed ter see the day ez
could show enny comfort fur his dad bein' dead, but we hev been spared
some o' the tallest cavortin' that ever war seen sence the Big Smoky war
built. Sometimes it plumb skeers me ter think ez we-uns hev got a
Quimbey abidin' up hyar along o' we-uns in his house an' a-callin' o'
herse'f Kittredge. I looks ter see him a-stalkin' roun' hyar some night,
too outdone an' aggervated ter rest in his grave."
But the nights continued spectreless and peaceful on the Great Smoky,
and the same serene stars shone above the mountain as over the Cove.
Evelina could watch here, as often before, the rising moon ascending
through a rugged gap in the range, suffusing the dusky purple slopes and
the black crags on either hand with a pensive glamour, and revealing the
river below by the amber reflection its light evoked. She often sat on
the step of the porch, her elbow on her knees, her chin in her hand,
following with her shining eyes the pearly white mists loitering among
the ranges. Hear! a dog barks in the Cove, a cock crows, a horn is
wound, far, far away; it echoes faintly. And once more only the sounds
of the night—that vague stir in the windless woods, as if the
forest breathes, the far-away tinkle of water hidden in the
darkness—and the moon is among the summits.
The men remained within, for Absalom avoided the chill night air, and
crouched over the smouldering fire. Peter's wife sedulously held aloof
from the ostracized Quimbey woman. But her mother-in-law had fallen into
the habit of sitting upon the porch these moonlit nights. The sparse,
newly-leafed hop and gourd vines clambering to its roof were all
delicately imaged on the floor, and the old woman's clumsy figure, her
grotesque sun-bonnet, her awkward arm-chair, were faithfully reproduced
in her shadow on the log wall of the cabin—even to the up-curling
smoke from her pipe. Once she suddenly took the stem from her mouth.
"Eveliny," she said, "'pears like ter me ye talk mighty little. Thar
ain't no use in gittin' tongue-tied up hyar on the mounting."
Evelina started and raised her eyes, dilated with a stare of amazement
at this unexpected overture.
"I ain't keerin'," said the old woman, recklessly, to herself, although
consciously recreant to the traditions of the family, and sacrificing
with a pang her distorted sense of loyalty and duty to her kindlier
impulse. "I warn't born a Kittredge nohow."
"Yes,'m," said Evelina, meekly; "but I don't feel much like talkin'
noways; I never talked much, bein' nobody but men-folks ter our house.
I'd ruther hear ye talk 'n talk myself."
"Listen at ye now! The headin' young folks o' this kentry 'll never rest
till they make thar elders shoulder all the burdens. An' what air ye
wantin' a pore ole 'oman like me ter talk about?"
Evelina hesitated a moment, then looked up, with a face radiant in
the moonbeams. "Tell all 'bout Abs'lom—afore I ever seen him."
His mother laughed. "Ye air a powerful fool, Eveliny."
The girl laughed a little, too. "I dunno ez I want ter be no wiser," she
But one was his wife, and the other was his mother, and as they talked
of him daily and long, the bond between them was complete.
"I hev got 'em both plumb fooled," the handsome Absalom boasted at the
settlement, when the gossips wondered once more, as they had often done,
that there should be such unity of interest between old Joel Quimbey's
daughter and old Josiah Kittredge's widow. As time went on many rumors
of great peace on the mountain-side came to the father's ears, and he
grew more testy daily as he grew visibly older. These rumors multiplied
with the discovery that they were as wormwood and gall to him. Not that
he wished his daughter to be unhappy, but the joy which was his grief
and humiliation was needlessly flaunted into his face; the idlers about
the county town had invariably a new budget of details, being supplied,
somewhat maliciously, it must be confessed, by the Kittredges
themselves. The ceremony of planting one foot on the neck of the
vanquished was in their minds one of the essential concomitants of
victory. The bold Absalom, not thoroughly known to either of the women
who adored him, was ingenious in expedients, and had applied the
knowledge gleaned from his wife's reminiscences of her home, her
father, and her brothers to more accurately aim his darts.
Sometimes old Quimbey would fairly flee the town, and betake himself in
a towering rage to his deserted hearth, to brood futilely over the
ashes, and devise impotent schemes of vengeance.
He often wondered afterward in dreary retrospection how he had survived
that first troublous year after his daughter's elopement, when he was so
lonely, so heavy-hearted at home, so harried and angered abroad. His
comforts, it is true, were amply insured: a widowed sister had come to
preside over his household—a deaf old woman, who had much to be
thankful for in her infirmity, for Joel Quimbey in his youth, before he
acquired religion, had been known as a singularly profane man—"a
mos' survigrus cusser"—and something of his old proficiency had
returned to him. Perhaps public sympathy for his troubles strengthened
his hold upon the regard of the community. For it was in the second year
of Evelina's marriage, in the splendid midsummer, when all the gifts of
nature climax to a gorgeous perfection, and candidates become
incumbents, that he unexpectedly attained the great ambition of his
life. He was said to have made the race for justice of the peace from
sheer force of habit, but by some unexplained freak of popularity the
oft-defeated candidate was successful by a large majority at the August
"Laws-a-massy, boys," he said, tremulously, to his triumphant sons, when
the result was announced, the excited flush on his thin old face
suffusing his hollow veinous temples, and rising into his fine white hair, "how glad Eveliny would hev been
ef—ef—" He was about to say if she had lived, for he often
spoke of her as if she were dead. He turned suddenly back, and began to
eagerly absorb the details of the race, as if he had often before been
elected, with calm superiority canvassing the relative strength, or
rather the relative weakness, of the defeated aspirants.
He could scarcely have measured the joy which the news gave to Evelina.
She was eminently susceptible of the elation of pride, the fervid glow
of success, but her tender heart melted in sympathetic divination of all
that this was to him who had sought it so long, and so unabashed by
defeat. She pined to see his triumph in his eyes, to hear it in his
voice. She wondered—nay, she knew that he longed to tell it to
her. As the year rolled around again to summer, and she heard from time
to time of his quarterly visits to the town as a member of the
worshipful Quarterly County Court, she began to hope that, softened by
his prosperity, lifted so high by his honors above all the cavillings of
the Kittredges, he might be more leniently disposed toward her, might
pity her, might even go so far as to forgive.
But none of her filial messages reached her father's fiery old heart.
"Ye'll be sure, Abs'lom, ef ye see Joe Boyd in town, ye'll tell him ter
gin dad my respec's, an' the word ez how the baby air a-thrivin', an' I
wants ter fotch him ter see the fambly at home, ef they'll lemme."
Then she would watch Absalom with all the confidence of happy
anticipation, as he rode off down the mountain with his hair
flaunting, and his spurs jingling, and his shy young horse curveting.
But no word ever came in response; and sometimes she would take the
child in her arms and carry him down a path, worn smooth by her own
feet, to a jagged shoulder thrust out by the mountain where all the
slopes fell away, and a crag beetled over the depths of the Cove. Thence
she could discern certain vague lines marking the enclosure, and a tiny
cluster of foliage hardly recognizable as the orchard, in the midst of
which the cabin nestled. She could not distinguish them, but she knew
that the cows were coming to be milked, lowing and clanking their bells
tunefully, fording the river that had the sunset emblazoned upon it, or
standing flank deep amidst its ripples, the chickens might be going to
roost among the althea bushes; the lazy old dogs were astir on the
porch. She could picture her brothers at work about the barn; most often
a white-haired man who walked with a stick—alack! she did not
fancy how feebly, nor that his white hair had grown long and venerable,
and tossed in the breeze. "Ef he would jes lemme kem fur one haff'n
hour!" she would cry.
But all her griefs were bewept on the crag, that there might be no tears
to distress the tenderhearted Absalom when she should return to the
The election of Squire Quimbey was a sad blow to the arrogant spirit of
the Kittredges. They had easily accustomed themselves to ascendency, and
they hotly resented the fact that fate had forborne the opportunity to
hit Joel Quimbey when he was down. They had used their utmost
influence to defeat him in the race, and had openly avowed their desire
to see him bite the dust. The inimical feeling between the families
culminated one rainy autumnal day in the town where the quarterly county
court was in session.
A fire had been kindled in the great rusty stove, and crackled away with
grudging merriment inside, imparting no sentiment of cheer to the gaunt
bare room, with its dusty window-panes streaked with rain, its shutters
drearily flapping in the wind, and the floor bearing the imprint of many
boots burdened with the red clay of the region. The sound of slow
strolling feet in the brick-paved hall was monotonous and somnolent.
Squire Quimbey sat in his place among the justices. Despite his pride of
office, he had not the heart for business that might formerly have been
his. More than once his attention wandered. He looked absently out of
the nearest window at the neighboring dwelling—a little
frame-house with a green yard; a well-sweep was defined against the gray
sky, and about the curb a file of geese followed with swaying gait the
wise old gander. "What a hand for fow-els Eveliny war!" he muttered to
himself; "an' she hed luck with sech critters." He used the obituary
tense, for Evelina had in some sort passed away.
He rubbed his hand across his corrugated brow, and suddenly he became
aware that her husband was in the room, speaking to the chairman of the
county court, and claiming a certificate in the sum of two dollars each
for the scalps of one wolf, "an' one painter," he continued, laying
the small furry repulsive objects upon the desk, "an' one dollar fur the
skelp of one wild-cat." He was ready to take his oath that these animals
were killed by him running at large in this county.
He had stooped a little in making the transfer. He came suddenly to his
full height, and stood with one hand in his leather belt, the other
shouldering his rifle. The old man scanned him curiously. The crude
light from the long windows was full upon his tall slim figure; his
yellow hair curled down upon the collar of his blue jeans coat; his
great miry boots were drawn high over the trousers to the knee; his
pensive deer-like eyes brightened with a touch of arrogance and enmity
as, turning slowly to see who was present, his glance encountered his
father-in-law's fiery gaze.
"Mr. Cheerman! Mr. Cheerman!" exclaimed the old man, tremulously, "lemme
examinate that thar wild-cat skelp. Thanky, sir; thanky, sir; I wanter
see ef 'tain't off'n the head o' some old tame tomcat. An' this air a
painter's"—affecting to scan it by the window—"two ears
'cordin' to law; yes, sir, two; and this"—his keen old face had
all the white light of the sad gray day on its bleaching hair and its
many lines, and his eager old hands trembled with the excitement of the
significant satire he enacted—"an' this air a wolf's, ye say? Yes;
it's a Kittredge's; same thing, Mr. Cheerman, by a diff'ent name;
nuthin' in the code 'bout'n a premium fur a Kittredge's skelp; but same
natur'; coward, bully, thief—thief!"
The words in the high cracked voice rang from the bare walls and
bare floors as he tossed the scalps from him, and sat down, laughing
silently in painful, mirthless fashion, his toothless jaw quivering, and
his shaking hands groping for the arms of his chair.
"Who says a Kittredge air a thief says a lie!" cried out the young man,
recovering from his tense surprise. "I don't keer how old he be," he
stipulated—for he had not thought to see her father so
The old man fixed him with a steady gaze and a sudden alternation of
calmness. "Ye air a Kittredge; ye stole my daughter from me."
"I never. She kem of her own accord."
"Damn ye!" the old man retorted to the unwelcome truth. There was
nothing else for him to say. "Damn the whole tribe of ye; everything
that goes by the accursed name of Kittredge, that's got a drop o' yer
blood, or a bone o' yer bones, or a puff o' yer breath—"
"Squair! squair!" interposed an officious old colleague, taking him by
the elbow, "jes' quiet down now; ye air a-cussin' yer own gran'son."
"So be! so be!" cried the old man, in a frenzy of rage. "Damn 'em
all—all the Kittredge tribe!" He gasped for breath; his lips still
moved speechlessly as he fell back in his chair.
Kittredge let his gun slip from his shoulder, the butt ringing heavily
as it struck upon the floor. "I ain't a-goin' ter take sech ez that
off'n ye, old man," he cried, pallid with fury, for be it remembered
this grandson was that august institution, a first baby. "He sha'n't sit
up thar an' cuss the baby, Mr. Cheerman." He appealed to the
presiding justice, holding up his right arm as tremulous as old
Quimbey's own. "I want the law! I ain't a-goin' ter tech a old man like
him, an' my wife's father, so I ax in the name o' peace fur the law.
Don't deny it"—with a warning glance—"'kase I ain't
school-larned, an' dunno how ter get it. Don't ye deny me the law! I
know the law don't 'low a magistrate an' a jestice ter cuss in his
high office, in the presence of the county court. I want the law! I want
The chairman of the court, who had risen in his excitement, turning
eagerly first to one and then to the other of the speakers, striving to
silence the colloquy, and in the sudden surprise of it at a momentary
loss how to take action, sat down abruptly, and with a face of
consternation. Profanity seemed to him so usual and necessary an
incident of conversation that it had never occurred to him until this
moment that by some strange aberration from the rational estimate of
essentials it was entered in the code as a violation of law. He would
fain have overlooked it, but the room was crowded with spectators. The
chairman would be a candidate for re-election as justice of the peace at
the expiration of his term. And after all what was old Quimbey to him,
or he to old Quimbey, that, with practically the whole town looking on,
he should destroy his political prospects and disregard the dignity of
his office. He had a certain twinge of conscience, and a recollection of
the choice and fluent oaths of his own repertory, but as he turned over
the pages of the code in search of the section he deftly argued
that they were uttered in his own presence as a person, not as a
And so for the first time old Joel Quimbey appeared as a law-breaker,
and was duly fined by the worshipful county court fifty cents for each
oath, that being the price at which the State rates the expensive and
impious luxury of swearing in the hearing of a justice of the peace, and
which in its discretion the court saw fit to adopt in this instance.
The old man offered no remonstrance; he said not a word in his own
defence. He silently drew out his worn wallet, with much contortion of
his thin old anatomy in getting to his pocket, and paid his fines on the
spot. Absalom had already left the room, the clerk having made out the
certificates, the chairman of the court casting the scalps into the open
door of the stove, that they might be consumed by fire according to law.
The young mountaineer wore a heavy frown, and his heart was ill at ease.
He sought some satisfaction in the evident opinion of the crowd which
now streamed out, for the excitements within were over, that he had done
a fine thing; a very clever thought, they considered it, to demand the
law of Mr. Chairman, that one of their worships should be dragged from
the bench and arraigned before the quarterly county court of which he
was a member. The result gave general satisfaction, although there were
those who found fault with the court's moderation, and complained that
the least possible cognizance had been taken of the offence.
"Ho! ho! ho!" laughed an old codger in the street. "I jes knowed that
hurt old Joel Quimbey wuss 'n ef a body hed druv a knife through
him; he's been so proud o' bein' jestice 'mongst his betters, an' bein'
'lected at las', many times ez he hev run. Waal, Abs'lom, ye hev proved
thar's law fur jestices too. I tell ye ye hev got sense in yer
But Absalom hung his head before these congratulations; he found no
relish in the old man's humbled pride. Yet had he not cursed the baby,
lumping him among the Kittredges? Absalom went about for a time, with a
hopeful anxiety in his eyes, searching for one of the younger Quimbeys,
in order to involve him in a fight that might have a provocation and a
result more to his mind. Somehow the recollection of the quivering and
aged figure of his wife's father, of the smitten look on his old face,
of his abashed and humbled demeanor before the court, was a reproach to
him, vivid and continuously present with his repetitious thoughts
forever re-enacting the scene. His hands trembled; he wanted to lay hold
on a younger man, to replace this æsthetic revenge with a quarrel
more wholesome in the estimation of his own conscience. But the Quimbey
sons were not in town to-day. He could only stroll about and hear
himself praised for this thing that he had done, and wonder how he
should meet Evelina with his conscience thus arrayed against himself for
her father's sake. "Plumb turned Quimbey, I swear," he said, in helpless
reproach to this independent and coercive moral force within. His
dejection, he supposed, had reached its lowest limits, when a rumor
pervaded the town, so wild that he thought it could be only
fantasy. It proved to be fact. Joel Quimbey, aggrieved, humbled,
and indignant, had resigned his office, and as Absalom rode out of town
toward the mountains, he saw the old man in his crumpled brown jeans
suit, mounted on his white mare, jogging down the red clay road, his
head bowed before the slanting lines of rain, on his way to his
cheerless fireside. He turned off presently, for the road to the levels
of the Cove was not the shorter cut that Absalom travelled to the
mountains. But all the way the young man fancied that he saw from time
to time, as the bridle-path curved in the intricacies of the laurel, the
bowed old figure among the mists, jogging along, his proud head and his
stiff neck bent to the slanting rain and the buffets of his unkind fate.
And yet, pressing the young horse to overtake him, Absalom could find
naught but the fleecy mists drifting down the bridle-path as the wind
might will, or lurking in the darkling nooks of the laurel when the wind
The sun was shining on the mountains, and Absalom went up from the sad
gray rain and through the gloomy clouds of autumn hanging over the Cove
into a soft brilliant upper atmosphere—a generous after-thought of
summer—and the warm brightness of Evelina's smile. She stood in
the doorway as she saw him dismounting, with her finger on her lips, for
the baby was sleeping: he put much of his time into that occupation. The
tiny gourds hung yellow among the vines that clambered over the roof of
the porch, and a brave jack-bean—a friend of the sheltering
eaves—made shift to bloom purple and white, though others of
the kind hung crisp and sere, and rattled their dry bones in every gust.
The "gyarden spot" at the side of the house was full of brown and
withered skeletons of the summer growths; among the crisp blades of the
Indian-corn a sibilant voice was forever whispering; down the
tawny-colored vistas the pumpkins glowed. The sky was blue; the yellow
hickory flaming against it and hanging over the roof of the cabin was a
fine color to see. The red sour-wood tree in the fence corner shook out
a myriad of white tassels; the rolling tumult of the gray clouds below
thickened, and he could hear the rain a-falling—falling into the
dreary depths of the Cove.
All this for him: why should he disquiet himself for the storm that
burst upon others?
Evelina seemed a part of the brightness; her dark eyes so softly alight,
her curving red lips, the faint flush in her cheeks, her rich brown
hair, and the purplish kerchief about the neck of her yellow dress. Once
more she looked smilingly at him, and shook her head and laid her finger
on her lip.
"I oughter been sati'fied with all I got, stiddier hectorin' other folks
till they 'ain't got no heart ter hold on ter what they been at sech
trouble ter git," he said, as he turned out the horse and strode
gloomily toward the house with the saddle over his arm.
"Hev ennybody been spiteful ter you-uns ter-day?" she asked, in an
almost maternal solicitude, and with a flash of partisan anger in her
"Git out'n my road, Eveliny," he said, fretfully, pushing by, and
throwing the saddle on the floor. There was no one in the room but the
occupant of the rude box on rockers which served as cradle.
Absalom had a swift, prescient fear. "She'll git it all out'n me ef I
don't look sharp," he said to himself. Then aloud, "Whar's mam?" he
demanded, flinging himself into a chair and looking loweringly about.
"Topknot hev jes kem off'n her nest with fourteen deedies, an' she an'
'Melia hev gone ter the barn ter see 'bout'n 'em."
A pause. The fire smouldered audibly; a hickory-nut fell with a sharp
thwack on the clapboards of the roof, and rolled down and bounded to the
Suddenly: "I seen yer dad ter-day," he began, without coercion. "He gin
me a cussin', in the court-room, 'fore all the folks. He cussed all the
Kittredges, all o' 'em; him too"—he glanced in the direction of
the cradle—"cussed 'em black an' blue, an' called me a thief fur
marryin' ye an kerry-in' ye off."
Her face turned scarlet, then pale. She sat down, her trembling hands
reaching out to rock the cradle, as if the youthful Kittredge might be
disturbed by the malediction hurled upon his tribe. But he slept
"Waal, now," she said, making a great effort at self-control, "ye
oughtn't ter mind it. Ye know he war powerful tried. I never purtended
ter be ez sweet an' pritty ez the baby air, but how would you-uns
feel ef somebody ye despised war ter kem hyar an' tote him off from
"I'd cut thar hearts out," he said, with prompt barbarity.
"Thar, now!" exclaimed his wife, in triumphant logic.
He gloomily eyed the smouldering coals. He was beginning to understand
the paternal sentiment. By his own heart he was learning the heart of
his wife's father.
"I'd chop 'em inter minch-meat," he continued, carrying his just
reprisals a step further.
"Waal, don't do it right now," said his wife, trying to laugh, yet
vaguely frightened by his vehemence.
"Eveliny," he cried, springing to his feet, "I be a-goin' ter tell ye
all 'bout'n it. I jes called on the cheerman fur the law agin him."
"Agin dad!—the law!" Her voice dropped as she contemplated
aghast this terrible uncomprehended force brought to oppress old Joel
Quimbey; she felt a sudden poignant pang for his forlorn and lonely
"Never mind, never mind, Eveliny," Absalom said, hastily, repenting of
his frantic candor and seeking to soothe her.
"I will mind," she said, sternly. "What hev ye done ter dad?"
"Nuthin'," he replied, sulkily—"nuthin'."
"Ye needn't try ter fool me, Abs'lom Kittredge. Ef ye ain't minded ter
tell me, I'll foot it down ter town an' find out. What did the law do
"Jes fined him," he said, striving to make light of it.
"An' ye done that fur—spite!" she cried. "A-settin' the law ter
chouse a old man out'n money, fur gittin' mad an' sayin' ye stole his
only darter. Oh, I'll answer fur him"—she too had risen; her hand
trembled on the back of the chair, but her face was scornfully
smiling—"he don't mind the money; he'll never git you-uns
fined ter pay back the gredge. He don't take his wrath out on folkses'
wallets; he grips thar throats, or teches the trigger o' his rifle.
Laws-a-massy! takin' out yer gredge that-a-way! It's ye poorer fur
them dollars, Abs'lom—'tain't him." She laughed satirically, and
turned to rock the cradle.
"What d'ye want me ter do? Fight a old man?" he exclaimed, angrily.
She kept silence, only looking at him with a flushed cheek and a
scornful laughing eye.
He went on, resentfully: "I ain't 'shamed," he stoutly asserted. "Nobody
'lowed I oughter be. It's him, plumb bowed down with shame."
"The shoe's on the t'other foot," she cried. "It's ye that oughter be
'shamed, an' ef ye ain't, it's more shame ter ye. What hev he got ter be
"'Kase," he retorted, "he war fetched up afore a court on a crim'nal
offence—a-cussin' afore the court! Ye may think it's no shame, but
he do; he war so 'shamed he gin up his office ez jestice o' the peace,
what he hev run fur four or five times, an' always got beat 'ceptin'
"Dad!" but for the whisper she seemed turning to stone; her dilated
eyes were fixed as she stared into his face.
"An' I seen him a-ridin' off from town in the rain arterward, his head
hangin' plumb down ter the saddle-bow."
Her amazed eyes were still fastened upon his face, but her hand no
longer trembled on the back of the chair.
He suddenly held out his own hand to her, his sympathy and regret
returning as he recalled the picture of the lonely wayfarer in the rain
that had touched him so. "Oh, Eveliny!" he cried, "I never war so beset
an' sorry an'—"
She struck his hand down; her eyes blazed. Her aspect was all instinct
"I do declar' I'll never furgive ye—ter spite him so—an' kem
an' tell me! An' shame him so ez he can't hold his place—an' kem
an' tell me! An' bow him down so ez he can't show his face whar he hev
been so respected by all—an' kem an' tell me! An' all fur spite,
fur he hev got nuthin' ye want now. An' I gin him up an' lef him lonely,
an' all fur you-uns. Ye air mean, Abs'lom Kittredge, an' I'm the mos'
fursaken fool on the face o' the yearth!"
He tried to speak, but she held up her hand in expostulation.
"Nare word—fur I won't answer. I do declar' I'll never speak ter
ye agin ez long ez I live."
He flung away with a laugh and a jeer. "That's right," he said,
encouragingly; "plenty o' men would be powerful glad ef thar wives would
take pattern by that."
He caught up his hat and strode out of the room. He busied himself in
stabling his horse, and in looking after the stock. He could hear the
women's voices from the loft of the barn as they disputed about the best
methods of tending the newly hatched chickens, that had chipped the
shell so late in the fall as to be embarrassed by the frosts and the
coming cold weather. The last bee had ceased to drone about the great
crimson prince's-feather by the door-step, worn purplish through long
flaunting, and gone to seed. The clouds were creeping up and up the
slope, and others were journeying hither from over the mountains. A
sense of moisture was in the air, although a great column of dust sprang
up from the dry corn-field, with panic-stricken suggestions, and went
whirling away, carrying off withered blades in the rush. The first drops
of rain were pattering, with a resonant timbre in the midst, when Pete
came home with a newly killed deer on his horse, and the women, with
fluttering skirts and sun-bonnets, ran swiftly across from the barn to
the back door of the shed-room. Then the heavy downpour made the cabin
"Why, Eveliny an' the baby oughtn't ter be out in this hyar
rain—they'll be drenched," said the old woman, when they were all
safely housed except the two. "Whar be she?"
"A-foolin' in the gyarden spot a-getherin' seed an' sech, like she
always be," said the sister-in-law, tartly.
Absalom ran out into the rain without his hat, his heart in the clutch
of a prescient terror. No; the summer was over for the garden as well as
for him; all forlorn and rifled, its few swaying shrubs tossed
wildly about, a mockery of the grace and bloom that had once embellished
it. His wet hair streaming backward in the wind caught on the laurel
boughs as he went down and down the tangled path that her homesick feet
had worn to the crag which overlooked the Cove. Not there! He stood,
himself enveloped in the mist, and gazed blankly into the folds of the
dun-colored clouds that with tumultuous involutions surged above the
valley and baffled his vision. He realized it with a sinking heart. She
That afternoon—it was close upon nightfall—Stephen Quimbey,
letting down the bars for the cows, noticed through the slanting lines
of rain, serried against the masses of sober-hued vapors which hid the
great mountain towering above the Cove, a woman crossing the
foot-bridge. He turned and lifted down another bar, and then looked
again. Something was familiar in her aspect, certainly. He stood gravely
staring. Her sun-bonnet had fallen back upon her shoulders, and was
hanging loosely there by the strings tied beneath her chin; her brown
hair, dishevelled by the storm, tossed back and forth in heavy wave-less
locks, wet through and through. When the wind freshened they lashed,
thong-like, her pallid oval face; more than once she put up her hand and
tried to gather them together, or to press them back—only one
hand, for she clasped a heavy bundle in her arms, and as she toiled
along slowly up the rocky slope, Stephen suddenly held his palm above
his eyes. The recognition was becoming definite, and yet he could
scarcely believe his senses: was it indeed Evelina, wind-tossed,
tempest-beaten, and with as many tears as rain-drops on her pale cheek?
Evelina, forlorn and sorry, and with swollen sad dark eyes, and listless
exhausted step—here again at the bars, where she had not stood
since she dragged her wounded lover thence on that eventful night two
years and more ago.
Resentment for the domestic treachery was uppermost in his mind, and he
demanded surlily, when she had advanced within the sound of his words,
"What hev ye kem hyar fur?"
"Ter stay," she responded, briefly.
His hand in an uncertain gesture laid hold upon his tuft of beard.
"Fur good?" he faltered, amazed.
She nodded silently.
He stooped to lift down the lowest bar that she might pass. Suddenly the
bundle she clasped gave a dexterous twist; a small head, with yellow
downy hair, was thrust forth; a pair of fawn-like eyes fixed an
inquiring stare upon him; the pink face distended with a grin, to which
the two small teeth in the red mouth, otherwise empty, lent a singularly
merry expression; and with a manner that was a challenge to pursuit, the
head disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared, tucked with affected
shyness under Evelina's arm.
She left Stephen standing with the bar in his hand, staring blankly
after her, and ran into the cabin.
Her father had no questions to ask—nor she.
As he caught her in his arms he gave a great cry of joy that rang
through the house, and brought Timothy from the barn, in astonishment,
to the scene.
"Eveliny's home!" he cried out to Tim, who, with the ox-yoke in his
hand, paused in the doorway. "Kem ter stay! Eveliny's home! I knowed
she'd kem back to her old daddy. Eveliny's kem ter stay fur good."
"They tole me they'd hectored ye plumb out'n the town an' out'n yer
office. They hed the insurance ter tell me that word!" she cried,
sobbing on his breast.
"What d'ye reckon I keer fur enny jestice's cheer when I hev got ye agin
ter set alongside o' me by the fire?" he exclaimed, his cracked old
voice shrill with triumphant gladness.
He pushed her into her rocking-chair in the chimney-corner, and laughed
again with the supreme pleasure of the moment, although she had leaned
her head against the logs of the wall, and was sobbing aloud with the
contending emotions that tore her heart.
"Didn't ye ever want ter kem afore, Eveliny?" he demanded. "I hev been
a-pinin' fur a glimge o' ye." He was in his own place now, his hands
trembling as they lay on the arms of his chair, a pathetic reproach was
in his voice. "Though old folks oughtn't ter expec' too much o' young
ones, ez be all tuk up naterally with tharse'fs," he added, bravely. He
would not let his past lonely griefs mar the bright present. "Old folks
air mos'ly cumberers—mos'ly cumberers o' the yearth, ennyhow."
Her weeping had ceased; she was looking at him with dismayed
surprise in her eyes, still lustrous with unshed tears. "Why, dad I sent
ye a hundred messages ef I mought kem. I tole Abs'lom ter tell Joe
Boyd—bein' as ye liked Joe—I wanted ter see ye." She leaned
forward and looked up at him with frowning intensity. "They never gin ye
He laughed aloud in sorry scorn. "We can't teach our chil'n nuthin'," he
philosophized. "They hev got ter hurt tharse'fs with all the thorns an'
the stings o' the yearth. Our sperience with the sharp things an' bitter
ones don't do them no sarvice. Naw, leetle darter—naw! Ye mought
ez well gin a message o' kindness ter a wolf, an' expec' him ter kerry
it ter some lonesome, helpless thing a-wounded by the way-side, ez gin
it ter a Kittredge."
"I never will speak ter one o' 'em agin ez long ez I live," she cried,
with a fresh gust of tears.
"Waal," exclaimed the old man, reassuringly, and chirping high, "hyar we
all be agin, jes' the same ez we war afore. Don't cry, Eveliny; it's
jes' the same."
A sudden babbling intruded upon the conversation. The youthful
Kittredge, as he sat upon the wide flat stones of the hearth, was as
unwelcome here in the Cove as a Quimbey had been in the cabin on the
mountain. The great hickory fire called for his unmixed approval, coming
in, as he had done, from the gray wet day. He shuffled his bare pink
feet—exceedingly elastic and agile members they seemed to be, and
he had a remarkable "purchase" upon their use—and brought them
smartly down upon their heels as if this were one of the accepted
gestures of applause. Then he looked up at the dark frowning faces of
his mother's brothers, and gurgled with laughter, showing the
fascinating spectacle of his two front teeth. Perhaps it was the only
Kittredge eye that they were not willing to meet. They solemnly gazed
beyond him and into the fire, ignoring his very existence. He sustained
the slight with an admirable cheerfulness, and babbled and sputtered and
flounced about with his hands. He grew pinker in the generous firelight,
and he looked very fat as he sat in a heap on the floor. He seemed to
have threads tightly tied about his bolster-shaped limbs in places where
elder people prefer joints—in his ankles and wrists and
elbows—for his arms were bare, and although his frock of pink
calico hung decorously high on one shoulder, it drooped quite off from
the other, showing a sturdy chest.
His mother took slight notice of him; she was beginning to look about
the room with a certain critical disfavor at the different arrangement
of the household furniture adopted by her father's deaf and widowed old
sister who presided here now, and who, it chanced, had been called away
by the illness of a relative. Evelina got up presently, and shifted the
position of the spinning-wheels, placing the flax-wheel where the large
wheel had been. She then pushed out the table from the corner. "What
ailed her ter sot it hyar?" she grumbled, in a disaffected undertone,
and shoved it to the centre of the floor, where it had always stood
during her own sway. She cast a discerning glance up among the strings
of herbs and peppers hanging from above, and examined the shelves
where the simple stores for table use were arranged in earthen-ware
bowls or gourds—all with an air of vague dissatisfaction. She
presently stepped into the shed-room, and there looked over the piles of
quilts. They were in order, certainly, but placed in a different method
from her own; another woman's hand had been at work, and she was jealous
of its very touch among these familiar old things to which she seemed
positively akin. "I wonder how I made out ter bide so long on the
mounting," she said; and with the recollection of the long-haired
Absalom there was another gush of tears and sobs, which she stifled as
she could in one of the old quilts that held many of her own stitches
and was soothing to touch.
The infantile Kittredge, who was evidently not born to blush unseen,
seemed to realize that he had failed to attract the attention of the
three absorbed Quimbeys who sat about the fire. He blithely addressed
himself to another effort. He suddenly whisked himself over on
all-fours, and with a certain ursine aspect went nimbly across the
hearth, still holding up his downy yellow head, his pink face agrin, and
alluringly displaying his two facetious teeth. He caught the rung of
Tim's chair, and lifted himself tremulously to an upright posture. And
then it became evident that he was about to give an exhibition of the
thrilling feat of walking around a chair. With a truly Kittredge
perversity he had selected the one that had the savage Timothy seated in
it. For an instant the dark-browed face scowled down into his
unaffrighted eyes: it seemed as if Tim might kick him into the
fire. The next moment he had set out to circumnavigate, as it were. What
a prodigious force he expended upon it! How he gurgled and grinned and
twisted his head to observe the effect upon the men, all sedulously
gazing into the fire! how he bounced, and anon how he sank with sudden
genuflections! how limber his feet seemed, and what free agents! Surely
he never intended to put them down at that extravagant angle. More than
once one foot was placed on top of the other—an attitude that
impeded locomotion and resulted in his sitting down in an involuntary
manner and with some emphasis. With an appalling temerity he clutched
Tim's great miry boots to help him up and on his way round. Occasionally
he swayed to and fro, with his teeth on exhibition, laughing and
babbling and shrilly exclaiming, inarticulately bragging of his agile
prowess, as if he were able to defy all the Quimbeys, who would not
notice him. And when it was all over he went in his wriggling ursine
gait back to the hearth-stone, and there he was sitting, demurely
enough, and as if he had never moved, when his mother returned and found
There was no indication that he had attracted a moment's attention. She
looked gravely down at him; then took her chair. A pair of blue yarn
socks was in her hand. "I never see sech darnin' ez Aunt Sairy Ann do
fur ye, dad; I hev jes tuk my shears an' cut this heel smang out, an' I
be goin' ter do it over."
She slipped a tiny gourd into the heel, and began to draw the slow
threads to and fro across it.
The blaze, red and yellow, and with elusive purple gleams, leaped up the
chimney. The sap was still in the wood; it sang a summer-tide song. But
an autumn wind was blowing shrilly down the chimney; one could hear the
sibilant rush of the dead leaves on the blast. The window and the door
shook, and were still, and once more rattled as if a hand were on the
Suddenly—"Ever weigh him?" her father asked.
She sat upright with a nervous start. It was a moment before she
understood that it was of the Kittredge scion he spoke.
With his high cracked laugh the old man leaned over, his outspread hand
hovering about the plump baby, uncertain where, in so much soft fatness,
it might be practicable to clutch him. There were some large horn
buttons on the back of his frock, a half-dozen of which, gathered
together, afforded a grasp. He lifted the child by them, laughing in
undisguised pleasure to feel the substantial strain upon the garment.
"Toler'ble survigrus," he declared, with his high chirp.
His daughter suddenly sprang up with a pallid face and a pointing hand.
"The winder!" she huskily cried—"suthin's at the winder!"
But when they looked they saw only the dark square of tiny panes, with
the fireside scene genially reflected on it. And then she fell to
declaring that she had been dreaming, and besought them not to take down
their guns nor to search, and would not be still until they had all
seemed to concede the point; it was she who fastened the doors and
shutters, and she did not lie down to rest till they were all asleep and
hours had passed. None of them doubted that it was Absalom's face that
she had seen at the window, where the light had once lured him before,
and she knew that she had dreamed no dream like this.
It soon became evident that whenever Joe Boyd was intrusted with a
message he would find means to deliver it. For upon him presently
devolved the difficult duties of ambassador. The first time that his
honest square face appeared at the rail fence, and the sound of his
voice roused Evelina as she stood feeding the poultry close by, she
returned his question with a counter-question hard to answer.
"I hev been up the mounting," he said, smiling, as he hooked his arms
over the rail fence. "Abs'lom he say he wanter know when ye'll git yer
visit out an' kem home."
She leaned her elbow against the ash-hopper, balancing the wooden bowl
of corn-meal batter on its edge and trembling a little; the geese and
chickens and turkeys crowded, a noisy rout, about her feet.
"Joe," she said, irrelevantly, "ye air one o' the few men on this yearth
ez ain't a liar."
He stared at her gravely for a moment, then burst into a forced laugh.
"Ho! ho! I tell a bushel o' 'em a day, Eveliny!" He wagged his head in
an anxious affectation of mirth.
"Why'n't ye gin dad them messages ez Abs'lom gin ye from me?"
Joe received this in blank amaze; then, with sudden comprehension, his
lower jaw dropped. He looked at her with a plea for pity in his eyes.
And yet his ready tact strove to reassert itself.
"I mus' hev furgot 'em," he faltered.
"Did Abs'lom ever gin 'em ter ye?" she persisted.
"Ef he did, I mus' hev furgot 'em," he repeated, crestfallen and
She laughed and turned jauntily away, once more throwing the corn-meal
batter to the greedily jostling poultry. "Tell Abs'lom I hev f'und him
out," she said. "He can't sot me agin dad no sech way. This be my home,
an' hyar I be goin' ter 'bide."
And so she left the good Joe Boyd hooked on by the elbows to the fence.
The Quimbeys, who had heard this conversation from within, derived from
it no small elation. "She hev gin 'em the go-by fur good," Timothy said,
confidently, to his father, who laughed in triumph, and pulled calmly at
his pipe, and looked ten years younger.
But Steve was surlily anxious. "I'd place heap mo' dependence in Eveliny
ef she didn't hev this hyar way o' cryin' all the time. She 'lows she's
glad she kem—so glad she hev lef' Abs'lom fur good an'
all—an' then she busts out a-cryin' agin. I ain't able ter argufy
"Shucks! wimmen air always a-cryin', an' they don't mean nuthin' by
it," exclaimed the old man, in the plenitude of his wisdom. "It air jes'
one o' thar most contrarious ways. I hev seen 'em set down an' cry fur
joy an' pleasure."
"'WHY'N'T YE GIN DAD THEM
But Steve was doubtful. "It be a powerful
low-sperited gift fur them ez hev ter 'bide along of 'em. Eveliny never
useter be tearful in nowise. Now she cries a heap mo' 'n that thar
shoat"—his lips curled in contempt as he glanced toward the door,
through which was visible a small rotund figure in pink calico, seated
upon the lowest log of the wood-pile—"ez she fotched down hyar
with her. He never hev hed a reg'lar blate but two or three times
sence he hev been hyar, an' them war when that thar old tur-rkey gobbler
teetered up ter him an' tuk his corn-dodger that he war a-eatin' on
plumb out'n his hand. He hed suthin' to holler fur—hed los' his
"Don't he 'pear ter you-uns to be powerful peegeon-toed?" asked Tim,
anxiously, turning to his father.
"The gawbbler?" faltered the amazed old man.
"Naw; him, him—Kittredge," said Tim, jerking his big thumb in
the direction of the small boy.
"Law-dy Gawd A'mighty! naw! naw!" The grandfather indignantly
repudiated the imputation of the infirmity. One would have imagined that
he would deem it meet that a Kittredge should be pigeon-toed. "It's jes
the way all babies hev got a-walkin'; he ain't right handy yit with
his feet—jes a-beginnin' ter walk, an' sech. Peegeon-toed! I say
it, ye fool!" He cast a glance of contempt on his eldest-born, and
arrogantly puffed his pipe.
Again Joe Boyd came, and yet again. He brought messages contrite and
promissory from Absalom; he brought commands stern and insistent. He
came into the house at last, and sat and talked at the fireside in
the presence of the men of the family, who bore themselves in a manner
calculated to impress the Kittredge emissary with their triumph and
contempt for his mission, although they studiously kept silence, leaving
it to Evelina to answer.
At last the old man, leaning forward, tapped Joe on the knee. "See hyar,
Joe. Ye hev always been a good frien' o' mine. This hyar man he stole my
darter from me, an' whenst she wanted ter be frien's, an' not let her
old dad die unforgivin', he wouldn't let her send the word ter me. An'
then he sot himself ter spite an' hector me, an' fairly run me out'n the
town, an' harried me out'n my office, an' when she f'und out—she
wouldn't take my word fur it—the deceivin' natur' o' the Kittredge
tribe, she hed hed enough o' 'em. I hev let ye argufy 'bout'n it; ye hev
hed yer fill of words. An' now I be tired out. Ye ain't 'lowin' she'll
ever go back ter her husband, air ye?"
Joe dolorously shook his head.
"Waal, ef ever ye kem hyar talkin' 'bout'n it agin, I'll be 'bleeged ter
take down my rifle ter ye."
Joe gazed, unmoved, into the fire.
"An' that would be mighty hard on me, Joe, 'kase ye be so pop'lar
'mongst all, I dunno what the kentry-side would do ter me ef I war ter
put a bullet inter ye. Ye air a young man, Joe. Ye oughter spare a old
man sech a danger ez that."
And so it happened that Joe Boyd's offices as mediator ceased.
A week went by in silence and without result. Evelina's tears
seemed to keep count of the minutes. The brothers indignantly noted it,
and even the old man was roused from the placid securities of his
theories concerning lachrymose womankind, and remonstrated sometimes,
and sometimes grew angry and exhorted her to go back. What did it matter
to her how her father was treated? He was a cumberer of the ground, and
many people besides her husband had thought he had no right to sit in a
justice's chair. And then she would burst into tears once more, and
declare again that she would never go back.
The only thoroughly cheerful soul about the place was the intruding
Kittredge. He sat continuously—for the weather was fine—on
the lowest log of the wood-pile, and swung his bare pink feet among the
chips and bark, and seemed to have given up all ambition to walk.
Occasionally red and yellow leaves whisked past his astonished eyes,
although these were few now, for November was on the wane. He babbled to
the chickens, who pecked about him with as much indifference as if he
were made of wood. His two teeth came glittering out whenever the
rooster crowed, and his gleeful laugh—he rejoiced so in this
handsomely endowed bird—could be heard to the barn. The dogs
seemed never to have known that he was a Kittredge, and wagged their
tails at the very sound of his voice, and seized surreptitious
opportunities to lick his face. Of all his underfoot world only the
gobbler awed him into gravity and silence; he would gaze in dismay as
the marauding fowl irresolutely approached from around the wood-pile,
with long neck out-stretched and undulating gait, applying first
one eye and then the other to the pink hands, for the gobbler seemed to
consider them a perpetual repository of corn-dodgers, which indeed they
were. Then the head and the wabbling red wattles would dart forth with a
sudden peck, and the shriek that ensued proved that nothing could be
much amiss with the Kittredge lungs.
One fine day he sat thus in the red November sunset. The sky, seen
through the interlacing black boughs above his head, was all amber and
crimson, save for a wide space of pure and pallid green, against which
the purplish-garnet wintry mountains darkly gloomed. Beyond the rail
fence the avenues of the bare woods were carpeted with the sere
yellowish leaves that gave back the sunlight with a responsive
illuminating effect, and thus the sylvan vistas glowed. The long
slanting beams elongated his squatty little shadow till it was hardly a
caricature. He heard the cow lowing as she came to be milked, fording
the river where the clouds were so splendidly reflected. The chickens
were going to roost. The odor of the wood, the newly-hewn chips,
imparted a fresh and fragrant aroma to the air. He had found among them
a sweet-gum ball and a pine cone, and was applying them to the
invariable test of taste. Suddenly he dropped them with a nervous start,
his lips trembled, his lower jaw fell, he was aware of a stealthy
approach. Something was creeping behind the wood-pile. He hardly had
time to bethink himself of his enemy the gobbler when he was clutched
under the arm, swung through the air with a swiftness that caused
the scream to evaporate in his throat, and the next moment he looked
quakingly up into his father's face with unrecognizing eyes; for he had
forgotten Absalom in these few weeks. He squirmed and wriggled as he was
held on the pommel of the saddle, winking and catching his breath and
spluttering, as preliminary proceedings to an outcry. There was a sudden
sound of heavily shod feet running across the puncheon floor within, a
wild, incoherent exclamation smote the air, an interval of significant
"Get up!" cried Absalom, not waiting for Tim's rifle, but spurring the
young horse, and putting him at the fence. The animal rose with the
elasticity and lightness of an uprearing ocean wave. The baby once more
twisted his soft neck, and looked anxiously into the rider's face. This
was not the gobbler. The gobbler did not ride horseback. Then the
affinity of the male infant for the noble equine animal suddenly
overbore all else. In elation he smote with his soft pink hand the
glossy arched neck before him. "Dul-lup!" he arrogantly echoed Absalom's
words. And thus father and son at a single bound disappeared into woods,
and so out of sight.
The savage Tim was leaning upon his rifle in the doorway, his eyes
dilated, his breath short, his whole frame trembling with excitement, as
the other men, alarmed by Evelina's screams, rushed down from the barn.
"What ails ye, Tim? Why'n't ye fire?" demanded his father.
Tim turned an agitated, baffled look upon him. "I—I mought hev hit
the baby," he faltered.
"Hain't ye got no aim, ye durned sinner?" asked Stephen, furiously.
"Bullet mought hev gone through him and struck inter the baby,"
"An' then agin it moughtn't!" cried Stephen. "Lawd, ef I hed hed the
"Ye wouldn't hev done no differ," declared Tim.
"Hyar!" Steve caught his brother's gun and presented it to Tim's lips.
"Suck the bar'l. It's 'bout all ye air good fur."
The horses had been turned out. By the time they were caught and saddled
pursuit was evidently hopeless. The men strode in one by one, dashing
the saddles and bridles on the floor, and finding in angry expletives a
vent for their grief. And indeed it might have seemed that the Quimbeys
must have long sought a choice Kittredge infant for adoption, so far did
their bewailings discount Rachel's mourning.
"Don't cry, Eveliny," they said, ever and anon. "We-uns'll git him back
But she had not shed a tear. She sat speechless, motionless, as if
turned to stone.
"Laws-a-massy, child, ef ye would jes hev b'lieved me 'bout'n them
Kittredges—Abs'lom in partic'lar—ye'd be happy an' free
now," said the old man, his imagination somewhat extending his
experience, for he had had no knowledge of his son-in-law until their
The evening wore drearily on. Now and then the men roused themselves,
and with lowering faces discussed the opportunities of reprisal,
and the best means of rescuing the child. And whether they schemed to
burn the Kittredge cabin, or to arm themselves, burst in upon their
enemies, shooting and killing all who resisted, Evelina said nothing,
but stared into the fire with unnaturally dilated eyes, her white lined
face all drawn and somehow unrecognizable.
"Never mind," her father said at intervals, taking her cold hand,
"we-uns 'll git him back, Eveliny. The Lord hed a mother wunst, an' I'll
be bound He keeps a special pity for a woman an' her child."
"Oh, great gosh! who'd hev dreamt we'd hev missed him so!" cried Tim,
shifting his position, and slipping his left arm over the back of his
chair. "Jes ter think o' the leetle size o' him, an' the great big gap
he hev lef' roun' this hyar ha'th-stone!"
"An' yit he jes sot underfoot, 'mongst the cat an' the dogs, jes ez
humble!" said Stephen.
"I'd git him back even ef he warn't no kin ter me, Eveliny," declared
Tim, and he spoke advisedly, remembering that the youth was a Kittredge.
Still Evelina said not a word. All that night she silently walked the
puncheon floor, while the rest of the household slept. The dogs, in
vague disturbance, because of the unprecedented vigil and stir in the
midnight, wheezed uneasily from time to time, and crept restlessly about
under the cabin, now and again thumping their backs or heads against the
floor; but at last they betook themselves to slumber. The hickory logs
broke in twain as they burned, and fell on either side, and
presently there was only the dull red glow of the embers on her pale
face, and the room was full of brown shadows, motionless, now that the
flames flared no more. Once when the red glow, growing ever dimmer,
seemed almost submerged beneath the gray ashes, she paused and stirred
the coals. The renewed glimmer showed a fixed expression in her eyes,
becoming momently more resolute. At intervals she knelt at the window
and placed her hands about her face to shut out the light from the
hearth, and looked out upon the night. How the chill stars loitered! How
the dawn delayed! The great mountain gloomed darkling above the Cove.
The waning moon, all melancholy and mystic, swung in the purple sky. The
bare, stark boughs of the trees gave out here and there a glimmer of
hoar-frost. There was no wind; when she heard the dry leaves whisk she
caught a sudden glimpse of a fox that, with his crafty shadow pursuing
him, leaped upon the wood-pile, nimbly ran along its length, and so,
noiselessly, away—while the dogs snored beneath the house. A cock
crew from the chicken-roost; the mountain echoed the resonant strain.
She saw a mist come stealing softly along a precipitous gorge; the gauzy
web hung shimmering in the moon; presently the trees were invisible;
anon they showed rigid among the soft enmeshment of the vapor, and again
were lost to view.
She rose; there was a new energy in her step; she walked quickly across
the floor and unbarred the door.
The little cabin on the mountain was lost among the clouds. It was not
yet day, but the old woman, with that proclivity to early rising
characteristic of advancing years, was already astir. It was in the
principal room of the cabin that she slept, and it contained another
bed, in which, placed crosswise, were five billet-shaped objects under
the quilts, which when awake identified themselves as Peter Kittredge's
children. She had dressed and uncovered the embers, and put on a few of
the chips which had been spread out on the hearth to dry, and had sat
down in the chimney corner. A timid blaze began to steal up, and again
was quenched, and only the smoke ascended in its form; then the light
flickered out once more, casting a gigantic shadow of her
sun-bonnet—for she had donned it thus early—half upon the
brown and yellow daubed wall, and half upon the dark ceiling, making a
specious stir amidst the peltry and strings of pop-corn hanging
She sighed heavily once or twice, and with an aged manner, and leaned
her elbows on her knees and gazed contemplatively at the fire. All at
once the ashes were whisked about the hearth as in a sudden draught, and
then were still. In momentary surprise she pushed her chair back,
hesitated, then replaced it, and calmly settled again her elbows on her
knees. Suddenly once more a whisking of the ashes; a cold shiver ran
through her, and she turned to see a hand fumbling at the batten shutter
close by. She stared for a moment as if paralyzed; her spectacles fell
to the floor from her nerveless hand, shattering the lenses on the
hearth. She rose trembling to her feet, and her lips parted as if
to cry out. They emitted no sound, and she turned with a terrified
fascination and looked back. The shutter had opened, there was no glass,
the small square of the window showed the nebulous gray mist without,
and defined upon it was Evelina's head, her dark hair streaming over the
red shawl held about it, her fair oval face pallid and pensive, and with
a great wistfulness upon it; her lustrous dark eyes glittered.
"Mother," her red lips quivered out.
The old crone recognized no treachery in her heart. She laid a warning
finger upon her lips. All the men were asleep.
Evelina stretched out her yearning arms. "Gin him ter me!"
"Naw, naw, Eveliny," huskily whispered Absalom's mother. "Ye oughter kem
hyar an' 'bide with yer husband—ye know ye ought."
Evelina still held out her insistent arms. "Gin him ter me!" she
The old woman shook her head sternly. "Ye kem in, an' 'bide whar ye
Evelina took a step nearer the window. She laid her hand on the sill.
"Spos'n 'twar Abs'lom whenst he war a baby," she said, her eyes softly
brightening, "an' another woman hed him an' kep' him, 'kase ye an' his
dad fell out—would ye hev 'lowed she war right ter treat ye like
ye treat me—whenst Abs'lom war a baby?"
Once more she held out her arms.
There was a step in the inner shed-room; then silence.
"Ye hain't got no excuse," the soft voice urged; "ye know jes how I
feel, how ye'd hev felt, whenst Abs'lom war a baby."
The shawl had fallen back from her tender face; her eyes glowed, her
cheek was softly flushed. A sudden terror thrilled through her as she
again heard the heavy step approaching in the shed-room. "Whenst Abs'lom
war a baby," she reiterated, her whole pleading heart in the tones.
A sudden radiance seemed to illumine the sad, dun-colored folds of the
encompassing cloud; her face shone with a transfiguring happiness, for
the hustling old crone had handed out to her a warm, somnolent bundle,
and the shutter closed upon the mists with a bang.
"The wind's riz powerful suddint," Peter said, noticing the noise as he
came stumbling in, rubbing his eyes. He went and fastened the shutter,
while his mother tremulously mended the fire.
The absence of the baby was not noticed for some time, and when the
father's hasty and angry questions elicited the reluctant facts, the
outcry for his loss was hardly less bitter among the Kittredges than
among the Quimbeys. The fugitives were shielded from capture by the
enveloping mist, and when Absalom returned from the search he could do
naught but indignantly upbraid his mother.
She was terrified by her own deed, and cowered under Absalom's wrath. It
was in a moral collapse, she felt, that she could have done this thing.
She flung her apron over her head, and sat still and silent—a
monumental figure—among them. Once, roused by Absalom's
reproaches, she made some effort to defend and exculpate herself,
speaking from behind the enveloping apron.
"I ain't born no Kittredge nohow," she irrelevantly asseverated, "an' I
never war. An' when Eveliny axed me how I'd hev liked ter hev another
'oman take Abs'lom whenst he war a baby, I couldn't hold out no longer."
"Shucks!" cried Absalom, unfilially; "ye'd a heap better be a-studyin'
'bout'n my good now 'n whenst I war a baby—a-givin' away my
child ter them Quimbeys; a-h'istin' him out'n the winder!"
She was glad to retort that he was "impident," and to take refuge in an
aggrieved silence, as many another mother has done when outmatched by
After this there was more cheerfulness in her hidden face than might
have been argued from her port of important sorrow. "Bes' ter hev no
jawin', though," she said to herself, as she sat thus inscrutably
veiled. And deep in her repentant heart she was contradictorily glad
that Evelina and the baby were safe together down in the Cove.
Old Joel Quimbey, putting on his spectacles, with a look of keenest
curiosity, to read a paper which the deputy-sheriff of the county
presented when he drew rein by the wood-pile one afternoon some three
weeks later, had some difficulty in identifying a certain Elnathan
Daniel Kittredge specified therein. He took off his spectacles, rubbed
them smartly, and put them on again. The writing was unchanged. Surely
it must mean the baby. That was the only Kittredge whose body they could
be summoned to produce on the 24th of December before the judge
of the circuit court, now in session. He turned the paper about and
looked at it, his natural interest as a man augmented by his recognition
as an ex-magistrate of its high important legal character.
"SHE FLUNG HER
APRON OVER HER HEAD"
"Eveliny," he quavered, at once flattered and furious, "dad-burned ef
Abs'lom hain't gone an' got out a habeas corpus fur the baby!"
The phrase had a sound so deadly that there was much ado to
satisfactorily explain the writ and its functions to Evelina, who had
felt at ease again since the baby was at home, and so effectually
guarded that to kidnap him was necessarily to murder two or three of the
vigilant and stalwart Quimbey men. So much joy did it afford the old man
to air his learning and consult his code—a relic of his
justiceship—that he belittled the danger of losing the said
Elnathan Daniel Kittredge in the interest with which he looked forward
to the day for him to be produced before the court.
There was a gathering of the clans on that day. Quimbeys and Kittredges
who had not visited the town for twenty years were jogging thither
betimes that morning on the red clay roads, all unimpeded by the deep
mud which, frozen into stiff ruts and ridges here and there, made the
way hazardous to the running-gear. The lagging winter had come, and the
ground was half covered with a light fall of snow.
The windows of the court-house were white with frost; the weighted doors
clanged continuously. An old codger, slowly ascending the steps, and
pushing into the semi-obscurity of the hall, paused as the door
slammed behind him, stared at the sheriff in surprise, then fixed him
with a bantering leer. The light that slanted through the open
court-room door fell upon the official's burly figure, his long red
beard, his big broad-brimmed hat pushed back from his laughing red face,
consciously ludicrous and abashed just now.
"Hev ye made a find?" demanded the new-comer.
For in the strong arms of the law sat, bolt-upright, Elnathan Daniel
Kittredge, his yellow head actively turning about, his face decorated
with a grin, and on most congenial terms with the sheriff.
"They're lawin' 'bout'n him in thar"—the sheriff jerked his thumb
toward the door. "Habeas corpus perceedin's. Dunno ez I ever see a
friskier leetle cuss. Durned ef I 'ain't got a good mind ter run off
with him myself."
The said Elnathan Daniel Kittredge once more squirmed round and settled
himself comfortably in the hollow of the sheriff's elbow, who marvelled
to find himself so deft in holding him, for it was twenty years since
his son—a gawky youth who now affected the company at the saloon,
and was none too filial—was the age and about the build of this
"They hed a reg'lar scrimmage hyar in the hall—them fool
men—Quimbey an' Kittredge. Old man Quimbey said suthin' ter
Abs'lom Kittredge—I dunno what all. Abs'lom never jawed back none.
He jes made a dart an' snatched this hyar leetle critter out'n his
mother's arms, stiddier waitin' fur the law, what he summonsed
himself. Blest ef I didn't hev ter hold my revolver ter his head, an'
then crack him over the knuckles, ter make him let go the child. I
didn't want ter arrest him—mighty clever boy, Abs'lom Kittredge! I
promised that young woman I'd keep holt o' the child till the law gins
its say-so. I feel sorry fur her; she's been through a heap."
"Waal, ye look mighty pritty, totin' him around hyar," his friend
encouraged him with a grin. "I'll say that fur ye—ye look mighty
And in fact the merriment in the hall at the sheriff's expense began to
grow so exhilarating as to make him feel that the proceedings within
were too interesting to lose. His broad red face with its big red beard
reappeared in the doorway—slightly embarrassed because of the
sprightly manners of his charge, who challenged to mirth every eye that
glanced at him by his toothful grin and his gurgles and bounces; he was
evidently enjoying the excitement and his conspicuous position. He
manfully gnawed at his corn-dodger from time to time, and from the
manner in which he fraternized with his new acquaintance, the sheriff,
he seemed old enough to dispense with maternal care, and, but for his
incomplete methods of locomotion, able to knock about town with the
boys. The Quimbeys took note of his mature demeanor with sinking hearts;
they looked anxiously at the judge, wondering if he had ever before seen
such precocity—anything so young to be so old: "He 'ain't never
afore 'peared so survigrus—so durned survigrus ez he do
ter-day," they whispered to each other.
"Yes, sir," his father was saying, on examination, "year old. Eats
anything he kin git—cabbage an' fat meat an' anything. Could
walk if he wanted ter. But he 'ain't been raised right"—he glanced
at his wife to observe the effect of this statement. He felt a pang as
he noted her pensive, downcast face, all tremulous and agitated,
overwhelmed as she was by the crowd and the infinite moment of the
decision. But Absalom, too, had his griefs, and they expressed
"He hev been pompered an' fattened by bein' let ter eat an' sleep so
much, till he be so heavy ter his self he don't wanter take the trouble
ter git about. He could walk ennywhar. He's plumb survigrus."
And as if in confirmation, the youthful Kittredge lifted his voice to
display his lung power. He hilariously babbled, and suddenly roared out
a stentorian whoop, elicited by nothing in particular, then caught the
sheriff's beard, and buried in it his conscious pink face.
The judge looked gravely up over his spectacles. He had a bronzed
complexion, a serious, pondering expression, a bald head, and a gray
beard. He wore a black broadcloth suit, somewhat old-fashioned in cut,
and his black velvet waist-coat had suffered an eruption of tiny red
satin spots. He had great respect for judicial decorums, and no
Kittredge, however youthful, or survigrus, or exalted in importance by
habeas corpus proceedings, could "holler" unmolested where he
"Mr. Sheriff," he said, solemnly, "remove that child from the presence
of the court."
And the said Elnathan Daniel Kittredge went out gleefully kicking in the
arms of the law.
The hundred or so grinning faces in the court-room relapsed quickly into
gravity and excited interest. The rows of jeans-clad countrymen seated
upon the long benches on either side of the bar leaned forward with
intent attitudes. For this was a rich feast of local gossip, such as had
not been so bountifully spread within their recollection. All the
ancient Quimbey and Kittredge feuds contrived to be detailed anew in
offering to the judge reasons why father or mother was the more fit
custodian of the child in litigation.
As Absalom sat listening to all this, his eyes were suddenly arrested by
his wife's face—half draped it was, half shadowed by her
sun-bonnet, its fine and delicate profile distinctly outlined against
the crystalline and frosted pane of the window near which she sat. The
snow without threw a white reflection upon it; its rich coloring in
contrast was the more intense; it was very pensive, with the heavy lids
drooping over the lustrous eyes, and with a pathetic appeal in its
And suddenly his thoughts wandered far afield. He wondered that it had
come to this; that she could have misunderstood him so; that he had
thought her hard and perverse and unforgiving. His heart was all at once
melting within him; somehow he was reminded how slight a thing she was,
and how strong was the power that nerved her slender hand to drag his
heavy weight, in his dead and helpless unconsciousness, down to the bars
and into the safety of the sheltering laurel that night, when he
lay wounded and bleeding under the lighted window of the cabin in the
Cove. A deep tenderness, an irresistible yearning had come upon him; he
was about to rise, he was about to speak he knew not what, when suddenly
her face was irradiated as one who sees a blessed vision; a happy light
sprang into her eyes; her lips curved with a smile; the quick tears
dropped one by one on her hands, nervously clasping and unclasping each
other. He was bewildered for a moment. Then he heard Peter gruffly
growling a half-whispered curse, and the voice of the judge, in the
exercise of his discretion, methodically droning out his reasons for
leaving so young a child in the custody of its mother, disregarding the
paramount rights of the father. The judge concluded by dispassionately
recommending the young couple to betake themselves home, and to try to
live in peace together, or, at any rate, like sane people. Then he
thrust his spectacles up on his forehead, drew a long sigh of dismissal,
and said, with a freshened look of interest, "Mr. Clerk, call the next
The Quimbey and Kittredge factions poured into the hall; what cared they
for the disputed claims of Jenkins versus Jones? The lovers of
sensation cherished a hope that there might be a lawless effort to
rescue the infant Kittredge from the custody to which he had been
committed by the court. The Quimbeys watchfully kept about him in a
close squad, his pink sun-bonnet, in which his head was eclipsed,
visible among their brawny jeans shoulders, as his mother carried him in
her arms. The sheriff looked smilingly after him from the
court-house steps, then inhaled a long breath, and began to roar
out to the icy air the name of a witness wanted within. Instead of a
gate there was a flight of steps on each side of the fence, surmounted
by a small platform. Evelina suddenly shrank back as she stood on the
platform, for beside the fence Absalom was waiting. Timothy hastily
vaulted over the fence, drew his "shooting-iron" from his boot-leg, and
cocked it with a metallic click, sharp and peremptory in the keen wintry
air. For a moment Absalom said not a word. He looked up at Evelina with
as much reproach as bitterness in his dark eyes. They were bright with
the anger that fired his blood; it was hot in his bronzed cheek; it
quivered in his hands. The dry and cold atmosphere amplified the graces
of his long curling yellow hair that she and his mother loved. His hat
was pushed back from his face. He had not spoken to her since the day of
his ill-starred confidence, but he would not be denied now.
"Ye'll repent it," he said, threateningly. "I'll take special pains fur
She bestowed on him one defiant glance, and laughed—a bitter
little laugh. "Ye air ekal ter it; ye have a special gift fur makin'
folks repent they ever seen ye."
"The jedge jes gin him ter ye 'kase ye made him out sech a fibble little
pusson," he sneered. "But it's jes fur a time."
She held the baby closer. He busied himself in taking off his sun-bonnet
and putting it on hind part before, gurgling with smothered laughter to
find himself thus queerly masked, and he made futile efforts to
play "peep-eye" with anybody jovially disposed in the crowd. But they
were all gravely absorbed in the conjugal quarrel at which they were
privileged to assist.
"It's jes fur a time," he reiterated.
"Wait an' see!" she retorted, triumphantly.
"I won't wait," he declared, goaded; "I'll take him yit; an' when I do
I'll clar out'n the State o' Tennessee—see ef I don't!"
She turned white and trembled. "Ye dassent," she cried out shrilly.
"Ye'll be 'feared o' the law."
"Wait an' see!" He mockingly echoed her words, and turned in his old
confident manner, and strode out of the crowd.
Faint and trembling, she crept into the old canvas-covered wagon, and as
it jogged along down the road stiff with its frozen ruts and ever
nearing the mountains, she clasped the cheerful Kittredge with a
yearning sense of loss, and declared that the judge had made him no
safer than before. It was in vain that her father, speaking from the
legal lore of the code, detailed the contempt of court that the
Kittredges would commit should they undertake to interfere with the
judicial decision—it might be even considered kidnapping.
"But what good would that do me—an' the baby whisked plumb out'n
the State? Ef Abs'lom ain't 'feared o' Tim's rifle, what's he goin' ter
keer fur the pore jedge with nare weepon but his leetle contempt o'
court—ter jail Abs'lom, ef he kin make out ter ketch him!"
She leaned against the swaying hoop of the cover of the wagon and burst
into tears. "Oh, none o' ye'll do nuthin' fur me!" she exclaimed,
in frantic reproach. "Nuthin'!"
"Ye talk like 'twar we-uns ez made up sech foolishness ez habeas
corpus out'n our own heads," said Timothy. "I 'ain't never looked ter
the law fur pertection. Hyar's the pertecter." He touched the trigger of
his rifle and glanced reassuringly at his sister as he sat beside her on
the plank laid as a seat from side to side of the wagon.
She calmed herself for a moment; then suddenly looked aghast at the
rifle, and with some occult and hideous thought, burst anew into tears.
"Waal, sir," exclaimed Stephen, outdone, "what with all this hyar daily
weepin' an' nightly mournin', I 'ain't got spunk enough lef' ter stan'
up agin the leetlest Kittredge a-goin'. I ain't man enough ter sight a
rifle. Kittredges kin kem enny time an' take my hide, horns, an' tallow
ef they air minded so ter do."
"I 'lowed I hearn suthin' a-gallopin' down the road," said Tim,
Her tears suddenly ceased. She clutched the baby closer, and turned and
lifted the flap of the white curtain at the back of the wagon, and
looked out with a wild and terror-stricken eye. The red clay road
stretched curveless, a long way visible and vacant. The black bare trees
stood shivering in the chilly blast on either side; among them was an
occasional clump of funereal cedars. Away off the brown wooded hills
rose; snow lay in thin crust-like patches here and there, and again the
earth wore the pallid gray of the crab-grass or the ochreous red of the
"I don't see nuthin'," she said, in the bated voice of affrighted
While she still looked out flakes suddenly began to fly, hardly falling
at first, but poised tentatively, fluctuating athwart the scene,
presently thickening, quickening, obscuring it all, isolating the woods
with an added sense of solitude since the sight of the world and the
sound of it were so speedily annulled. Even the creak of the
wagon-wheels was muffled. Through the semicircular aperture in the front
of the wagon-cover the horns of the oxen were dimly seen amidst the
serried flakes; the snow whitened the backs of the beasts and added its
burden to their yoke. Once as they jogged on she fancied again that she
heard hoof-beats—this time a long way ahead, thundering over a
little bridge high above a swirling torrent, that reverberated with a
hollow tone to the faintest footfall. "Jes somebody ez hev passed
we-uns, takin' the short-cut by the bridle-path," she ruminated. No
Everything was deeply submerged in the snow before they reached the dark
little cabin nestling in the Cove. Motionless and dreary it was; not
even a blue and gauzy wreath curled out of the chimney, for the fire had
died on the hearth in their absence. No living creature was to be seen.
The fowls were huddled together in the hen-house, and the dogs had
accompanied the family to town, trotting beneath the wagon with lolling
tongues and smoking breath; when they nimbly climbed the fence their
circular footprints were the first traces to mar the level expanse of
the door-yard. The bare limbs of the trees were laden; the
cedars bore great flower-like tufts amidst the interlacing fibrous
foliage. The eaves were heavily thatched; the drifts lay in the fence
NOISELESSLY IN THE SOFT SNOW"
Everything was covered except, indeed, one side of the fodder-stack that
stood close to the barn. Evelina, going out to milk the cow, gazed at it
for a moment in surprise. The snow had slipped down from it, and lay in
rolls and piles about the base, intermixed with the sere husks and
blades that seemed torn out of the great cone. "Waal, sir, Spot mus' hev
been hongry fur true, ter kem a-foragin' this wise. Looks ez ef she hev
been fairly a-burrowin'."
She turned and glanced over her shoulder at tracks in the
snow—shapeless holes, and filling fast—which she did not
doubt were the footprints of the big red cow, standing half in and half
out of the wide door, slowly chewing her cud, her breath visibly curling
out on the chill air, her great lips opening to emit a muttered low. She
moved forward suddenly into the shelter as Evelina started anew toward
it, holding the piggin in one hand and clasping the baby in the other
Evelina noted the sound of her brothers' two axes, busy at the
wood-pile, their regular cleavage splitting the air with a sharp stroke
and bringing a crystalline shivering echo from the icy mountain. She did
not see the crouching figure that came cautiously burrowing out from the
stack. Absalom rose to his full height, looking keenly about him the
while, and stole noiselessly in the soft snow to the stable, and peered
in through a crevice in the wall.
Evelina had placed the piggin upon the straw-covered ground, and stood
among the horned cattle and the huddling sheep, her soft melancholy face
half shaded by the red shawl thrown over her head and shoulders. A tress
of her brown hair escaped and curled about her white neck, and hung down
over the bosom of her dark-blue homespun dress. Against her shoulder the
dun-colored cow rubbed her horned head. The baby was in a pensive mood,
and scarcely babbled. The reflection of the snow was on his face,
heightening the exquisite purity of the tints of his infantile
complexion. His gentle, fawn-like eyes were full of soft and lustrous
languors. His long lashes drooped over them now, and again were lifted.
His short down of yellow hair glimmered golden against the red shawl
over his mother's shoulders.
One of the beasts sank slowly upon the ground—a tired creature
doubtless, and night was at hand; then another, and still another. Their
posture reminded Absalom, as he looked, that this was Christmas Eve, and
of the old superstition that the cattle of the barns spend the night
upon their knees, in memory of the wondrous Presence that once graced
their lowly place. The boughs rattled suddenly in the chill blast above
his head; the drifts fell about him. He glanced up mechanically to see
in the zenith a star of gracious glister, tremulous and tender, in the
rifts of the breaking clouds.
"I wonder ef it air the same star o' Bethlehem?" he said, thinking of
the great sidereal torch heralding the Light of the World. He had a
vague sense that this star has never set, however the wandering
planets may come and go in their wide journeys as the seasons roll. He
looked again into the glooming place, at the mother and her child,
remembering that the Lord of heaven and earth had once lain in a manger,
and clung to a humble earthly mother.
The man shook with a sudden affright. He had intended to wrest the child
from her grasp, and mount and ride away; he was roused from his reverie
by the thrusting upon him of his opportunity, facilitated a hundredfold.
Evelina had evidently forgotten something. She hesitated for a moment;
then put the baby down upon a great pile of straw among the horned
creatures, and, catching her shawl about her head, ran swiftly to the
Absalom moved mechanically into the doorway. The child, still pensive
and silent, and looking tenderly infantile, lay upon the straw. A sudden
pang of pity for her pierced his heart: how her own would be desolated!
His horse, hitched in a clump of cedars, awaited him ten steps away. It
was his only chance—his last chance. And he had been hardly
entreated. The child's eyes rested, startled and dilated, upon him; he
must be quick.
The next instant he turned suddenly, ran hastily through the snow,
crashed among the cedars, mounted his horse, and galloped away.
It was only a moment that Evelina expected to be at the house, but the
gourd of salt which she sought was not in its place. She hurried out
with it at last, unprescient of any danger until all at once she saw the
footprints of a man in the snow, otherwise untrodden, about the
fodder-stack. She still heard the two axes at the wood-pile. Her
father, she knew, was at the house.
A smothered scream escaped her lips. The steps had evidently gone into
the stable, and had come out thence. Her faltering strength could
scarcely support her to the door. And then she saw lying in the straw
Elnathan Daniel, beginning to babble and gurgle again, and to grow very
pink with joy over a new toy—a man's glove, a red woollen glove,
accidentally dropped in the straw. She caught it from his hands, and
turned it about curiously. She had knit it herself—for Absalom!
When she came into the house, beaming with joy, the baby holding the
glove in his hands, the men listened to her in dumfounded amaze, and
with significant side glances at each other.
"He wouldn't take the baby whenst he hed the chance, 'kase he knowed
'twould hurt me so. An' he never wanted ter torment me—I reckon he
never did mean ter torment me. An' he did 'low wunst he war sorry he
spited dad. Oh! I hev been a heap too quick an' spiteful myself. I hev
been so terrible wrong! Look a-hyar; he lef this glove ter show me he
hed been hyar, an' could hev tuk the baby ef he hed hed the heart ter do
it. Oh! I'm goin' right up the mounting an' tell him how sorry I be."
"Toler'ble cheap!" grumbled Stephen—"one old glove. An' he'll git
Elnathan Daniel an' ye too. A smart fox he be."
They could not dissuade her. And after a time it came to pass that the
Quimbey and Kittredge feuds were healed, for how could the heart of a grandfather withstand a toddling spectacle in pink calico that
ran away one day some two years later, in company with an adventurous
dog, and came down the mountain to the cabin in the Cove, squeezing
through the fence rails after the manner of his underfoot world,
proceeding thence to the house, where he made himself very merry and
very welcome? And when Tim mounted his horse and rode up the mountain
with the youngster on the pommel of the saddle, lest Evelina should be
out of her mind with fright because of his absence, how should he and
old Mrs. Kittredge differ in their respective opinions of his vigorous
growth, and grace of countenance, and peartness of manner? On the
strength of this concurrence Tim was induced to "'light an' hitch," and
he even sat on the cabin porch and talked over the crops with Absalom,
who, the next time he went to town, stopped at the cabin in the Cove to
bring word how Elnathan Daniel was "thrivin'." The path that Evelina had
worn to the crag in those first homesick days on the mountain rapidly
extended itself into the Cove, and widened and grew smooth, as the
grandfather went up and the grandson came down.
OLD QUIMBEY AND HIS GRANDSON
'WAY DOWN IN LONESOME COVE
One memorable night in Lonesome Cove the ranger of the county entered
upon a momentous crisis in his life. What hour it was he could hardly
have said, for the primitive household reckoned time by the sun when it
shone, by the domestic routine when no better might be. It was late. The
old crone in the chimney-corner nodded over her knitting. In the
trundle-bed at the farther end of the shadowy room were transverse
billows under the quilts, which intimated that the small children were
numerous enough for the necessity of sleeping crosswise. He had smoked
out many pipes, and at last knocked the cinder from the bowl. The great
hickory logs had burned asunder and fallen from the stones that served
as andirons. He began to slowly cover the embers with ashes, that the
fire might keep till morning.
His wife, a faded woman, grown early old, was bringing the stone jar of
yeast to place close by the hearth, that it might not "take a chill" in
some sudden change of the night. It was heavy, and she bent in carrying
it. Awkward, and perhaps nervous, she brought it sharply against the
shovel in his hands.
The clash roused the old crone in the corner. She recognized the
situation instantly, and the features that sleep had relaxed into
inexpressiveness took on a weary apprehension, which they wore like a
habit. The man barely raised his surly black eyes, but his wife drew
back humbly with a mutter of apology.
The next moment the shovel was almost thrust out of his grasp. A tiny
barefooted girl, in a straight unbleached cotton night-gown and a quaint
little cotton night-cap, cavalierly pushed him aside, that she might
cover in the hot ashes a burly sweet-potato, destined to slowly roast by
morning. A long and careful job she made of it, and unconcernedly kept
him waiting while she pottered back and forth about the hearth. She
looked up once with an authoritative eye, and he hastily helped to
adjust the potato with the end of the shovel. And then he glanced at
her, incongruously enough, as if waiting for her autocratic nod of
approval. She gravely accorded it, and pattered nimbly across the
puncheon floor to the bed.
"Now," he drawled, in gruff accents, "ef you-uns hev all had yer fill o'
foolin' with this hyar fire, I'll kiver it, like I hev started out ter
At this moment there was a loud trampling upon the porch without. The
batten door shook violently. The ranger sprang up. As he frowned the
hair on his scalp, drawn forward, seemed to rise like bristles.
"Dad-burn that thar fresky filly!" he cried, angrily. "Jes' brung her
noisy bones up on that thar porch agin, an' her huffs will bust spang
through the planks o' the floor the fust thing ye know."
The narrow aperture, as he held the door ajar, showed outlined
against the darkness the graceful head of a young mare, and once more
hoof-beats resounded on the rotten planks of the porch.
Clouds were adrift in the sky. No star gleamed in the wide space high
above the sombre mountains. On every side they encompassed Lonesome
Cove, which seemed to have importunately thrust itself into the darkling
solemnities of their intimacy.
All at once the ranger let the door fly from his hand, and stood gazing
in blank amazement. For there was a strange motion in the void
vastnesses of the wilderness. They were creeping into view. How, he
could not say, but the summit of the great mountain opposite was
marvellously distinct against the sky. He saw the naked, gaunt, December
woods. He saw the grim, gray crags. And yet Lonesome Cove below and the
spurs on the other side were all benighted. A pale, flickering light was
dawning in the clouds; it brightened, faded, glowed again, and their
sad, gray folds assumed a vivid vermilion reflection, for there was a
fire in the forest below. Only these reactions of color on the clouds
betokened its presence and its progress. Sometimes a fluctuation of
orange crossed them, then a glancing line of blue, and once more that
living red hue which only a pulsating flame can bestow.
"Air it the comin' o' the Jedgmint Day, Tobe?" asked his wife, in a meek
"I'd be afraid so if I war ez big a sinner ez you-uns," he returned.
"The woods air afire," the old woman declared, in a shrill voice.
"They be a-soakin' with las' night's rain," he retorted, gruffly.
The mare was standing near the porch. Suddenly he mounted her and rode
hastily off, without a word of his intention to the staring women in the
He left freedom of speech behind him. "Take yer bones along, then, ye
tongue-tied catamount!" his wife's mother apostrophized him, with all
the acrimony of long repression. "Got no mo' politeness 'n a settin'
hen," she muttered, as she turned back into the room.
The young woman lingered wistfully. "I wisht he wouldn't go a-ridin' off
that thar way 'thout lettin' we-uns know whar he air bound fur, an' when
he'll kem back. He mought git hurt some ways roun' that thar
fire—git overtook by it, mebbe."
"Ef he war roasted 'twould be mighty peaceful round in Lonesome," the
old crone exclaimed, rancorously.
Her daughter stood for a moment with the bar of the door in her hand,
still gazing out at the flare in the sky. The unwonted emotion had
conjured a change in the stereotyped patience in her face—even
anxiety, even the acuteness of fear, seemed a less pathetic expression
than that meek monotony bespeaking a broken spirit. As she lifted her
eyes to the mountain one might wonder to see that they were so blue. In
the many haggard lines drawn upon her face the effect of the straight
lineaments was lost; but just now, embellished with a flush, she looked
young—as young as her years.
As she buttoned the door and put up the bar her mother's attention
was caught by the change. Peering at her critically, and shading her
eyes with her hand from the uncertain flicker of the tallow dip, she
broke out, passionately: "Wa'al, 'Genie, who would ever hev thought ez
yer cake would be all dough? Sech a laffin', plump, spry gal ez ye
useter be—fur all the worl' like a fresky young deer! An' sech a
pack o' men ez ye hed the choice amongst! An' ter pick out Tobe Gryce
an' marry him, an' kem 'way down hyar ter live along o' him in Lonesome
She chuckled aloud, not that she relished her mirth, but the
harlequinade of fate constrained a laugh for its antics. The words
recalled the past to Eugenia; it rose visibly before her. She had had
scant leisure to reflect that her life might have been ordered
differently. In her widening eyes were new depths, a vague terror, a
wild speculation, all struck aghast by its own temerity.
"Ye never said nuthin ter hender," she faltered.
"I never knowed Tobe, sca'cely. How's ennybody goin' ter know a man ez
lived 'way off down hyar in Lonesome Cove?" her mother retorted,
acridly, on the defensive. "He never courted me, nohows. All the word
he gin me war, 'Howdy,' an' I gin him no less."
There was a pause.
Eugenia knelt on the hearth. She placed together the broken chunks, and
fanned the flames with a turkey wing. "I won't kiver the fire yit," she
said, thoughtfully. "He mought be chilled when he gits home."
The feathery flakes of the ashes flew; they caught here and there in her
brown hair. The blaze flared up, and flickered over her flushed, pensive
face, and glowed in her large and brilliant eyes.
"Tobe said 'Howdy,'" her mother bickered on. "I knowed by that ez he hed
the gift o' speech, but he spent no mo' words on me." Then, suddenly,
with a change of tone: "I war a fool, though, ter gin my cornsent ter
yer marryin' him, bein' ez ye war the only child I hed, an' I knowed I'd
hev ter live with ye 'way down hyar in Lonesome Cove. I wish now ez ye
bed abided by yer fust choice, an' married Luke Todd."
Eugenia looked up with a gathering frown. "I hev no call ter spen' words
'bout Luke Todd," she said, with dignity, "ez me an' him are both
married ter other folks."
"I never said ye hed," hastily replied the old woman, rebuked and
embarrassed. Presently, however, her vagrant speculation went recklessly
on. "Though ez ter Luke's marryin', 'tain't wuth while ter set store on
sech. The gal he found over thar in Big Fox Valley favors ye ez close ez
two black-eyed peas. That's why he married her. She looks precisely like
ye useter look. An' she laffs the same. An' I reckon she 'ain't hed no
call ter quit laffin', 'kase he air a powerful easy-goin' man.
Leastways, he useter be when we-uns knowed him."
"That ain't no sign," said Eugenia. "A saafter-spoken body I never seen
than Tobe war when he fust kem a-courtin' round the settlemint."
"Sech ez that ain't goin' ter las' noways," dryly remarked the
philosopher of the chimney-corner.
This might seem rather a reflection upon the courting gentry in general
than a personal observation. But Eugenia's consciousness lent it point.
"Laws-a-massy," she said, "Tobe ain't so rampagious, nohows, ez folks
make him out. He air toler'ble peaceable, cornsiderin' ez nobody hev
ever hed grit enough ter make a stand agin him, 'thout 'twar the Cunnel
She glanced around at the little girl's face framed in the frill of her
night-cap, and peaceful and infantile as it lay on the pillow.
"Whenst the Cunnel war born," Eugenia went on, languidly reminiscent,
"Tobe war powerful outed 'kase she war a gal. I reckon ye 'members ez
how he said he hed no use for sech cattle ez that. An' when she tuk sick
he 'lowed he seen no differ. 'Jes ez well die ez live,' he said. An'
bein' ailin', the Cunnel tuk it inter her head ter holler. Sech
hollerin' we-uns hed never hearn with none o' the t'other chil'ren. The
boys war nowhar. But a-fust it never 'sturbed Tobe. He jes spoke out
same ez he useter do at the t'others, 'Shet up, ye pop-eyed buzzard!'
Wa'al, sir, the Cunnel jes blinked at him, an' braced herself ez stiff,
an' yelled! I 'lowed 'twould take off the roof. An' Tobe said he'd
wring her neck ef she warn't so mewlin'-lookin' an' peakèd. An'
he tuk her up an' walked across the floor with her, an' she shet up; an'
he walked back agin, an' she stayed shet up. Ef he sot down fur a minit,
she yelled so ez ye'd think ye'd be deef fur life, an' ye 'most hoped ye
would be. So Tobe war obleeged ter tote her agin ter git shet o' the
noise. He got started on that thar 'forced march,' ez he calls it, an'
he never could git off'n it. Trot he must when the Cunnel pleased.
He 'lowed she reminded him o' that thar old Cunnel that he sarved under
in the wars. Ef it killed the regiment, he got thar on time. Sence then
the Cunnel jes gins Tobe her orders, an' he moseys ter do 'em quick, jes
like he war obleeged ter obey. I b'lieve he air, somehows."
"Wa'al, some day," said the disaffected old woman, assuming a port of
prophetic wisdom, "Tobe will find a differ. Thar ain't no man so headin'
ez don't git treated with perslimness by somebody some time. I knowed a
man wunst ez owned fower horses an' cattle-critters quarryspondin', an'
he couldn't prove ez he war too old ter be summonsed ter work on the
road, an' war fined by the overseer 'cordin' ter law. Tobe will git his
wheel scotched yit, sure ez ye air born. Somebody besides the Cunnel
will skeer up grit enough ter make a stand agin him. I dunno how other
men kin sleep o' night, knowin' how he be always darin' folks ter differ
with him, an' how brigaty he be. The Bible 'pears ter me ter hev Tobe in
special mind when it gits ter mournin' 'bout'n the stiff-necked ones."
The spirited young mare that the ranger rode strove to assert herself
against him now and then, as she went at a breakneck speed along the
sandy bridle-path through the woods. How was she to know that the
white-wanded young willow by the way-side was not some spiritual
manifestation as it suddenly materialized in a broken beam from a rift
in the clouds? But as she reared and plunged she felt his heavy hand and
his heavy heel, and so forward again at a steady pace. The forests
served to screen the strange light in the sky, and the lonely road was
dark, save where the moonbeam was splintered and the mists loitered.
Presently there were cinders flying in the breeze, a smell of smoke
pervaded the air, and the ranger forgot to curse the mare when she
"I wonder," he muttered, "what them no 'count half-livers o' town folks
hev hed the shiftlessness ter let ketch afire thar!"
As he neared the brink of the mountain he saw a dense column of smoke
against the sky, and a break in the woods showed the little
town—the few log houses, the "gyarden spots" about them, and in
the centre of the Square a great mass of coals, a flame flickering here
and there, and two gaunt and tottering chimneys where once the
court-house had stood. At some distance—for the heat was still
intense—were grouped the slouching, spiritless figures of the
mountaineers. On the porches of the houses, plainly visible in the
unwonted red glow, were knots of women and children—ever and anon
a brat in the scantiest of raiment ran nimbly in and out. The clouds
still borrowed the light from below, and the solemn, leafless woods on
one side were outlined distinctly against the reflection in the sky. The
flare showed, too, the abrupt precipice on the other side, the abysmal
gloom of the valley, the austere summit-line of the mountain beyond, and
gave the dark mysteries of the night a sombre revelation, as in visible
blackness it filled the illimitable space.
The little mare was badly blown as the ranger sprang to the
ground. He himself was panting with amazement and eagerness.
"The stray-book!" he cried. "Whar's the stray-book?"
One by one the slow group turned, all looking at him with a peering
expression as he loomed distorted through the shimmer of the heat above
the bed of live coals and the hovering smoke.
"Whar's the stray-book?" he reiterated, imperiously.
"Whar's the court-house, I reckon ye mean to say," replied the
sheriff—a burly mountaineer in brown jeans and high boots, on
which the spurs jingled; for in his excitement he had put them on as
mechanically as his clothes, as if they were an essential part of his
"Naw, I ain't meanin' ter say whar's the court-house," said the
ranger, coming up close, with the red glow of the fire on his face, and
his eyes flashing under the broad brim of his wool hat. He had a
threatening aspect, and his elongated shadow, following him and
repeating the menace of his attitude, seemed to back him up. "Ye air
sech a triflin', slack-twisted tribe hyar in town, ez ennybody would
know ef a spark cotched fire ter suthin, ye'd set an' suck yer paws, an'
eye it till it bodaciously burnt up the court-house—sech a
dad-burned lazy set o' half-livers ye be! I never axed 'bout'n the
court-house. I want ter know whar's that thar stray-book," he concluded,
"Tobe Gryce, ye air fairly demented," exclaimed the register—a
chin-whiskered, grizzled old fellow, sitting on a stump and hugging his
knee with a desolate, bereaved look—"talkin' 'bout the
stray-book, an' all the records gone! What will folks do 'bout thar
deeds, an' mortgages, an' sech? An' that thar keerful index ez I had
made—ez straight ez a string—all cinders!"
He shook his head, mourning alike for the party of the first part and
the party of the second part, and the vestiges of all that they had
"An' ye ter kem mopin' hyar this time o' night arter the stray-book,"
said the sheriff. "Shucks!" And he turned aside and spat disdainfully on
"I want that thar stray-book!" cried Gryce, indignantly. "Ain't nobody
seen it?" Then realizing the futility of the question, he yielded to a
fresh burst of anger, and turned upon the bereaved register. "An' did ye
jes set thar an' say, 'Good Mister Fire, don't burn the records; what'll
folks do 'bout thar deeds an' sech?' an' hold them claws o' yourn, an'
see the court-house burn up, with that thar stray-book in it?"
Half a dozen men spoke up. "The fire tuk inside, an' the court-house war
haffen gone 'fore 'twar seen," said one, in sulky extenuation.
"Leave Tobe be—let him jaw!" said another, cavalierly.
"Tobe 'pears ter be sp'ilin' fur a fight," said a third, impersonally,
as if to direct the attention of any belligerent in the group to the
The register had an expression of slow cunning as he cast a glance up at
the overbearing ranger.
"What ailed the stray-book ter bide hyar in the court-house all
night, Tobe? Couldn't ye gin it house-room? Thar warn't no special need
fur it to be hyar."
Tobe Gryce's face showed that for once he was at a loss. He glowered
down at the register and said nothing.
"Ez ter me," resumed that worthy, "by the law o' the land my books war
obligated ter be thar." He quoted, mournfully, "'Shall at all times be
and remain in his office.'"
He gathered up his knee again and subsided into silence.
All the freakish spirits of the air were a-loose in the wind. In fitful
gusts they rushed up the gorge, then suddenly the boughs would fall
still again, and one could hear the eerie rout a-rioting far off down
the valley. Now and then the glow of the fire would deepen, the coals
tremble, and with a gleaming, fibrous swirl, like a garment of flames, a
sudden animation would sweep over it, as if an apparition had passed,
leaving a line of flying sparks to mark its trail.
"I'm goin' home," drawled Tobe Gryce, presently. "I don't keer a frog's
toe-nail ef the whole settlemint burns bodaciously up; 'tain't nuthin
ter me. I hev never hankered ter live in towns an' git tuk up with town
ways, an' set an' view the court-house like the apple o' my eye. We-uns
don't ketch fire down in the Cove, though mebbe we ain't so peart ez
folks ez herd tergether like sheep an' sech."
The footfalls of the little black mare annotated the silence of the
place as he rode away into the darkling woods. The groups gradually
disappeared from the porches. The few voices that sounded at long
intervals were low and drowsy. The red fire smouldered in the centre of
the place, and sometimes about it appeared so doubtful a shadow that it
could hardly argue substance. Far away a dog barked, and then all was
Presently the great mountains loom aggressively along the horizon. The
black abysses, the valleys and coves, show duncolored verges and grow
gradually distinct, and on the slopes the ash and the pine and the oak
are all lustrous with a silver rime. The mists are rising, the wind
springs up anew, the clouds set sail, and a beam slants high.
"What I want ter know," said a mountaineer newly arrived on the scene,
sitting on the verge of the precipice, and dangling his long legs over
the depths beneath, "air how do folks ez live 'way down in Lonesome
Cove, an' who nobody knowed nuthin about noways, ever git 'lected ranger
o' the county, ennyhow. I ain't s'prised none ter hear 'bout Tobe
Gryce's goin's-on hyar las' night. I hev looked fur more'n that."
"Wa'al, I'll tell ye," replied the register. "Nuthin' but favoritism in
the county court. Ranger air 'lected by the jestices. Ye know," he
added, vainglorious of his own tenure of office by the acclaiming voice
of the sovereign people, "ranger ain't 'lected, like the register, by
A slow smoke still wreathed upward from the charred ruins of the
court-house. Gossiping groups stood here and there, mostly the
jeans-clad mountaineers, but there were a few who wore "store
clothes," being lawyers from more sophisticated regions of the circuit.
Court had been in session the previous day. The jury, serving in a
criminal case—still strictly segregated, and in charge of an
officer—were walking about wearily in double file, waiting with
what patience they might their formal discharge.
The sheriff's dog, a great yellow cur, trotted in the rear. When the
officer was first elected, this animal, observing the change in his
master's habits, deduced his own conclusions. He seemed to think the
court-house belonged to the sheriff, and thence-forward guarded the door
with snaps and growls; being a formidable brute, his idiosyncrasies
invested the getting into and getting out of law with abnormal
difficulties. Now, as he followed the disconsolate jury, he bore the
vigilant mien with which he formerly drove up the cows, and if a juror
loitered or stepped aside from the path, the dog made a slow detour as
if to round him in, and the melancholy cortége wandered on as
before. More than one looked wistfully at the group on the crag, for it
was distinguished by that sprightly interest which scandal excites so
"Ter my way of thinkin'," drawled Sam Peters, swinging his feet over the
giddy depths of the valley, "Tobe ain't sech ez oughter be set over the
county ez a ranger, noways. 'Pears not ter me, an' I hev been keepin' my
eye on him mighty sharp."
A shadow fell among the group, and a man sat down on a bowlder hard by.
He, too, had just arrived, being lured to the town by the news of
the fire. His slide had been left at the verge of the clearing,
and one of the oxen had already lain down; the other, although hampered
by the yoke thus diagonally displaced, stood meditatively gazing at the
distant blue mountains. Their master nodded a slow, grave salutation to
the group, produced a plug of tobacco, gnawed a fragment from it, and
restored it to his pocket. He had a pensive face, with an expression
which in a man of wider culture we should discriminate as denoting
sensibility. He had long yellow hair that hung down to his shoulders,
and a tangled yellow beard. There was something at once wistful and
searching in his gray eyes, dull enough, too, at times. He lifted them
heavily, and they had a drooping lid and lash. There seemed an odd
incongruity between this sensitive, weary face and his stalwart
physique. He was tall and well proportioned. A leather belt girded his
brown jeans coat. His great cowhide boots were drawn to the knee over
his trousers. His pose, as he leaned on the rock, had a muscular
"Who be ye a-talkin' about?" he drawled.
Peters relished his opportunity. He laughed in a distorted fashion, his
pipe-stem held between his teeth.
"You-uns ain't wantin' ter swop lies 'bout sech ez him, Luke! We war
a-talkin' 'bout Tobe Gryce."
The color flared into the new-comer's face. A sudden animation fired his
"Tobe Gryce air jes the man I'm always wantin' ter hear a word about.
Jes perceed with yer rat-killin'. I'm with ye." And Luke Todd placed
his elbows on his knees and leaned forward with an air of
Peters looked at him, hardly comprehending this ebullition. It was not
what he had expected to elicit. No one laughed. His fleer was wide of
"Wa'al"—he made another effort—"Tobe, we war jes sayin',
ain't fitten fur ter be ranger o' the county. He be ez peart in gittin'
ter own other folkses' stray cattle ez he war in courtin' other folkses'
sweetheart, an', ef the truth mus' be knowed, in marryin' her." He
suddenly twisted round, in some danger of falling from his perch. "I
want ter ax one o' them thar big-headed lawyers a question on a p'int o'
law," he broke off, abruptly.
"What be Tobe Gryce a-doin' of now?" asked Luke Todd, with eager
interest in the subject.
"Wa'al," resumed Peters, nowise loath to return to the gossip, "Tobe, ye
see, air the ranger o' this hyar county, an' by law all the stray horses
ez air tuk up by folks hev ter be reported ter him, an' appraised by two
householders, an' swore to afore the magistrate an' be advertised by the
ranger, an' ef they ain't claimed 'fore twelve months, the taker-up kin
pay into the county treasury one-haffen the appraisement an' hev the
critter fur his'n. An' the owner can't prove it away arter that."
"Thanky," said Luke Todd, dryly. "S'pose ye teach yer gran'mammy ter
suck aigs. I knowed all that afore."
Peters was abashed, and with some difficulty collected himself.
"An' I knowed ye knowed it, Luke," he hastily conceded. "But hyar
be what I'm a-lookin' at—the law 'ain't got no pervision fur a
stray horse ez kem of a dark night, 'thout nobody's percuremint, ter the
ranger's own house. Now, the p'int o' law ez I wanted ter ax the lawyers
'bout air this—kin the ranger be the ranger an' the taker-up too?"
He turned his eyes upon the great landscape lying beneath, flooded with
the chill matutinal sunshine, and flecked here and there with the
elusive shadows of the fleecy drifting clouds. Far away the long
horizontal lines of the wooded spurs, converging on either side of the
valley and rising one behind the other, wore a subdued azure, all unlike
the burning blue of summer, and lay along the calm, passionless sky,
that itself was of a dim, repressed tone. On the slopes nearer, the
leafless boughs, massed together, had purplish-garnet depths of color
wherever the sunshine struck aslant, and showed richly against the
faintly tinted horizon. Here and there among the boldly jutting gray
crags hung an evergreen-vine, and from a gorge on the opposite mountain
gleamed a continuous flash, like the waving of a silver plume, where a
cataract sprang down the rocks. In the depths of the valley, a field in
which crab-grass had grown in the place of the harvested wheat showed a
tiny square of palest yellow, and beside it a red clay road, running
over a hill, was visible. Above all a hawk was flying.
"Afore the winter fairly set in las' year," Peters resumed, presently,
"a stray kem ter Tobe's house. He 'lowed ter me ez he fund her
a-standin' by the fodder-stack a-pullin' off'n it. An' he 'quired round,
an' he never hearn o' no owner. I reckon he never axed outside o'
Lonesome," he added, cynically. He puffed industriously at his
pipe for a few moments; then continued: "Wa'al, he 'lowed he couldn't
feed the critter fur fun. An' he couldn't work her till she war
appraised an' sech, that bein' agin the law fur strays. So he jes
ondertook ter be ranger an' taker-up too—the bangedest consarn in
the kentry! Ef the leetle mare hed been wall-eyed, or lame, or
ennything, he wouldn't hev wanted ter be ranger an' taker-up too. But
she air the peartest little beastis—she war jes bridle-wise when
she fust kem—young an' spry!"
Luke Todd was about to ask a question, but Peters, disregarding him,
"Wa'al, Tobe tuk up the beastis, an' I reckon he reported her ter
hisself, bein' the ranger—the critter makes me laff—an' he
hed that thar old haffen-blind uncle o' his'n an' Perkins Bates, ez be
never sober, ter appraise the vally o' the mare, an' I s'pose he
delivered thar certificate ter hisself, an' I reckon he tuk oath that
she kem 'thout his procuremint ter his place, in the presence o' the
"I reckon thar ain't no law agin the ranger's bein' a ranger an' a
taker-up too," put in one of the bystanders. "'Tain't like a sher'ff's
buyin' at his own sale. An' he hed ter pay haffen her vally into the
treasury o' the county arter twelve months, ef the owner never proved
"Thar ain't no sign he ever paid a cent," said Peters, with a malicious
grin, pointing at the charred remains of the court-house, "an' the
treasurer air jes dead."
"Wa'al, Tobe hed ter make a report ter the jedge o' the county court
every six months."
"The papers of his office air cinders," retorted Peters.
"Wa'al, then," argued the optimist, "the stray-book will show ez she war
reported an' sech."
"The ranger took mighty partic'lar pains ter hev his stray-book in that
thar court-house when 'twar burnt."
There was a long pause while the party sat ruminating upon the
suspicions thus suggested.
Luke Todd heard them, not without a thrill of satisfaction. He found
them easy to adopt. And he, too, had a disposition to theorize.
"It takes a mighty mean man ter steal a horse," he said. "Stealin' a
horse air powerful close ter murder. Folkses' lives fairly depend on a
horse ter work thar corn an' sech, an' make a support fur em. I hev
knowed folks ter kem mighty close ter starvin' through hevin thar horse
stole. Why, even that thar leetle filly of our'n, though she hedn't been
fairly bruk ter the plough, war mightily missed. We-uns hed ter make out
with the old sorrel, ez air nigh fourteen year old, ter work the crap,
an' we war powerful disapp'inted. But we ain't never fund no trace o'
the filly sence she war tolled off one night las' fall a year ago."
The hawk floating above the valley and its winged shadow disappeared
together in the dense glooms of a deep gorge. Luke Todd watched them as
Suddenly he lifted his eyes. They were wide with a new speculation. An
angry flare blazed in them. "What sort'n beastis is this hyar mare ez
the ranger tuk up?" he asked.
Peters looked at him, hardly comprehending his tremor of
excitement. "Seems sorter sizable," he replied, sibilantly, sucking his
Todd nodded meditatively several times, leaning his elbows on his knees,
his eyes fixed on the landscape. "Hev she got enny partic'lar marks, ez
ye knows on?" he drawled.
"Wa'al, she be ez black ez a crow, with the nigh fore-foot white. An'
she hev got a white star spang in the middle o' her forehead, an' the
left side o' her nose is white too."
Todd rose suddenly to his feet. "By gum!" he cried, with a burst of
passion, "she air my filly! An' 'twar that thar durned horse-thief of
a ranger ez tolled her off!"
Deep among the wooded spurs Lonesome Cove nestles, sequestered from the
world. Naught emigrates thence except an importunate stream that forces
its way through a rocky gap, and so to freedom beyond. No stranger
intrudes; only the moon looks in once in a while. The roaming wind may
explore its solitudes; and it is but the vertical sunbeams that strike
to the heart of the little basin, because of the massive mountains that
wall it round and serve to isolate it. So nearly do they meet at the gap
that one great assertive crag, beetling far above, intercepts the view
of the wide landscape beyond, leaving its substituted profile jaggedly
serrating the changing sky. Above it, when the weather is fair, appear
vague blue lines, distant mountain summits, cloud strata, visions. Below
its jutting verge may be caught glimpses of the widening valley without.
But pre-eminent, gaunt, sombre, it sternly dominates "Lonesome,"
and is the salient feature of the little world it limits.
Tobe Gryce's house, gray, weather-beaten, moss-grown, had in comparison
an ephemeral, modern aspect. For a hundred years its inmates had come
and gone and lived and died. They took no heed of the crag, but never a
sound was lost upon it. Their drawling iterative speech the iterative
echoes conned. The ringing blast of a horn set astir some phantom chase
in the air. When the cows came lowing home, there were lowing herds in
viewless company. Even if one of the children sat on a rotting log
crooning a vague, fragmentary ditty, some faint-voiced spirit in the
rock would sing. Lonesome Cove?—home of invisible throngs!
As the ranger trotted down the winding road, multitudinous hoof-beats,
as of a troop of cavalry, heralded his approach to the little girl who
stood on the porch of the log-cabin and watched for him.
"Hy're, Cunnel!" he cried, cordially.
But the little "Colonel" took no heed. She looked beyond him at the
vague blue mountains, against which the great grim rock was heavily
imposed, every ledge, every waving dead crisp weed, distinct.
He noticed the smoke curling briskly up in the sunshine from the clay
and stick chimney. He strode past her into the house, as Eugenia, with
all semblance of youth faded from her countenance, haggard and
hollow-eyed in the morning light, was hurrying the corn-dodgers and
venison steak on the table.
Perhaps he did not appreciate that the women were pining with curiosity,
for he vouchsafed no word of the excitements in the little town;
and he himself was ill at ease.
"What ails the Cunnel, 'Genie?" he asked, presently, glancing up sharply
from under his hat brim, and speaking with his mouth full.
"The cat 'pears ter hev got her tongue," said Eugenia, intending that
the "Colonel" should hear, and perhaps profit. "She ain't able ter talk
none this mornin'."
The little body cast so frowning a glance upon them as she stood in the
doorway that her expression was but slightly less lowering than her
father's. It was an incongruous demonstration, with her infantile
features, her little yellow head, and the slight physical force she
represented. She wore a blue cotton frock, fastened up the back with
great horn buttons; she had on shoes laced with leather strings; one of
her blue woollen stockings fell over her ankle, disclosing the pinkest
of plump calves; the other stocking was held in place by an unabashed
cotton string. She had a light in her dark eyes and a color in her
cheek, and albeit so slight a thing, she wielded a strong coercion.
"Laws-a-massy, Cunnel!" said Tobe, in a harried manner, "couldn't ye
find me nowhar? I'm powerful sorry. I couldn't git back hyar no sooner."
But not in this wise was she to be placated. She fixed her eyes upon
him, but made no sign.
He suddenly rose from his half-finished breakfast. "Look-a-hyar,
Cunnel," he cried, joyously, "don't ye want ter ride the filly?—ye
knew ye hanker ter ride the filly."
Even then she tried to frown, but the bliss of the prospect
overbore her. Her cheek and chin dimpled, and there was a gurgling
display of two rows of jagged little teeth as the doughty "Colonel" was
swung to his shoulder and he stepped out of the door.
He laughed as he stood by the glossy black mare and lifted the child to
the saddle. The animal arched her neck and turned her head and gazed
back at him curiously. "Hold on tight, Cunnel," he said as he looked up
at her, his face strangely softened almost beyond recognition. And she
gurgled and laughed and screamed with delight as he began to slowly lead
the mare along.
The "Colonel" had the gift of continuance. Some time elapsed before she
exhausted the joys of exaltation. More than once she absolutely refused
to dismount. Tobe patiently led the beast up and down, and the "Colonel"
rode in state. It was only when the sun had grown high, and occasionally
she was fain to lift her chubby hands to her eyes, imperiling her safety
on the saddle, that he ventured to seriously remonstrate, and finally
she permitted herself to be assisted to the ground. When, with the
little girl at his heels, he reached the porch, he took off his hat, and
wiped the perspiration from his brow with his great brown hand.
"I tell ye, jouncin' round arter the Cunnel air powerful hot work," he
The next moment he paused. His wife had come to the door, and there was
a strange expression of alarm among the anxious lines of her face.
"Tobe," she said, in a bated voice, "who war them men?"
He stared at her, whirled about, surveyed the vacant landscape, and once
more turned dumfounded toward her. "What men?" he asked.
"Them men ez acted so cur'ous," she said. "I couldn't see thar faces
plain, an' I dunno who they war."
"Whar war they?" And he looked over his shoulder once more.
"Yander along the ledges of the big rock. Thar war two of 'em, hidin'
ahint that thar jagged aidge. An' ef yer back war turned they'd peep out
at ye an' the Cunnel ridin'. But whenst ye would face round agin, they'd
drap down ahint the aidge o' the rock. I 'lowed wunst ez I'd holler ter
ye, but I war feared ye moughtn't keer ter know." Her voice fell in its
He stood in silent perplexity. "Ye air a fool, 'Genie, an' ye never seen
nuthin'. Nobody hev got enny call ter spy on me."
He stepped in-doors, took down his rifle from the rack, and went out
frowning into the sunlight.
The suggestion of mystery angered him. He had a vague sense of impending
danger. As he made his way along the slope toward the great beetling
crag all his faculties were on the alert. He saw naught unusual when he
stood upon its dark-seamed summit, and he went cautiously to the verge
and looked down at the many ledges. They jutted out at irregular
intervals, the first only six feet below, and all accessible enough to
an expert climber. A bush grew in a niche. An empty nest, riddled by the
wind, hung dishevelled from a twig. Coarse withered grass tufted the
crevices. Far below he saw the depths of the Cove—the tops
of the leafless trees, and, glimpsed through the interlacing boughs, the
rush of a mountain rill, and a white flash as a sunbeam slanted on the
He was turning away, all incredulous, when with a sudden start he looked
back. On one of the ledges was a slight depression. It was filled with
sand and earth. Imprinted upon it was the shape of a man's foot. The
ranger paused and gazed fixedly at it. "Wa'al, by the Lord!" he
exclaimed, under his breath. Presently, "But they hev no call!" he
argued. Then once more, softly, "By the Lord!"
The mystery baffled him. More than once that day he went up to the crag
and stood and stared futilely at the footprint. Conjecture had license
and limitations, too. As the hours wore on he became harassed by the
sense of espionage. He was a bold man before the foes he knew, but this
idea of inimical lurking, of furtive scrutiny for unknown purposes,
preyed upon him. He brooded over it as he sat idle by the fire. Once he
went to the door and stared speculatively at the great profile of the
cliff. The sky above it was all a lustrous amber, for the early sunset
of the shortest days of the year was at hand. The mountains, seen partly
above and partly below it, wore a glamourous purple. There were clouds,
and from their rifts long divergent lines of light slanted down upon the
valley, distinct among their shadows. The sun was not visible—only
in the western heavens was a half-veiled effulgence too dazzlingly white
to be gazed upon. The ranger shaded his eyes with his hand. No
motion, no sound; for the first time in his life the unutterable
loneliness of the place impressed him.
"'Genie," he said, suddenly, looking over his shoulder within the cabin,
"be you-uns sure ez they war—folks?"
"I dunno what you mean," she faltered, her eyes dilated. "They looked
"I reckon they war," he said, reassuring himself. "The Lord knows I hope
That night the wind rose. The stars all seemed to have burst from their
moorings, and were wildly adrift in the sky. There was a broken tumult
of billowy clouds, and the moon tossed hopelessly amongst them, a lunar
wreck, sometimes on her beam ends, sometimes half submerged, once more
gallantly struggling to the surface, and again sunk. The bare boughs of
the trees beat together in a dirge-like monotone. Now and again a leaf
went sibilantly whistling past. The wild commotion of the heavens and
earth was visible, for the night was not dark. The ranger, standing
within the rude stable of unhewn logs, all undaubed, noted how pale were
the horizontal bars of gray light alternating with the black logs of the
wall. He was giving the mare a feed of corn, but he had not brought his
lantern, as was his custom. That mysterious espionage had in some sort
shaken his courage, and he felt the obscurity a shield. He had brought,
instead, his rifle.
The equine form was barely visible among the glooms. Now and then, as
the mare noisily munched, she lifted a hoof and struck it upon the
ground with a dull thud. How the gusts outside were swirling up the
gorge! The pines swayed and sighed. Again the boughs of the chestnut-oak
above the roof crashed together. Did a fitful blast stir the door?
He lifted his eyes mechanically. A cold thrill ran through every fibre.
For there, close by the door, somebody—something—was peering
through the space between the logs of the wall. The face was invisible,
but the shape of a man's head was distinctly defined. He realized that
it was no supernatural manifestation when a husky voice began to call
the mare, in a hoarse whisper, "Cobe! Cobe! Cobe!" With a galvanic start
he was about to spring forward to hold the door. A hand from without was
laid upon it.
He placed the muzzle of his gun between the logs, a jet of red light was
suddenly projected into the darkness, the mare was rearing and plunging
violently, the little shanty was surcharged with roar and reverberation,
and far and wide the crags and chasms echoed the report of the rifle.
There was a vague clamor outside, an oath, a cry of pain. Hasty
footfalls sounded among the dead leaves and died in the distance.
When the ranger ventured out he saw the door of his house wide open, and
the firelight flickering out among the leafless bushes. His wife met him
halfway down the hill.
"Air ye hurt, Tobe?" she cried. "Did yer gun go off suddint?"
"Mighty suddint," he replied, savagely.
"Ye didn't fire it a-purpose?" she faltered.
"Edzactly so," he declared.
"Ye never hurt nobody, did ye, Tobe?" She had turned very pale. "I
'lowed it couldn't be the wind ez I hearn a-hollerin'."
"I hopes an' prays I hurt 'em," he said, as he replaced the rifle in the
rack. He was shaking the other hand, which had been jarred in some way
by the hasty discharge of the weapon. "Some dad-burned horse-thief war
arter the mare. Jedgin' from the sound o' thar runnin', 'peared like to
me ez thar mought be two o' 'em."
The next day the mare disappeared from the stable. Yet she could not be
far off, for Tobe was about the house most of the time, and when he and
the "Colonel" came in-doors in the evening the little girl held in her
hand a half-munched ear of corn, evidently abstracted from the mare's
"Whar be the filly hid, Tobe?" Eugenia asked, curiosity overpowering
"Ax me no questions an' I'll tell ye no lies," he replied, gruffly.
In the morning there was a fall of snow, and she had some doubt whether
her mother, who had gone several days before to a neighbor's on the
summit of the range, would return; but presently the creak of unoiled
axles heralded the approach of a wagon, and soon the old woman, bundled
in shawls, was sitting by the fire. She wore heavy woollen socks over
her shoes as protection against the snow. The incompatibility of the
shape of the hose with the human foot was rather marked, and as they
were somewhat inelastic as well, there was a muscular struggle to
get them off only exceeded by the effort which had been required to get
them on. She shook her head again and again, with a red face, as she
bent over the socks, but plainly more than this discomfort vexed her.
"Laws-a-massy, 'Genie! I hearn a awful tale over yander 'mongst them
Jenkins folks. Ye oughter hev married Luke Todd, an' so I tole ye an'
fairly beset ye ter do ten year ago. He keered fur ye. An'
Tobe—shucks! Wa'al, laws-a-massy, child! I hearn a awful tale
'bout Tobe up yander at Jenkinses'."
"Folks hed better take keer how they talk 'bout Tobe," she said, with a
touch of pride. "They be powerful keerful ter do it out'n rifle range."
With one more mighty tug the sock came off, the red face was lifted, and
Mrs. Pearce shook her head ruefully.
"The Bible say 'words air foolishness.' Ye dunno what ye air talkin'
With this melancholy preamble she detailed the gossip that had arisen at
the county town and pervaded the country-side. Eugenia commented,
denied, flashed into rage, then lapsed into silence. Although it did not
constrain credulity, there was something that made her afraid when her
"Ye hed better not be talkin' 'bout rifle range so brash, 'Genie,
nohows. They 'lowed ez Luke Todd an' Sam Peters kem hyar—'twar jes
night before las'—aimin' ter take the mare away 'thout no words
an' no lawin', 'kase they didn't want ter wait. Luke hed got a chance
ter view the mare, an' knowed ez she war his'n. An' Tobe war hid
in the dark beside the mare, an' fired at 'em, an' the rifle-ball tuk
Sam right through the beam o' his arm. I reckon, though, ez that warn't
true, else ye would hev knowed it."
She looked up anxiously over her spectacles at her daughter.
"I hearn Tobe shoot," faltered Eugenia. "I seen blood on the leaves."
"Laws-a-massy!" exclaimed the old woman, irritably. "I be fairly feared
ter bide hyar; 'twouldn't s'prise me none ef they kem hyar an' hauled
Tobe out an' lynched him an' sech, an' who knows who mought git hurt in
They both fell silent as the ranger strode in. They would need a braver
heart than either bore to reveal to him the suspicions of horse-stealing
sown broadcast over the mountain. Eugenia felt that this in itself was
coercive evidence of his innocence. Who dared so much as say a word to
The weight of the secret asserted itself, however. As she went about her
accustomed tasks, all bereft of their wonted interest, vapid and
burdensome, she carried so woe-begone a face that it caught his
attention, and he demanded, angrily, "What ails ye ter look so durned
This did not abide long in his memory, however, and it cost her a pang
to see him so unconscious.
She went out upon the porch late that afternoon to judge of the weather.
Snow was falling again. The distant summits had disappeared. The
mountains near at hand loomed through the myriads of serried white
flakes. A crow flew across the Cove in its midst. It heavily
thatched the cabin, and tufts dislodged by the opening of the door fell
down upon her hair. Drifts lay about the porch. Each rail of the fence
was laden. The ground, the rocks, were deeply covered. She reflected
with satisfaction that the red splotch of blood on the dead leaves was
no longer visible. Then a sudden idea struck her that took her breath
away. She came in, her cheeks flushed, her eyes bright, with an excited
Her husband commented on the change. "Ye air a powerful cur'ous critter,
'Genie," he said: "a while ago ye looked some fower or five hundred year
old—now ye favors yerself when I fust kem a-courtin' round the
She hardly knew whether the dull stir in her heart were pleasure or
pain. Her eyes filled with tears, and the irradiated iris shone through
them with a liquid lustre. She could not speak.
Her mother took ephemeral advantage of his softening mood. "Ye useter be
mighty perlite and saaft-spoken in them days, Tobe," she ventured.
"I hed ter be," he admitted, frankly, "'kase thar war sech a many o'
them mealy-mouthed cusses a-waitin' on 'Genie. The kentry 'peared ter me
ter bristle with Luke Todd; he 'minded me o'
brumsaidge—everywhar ye seen his yaller head, ez homely an' ez
"I never wunst gin Luke a thought arter ye tuk ter comin' round the
settlemint," Eugenia said, softly.
"I wisht I hed knowed that then," he replied; "else I wouldn't hev been
so all-fired oneasy an' beset. I wasted mo' time a-studyin' 'bout ye an'
Luke Todd 'n ye war both wuth, an' went 'thout my vittles an' sot
up o' nights. Ef I hed spent that time a-moanin' fur my sins an' settin'
my soul at peace, I'd be 'quirin' roun' the throne o' Grace now! Young
folks air powerful fursaken fools."
Somehow her heart was warmer for this allusion. She was more hopeful.
Her resolve grew stronger and stronger as she sat and knitted, and
looked at the fire and saw among the coals all her old life at the
settlement newly aglow. She was remembering now that Luke Todd had been
as wax in her hands. She recalled that when she was married there was a
gleeful "sayin'" going the rounds of the mountain that he had taken to
the woods with grief, and he was heard of no more for weeks. The gossips
relished his despair as the corollary of the happy bridal. He had had no
reproaches for her. He had only looked the other way when they met, and
she had not spoken to him since.
"He set store by my word in them days," she said to herself, her lips
vaguely moving. "I misdoubts ef he hev furgot."
All through the long hours of the winter night she silently canvassed
her plan. The house was still noiseless and dark when she softly opened
the door and softly closed it behind her.
It had ceased to snow, and the sky had cleared. The trees, all the limbs
whitened, were outlined distinctly upon it, and through the boughs
overhead a brilliant star, aloof and splendid, looked coldly down. Along
dark spaces Orion had drawn his glittering blade. Above the snowy
mountains a melancholy waning moon was swinging. The valley was full of
mist, white and shining where the light fell upon it, a vaporous
purple where the shadows held sway. So still it was! the only motion in
all the world the throbbing stars and her palpitating heart. So solemnly
silent! It was a relief, as she trudged on and on, to note a gradual
change; to watch the sky withdraw, seeming fainter; to see the moon grow
filmy, like some figment of the frost; to mark the gray mist steal on
apace, wrap mountain, valley, and heaven with mystic folds, shut out all
vision of things familiar. Through it only the sense of dawn could
She recognized the locality; her breath was short; her step quickened.
She appeared, like an apparition out of the mists, close to a fence, and
peered through the snow-laden rails. A sudden pang pierced her heart.
For there, within the enclosure, milking the cow, she saw, all blooming
in the snow—herself; the azalea-like girl she had been!
She had not known how dear to her was that bright young identity she
remembered. She had not realized how far it had gone from her. She felt
a forlorn changeling looking upon her own estranged estate.
A faint cry escaped her.
The cow, with lifted head and a muttered low of surprise, moved out of
reach of the milker, who, half kneeling upon the ground, stared with
wide blue eyes at her ghost in the mist.
There was a pause. It was only a moment before Eugenia spoke; it seemed
years, so charged it was with retrospect.
"I kem over hyar ter hev a word with ye," she said.
At the sound of a human voice Luke Todd's wife struggled to her feet.
She held the piggin with one arm encircled about it, and with the other
hand she clutched the plaid shawl around her throat. Her bright hair was
tossed by the rising wind.
"I 'lowed I'd find ye hyar a-milkin' 'bout now."
The homely allusion reassured the younger woman.
"I hev ter begin toler'ble early," she said. "Spot gins 'bout a gallon a
Spot's calf, which subsisted on what was left over, seemed to find it
cruel that delay should be added to his hardships, and he lifted up his
voice in a plaintive remonstrance. This reminded Mrs. Todd of his
existence; she turned and let down the bars that served to exclude him.
The stranger was staring at her very hard. Somehow she quailed under
that look. Though it was fixed upon her in unvarying intensity, it had a
strange impersonality. This woman was not seeing her, despite that wide,
wistful, yearning gaze; she was thinking of something else, seeing some
And suddenly Luke Todd's wife began to stare at the visitor very hard,
and to think of something that was not before her.
"I be the ranger's wife," said Eugenia. "I kem over hyar ter tell ye he
never tuk yer black mare nowise but honest, bein' the ranger."
She found it difficult to say more. Under that speculative, unseeing
look she too faltered.
"They tell me ez Luke Todd air powerful outed 'bout'n it. An' I
'lowed ef he knowed from me ez 'twar tuk fair, he'd b'lieve me."
She hesitated. Her courage was flagging; her hope had fled. The eyes of
the man's wife burned upon her face.
"We-uns useter be toler'ble well 'quainted 'fore he ever seen ye, an' I
'lowed he'd b'lieve my word," Eugenia continued.
Another silence. The sun was rising; long liquescent lines of light of
purest amber-color were streaming through the snowy woods; the shadows
of the fence rails alternated with bars of dazzling glister; elusive
prismatic gleams of rose and lilac and blue shimmered on every
slope—thus the winter flowered. Tiny snow-birds were hopping
about; a great dog came down from the little snow-thatched cabin, and
was stretching himself elastically and yawning most portentously.
"An' I 'lowed I'd see ye an' git you-uns ter tell him that word from me,
an' then he'd b'lieve it," said Eugenia.
The younger woman nodded mechanically, still gazing at her.
And was this her mission! Somehow it had lost its urgency. Where was its
potency, her enthusiasm? Eugenia realized that her feet were wet, her
skirts draggled; that she was chilled to the bone and trembling
violently. She looked about her doubtfully. Then her eyes came back to
the face of the woman before her.
"Ye'll tell him, I s'pose?"
Once more Luke Todd's wife nodded mechanically, still staring.
There was nothing further to be said. A vacant interval ensued. Then, "I
'lowed I'd tell ye," Eugenia reiterated, vaguely, and turned away,
vanishing with the vanishing mists.
Luke Todd's wife stood gazing at the fence through which the apparition
had peered. She could see yet her own face there, grown old and worn.
The dog wagged his tail and pressed against her, looking up and claiming
her notice. Once more he stretched himself elastically and yawned
widely, with shrill variations of tone. The calf was frisking about in
awkward bovine elation, and now and then the cow affectionately licked
its coat with the air of making its toilet. An assertive chanticleer was
proclaiming the dawn within the hen-house, whence came too an impatient
clamor, for the door, which served to exclude any marauding fox, was
still closed upon the imprisoned poultry. Still she looked steadily at
the fence where the ranger's wife had stood.
"That thar woman favors me," she said, presently. And suddenly she burst
Perhaps it was well that Eugenia could not see Luke Todd's expression as
his wife recounted the scene. She gave it truly, but without, alas! the
glamour of sympathy.
"She 'lowed ez ye'd b'lieve her, bein' ez ye useter be 'quainted."
His face flushed. "Wa'al, sir! the insurance o' that thar woman!" he
exclaimed. "I war 'quainted with her; I war mighty well 'quainted with
her." He had a casual remembrance of those days when "he tuk ter the
woods ter wear out his grief." "She never gin me no promise, but
me an' her war courtin' some. Sech dependence ez I put on her war
mightily wasted. I dunno what ails the critter ter 'low ez I set store
by her word."
Poor Eugenia! There is nothing so dead as ashes. His flame had clean
burned out. So far afield were all his thoughts that he stood amazed
when his wife, with a sudden burst of tears, declared passionately that
she knew it—she saw it—she favored Eugenia Gryce. She had
found out that he had married her because she looked like another woman.
"'Genie Gryce hev got powerful little ter do ter kem a-jouncin' through
the snow over hyar ter try ter set ye an' me agin one another," he
exclaimed, angrily. "Stealin' the filly ain't enough ter sati'fy her!"
His wife was in some sort mollified. She sought to reassure herself.
"Air we-uns of a favor?"
"I dunno," he replied, sulkily. "I 'ain't seen the critter fur nigh on
ter ten year. I hev furgot the looks of her. 'Pears like ter me," he
went on, ruminating, "ez 'twar in my mind when I fust seen ye ez thar
war a favor 'twixt ye. But I misdoubts now. Do she 'low ez I hev hed
nuthin ter study 'bout sence?"
Perhaps Eugenia is not the only woman who overrates the strength of a
sentimental attachment. A gloomy intuition of failure kept her company
all the lengthening way home. The chill splendors of the wintry day
grated upon her dreary mood. How should she care for the depth and
richness of the blue deepening toward the zenith in those vast
skies? What was it to her that the dead vines, climbing the grim rugged
crags, were laden with tufts and corollated shapes wherever these
fantasies of flowers might cling, or that the snow flashed with
crystalline scintillations? She only knew that they glimmered and
dazzled upon the tears in her eyes, and she was moved to shed them
afresh. She did not wonder whether her venture had resulted amiss. She
only wondered that she had tried aught. And she was humbled.
When she reached Lonesome Cove she found the piggin where she had hid
it, and milked the cow in haste. It was no great task, for the animal
was going dry. "Their'n gins a gallon a milkin'," she said, in rueful
As she came up the slope with the piggin on her head, her husband was
looking down from the porch with a lowering brow. "Why n't ye spen' the
day a-milkin' the cow?" he drawled. "Dawdlin' yander in the cow-pen till
this time in the mornin'! An' ter-morrer's Chrismus!"
The word smote upon her weary heart with a dull pain. She had no
cultured phrase to characterize the sensation as a presentiment, but she
was conscious of the prophetic process. To-night "all the mounting"
would be riotous with that dubious hilarity known as "Chrismus in the
bones," and there was no telling what might come from the combined orgy
and an inflamed public spirit.
She remembered the familiar doom of the mountain horse-thief, the men
lurking on the cliff, the inimical feeling against the ranger. She
furtively watched him with forebodings as he came and went at
intervals throughout the day.
Dusk had fallen when he suddenly looked in and beckoned to the
"Colonel," who required him to take her with him whenever he fed the
"Let me tie this hyar comforter over the Cunnel's head," Eugenia said,
as he bundled the child in a shawl and lifted her in his arms.
"'Tain't no use," he declared. "The Cunnel ain't travellin' fur."
She heard him step from the creaking porch. She heard the dreary wind
Within, the clumsy shadows of the warping-bars, the spinning-wheel, and
the churn were dancing in the firelight on the wall. The supper was
cooking on the live coals. The children, popping corn in the ashes, were
laughing; as her eye fell upon the "Colonel's" vacant little chair her
mind returned to the child's excursion with her father, and again she
wondered futilely where the mare could be hid. The next moment she was
heartily glad that she did not know.
It was like the fulfillment of some dreadful dream when the door opened.
A man entered softly, slowly; the flickering fire showed his
shadow—was it?—nay, another man, and still another, and
The old crone in the corner sprang up, screaming in a shrill, tremulous,
cracked voice. For they were masked. Over the face of each dangled a bit
of homespun, with great empty sockets through which eyes vaguely
glanced. Even the coarse fibre of the intruders responded to that
quavering, thrilling appeal. One spoke instantly:
"Laws-a-massy! Mis' Pearce, don't ye feel interrupted none—nor
Mis' Gryce nuther. We-uns ain't harmful noways—jes want ter know
whar that thar black mare hev disappeared to. She ain't in the barn."
He turned his great eye-sockets on Eugenia. The plaid homespun mask
dangling about his face was grotesquely incongruous with his intent,
"I dunno," she faltered; "I dunno."
She had caught at the spinning-wheel for support. The fire crackled. The
baby was counting aloud the grains of corn popping from the ashes. "Six,
two, free," he babbled. The kettle merrily sang.
The man still stared silently at the ranger's wife. The expression in
his eyes changed suddenly. He chuckled derisively. The others echoed his
mocking mirth. "Ha! ha! ha!" they laughed aloud; and the eye-sockets in
the homespun masks all glared significantly at each other. Even the dog
detected something sinister in this laughter. He had been sniffing about
the heels of the strangers; he bristled now, showed his teeth, and
growled. The spokesman hastily kicked him in the ribs, and the animal
fled yelping to the farther side of the fireplace behind the baby, where
he stood and barked defiance. The rafters rang with the sound.
Some one on the porch without spoke to the leader in a low voice. This
man, who seemed to have a desire to conceal his identity which could not
be served by a mask, held the door with one hand that the wind might not
blow it wide open. The draught fanned the fire. Once the great bowing,
waving white blaze sent a long, quivering line of light through
the narrow aperture, and Eugenia saw the dark lurking figure outside. He
had one arm in a sling. She needed no confirmation to assure her that
this was Sam Peters, whom her husband had shot at the stable door.
The leader instantly accepted his suggestion. "Wa'al, Mis' Gryce, I
reckon ye dunno whar Tobe be, nuther?"
"Naw, I dunno," she said, in a tremor.
The homespun mask swayed with the distortions of his face as he sneered:
"Ye mean ter say ye don't 'low ter tell us."
"I dunno whar he be." Her voice had sunk to a whisper.
Another exchange of glances.
"Wa'al, ma'am, jes gin us the favor of a light by yer fire, an' we-uns
'll find him."
He stepped swiftly forward, thrust a pine torch into the coals, and with
it all whitely flaring ran out into the night; the others followed his
example; and the terror-stricken women, hastily barring up the door,
peered after them through the little batten shutter of the window.
The torches were already scattered about the slopes of Lonesome Cove
like a fallen constellation. What shafts of white light they cast upon
the snow in the midst of the dense blackness of the night! Somehow they
seemed endowed with volition, as they moved hither and thither, for
their brilliancy almost cancelled the figures of the men that bore
them—only an occasional erratic shapeless shadow was
visible. Now and then a flare pierced the icicle-tipped holly bushes,
and again there was a fibrous glimmer in the fringed pines.
The search was terribly silent. The snow deadened the tread. Only the
wind was loud among the muffled trees, and sometimes a dull thud sounded
when the weight of snow fell from the evergreen laurel as the men
thrashed through its dense growth. They separated after a time, and only
here and there an isolated stellular light illumined the snow, and
conjured white mystic circles into the wide spaces of the darkness. The
effort flagged at last, and its futility sharpened the sense of injury
in Luke Todd's heart.
He was alone now, close upon the great rock, and looking at its jagged
ledges all cloaked with snow. Above those soft white outlines drawn
against the deep clear sky the frosty stars scintillated. Beneath were
the abysmal depths of the valley masked by the darkness.
His pride was touched. In the old quarrel his revenge had been hampered,
for it was the girl's privilege to choose, and she had chosen. He cared
nothing for that now, but he felt it indeed a reproach to tamely let
this man take his horse when he had all the mountain at his back. There
was a sharp humiliation in his position. He felt the pressure of public
"Dad-burn him!" he exclaimed. "Ef I kin make out ter git a glimge o'
him, I'll shoot him dead—dead!"
He leaned the rifle against the rock. It struck upon a ledge. A metallic
vibration rang out. Again and again the sound was
repeated—now loud, still clanging; now faint, but clear; now soft
and away to a doubtful murmur which he hardly was sure that he heard.
Never before had he known such an echo. And suddenly he recollected that
this was the great "Talking Rock," famed beyond the limits of Lonesome.
It had traditions as well as echoes. He remembered vaguely that beneath
this cliff there was said to be a cave which was utilized in the
manufacture of saltpetre for gunpowder in the War of 1812.
As he looked down the slope below he thought the snow seemed
broken—by footprints, was it? With the expectation of a discovery
strong upon him, he crept along a wide ledge of the crag, now and then
stumbling and sending an avalanche of snow and ice and stones thundering
to the foot of the cliff. He missed his way more than once. Then he
would turn about, laboriously retracing his steps, and try another level
of the ledges. Suddenly before him was the dark opening he sought. No
creature had lately been here. It was filled with growing bushes and
dead leaves and brambles. Looking again down upon the slope beneath, he
felt very sure that he saw footprints.
"The old folks useter 'low ez thar war two openings ter this hyar cave,"
he said. "Tobe Gryce mought hev hid hyar through a opening down yander
on the slope. But I'll go the way ez I hev hearn tell on, an' peek in,
an' ef I kin git a glimge o' him, I'll make him tell me whar that thar
filly air, or I'll let daylight through him, sure!"
He paused only to bend aside the brambles, then he crept in and took his
way along a low, narrow passage. It had many windings, but was
without intersections or intricacy. He heard his own steps echoed like a
pursuing footfall. His labored breathing returned in sighs from the
inanimate rocks. It was an uncanny place, with strange, sepulchral,
solemn effects. He shivered with the cold. A draught stole in from some
secret crevice known only to the wild mountain winds. The torch flared,
crouched before the gust, flared again, then darkness. He hesitated,
took one step forward, and suddenly—a miracle!
A soft aureola with gleaming radiations, a low, shadowy chamber, a beast
feeding from a manger, and within it a child's golden head.
His heart gave a great throb. Somehow he was smitten to his knees.
Christmas Eve! He remembered the day with a rush of emotion. He stared
again at the vouchsafed vision. He rubbed his eyes. It had changed.
Only hallucination caused by an abrupt transition from darkness to
light; only the most mundane facts of the old troughs and ash-hoppers,
relics of the industry that had served the hideous carnage of battle;
only the yellow head of the ranger's brat, who had climbed into one of
them, from which the mare was calmly munching her corn.
Yet this was Christmas Eve. And the Child did lie in a manger.
Perhaps it was well for him that his ignorant faith could accept the
illusion as a vision charged with all the benignities of peace on earth,
good-will toward men. With a keen thrill in his heart, on his knees he
drew the charge from his rifle, and flung it down a rift in the rocks.
"Chrismus Eve," he murmured.
"YET THIS WAS CHRISTMAS
He leaned his empty weapon against the wall, and
strode out to the little girl who was perched up on the trough.
"Chrismus gift, Cunnel!" he cried, cheerily. "Ter-morrer's Chrismus."
The echoes caught the word. In vibratory jubilance they repeated it.
"Chrismus!" rang from the roof, scintillating with calc-spar;
"Chrismus!" sounded from the colonnade of stalactites that hung down to
meet the uprising stalagmites; "Chrismus!" repeated the walls incrusted
with roses that, shut in from the light and the fresh air of heaven,
bloomed forever in the stone. Was ever chorus so sweet as this?
It reached Tobe Gryce, who stood at his improvised corn-bin. With a
bundle of fodder still in his arms he stepped forward. There beside the
little Colonel and the black mare he beheld a man seated upon an
inverted half-bushel measure, peacefully lighting his pipe with a bunch
of straws which he kindled at the lantern on the ash-hopper.
The ranger's black eyes were wide with wonder at this intrusion, and
angrily flashed. He connected it at once with the attack on the stable.
The hair on his low forehead rose bristlingly as he frowned. Yet he
realized with a quaking heart that he was helpless. He, although the
crack shot of the county, would not have fired while the Colonel was
within two yards of his mark for the State of Tennessee.
He stood his ground with stolid courage—a target.
Then, with a start of surprise, he perceived that the intruder was
unarmed. Twenty feet away his rifle stood against the wall.
Tobe Gryce was strangely shaken. He experienced a sudden revolt of
credulity. This was surely a dream.
"Ain't that thar Luke Todd? Why air ye a-waitin' thar?" he called out in
a husky undertone.
Todd glanced up, and took his pipe from his mouth; it was now fairly
"Kase it be Chrismus Eve, Tobe," he said, gravely.
The ranger stared for a moment; then came forward and gave the fodder to
the mare, pausing now and then and looking with oblique distrust down
upon Luke Todd as he smoked his pipe.
"I want ter tell ye, Tobe, ez some o' the mounting boys air a-sarchin
fur ye outside."
"Who air they?" asked the ranger, calmly.
His tone was so natural, his manner so unsuspecting, that a new doubt
began to stir in Luke Todd's mind.
"What ails ye ter keep the mare down hyar, Tobe?" he asked, suddenly.
"'Pears like ter me ez that be powerful comical."
"Kase," said Tobe, reasonably, "some durned horse-thieves kem arter her
one night. I fired at 'em. I hain't hearn on 'em sence. An' so I jes hid
Todd was puzzled. He shifted his pipe in his mouth. Finally he said:
"Some folks 'lowed ez ye hed no right ter take up that mare, bein' ez ye
war the ranger."
Tobe Gryce whirled round abruptly. "What war I a-goin' ter do,
then? Feed the critter fur nuthin till the triflin' scamp ez owned her
kem arter her? I couldn't work her 'thout takin' her up an' hevin her
appraised. Thar's a law agin sech. An' I couldn't git somebody ter toll
her off an' take her up. That ain't fair. What ought I ter hev done?"
"Wa'al," said Luke, drifting into argument, "the town-folks 'low ez ye
hev got nuthin ter prove it by, the stray-book an' records bein' burnt.
The town-folks 'low ez ye can't prove by writin' an' sech ez ye ever
tried ter find the owner."
"The town-folks air fairly sodden in foolishness," exclaimed the ranger,
He drew from his ample pocket a roll of ragged newspapers, and pointed
with his great thumb at a paragraph. And Luke Todd read by the light of
the lantern the advertisement and description of the estray printed
according to law in the nearest newspaper.
The newspaper was so infrequent a factor in the lives of the mountain
gossips that this refutation of their theory had never occurred to them.
The sheet was trembling in Luke Todd's hand; his eyes filled. The cavern
with its black distances, its walls close at hand sparkling with
delicate points of whitest light; the yellow flare of the lantern; the
grotesque shadows on the ground; the fair little girl with her golden
hair; the sleek black mare; the burly figure of the ranger—all the
scene swayed before him. He remembered the gracious vision that had
saluted him; he shuddered at the crime from which he was rescued. Pity
him because he knew naught of the science of optics; of the
bewildering effects of a sudden burst of light upon the delicate
mechanism of the eye; of the vagaries of illusion.
"Tobe," he said, in a solemn voice—all the echoes were bated to
awed whispers—"I hev been gin ter view a vision this night, bein'
'twar Chrismus Eve. An' now I want ter shake hands on it fur peace."
Then he told the whole story, regardless of the ranger's demonstrations,
albeit they were sometimes violent enough. Tobe sprang up with a snort
of rage, his eyes flashing, his thick tongue stumbling with the curses
crowding upon it, when he realized the suspicions rife against him at
the county town. But he stood with his clinched hand slowly relaxing,
and with the vague expression which one wears who looks into the past,
as he listened to the recital of Eugenia's pilgrimage in the snowy
wintry dawn. "Mighty few folks hev got a wife ez set store by 'em like
that," Luke remarked, impersonally.
The ranger's rejoinder seemed irrelevant.
"'Genie be a-goin' ter see a powerful differ arter this," he said, and
fell to musing.
Snow, fatigue, and futility destroyed the ardor of the lynching party
after a time, and they dispersed to their homes. Little was said of this
expedition afterward, and it became quite impossible to find a man who
would admit having joined it. For the story went the rounds of the
mountain that there had been a mistake as to unfair dealing on the part
of the ranger, and Luke Todd was quite content to accept from the county
treasury half the sum of the mare's appraisement—with the
deduction of the stipulated per cent.—which Tobe Gryce had
paid, the receipt for which he produced.
The gossips complained, however, that after all this was settled
according to law, Tobe wouldn't keep the mare, and insisted that Luke
should return to him the money he had paid into the treasury, half her
value, "bein' so brigaty he wouldn't own Luke Todd's beast. An' Luke
agreed ter so do; but he didn't want ter be outdone, so fur the keep o'
the filly he gin the Cunnel a heifer. An' Tobe war mighty nigh tickled
ter death fur the Cunnel ter hev a cow o' her own."
And now when December skies darken above Lonesome Cove, and the snow in
dizzying whirls sifts softly down, and the gaunt brown leafless heights
are clothed with white as with a garment, and the wind whistles and
shouts shrilly, and above the great crag loom the distant mountains, and
below are glimpsed the long stretches of the valley, the two men
remember the vision that illumined the cavernous solitudes that night,
and bless the gracious power that sent salvation 'way down to Lonesome
Cove, and cherish peace and good-will for the sake of a little Child
that lay in a manger.
THE MOONSHINERS AT HOHO-HEBEE FALLS
If the mission of the little school-house in Holly Cove was to impress
upon the youthful mind a comprehension and appreciation of the eternal
verities of nature, its site could hardly have been better chosen. All
along the eastern horizon deployed the endless files of the Great Smoky
Mountains—blue and sunlit, with now and again the apparition of an
unfamiliar peak, hovering like a straggler in the far-distant rear, and
made visible for the nonce by some exceptional clarification of the
atmosphere; or lowering, gray, stern; or with ranks of clouds hanging on
their flanks, while all the artillery of heaven whirled about them, and
the whole world quaked beneath the flash and roar of its volleys. The
seasons successively painted the great landscape—spring, with its
timorous touch, its illumined haze, its tender, tentative green and gray
and yellow; summer, with its flush of completion, its deep, luscious,
definite verdure, and the golden richness of fruition; autumn, with a
full brush and all chromatic splendors; winter, in melancholy sepia
tones, black and brown and many sad variations of the pallors of
white. So high was the little structure on the side of a transverse
ridge that it commanded a vast field of sky above the wooded ranges; and
in the immediate foreground, down between the slopes which were cleft to
the heart, was the river, resplendent with the reflected moods of the
heavens. In this deep gorge the winds and the pines chanted like a Greek
chorus; the waves continuously murmured an intricate rune, as if conning
it by frequent repetition; a bird would call out from the upper air some
joyous apothegm in a language which no creature of the earth has learned
enough of happiness to translate.
But the precepts which prevailed in the little school-house were to the
effect that rivers, except as they flowed as they listed to confusing
points of the compass, rising among names difficult to remember, and
emptying into the least anticipated body of water, were chiefly to be
avoided for their proclivity to drown small boys intent on swimming or
angling. Mountains, aside from the desirability of their recognition as
forming one of the divisions of land somewhat easily distinguishable by
the more erudite youth from plains, valleys, and capes, were full of
crags and chasms, rattlesnakes and vegetable poisons, and a further
familiarity with them was liable to result in the total loss of the
adventurous—to see friends, family, and home no more.
These dicta, promulgated from the professorial chair, served to keep the
small body of callow humanity, with whose instruction Abner Sage
was intrusted by the State, well within call and out of harm's way
during the short recesses, while under his guidance they toddled along
the rough road that leads up the steeps to knowledge. But one there was
who either bore a charmed life or possessed an unequalled craft in
successfully defying danger; who fished and swam with impunity; who was
ragged and torn from much climbing of crags; whose freckled face bore
frequent red tokens of an indiscriminate sampling of berries. It is too
much to say that Abner Sage would have been glad to have his warnings
made terrible by some bodily disaster to the juvenile dare-devil of the
school, but Leander Yerby's disobedient incredulity as to the terrors
that menaced him, and his triumphant immunity, fostered a certain grudge
against him. Covert though it was, unrecognized even by Sage himself, it
was very definitely apparent to Tyler Sudley when sometimes, often,
indeed, on his way home from hunting, he would pause at the school-house
window, pulling open the shutter from the outside, and gravely watch his
protégé, who stood spelling at the head of the class.
For Leander Yerby's exploits were not altogether those of a physical
prowess. He was a mighty wrestler with the multiplication table. He had
met and overthrown the nine line in single-handed combat. He had
attained unto some interesting knowledge of the earth on which he lived,
and could fluently bound countries with neatness and precision, and was
on terms of intimacy with sundry seas, volcanoes, islands, and other
sizable objects. The glib certainty of his contemptuous
familiarity with the alphabet and its untoward combinations, as he flung
off words in four syllables in his impudent chirping treble, seemed
something uncanny, almost appalling, to Tyler Sudley, who could not have
done the like to save his stalwart life. He would stare dumfounded at
the erudite personage at the head of the class; Leander's bare feet were
always carefully adjusted to a crack between the puncheons of the floor,
literally "toeing the mark"; his broad trousers, frayed out liberally at
the hem, revealed his skinny and scarred little ankles, for his out-door
adventures were not without a record upon the more impressionable
portions of his anatomy; his waistband was drawn high up under his
shoulder-blades and his ribs, and girt over the shoulders of his
unbleached cotton shirt by braces, which all his learning did not
prevent him from calling "galluses"; his cut, scratched, calloused hands
were held stiffly down at the side seams in his nether garments in
strict accordance with the regulations. But rules could not control the
twinkle in his big blue eyes, the mingled effrontery and affection on
his freckled face as he perceived the on-looking visitor, nor hinder the
wink, the swiftly thrust-out tongue, as swiftly withdrawn, the egregious
display of two rows of dishevelled jagged squirrel teeth, when once
more, with an offhand toss of his tangled brown hair, he nimbly spelled
a long twisted-tailed word, and leered capably at the grave intent face
framed in the window.
"Why, Abner!" Tyler Sudley would break out, addressing the teacher, all
unmindful of scholastic etiquette, a flush of pleasure rising to his
swarthy cheek as he thrust back his wide black hat on his long
dark hair and turned his candid gray eyes, all aglow, upon the
cadaverous, ascetic preceptor, "ain't Lee-yander a-gittin' on powerful,
powerful fas' with his book?"
"Not in enny ways so special," Sage would reply in cavalier
discouragement, his disaffected gaze resting upon the champion scholar,
who stood elated, confident, needing no commendation to assure him of
his pre-eminence; "but he air disobejient, an' turr'ble, turr'ble bad."
The nonchalance with which Leander Yerby hearkened to this criticism
intimated a persuasion that there were many obedient people in this
world, but few who could so disport themselves in the intricacies of the
English language; and Sudley, as he plodded homeward with his rifle on
his shoulder, his dog running on in advance, and Leander pattering along
behind, was often moved to add the weight of his admonition to the
"Lee-yander," he would gently drawl, "ye mustn't be so bad, honey; ye
mustn't be so turr'ble bad."
"Naw, ma'am, I won't," Leander would cheerily pipe out, and so the
procession would wend its way along.
For he still confused the gender in titles of respect, and from force of
habit he continued to do so in addressing Tyler Sudley for many a year
after he had learned better.
These lapses were pathetic rather than ridiculous in the hunter's ears.
It was he who had taught Leander every observance of verbal humility
toward his wife, in the forlorn hope of propitiating her in the
interest of the child, who, however, with his quick understanding that
the words sought to do honor and express respect, had of his own accord
transferred them to his one true friend in the household. The only
friend he had in the world, Sudley often felt, with a sigh over the
happy child's forlorn estate. And, with the morbid sensitiveness
peculiar to a tender conscience, he winced under the knowledge that it
was he who, through wrongheadedness or wrongheartedness, had contrived
to make all the world besides the boy's enemy. Both wrongheaded and
wronghearted he was, he sometimes told himself. For even now it still
seemed to him that he had not judged amiss, that only the perversity of
fate had thwarted him. Was it so fantastically improbable, so hopeless a
solace that he had planned, that he should have thought his wife might
take comfort for the death of their own child in making for its sake a
home for another, orphaned, forlorn, a burden, and a glad riddance to
those into whose grudging charge it had been thrown? This bounty of hope
and affection and comfort had seemed to him a free gift from the dead
baby's hands, who had no need of it since coming into its infinite
heritage of immortality, to the living waif, to whom it was like life
itself, since it held all the essential values of existence. The idea
smote him like an inspiration. He had ridden twenty miles in a snowy
night to beg the unwelcome mite from the custody of its father's
half-brothers, who were on the eve of moving to a neighboring county
with all their kin and belongings.
Tyler Sudley was a slow man, and tenacious of impressions. He could
remember every detail of the events as they had happened—the
palpable surprise, the moment of hesitation, the feint of denial which
successively ensued on his arrival. It mattered not what the season or
the hour—he could behold at will the wintry dawn, the deserted
cabin, the glow of embers dying on the hearth within; the white-covered
wagon slowly a-creak along the frozen road beneath the gaunt, bare,
overhanging trees, the pots and pans as they swung at the rear, the
bucket for water swaying beneath, the mounted men beside it, the few
head of swine and cattle driven before them. Years had passed, but he
could feel anew the vague stir of the living bundle which he held on the
pommel of his saddle, the sudden twist it gave to bring its inquiring,
apprehensive eyes, so large in its thin, lank-jawed, piteous little
countenance, to bear on his face, as if it understood its transfer of
custody, and trembled lest a worse thing befall it. One of the women
stopped the wagon and ran back to pin about its neck an additional
wrapping, an old red-flannel petticoat, lest it should suffer in its
long, cold ride. His heart glowed with vicarious gratitude for her
forethought, and he shook her hand warmly and wished her well, and hoped
that she might prosper in her new home, and stood still to watch the
white wagon out of sight in the avenue of the snow-laden trees, above
which the moon was visible, a-journeying too, swinging down the western
Laurelia Sudley sat in stunned amazement when, half-frozen, but
triumphant and flushed and full of his story, he burst into the
warm home atmosphere, and put the animated bundle down upon the
hearth-stone in front of the glowing fire. For one moment she met its
forlorn gaze out of its peakèd and pinched little face with a
vague hesitation in her own worn, tremulous, sorrow-stricken eyes. Then
she burst into a tumult of tears, upbraiding her husband that he could
think that another child could take the place of her dead
child—all the dearer because it was dead; that she could play the
traitor to its memory and forget her sacred grief; that she could do
aught as long as she should live but sit her down to bewail her loss,
every tear a tribute, every pang its inalienable right, her whole
smitten existence a testimony to her love. It was in vain that he
expostulated. The idea of substitution had never entered his mind. But
he was ignorant, and clumsy of speech, and unaccustomed to analyze his
motives. He could not put into words his feeling that to do for the
welfare of this orphaned and unwelcome little creature all that they
would have done for their own was in some sort a memorial to him, and
brought them nearer to him—that she might find in it a
satisfaction, an occupation—that it might serve to fill her empty
life, her empty arms.
But no! She thought, and the neighbors thought, and after a time Tyler
Sudley came to think also, that he had failed in the essential duty to
the dead—that of affectionate remembrance; that he was recreant,
strangely callous. They all said that he had seemed to esteem one baby
as good as another, and that he was surprised that his wife was
not consoled for the loss of her own child because he took it into
his head to go and toll off the Yerby baby from his father's
half-brothers "ez war movin' away an' war glad enough ter get rid o' one
head o' human stock ter kerry, though, bein' human, they oughter been
ashamed ter gin him away like a puppy-dog, or an extry cat, all hands
From the standpoint she had taken Laurelia had never wavered. It was an
added and a continual reproach to her husband that all the labor and
care of the ill-advised acquisition fell to her share. She it was who
must feed and clothe and tend the gaunt little usurper; he needs must be
accorded all the infantile prerogatives, and he exacted much time and
attention. Despite the grudging spirit in which her care was given she
failed in no essential, and presently the interloper was no longer gaunt
or pallid or apprehensive, but grew pink and cherubic of build, and
arrogant of mind. He had no sensitive sub-current of suspicion as to his
welcome; he filled the house with his gay babbling, and if no maternal
chirpings encouraged the development of his ideas and his powers of
speech, his cheerful spirits seemed strong enough to thrive on their own
stalwart endowments. His hair began to curl, and a neighbor, remarking
on it to Laurelia, and forgetting for the moment his parentage, said, in
admiring glee, twining the soft tendrils over her finger, that Mrs.
Sudley had never before had a child so well-favored as this one. From
this time forth was infused a certain rancor into his foster-mother's
spirit toward him. Her sense of martyrdom was complete when another
infant was born and died, leaving her bereaved once more to watch
this stranger grow up in her house, strong and hearty, and handsomer
than any child of hers had been.
The mountain gossips had their own estimate of her attitude.
"I ain't denyin' but what she hed nat'ral feelin' fur her own chil'ren,
bein' dead," said the dame who had made the unfortunate remark about the
curling hair, "but Laurelia Sudley war always a contrary-minded,
lackadaisical kind o' gal afore she war married, sorter set in
opposition, an' now ez she ain't purty like she useter was, through
cryin' her eyes out, an' gittin' sallow-complected an' bony, I kin
notice her contrariousness more. Ef Tyler hedn't brung that chile home,
like ez not she'd hev sot her heart on borryin' one herself from
somebody. Lee-yander ain't in nowise abused, ez I kin see—ain't
acquainted with the rod, like the Bible say he oughter be, an' ennybody
kin see ez Laurelia don't like the name he gin her, yit she puts up with
it. She larnt him ter call Ty 'Cap'n,' bein' she's sorter proud of it,
'kase Ty war a cap'n of a critter company in the war: 'twarn't sech a
mighty matter nohow; he jes got ter be cap'n through the other off'cers
bein' killed off. An' the leetle boy got it twisted somehows, an' calls
her 'Cap'n' an' Ty 'Neighbor,' from hearin' old man Jeemes, ez comes
in constant, givin' him that old-fashioned name. 'Cap'n' 'bout fits
Laurelia, though, an' that's a fac'."
Laurelia's melancholy ascendency in the household was very complete. It
was characterized by no turbulence, no rages, no long-drawn
argument or objurgation; it expressed itself only in a settled
spirit of disaffection, a pervasive suggestion of martyrdom, silence or
sighs, or sometimes a depressing singing of hymn tunes. For her husband
had long ago ceased to remonstrate, or to seek to justify himself. It
was with a spirit of making amends that he hastened to concede every
point of question, to defer to her preference in all matters, and
Laurelia's sway grew more and more absolute as the years wore on.
Leander Yerby could remember no other surroundings than the ascetic
atmosphere of his home. It had done naught apparently to quell the
innate cheerfulness of his spirit. He evidently took note, however, of
the different standpoint of the "Captain" and his "Neighbor," for
although he was instant in the little manifestations of respect toward
her which he had been taught, his childish craft could not conceal their
"That thar boy treats me ez ef I war a plumb idjit," Laurelia said one
day, moved to her infrequent anger. "Tells me, 'Yes, ma'am, cap'n,' an'
'Naw, ma'am, cap'n,' jes ter quiet me—like folks useter do ter old
Ed'ard Green, ez war in his dotage—an' then goes along an' does
the very thing I tell him not ter do."
Sudley looked up as he sat smoking his pipe by the fire, a shade of
constraint in his manner, and a contraction of anxiety in his slow, dark
eyes, never quite absent when she spoke to him aside of Leander.
She paused, setting her gaunt arms akimbo, and wearing the manner of one
whose kindly patience is beyond limit abused. "Kems in hyar, he
do, a-totin' a fiddle. An' I says, 'Lee-yander Yerby, don't ye
know that thar thing's the devil's snare?' 'Naw, ma'am, cap'n,' he says,
grinnin' like a imp; 'it's my snare, fur I hev bought it from Peter
Teazely fur two rabbits what I cotch in my trap, an' my big red rooster,
an' a bag o' seed pop-corn, an' the only hat I hev got in the worl'.'
An' with that the consarn gin sech a yawp, it plumb went through my
haid. An' then the critter jes tuk ter a-bowin' it back an' forth,
a-playin' 'The Chicken in the Bread-trough' like demented, a-dancin' off
on fust one foot an' then on t'other till the puncheons shuck. An' I
druv him out the house. I won't stan' none o' Satan's devices hyar! I
tole him he couldn't fetch that fiddle hyar whenst he kems home
ter-night, an' I be a-goin' ter make him a sun-bonnet or a nightcap ter
wear stiddier his hat that he traded off."
Her husband had risen, the glow of his pipe fading in his unheeding
hand, his excited eyes fixed upon her. "Laurely," he exclaimed, "ye
ain't meanin' ez that thar leetle critter could play a chune fust off on
a fiddle 'thout no larnin'!"
She nodded her head in reluctant admission.
He opened his mouth once or twice, emitting no sound. She saw how his
elation, his spirit of commendation, his pride, set at naught her
displeasure, albeit in self-defence, perchance, he dared not say a word.
With an eye alight and an absorbed face, he laid his pipe on the
mantel-piece, and silently took his way out of the house in search of
the youthful musician.
Easily found! The racked and tortured echoes were all aquake within half
a mile of the spot where, bareheaded, heedless of the threatened
ignominy alike of sun-bonnet or nightcap, Leander sat in the flickering
sunshine and shadow upon a rock beside the spring, and blissfully
experimented with all the capacities of catgut to produce sound.
"Listen, Neighbor!" he cried out, descrying Tyler Sudley, who, indeed,
could do naught else—"listen! Ye won't hear much better fiddlin'
this side o' kingdom come!" And with glad assurance he capered up and
down, the bow elongating the sound to a cadence of frenzied glee, as his
arms sought to accommodate the nimbler motions of his legs.
Thus it was the mountaineers later said that Leander fell into bad
company. For, the fiddle being forbidden in the sober Laurelia's house,
he must needs go elsewhere to show his gift and his growing skill, and
he found a welcome fast enough. Before he had advanced beyond his
stripling youth, his untutored facility had gained a rude mastery over
the instrument; he played with a sort of fascination and spontaneity
that endeared his art to his uncritical audiences, and his endowment was
held as something wonderful. And now it was that Laurelia, hearing him,
far away in the open air, play once a plaintive, melodic strain,
fugue-like with the elfin echoes, felt a strange soothing in the sound,
found tears in her eyes, not all of pain but of sad pleasure, and
assumed thenceforth something of the port of a connoisseur. She said she
"couldn't abide a fiddle jes sawed helter-skelter by them ez hedn't
larned, but ter play saaft an' slow an' solemn, and no dancin'
chune, no frolic song—she warn't set agin that at all." And she
desired of Leander a repetition of this sunset motive that evening when
he had come home late, and she discovered him hiding the obnoxious
instrument under the porch. But in vain. He did not remember it. It was
some vague impulse, as unconsciously voiced as the dreaming bird's song
in the sudden half-awake intervals of the night. Over and again, as he
stood by the porch, the violin in his arms, he touched the strings
tentatively, as if, perchance, being so alive, they might of their own
motion recall the strain that had so lately thrilled along them.
He had grown tall and slender. He wore boots to his knees now, and
pridefully carried a "shootin'-iron" in one of the long legs—to
his great discomfort. The freckles of his early days were merged into
the warm uniform tint of his tanned complexion. His brown hair still
curled; his shirt-collar fell away from his throat, round and full and
white—the singer's throat—as he threw his head backward and
cast his large roving eyes searchingly along the sky, as if the missing
strain had wings.
The inspiration returned no more, and Laurelia experienced a sense of
loss. "Some time, Lee-yander, ef ye war ter kem acrost that chune agin,
try ter set it in yer remembrance, an' play it whenst ye kem home," she
said, wistfully, at last, as if this errant melody were afloat somewhere
in the vague realms of sound, where one native to those haunts might
hope to encounter it anew.
"Yes, ma'am, cap'n, I will," he said, with his facile assent. But
his tone expressed slight intention, and his indifference bespoke a too
great wealth of "chunes"; he could feel no lack in some unremembered
combination, sport of the moment, when another strain would come at
will, as sweet perchance, and new.
She winced as from undeserved reproach when presently Leander's
proclivities for the society of the gay young blades about the
countryside, sometimes reputed "evil men," were attributed to this exile
of the violin from the hearth-stone. She roused herself to disputation,
to indignant repudiation.
"They talk ez ef it war me ez led the drinkin', an' the gamin', an'
the dancin', and sech, ez goes on in the Cove, 'kase whenst Lee-yander
war about fryin' size I wouldn't abide ter hev him a-sawin' away on the
fiddle in the house enough ter make me deef fur life. At fust the racket
of it even skeered Towse so he wouldn't come out from under the house
fur two days an' better; he jes sot under thar an' growled, an'
shivered, an' showed his teeth ef ennybody spoke ter him. Nobody don't
like Lee-yander's performin' better'n I do whenst he plays them saaft,
slippin'-away, slow medjures, ez sound plumb religious—ef 'twarn't
a sin ter say so. Naw, sir, ef ennybody hev sot Lee-yander on ter evil
ways 'twarn't me. My conscience be clear."
Nevertheless she was grievously ill at ease when one day there rode up
to the fence a tall, gaunt, ill-favored man, whose long, lean, sallow
countenance, of a Pharisaic cast, was vaguely familiar to her, as one
recognizes real lineaments in the contortions of a caricature or
the bewilderments of a dream. She felt as if in some long-previous
existence she had seen this man as he dismounted at the gate and came up
the path with his saddle-bags over his arm. But it was not until he
mustered an unready, unwilling smile, that had of good-will and
geniality so slight an intimation that it was like a spasmodic grimace,
did she perceive how time had deepened tendencies to traits, how the
inmost thought and the secret sentiment had been chiselled into the face
in the betrayals of the sculpture of fifteen years.
"Nehemiah Yerby!" she exclaimed. "I would hev knowed ye in the happy
land o' Canaan."
"Let's pray we may all meet thar, Sister Sudley," he responded. "Let's
pray that the good time may find none of us unprofitable servants."
Mrs. Sudley experienced a sudden recoil. Not that she did not echo his
wish, but somehow his manner savored of an exclusive arrogation of piety
and a suggestion of reproach.
"That's my prayer," she retorted, aggressively. "Day an' night, that's
"Yes'm, fur us an' our households, Sister Sudley—we mus' think o'
them c'mitted ter our charge."
She strove to fling off the sense of guilt that oppressed her, the
mental attitude of arraignment. He was a young man when he journeyed
away in that snowy dawn. She did not know what changes had come in his
experience. Perchance his effervescent piety was only a habit of speech,
and had no significance as far as she was concerned. The suspicion,
however, tamed her in some sort. She attempted no retort. With a
mechanical, reluctant smile, ill adjusted to her sorrow-lined face, she
made an effort to assume that the greeting had been but the conventional
phrasings of the day.
"Kem in, kem in, Nehemiah; Tyler will be glad ter see ye, an' I reckon
ye will be powerful interested ter view how Lee-yander hev growed an'
She felt as if she were in some terrible dream as she beheld him slowly
wag his head from side to side. He had followed her into the large main
room of the cabin, and had laid his saddle-bags down by the side of the
chair in which he had seated himself, his elbows on his knees, his hands
held out to the flickering blaze in the deep chimney-place, his eyes
significantly narrowing as he gazed upon it.
"Naw, Sister Sudley," he wagged his head more mournfully still. "I kin
but grieve ter hear how my nevy Lee-yander hev 'prospered,' ez ye call
it, an' I be s'prised ye should gin it such a name. Oh-h-h, Sister
Sudley!" in prolonged and dreary vocative, "I 'lowed ye war a godly
woman. I knowed yer name 'mongst the church-goers an' the
church-members." A faint flush sprang into her delicate faded cheek; a
halo encircled this repute of sanctity, she felt with quivering
premonition that it was about to be urged as a testimony against her.
"Elsewise I wouldn't hev gin my cornsent ter hev lef' the leetle lam',
Lee-yander, in yer fold. Precious, precious leetle lam'!"
Poor Laurelia! Were it not that she had a sense of fault under the
scathing arraignment of her motives, her work, and its result,
although she scarcely saw how she was to blame, that she had equally
with him esteemed Leander's standpoint iniquitous, she might have made a
better fight in her own interest. Why she did not renounce the true
culprit as one on whom all godly teachings were wasted, and, adopting
the indisputable vantage-ground of heredity, carry the war into the
enemy's country, ascribing Leander's shortcomings to his Yerby blood,
and with stern and superior joy proclaiming that he was neither kith nor
kin of hers, she wondered afterward, for this valid ground of defence
did not occur to her then. In these long mourning years she had grown
dull; her mental processes were either a sad introspection or
reminiscence. Now she could only take into account her sacrifices of
feeling, of time, of care; the illnesses she had nursed, the garments
that she had made and mended—ah, how many! laid votive on the
altar of Leander's vigor and his agility, for as he scrambled about the
crags he seemed, she was wont to say, to climb straight out of them. The
recollection of all this—the lesser and unspiritual maternal
values, perchance, but essential—surged over her with bitterness;
she lost her poise, and fell a-bickering.
"'Precious leetle lam','" she repeated, scornfully. "Precious he mus'
hev been! Fur when ye lef' him he hedn't a whole gyarmint ter his back,
an' none but them that kivered him."
Nehemiah Yerby changed color slightly as the taunt struck home, but he
was skilled in the more æsthetic methods of argument.
"We war pore—mighty pore indeed, Sister Sudley."
Now, consciously in the wrong, Sister Sudley, with true feminine
inconsistency, felt better. She retorted with bravado.
"Needle an' thread ain't 'spensive nowhar ez I knows on, an' the
gov'mint hev sot no tax on saaft home-made soap, so far ez hearn from."
She briskly placed her chair, a rude rocker, the seat formed of a
taut-stretched piece of ox-hide, beside the fire, and took up her
knitting. A sock for Leander it was—one of many of all sizes. She
remembered the first that she had measured for the bare pink toes which
he had brought there, forlorn candidates for the comfortable integuments
in which they were presently encased, and how she had morbidly felt that
every stitch she took was a renunciation of her own children, since a
stranger was honored in their place. The tears came into her eyes. It
was only this afternoon that she had experienced a pang of self-reproach
to realize how near happiness she was—as near as her temperament
could approach. But somehow the air was so soft; she could see from
where she sat how the white velvet buds of the aspen-trees in the
dooryard had lengthened into long, cream-tinted, furry tassels; the
maples on the mountain-side lifted their red flowering boughs against
the delicate blue sky; the grass was so green; the golden candlesticks
bunched along the margin of the path to the rickety gate were all
a-blossoming. The sweet appeal of spring had never been more insistent,
more coercive. Somehow peace, and a placid content, seemed as
essential incidents in the inner life as the growth of the grass anew,
the bursting of the bud, or the soft awakening of the zephyr. Even
within the house, the languors of the fire drowsing on the hearth, the
broad bar of sunshine across the puncheon floor, so slowly creeping
away, the sense of the vernal lengthening of the pensive afternoon, the
ever-flitting shadow of the wren building under the eaves, and its
iterative gladsome song breaking the fireside stillness, partook of the
serene beatitude of the season and the hour. The visitor's drawling
voice rose again, and she was not now constrained to reproach herself
that she was too happy.
"Yes'm, pore though we war then—an' we couldn't look forward ter
the Lord's prosperin' us some sence—we never would hev lef' the
precious leetle lam'"—his voice dwelt with unvanquished emphasis
upon the obnoxious words—"'mongst enny but them persumed ter be
godly folks. Tyler war a toler'ble good soldier in the war, an' hed a
good name in the church, but ye war persumed to be a plumb special
Christian with no pledjure in this worl'."
Laurelia winced anew. This repute of special sanctity was the pride of
her ascetic soul. Few of the graces of life or of the spirit had she
coveted, but her pre-eminence as a religionist she had fostered and
cherished, and now through her own deeds of charity it seemed about to
be wrested from her.
"Lee-yander Yerby hev larnt nuthin' but good in this house, an' all my
neighbors will tell you the same word. The Cove 'lows I hev been too
Nehemiah was glancing composedly about the room. "That thar 'pears ter
be a fiddle on the wall, ain't it, Mis' Sudley?" he said, with an
incidental air and the manner of changing the subject.
Alack, for the æsthetic perversion! Since the playing of those
melancholy minor strains in that red sunset so long ago, which had
touched so responsive a chord in Laurelia's grief-worn heart, the crazy
old fiddle had been naturalized, as it were, and had exchanged its
domicile under the porch for a position on the wall. It was boldly
visible, and apparently no more ashamed of itself than was the big
earthen jar half full of cream, which was placed close to the fireplace
on the hearth in the hope that its contents might become sour enough by
to-morrow to be churned.
Laurelia looked up with a start at the instrument, red and lustrous
against the brown log wall, its bow poised jauntily above it, and some
glistening yellow reflection from the sun on the floor playing among the
strings, elusive, soundless fantasies.
Her lower jaw dropped. She was driven to her last defences, and sore
beset. "It air a fiddle," she said, slowly, at last, and with an air of
conscientious admission, as if she had had half a mind to deny it. "A
fiddle the thing air." Then, as she collected her thoughts, "Brother
Pete Vickers 'lows ez he sees no special sin in playin' the fiddle. He
'lows ez in some kentries—I disremember whar—they plays on
'em in church, quirin' an' hymn chunes an' sech."
Her voice faltered a little; she had never thought to quote this
fantasy in her own defence, for she secretly believed that old man
Vickers must have been humbugged by some worldly brother skilled in
drawing the long bow himself.
Nehemiah Yerby seemed specially endowed with a conscience for the
guidance of other people, so quick was he to descry and pounce upon
their shortcomings. If one's sins are sure to find one out, there is
little doubt but that Brother Nehemiah would be on the ground first.
"Air you-uns a-settin' under the preachin' o' Brother Peter Vickers?" he
demanded in a sepulchral voice.
"Naw, naw," she was glad to reply. "'Twar onderstood ez Brother Vickers
wanted a call ter the church in the Cove, bein' ez his relations live
hyar-abouts, an' he kem up an' preached a time or two. But he didn't git
no call. The brethren 'lowed Brother Vickers war too slack in his idees
o' religion. Some said his hell warn't half hot enough. Thar air some
powerful sinners in the Cove, an' nuthin' but good live coals an' a
liquid blazin' fire air a-goin' ter deter them from the evil o' thar
ways. So Brother Vickers went back the road he kem."
She knit off her needle while, with his head still bent forward,
Nehemiah Yerby sourly eyed her, feeling himself a loser with Brother
Vickers, in that he did not have the reverend man's incumbency as a
"He 'pears ter me ter see mo' pleasure in religion 'n penance, ennyhow,"
he observed, bitterly. "An' the Lord knows the bes' of us air
"An' he laughs loud an' frequent—mightily like a sinner," she
agreed. "An' whenst he prays, he prays loud an' hearty, like he jes
expected ter git what he axed fur sure's shootin'. Some o' the
bretherin' sorter taxed him with his sperits, an' he 'lowed he couldn't
holp but be cheerful whenst he hed the Lord's word fur it ez all things
work tergether fur good. An' he laffed same ez ef they hedn't spoke ter
"Look at that, now!" exclaimed Nehemiah. "An' that thar man ez good ez
dead with the heart-disease."
Laurelia's eyes were suddenly arrested by his keen, pinched, lined face.
What there was in it to admonish her she could hardly have said, nor how
it served to tutor her innocent craft.
"I ain't so sure 'bout Brother Vickers bein' so wrong," she said,
slowly. "He 'lowed ter me ez I hed spent too much o' my life
a-sorrowin', 'stiddier a-praisin' the Lord for his mercies." Her face
twitched suddenly; she could not yet look upon her bereavements as
mercies. "He 'lowed I would hev been a happier an' a better 'oman ef I
hed took the evil ez good from the Lord's hand, fur in his sendin' it's
the same. An' I know that air a true word. An' that's what makes me 'low
what he said war true 'bout'n that fiddle; that I ought never ter hev
pervented the boy from playin' 'round home an' sech, an' 'twarn't no sin
but powerful comfortable an' pleasurable ter set roun' of a cold winter
night an' hear him play them slow, sweet, dyin'-away chunes—" She
dropped her hands, and gazed with the rapt eyes of remembrance through
the window at the sunset clouds which, gathering red and purple
and gold on the mountain's brow, were reflected roseate and amethyst and
amber at the mountain's base on the steely surface of the river.
"Brother Vickers 'lowed he never hearn sech in all his life. It brung
the tears ter his eyes—it surely did."
"He'd a heap better be weepin' fur them black sheep o' his congregation
an' fur Lee-yander's shortcomin's, fur ez fur ez I kin hear he air about
ez black a sheep ez most pastors want ter wrestle with fur the turnin'
away from thar sins. Yes'm, Sister Sudley, that's jes what p'inted out
my jewty plain afore my eyes, an' I riz up an' kem ter be instant in
a-doin' of it. 'I'll not leave my own nevy in the tents o' sin,' I sez.
'I hev chil'n o' my own, hearty feeders an' hard on shoe-leather, ter
support, but I'll not grudge my brother's son a home.' Yes, Laurely
Sudley, I hev kem ter kerry him back with me. Yer jewty ain't been done
by him, an' I'll leave him a dweller in the tents o' sin no longer."
His enthusiasm had carried him too far. Laurelia's face, which at first
seemed turning to stone as she gradually apprehended his meaning and his
mission, changed from motionless white to a tremulous scarlet while he
spoke, and when he ceased she retorted herself as one of the ungodly.
"Ye mus' be mighty ambitious ter kerry away a skin full o' broken bones!
Jes let Tyler Sudley hear ez ye called his house the tents o' the
ungodly, an' that ye kem hyar a-faultin' me, an' tellin' me ez I 'ain't
done my jewty ennywhar or ennyhow!" she exclaimed, with a pride which,
as a pious saint, she had never expected to feel in her husband's
reputation as a high-tempered man and a "mighty handy fighter,"
and with implicit reliance upon both endowments in her quarrel.
"Only in a speritchual sense, Sister Sudley," Nehemiah gasped, as he
made haste to qualify his asseveration. "I only charge you with havin'
sp'iled the boy; ye hev sp'iled him through kindness ter him, an' not
ye so much ez Ty. Ty never hed so much ez a dog that would mind him!
His dog wouldn't answer call nor whistle 'thout he war so disposed. I
never faulted ye, Sister Sudley; 'twar jes Ty I faulted. I know Ty."
He knew, too, that it was safer to call Ty and his doings in question,
big and formidable and belligerent though he was, than his
meek-mannered, melancholy, forlorn, and diminutive wife. Nehemiah rose
up and walked back and forth for a moment with an excited face and a
bent back, and a sort of rabbit-like action. "Now, I put it to you,
Sister Sudley, air Ty a-makin' that thar boy plough ter-day—jes
be-you-ti-ful field weather!"
Sister Sudley, victorious, having regained her normal position by one
single natural impulse of self-assertion, not as a religionist, but as
Tyler Sudley's wife, and hence entitled to all the show of respect which
that fact unaided could command, sat looking at him with a changed
face—a face that seemed twenty years younger; it had the
expression it wore before it had grown pinched and ascetic and
insistently sorrowful; one might guess how she had looked when Tyler
Sudley first went up the mountain "a-courtin'." She sought to assume no
other stand-point. Here she was intrenched. She shook her head in
negation. The affair was none of hers. Ty Sudley could take ample care
Nehemiah gave a little skip that might suggest a degree of triumph.
"Aha, not ploughin'! But Ty is ploughin'. I seen him in the field. An'
Lee-yander ain't ploughin'! An' how did I know? Ez I war a-ridin' along
through the woods this mornin' I kem acrost a striplin' lad a-walkin'
through the undergrowth ez onconsarned ez a killdee an' ez nimble. An'
under his chin war a fiddle, an' his head war craned down ter it." He
mimicked the attitude as he stood on the hearth. "He never looked up
wunst. Away he walked, light ez a plover, an' a-ping, pang, ping,
pang," in a high falsetto, "went that fiddle! I war plumb 'shamed fur
the critters in the woods ter view sech idle sinfulness, a ole owel,
a-blinkin' down out'n a hollow tree, kem ter see what ping, pang,
ping, pang meant, an' thar war a rabbit settin' up on two legs in
the bresh, an' a few stray razor-back hawgs; I tell ye I war mortified
'fore even sech citizens ez them, an' a lazy, impident-lookin' dog ez
"How did ye know 'twar Lee-yander?" demanded Mrs. Sudley, recognizing
the description perfectly, but after judicial methods requiring strict
"Oh-h! by the fambly favor," protested the gaunt and hard-featured
Nehemiah, capably. "I knowed the Yerby eye."
"He hev got his mother's eyes." Mrs. Sudley had certainly changed her
stand-point with a vengeance. "He hev got his mother's
be-you-ti-ful blue eyes and her curling, silken brown
hair—sorter red; little Yerby in that, mebbe; but sech eyes, an'
sech lashes, an' sech fine curling hair ez none o' yer fambly ever hed,
or ever will."
"Mebbe so. I never seen him more'n a minit. But he might ez well hev a
be-you-ti-ful curlin' nose, like the elephint in the show, for all the
use he air, or I be afeard air ever likely ter be."
Tyler Sudley's face turned gray, despite his belligerent efficiencies,
when his wife, hearing the clank of the ox-yoke as it was flung down in
the shed outside, divined the home-coming of the ploughman and his team,
and slipped out to the barn with her news. She realized, with a strange
enlightenment as to her own mental processes, what angry jealousy the
look on his face would have roused in her only so short a time
ago—jealousy for the sake of her own children, that any loss, any
grief, should be poignant and pierce his heart save for them. Now she
was sorry for him; she felt with him.
But as he continued silent, and only stared at her dumfounded and
piteous, she grew frightened—she knew not of what.
"Shucks, Ty!" she exclaimed, catching him by the sleeve with the impulse
to rouse him, to awaken him, as it were, to his own old familiar
identity; "ye ain't 'feared o' that thar snaggle-toothed skeer-crow in
yander; he would be plumb comical ef he didn't look so mean-natured an'
sech a hypercrite."
He gazed at her, his eyes eloquent with pain.
"Laurely!" he gasped, "this hyar thing plumb knocks me down; it
jes takes the breath o' life out'n me!"
She hesitated for a moment. Any anxiety, any trouble, seemed so
incongruous with the sweet spring-tide peace in the air, that one did
not readily take it home to heart. Hope was in the atmosphere like an
essential element; one might call it oxygen or caloric or vitality,
according to the tendency of mind and the habit of speech. But the heart
knew it, and the pulses beat strongly responsive to it. Faith ruled the
world. Some tiny bulbous thing at her feet that had impeded her step
caught her attention. It was coming up from the black earth, and the
buried darkness, and the chill winter's torpor, with all the impulses of
confidence in the light without, and the warmth of the sun, and the
fresh showers that were aggregating in the clouds somewhere for its
nurture—a blind inanimate thing like that! But Tyler Sudley felt
none of it; the blow had fallen upon him, stunning him. He stood silent,
looking gropingly into the purple dusk, veined with silver glintings of
the moon, as if he sought to view in the future some event which he
dreaded, and yet shrank to see.
She had rarely played the consoler, so heavily had she and all her
griefs leaned on his supporting arm. It was powerless now. She perceived
this, all dismayed at the responsibility that had fallen upon her. She
made an effort to rally his courage. She had more faith in it than in
"'Feard o' him!" she exclaimed, with a sharp tonic note of satire.
"Kem in an' view him."
"Laurely," he quavered, "I oughter hev got it down in writin' from
him; I oughter made him sign papers agreein' fur me ter keep the boy
till he growed ter be his own man."
She, too, grew pale. "Ye ain't meanin' ter let him take the boy sure
enough!" she gasped.
"I moughtn't be able ter holp it; I dun'no' how the law stands. He air
kin ter Lee-yander, an' mebbe hev got the bes' right ter him."
She shivered slightly; the dew was falling, and all the budding herbage
was glossed with a silver glister. The shadows were sparse. The white
branches of the aspens cast only the symmetrical outline of the tree
form on the illumined grass, and seemed scarcely less bare than in
winter, but on one swaying bough the mocking-bird sang all the joyous
prophecies of the spring to the great silver moon that made his gladsome
day so long.
She was quick to notice the sudden cessation of his song, the alert,
downward poise of his beautiful head, his tense critical attitude. A
mimicking whistle rose on the air, now soft, now keen, with swift
changes and intricate successions of tones, ending in a brilliant
borrowed roulade, delivered with a wonderful velocity and élan.
The long tail feathers, all standing stiffly upward, once more drooped;
the mocking-bird turned his head from side to side, then lifting his
full throat he poured forth again his incomparable, superb, infinitely
versatile melody, fixing his glittering eye on the moon, and heeding the
futilely ambitious worldling no more.
The mimicking sound heralded the approach of Leander. Laurelia's heart,
full of bitterness for his sake, throbbed tenderly for him. Ah, what
was to be his fate! What unkind lot did the future hold for him in
the clutches of a man like this! Suddenly she was pitying his
mother—her own children, how safe!
She winced to tell him what had happened, but she it was who, bracing
her nerves, made the disclosure, for Sudley remained silent, the end of
the ox-yoke in his trembling hands, his head bare to the moon and the
dew, his face grown lined and old.
Leander stood staring at her out of his moonlit blue eyes, his hat far
back on the brown curls she had so vaunted, damp and crisp and clinging,
the low limp collar of his unbleached shirt showing his round full
throat, one hand resting on the high curb of the well, the other holding
a great brown gourd full of the clear water which he had busied himself
in securing while she sought to prepare him to hear the worst. His lips,
like a bent bow as she thought, were red and still moist as he now and
then took the gourd from them, and held it motionless in the interest of
her narration, that indeed touched him so nearly. Then, as she made
point after point clear to his comprehension, he would once more lift
the gourd and drink deeply, for he had had an active day, inducing a
She had been preparing herself for the piteous spectacle of his frantic
fright, his futile reliance on them who had always befriended him, his
callow forlorn helplessness, his tears, his reproaches; she dreaded
He was silent for a reflective moment when she had paused. "But what's
he want with me, Cap'n?" he suddenly demanded. "Mought know I
warn't industrious in the field, ez he seen me off a-fiddlin' in the
woods whilst Neighbor war a-ploughin'."
HAD HAD AN ACTIVE DAY, INDUCING A KEEN THIRST"
"Mebbe he 'lows he mought make ye industrious an' git cornsider'ble
work out'n ye," she faltered, flinching for him.
After another refreshing gulp from the gourd he canvassed this
dispassionately. "Say his own chil'n air 'hearty feeders an' hard on
shoe-leather?' Takes a good deal o' goadin' ter git ploughin' enough fur
the wuth o' feed out'n a toler'ble beastis like old Blaze-face thar,
don't it, Neighbor?—an' how is it a-goin' ter be with a human ez
mebbe will hold back an' air sot agin ploughin' ennyhow, an' air sorter
idle by profession? 'Twould gin him a heap o' trouble—more'n the
ploughin' an' sech would be wuth—a heap o' trouble." Once more he
bowed his head to the gourd.
"He 'lowed ye shouldn't dwell no mo' in the tents o' sin. He seen the
fiddle, Lee; it's all complicated with the fiddle," she quavered, very
near tears of vexation.
He lifted a smiling moonlit face; his half-suppressed laugh echoed
gurglingly in the gourd. "Cap'n," he said, reassuringly, "jes let's hear
Uncle Nehemiah talk some mo', an' ef I can't see no mo' likely work fur
me 'n ploughin', I'll think myself mighty safe."
They felt like three conspirators as after supper they drew their chairs
around the fire with the unsuspicious Uncle Nehemiah. However, Nehemiah
Yerby could hardly be esteemed unsuspicious in any point of view, so
full of vigilant craft was his intention in every anticipation, so
slyly sanctimonious was his long countenance.
There could hardly have been a greater contrast than Tyler Sudley's
aspect presented. His candid face seemed a mirror for his thought; he
had had scant experience in deception, and he proved a most unlikely
novice in the art. His features were heavy and set; his manner was
brooding and depressed; he did not alertly follow the conversation; on
the contrary, he seemed oblivious of it as his full dark eyes rested
absently on the fire. More than once he passed his hand across them with
a troubled, harassed manner, and he sighed heavily. For which his
co-conspirators could have fallen upon him. How could he be so dull, so
forgetful of all save the fear of separation from the boy whom he had
reared, whom he loved as his own son; how could he fail to know that a
jaunty, assured mien might best serve his interests until at any rate
the blow had fallen; why should he wear the insignia of defeat before
the strength of his claim was tested? Assuredly his manner was
calculated to greatly reinforce Nehemiah Yerby's confidence, and to
assist in eliminating difficulties in the urging of his superior rights
and the carrying out of his scheme. Mrs. Sudley's heart sank as she
caught a significant gleam from the boy's eyes; he too appreciated this
disastrous policy, this virtual surrender before a blow was struck.
"An' Ty ain't afeard o' bars," she silently commented, "nor wolves, nor
wind, nor lightning, nor man in enny kind o' a free fight; but bekase he
dun'no' how the law stands, an' air afeard the law mought be
able ter take Lee-yander, he jes sets thar ez pitiful ez a lost kid,
fairly ready ter blate aloud."
She descried the covert triumph twinkling among the sparse light lashes
and "crow-feet" about Nehemiah's eyes as he droned on an
ever-lengthening account of his experiences since leaving the county.
"It's a mighty satisfyin' thing ter be well off in yearthly goods an'
chattels," said Laurelia, with sudden inspiration. "Ty, thar, is in
For Uncle Nehemiah had been dwelling unctuously upon the extent to which
it had pleased the Lord to prosper him. His countenance fell suddenly.
His discomfiture in her unexpected disclosure was twofold, in that it
furnished a reason for Tyler's evident depression of spirits,
demolishing the augury that his manner had afforded as to the success of
the guest's mission, and furthermore, to Nehemiah's trafficking soul, it
suggested that a money consideration might be exacted to mollify the
rigors of parting.
For Nehemiah Yerby had risen to the dignities, solvencies, and
responsibilities of opening a store at the cross-roads in Kildeer
County. It was a new and darling enterprise with him, and his mind and
speech could not long be wiled away from the subject. This abrupt
interjection of a new element into his cogitations gave him pause, and
he did not observe the sudden rousing of Tyler Sudley from his revery,
and the glance of indignant reproach which he cast on his wife. No man,
however meek, or however bowed down with sorrow, will bear unmoved
a gratuitous mention of his debts; it seems to wound him with all the
rancor of insult, and to enrage him with the hopelessness of adequate
retort or reprisal. It is an indignity, like taunting a ghost with
cock-crow, or exhorting a clergyman to repentance. He flung himself all
at once into the conversation, to bar and baffle any renewed allusion to
that subject, and it was accident rather than intention which made him
grasp Nehemiah in the vise of a quandary also.
"Ye say ye got a store an' a stock o' truck, Nehemiah. Air ye ekal ter
keepin' store an' sech?" he demanded, speculatively, with an inquiring
and doubtful corrugation of his brows, from which a restive lock of hair
was flung backward like the toss of a horse's mane.
"I reckon so," Nehemiah sparely responded, blinking at him across the
"An' ye say ye hev applied fur the place o' postmaster?" Tyler prosed
on. "All that takes a power o' knowledge—readin' an' writin' an'
cipherin' an' sech. How air ye expectin' to hold out, 'kase I know ye
never hed no mo' larnin' than me, an' I war acquainted with ye till ye
war thirty years old an' better?"
The tenor of this discourse did not comport with his customary suavity
and tactful courtesy toward a guest, but he was much harassed and had
lost his balance. He had a vague idea that Mrs. Sudley hung upon the
flank of the conversation with a complete summary of amounts, dates, and
names of creditors, and he sought to balk this in its inception.
Moreover, his forbearance with Nehemiah, with his presence, his
personality, his mission, had begun to wane. Bitter reflections might
suffice to fill the time were he suffered to be silent; but since a part
in the conversation had been made necessary, he had for it no honeyed
"I'd make about ez fit a postmaster, I know, ez that thar old owel
a-hootin' out yander. I could look smart an' sober like him, but that's
'bout all the fur my school-larnin' kerried me, an' yourn didn't reach
ter the nex' mile-post—an' that I know."
Nehemiah's thin lips seemed dry. More than once his tongue appeared
along their verges as he nervously moistened them. His small eyes had
brightened with an excited look, but he spoke very slowly, and to
Laurelia it seemed guardedly.
"I tuk ter my book arterward, Brother Sudley. I applied myself ter
larnin' vigorous. Bein' ez I seen the Lord's hand war liberal with the
gifts o' this worl', I wanted ter stir myself ter desarve the good
Sudley brought down the fore-legs of his chair to the floor with a
thump. Despite his anxiety a slow light of ridicule began to kindle on
his face; his curling lip showed his strong white teeth.
"Waal, by gum! ye mus' hev been a sight ter be seen! Ye, forty or fifty
years old, a-settin' on the same seat with the chil'n at the deestric'
school, an' a-competin' with the leetle tadpoles fur 'Baker an' Shady'
He was about to break forth with a guffaw of great relish when Nehemiah
spoke hastily, forestalling the laughter.
"Naw; Abner Sage war thar fur a good while las' winter a-visitin' his
sister, an' he kem an' gin me lessons an' set me copies thar at my
house, an' I larnt a heap."
Leander lifted his head suddenly. The amount of progress possible to
this desultory and limited application he understood only too well. He
had not learned so much himself to be unaware how much in time and labor
learning costs. The others perceived no incongruity. Sudley's face was
florid with pride and pleasure, and his wife's reflected the glow.
"Ab Sage at the cross-roads! Then he mus' hev tole ye 'bout Lee-yander
hyar, an' his larnin'. Ab tole, I know."
Nehemiah drew his breath in quickly. His twinkling eyes sent out the
keenest glance of suspicion, but the gay, affectionate, vaunting laugh,
as Tyler Sudley turned around and clapped the boy a ringing blow on his
slender shoulder, expressed only the plenitude of his simple vainglory.
"Lee-yander hyar knows it all!" he boasted. "Old Ab himself don't know
no mo'! I'll be bound old Ab went a-braggin'—hey, Lee-yander?"
But the boy shrank away a trifle, and his smile was mechanical as he
silently eyed his relative.
"Ab 'lowed he war tur'ble disobejient," said Nehemiah, after a pause,
and cautiously allowing himself to follow in the talk, "an' gi'n over
ter playin' the fiddle." He hesitated for a moment, longing to
stigmatize its ungodliness; but the recollection of Tyler Sudley's
uncertain temper decided him, and he left it unmolested. "But Ab
'lowed ye war middlin' quick at figgers, Lee-yander—middlin' quick
Leander, still silent and listening, flushed slightly. This measured
praise was an offence to him; but he looked up brightly and obediently
when his uncle wagged an uncouthly sportive head (Nehemiah's anatomy
lent itself to the gay and graceful with much reluctance), thrust his
hands into his pockets, and, tilting himself back in his chair,
"I'll try ye, sonny—I'll try ye. How much air nine times
seven?—nine times seven?"
"Forty-two!" replied the boy, with a bright, docile countenance fixed
upon his relative.
There was a pause. "Right!" exclaimed Nehemiah, to the relief of Sudley
and his wife, who had trembled during the pause, for it seemed so
threatening. They smiled at each other, unconscious that the examination
meant aught more serious than a display of their prodigy's learning.
"An', now, how much air twelve times eight?" demanded Nehemiah.
"Sixty-six!" came the answer, quick as lightning.
"Right, sir, every time!" cried Nehemiah with a glow of genuine
exultation, as he brought down the fore-legs of the chair to the floor,
and the two Sudleys laughed aloud with pleasure.
Leander saw them all distorted and grimacing while the room swam round.
The scheme was clear enough to him now. The illiterate Nehemiah, whose
worldly prosperity had outstripped his mental qualifications, had
bethought himself of filling the breach with his nephew, given
away as surplusage in his burdensome infancy, but transformed into a
unique utility under the tutelage of Abner Sage. It was his boasting of
his froward pupil, doubtless, that had suggested the idea, and Leander
understood now that he was to do the work of the store and the
post-office under the nominal incumbency of this unlettered lout. Had
the whole transaction been open and acknowledged, Leander would have had
scant appetite for the work under this master; but he revolted at the
flimsy, contemptible sham; he bitterly resented the innuendoes against
the piety of the Sudleys, not that he cared for piety, save in the
abstract; he was daunted by the brutal ignorance, the doltish
inefficiency of the imposture that had so readily accepted his patently
false answers to the simple questions. He had a sort of crude reverence
for education, and it had seemed to him a very serious matter to take
such liberties with the multiplication table. He valued, too, with a
boy's stalwart vanity, his reputation for great learning, and he would
not have lightly jeopardized it did he not esteem the crisis momentous.
He knew not what he feared. The fraud of the intention, the groundless
claim to knowledge, made Nehemiah's scheme seem multifariously guilty in
some sort; while Tyler Sudley and his wife, albeit no wiser
mathematically, had all the sanctions of probity in their calm,
"Ef Cap'n or Neighbor wanted ter run a post-office on my larnin', or ter
keep store, they'd be welcome; but I won't play stalkin'-horse fur
that thar man's still-hunt, sure ez shootin'," he said to himself.
The attention which he bent upon the conversation thenceforth was an
observation of its effect rather than its matter. He saw that he was
alone in his discovery. Neither Sudley nor his wife had perceived any
connection between the store, the prospective post-office, and the
desire of the illiterate would-be postmaster to have his erudite nephew
restored to his care.
It may be that the methods of his "Neighbor" and the "Captain" in the
rearing of Leander, the one with unbridled leniency, the other with
spurious severity and affected indifference, had combined to foster
self-reliance and decision of character, or it may be that these
qualities were inherent traits. At all events, he encountered the
emergency without an instant's hesitation. He felt no need of counsel.
He had no doubts. He carried to his pallet in the roof-room no
vacillations and no problems. His resolve was taken. For a time, as he
listened to the movements below-stairs, the sound of voices still rose,
drowsy as the hour waxed late; the light that flickered through the
cracks in the puncheon flooring gradually dulled, and presently a harsh
grating noise acquainted him with the fact that Sudley was shovelling
the ashes over the embers; then the tent-like attic was illumined only
by the moonlight admitted through the little square window at the gable
end—so silent, so still, it seemed that it too slept like the
silent house. The winds slumbered amidst the mute woods; a bank of cloud
that he could see from his lowly couch lay in the south becalmed.
The bird's song had ceased. It seemed to him as he lifted himself on his
elbow that he had never known the world so hushed. The rustle of the
quilt of gay glazed calico was of note in the quietude; the impact of
his bare foot on the floor was hardly a sound, rather an annotation of
his weight and his movement; yet in default of all else the sense of
hearing marked it. His scheme seemed impracticable as for an instant he
wavered at the head of the ladder that served as a stairway; the next
moment his foot was upon the rungs, his light, lithe figure slipping
down it like a shadow. The room below, all eclipsed in a brown and
dusky-red medium, the compromise between light and darkness that the
presence of the embers fostered, was vaguely revealed to him. He was
hardly sure whether he saw the furniture all in place, or whether he
knew its arrangement so well that he seemed to see. Suddenly, as he laid
his hand on the violin on the wall, it became visible, its dark red wood
richly glowing against the brown logs and the tawny clay daubing. A tiny
white flame had shot up in the midst of the gray ashes, as he stood with
the cherished object in his cautious hand, his excited eyes, dilated and
expectant, searching the room apprehensively, while a vague thrill of a
murmur issued from the instrument, as if the spirit of music within it
had been wakened by his touch—too vague, too faintly elusive for
the dormant and somewhat dull perceptions of Nehemiah Yerby, calmly
slumbering in state in the best room.
The faint jet of flame was withdrawn in the ashes as suddenly as
it had shot forth, and in the ensuing darkness, deeper for the contrast
with that momentary illumination, it was not even a shadow that deftly
mounted the ladder again and emerged into the sheeny twilight of the
moonlit roof-room. Leander was somehow withheld for a moment motionless
at the window; it may have been by compunction; it may have been by
regret, if it be possible to the very young to definitely feel either.
There was an intimation of pensive farewell in his large illumined eyes
as they rested on the circle of familiar things about him—the
budding trees, the well, with its great angular sweep against the sky,
the still sward, the rail-fences glistening with the dew, the river with
the moonlight in a silver blazonry on its lustrous dark surface, the
encompassing shadows of the gloomy mountains. There was no sound, not
even among the rippling shallows; he could hear naught but the pain of
parting throbbing in his heart, and from the violin a faint continuous
susurrus, as if it murmured half-asleep memories of the melodies that
had thrilled its waking moments. It necessitated careful handling as he
deftly let himself out of the window, the bow held in his mouth, the
instrument in one arm, while the other hand clutched the boughs of a
great holly-tree close beside the house. It was only the moonlight on
those smooth, lustrous leaves, but it seemed as if smiling white faces
looked suddenly down from among the shadows: at this lonely hour, with
none awake to see, what strange things may there not be astir in the
world, what unmeasured, unknown forces, sometimes felt through the
dulling sleep of mortals, and then called dreams! As he stood breathless
upon the ground the wind awoke. He heard it race around the corner of
the house, bending the lilac bushes, and then it softly buffeted him
full in the face and twirled his hat on the ground. As he stooped to
pick it up he heard whispers and laughter in the lustrous boughs of the
holly, and the gleaming faces shifted with the shadows. He looked
fearfully over his shoulder; the rising wind might waken some one of the
household. His "Neighbor" was, he knew, solicitous about the weather,
and suspicious of its intentions lest it not hold fine till all the oats
be sown. A pang wrung his heart; he remembered the long line of seasons
when, planting corn in the pleasant spring days, his "Neighbor" had
opened the furrow with the plough, and the "Captain" had followed,
dropping the grains, and he had brought up the rear with his hoe,
covering them over, while the clouds floated high in the air, and the
mild sun shone, and the wind kept the shadows a-flicker, and the
blackbird and the crow, complacently and craftily watching them from
afar, seemed the only possible threatening of evil in all the world. He
hastened to stiffen his resolve. He had need of it. Tyler Sudley had
said that he did not know how the law stood, and for himself, he was not
willing to risk his liberty on it. He gazed apprehensively upon the
little batten shutter of the window of the room where Nehemiah Yerby
slept, expecting to see it slowly swing open and disclose him there. It
did not stir, and gathering resolution from the terrors that had
beset him when he fancied his opportunity threatened, he ran like
a frightened deer fleetly down the road, and plunged into the dense
forest. The wind kept him company, rollicking, quickening, coming and
going in fitful gusts. He heard it die away, but now and again it was
rustling among a double file of beech-trees all up the mountain-side. He
saw the commotion in their midst, the effect of swift movement as the
scant foliage fluttered, then the white branches of the trees all
a-swaying like glistening arms flung upward, as if some bevy of dryads
sped up the hill in elusive rout through the fastnesses.
The next day ushered in a tumult and excitement unparalleled in the
history of the little log-cabin. When Leander's absence was discovered,
and inquiry of the few neighbors and search of the vicinity proved
fruitless, the fact of his flight and its motive were persistently
forced upon Nehemiah Yerby's reluctant perceptions, with the destruction
of his cherished scheme as a necessary sequence. With some wild craving
for vengeance he sought to implicate Sudley as accessory to the
mysterious disappearance. He found some small measure of solace in
stumping up and down the floor before the hearth, furiously railing at
the absent host, for Sudley had not yet relinquished the bootless quest,
and indignantly upbraiding the forlorn, white-faced, grief-stricken
Laurelia, who sat silent and stony, her faded eyes on the fire, heedless
of his words. She held in her lap sundry closely-rolled knitted
balls—the boy's socks that she had so carefully made and
darned. A pile of his clothing lay at her feet. He had carried nothing
but his fiddle and the clothes he stood in, and if she had had more
tears she could have wept for his improvidence, for the prospective
tatters and rents that must needs befall him in that unknown patchless
life to which he had betaken himself.
Nehemiah Yerby argued that it was Sudley who had prompted the whole
thing; he had put the boy up to it, for Leander was not so lacking in
feeling as to flee from his own blood-relation. But he would set the law
to spy them out. He would be back again, and soon.
He may have thought better of this presently, for he was in great haste
to be gone when Tyler Sudley returned, and to his amazement in a
counterpart frame of mind, charging Nehemiah with the responsibility of
the disaster. It was strange to Laurelia that she, who habitually strove
to fix her mind on religious things, should so relish the aspect of Ty
Sudley in his secular rage on this occasion.
"Ye let we-uns hev him whilst so leetle an' helpless, but now that he
air so fine growed an' robustious ye want ter git some work out'n him,
an' he hev runned away an' tuk ter the woods tarrified by the very sight
of ye," he averred. "He'll never kem back; no, he'll never kem back; fur
he'll 'low ez ye would kem an' take him home with you; an' now the Lord
only knows whar he is, an' what will become of him."
His anger and his tumultuous grief, his wild, irrepressible anxiety for
Leander's safety, convinced the crafty Nehemiah that he was no
party to the boy's scheme. Sudley's sorrow was not of the kind that
renders the temper pliable, and when Nehemiah sought to point a moral in
the absence of the violin, and for the first time in Sudley's presence
protested that he desired to save Leander from that device of the devil,
the master of the house shook his inhospitable fist very close indeed to
his guest's nose, and Yerby was glad enough to follow that feature
unimpaired out to his horse at the bars, saying little more.
He aired his views, however, at each house where he made it convenient
to stop on his way home, and took what comfort there might be in the
rôle of martyr. Leander was unpopular in several localities, and
was esteemed a poor specimen of the skill of the Sudleys in rearing
children. He had been pampered and spoiled, according to general report,
and more than one of his successive interlocutors were polite enough to
opine that the change to Nehemiah's charge would have been a beneficent
opportunity for much-needed discipline. Nehemiah was not devoid of some
skill in interrogatory. He contrived to elicit speculations without
giving an intimation of unduly valuing the answer.
"He's 'mongst the moonshiners, I reckon," was the universal surmise.
"He'll be hid mighty safe 'mongst them."
For where the still might be, or who was engaged in the illicit
business, was even a greater mystery than Leander's refuge. Nothing more
definite could be elicited than a vague rumor that some such work
was in progress somewhere along the many windings of Hide-and-Seek
Nehemiah Yerby had never been attached to temperance principles, and,
commercially speaking, he had thought it possible that whiskey on which
no tax had been paid might be more profitably dispensed at his store
than that sold under the sanctions of the government. These
considerations, however, were as naught in view of the paralysis which
his interests and schemes had suffered in Leander's flight. He dwelt
with dismay upon the possibility that he might secure the postmastership
without the capable assistant whose services were essential. In this
perverse sequence of events disaster to his application was more to be
desired than success. He foresaw himself browbeaten, humiliated,
detected, a butt for the ridicule of the community, his pretensions in
the dust, his pitiful imposture unmasked. And beyond these
æsthetic misfortunes, the substantial emoluments of "keepin'
store," with a gallant sufficiency of arithmetic to regulate prices and
profits, were vanishing like the elusive matutinal haze before the
noontide sun. Nehemiah Yerby groaned aloud, for the financial stress
upon his spirit was very like physical pain. And in this inauspicious
moment he bethought himself of the penalties of violating the Internal
Revenue Laws of the United States.
Now it has been held by those initiated into such mysteries that there
is scant affinity between whiskey and water. Nevertheless, in this
connection, Nehemiah Yerby developed an absorbing interest in the
watercourses of the coves and adjacent mountains, especially their
more remote and sequestered tributaries. He shortly made occasion to
meet the county surveyor and ply him with questions touching the
topography of the vicinity, cloaking the real motive under the pretence
of an interest in water-power sufficient and permanent enough for the
sawing of lumber, and professing to contemplate the erection of a
saw-mill at the most eligible point. The surveyor had his especial
vanity, and it was expressed in his frequent boast that he carried a
complete map of the county graven upon his brain; he was wont to esteem
it a gracious opportunity when a casual question in a group of loungers
enabled him to display his familiarity with every portion of his rugged
and mountainous region, which was indeed astonishing, even taking into
consideration his incumbency for a number of terms, aided by a strong
head for locality. Nehemiah Yerby's scheme was incalculably favored by
this circumstance, but he found it unexpectedly difficult to support the
figment which he had propounded as to his intentions. Fiction is one of
the fine arts, and a mere amateur like Nehemiah is apt to fail in point
of consistency. He was inattentive while the surveyor dilated on the
probable value, the accessibility, and the relative height of the "fall"
of the various sites, and their available water-power, and he put
irrelevant queries concerning ineligible streams in other localities. No
man comfortably mounted upon his hobby relishes an interruption. The
surveyor would stop with a sort of bovine surprise, and break out in
"That branch on the t'other side o' Panther Ridge? Why, man alive, that
thread o' water wouldn't turn a spider web."
Nehemiah, quaking under the glance of his keen questioning eye, would
once more lapse into silence, while the surveyor, loving to do what he
could do well, was lured on in his favorite subject by the renewed
appearance of receptivity in his listener.
"Waal, ez I war a-sayin', I know every furlong o' the creeks once down
in the Cove, an' all their meanderings, an' the best part o' them in the
hills amongst the laurel and the wildernesses. But now the ways of sech
a stream ez Hide-an'-Seek Creek are past finding out. It's a 'sinking
creek,' you know; goes along with a good volume and a swift current for
a while to the west, then disappears into the earth, an' ain't seen fur
five mile, then comes out agin running due north, makes a tremenjious
jump—the Hoho-hebee Falls—then pops into the ground agin,
an' ain't seen no more forever," he concluded, dramatically.
"How d'ye know it's the same creek?" demanded Nehemiah, sceptically, and
with a wrinkling brow.
"By settin' somethin' afloat on it before it sinks into the
ground—a piece of marked bark or a shingle or the like—an'
finding it agin after the stream comes out of the caves," promptly
replied the man of the compass, with a triumphant snap of the eye, as if
he entertained a certain pride in the vagaries of his untamed mountain
friend. "Nobody knows how often it disappears, nor where it rises,
nor where it goes at last. It's got dozens of fust-rate millin' sites,
but then it's too fur off fur you ter think about."
"Oh no 'tain't!" exclaimed Nehemiah, suddenly.
The surveyor stared. "Why, you ain't thinkin' 'bout movin' up inter the
wilderness ter live, an' ye jes applied fur the post-office down at the
cross-roads? Ye can't run the post-office thar an' a saw-mill thirty
mile away at the same time."
Nehemiah was visibly disconcerted. His wrinkled face showed the flush of
discomfiture, but his craft rallied to the emergency.
"Moughtn't git the post-office, arter all's come an' gone. Nothin' is
sartin in this vale o' tears."
"An' ye air goin' ter take ter the woods ef ye don't?" demanded the
surveyor, incredulously. "Thought ye war goin' ter keep store?"
"Waal, I dun'no'; jes talkin' round," said Nehemiah, posed beyond
recuperation. "I mus' be a-joggin', ennyhow. Time's a-wastin'."
As he made off hastily in the direction of his house, for this
conversation had taken place at the blacksmith's shop at the
cross-roads, the surveyor gazed after him much mystified.
"What is that old fox slyin' round after? He ain't studyin' 'bout no
saw-mill, inquirin' round about all the out-o'-the-way water-power in
the kentry fifty mile from where he b'longs. He's a heap likelier to be
goin' ter start a wild cat still in them wild places—git his
whiskey cheap ter sell in his store."
He shook his head sagely once for all, for the surveyor's mind was of
the type prompt in reaching conclusions, and he was difficult to
divert from his convictions.
A feature of the development of craft to a certain degree is the
persuasion that this endowment is not shared. A fine world it would be
if the Nehemiah Yerbys were as clever as they think themselves, and
their neighbors as dull. He readily convinced himself that he had given
no intimation that his objects and motives were other than he professed,
and with unimpaired energy he went to work upon the lines which he had
marked out for himself. A fine chase Hide-and-Seek Creek led him, to be
sure, and it tried his enthusiasms to the uttermost. What affinity this
brawling vagrant had for the briers and the rocks and the tangled
fastnesses! Seldom, indeed, could he press in to its banks and look down
upon its dimpled, laughing, heedless face without the sacrifice of
fragments of flesh and garments left impaled upon the sharp spikes of
the budding shrubs. Often it so intrenched itself amidst the dense
woods, and the rocks and chasms of its craggy banks, that approach was
impossible, and he followed it for miles only by the sound of its wild,
sweet, woodland voice. And this, too, was of a wayward fancy; now, in
turbulent glee among the rocks, riotously chanting aloud, challenging
the echoes, and waking far and near the forest quiet; and again it was
merely a low, restful murmur, intimating deep, serene pools and a
dallying of the currents, lapsed in the fulness of content. Then
Nehemiah Yerby would be beset with fears that he would lose this
whisper, and his progress was slight; he would pause to listen,
hearing nothing; would turn to right, to left; would take his way
back through the labyrinth of the laurel to catch a thread of sound, a
mere crystalline tremor, and once more follow this transient lure. As
the stream came down a gorge at a swifter pace and in a succession of
leaps—a glassy cataract visible here and there, airily sporting
with rainbows, affiliating with ferns and moss and marshy growths, the
bounding spray glittering in the sunshine—it flung forth
continuously tinkling harmonies in clear crystal tones, so penetrating,
so definitely melodic, that more than once, as he paced along on his
jaded horse, he heard in their midst, without disassociating the sounds,
the ping, pang, ping, pang, of the violin he so condemned. He drew up
at last, and strained his ear to listen. It did not become more
distinct, always intermingled with the recurrent rhythm of the falling
water, but always vibrating in subdued throbbings, now more acute, now
less, as the undiscriminated melody ascended or descended the scale. It
came from the earth, of this he was sure, and thus he was reminded anew
of the caves which Hide-and-Seek Creek threaded in its long course.
There was some opening near by, doubtless, that led to subterranean
passages, dry enough here, since it was the stream's whim to flow in the
open sunshine instead of underground. He would have given much to search
for it had he dared. His leathery, lean, loose cheek had a glow of
excitement upon it; his small eyes glistened; for the first time in his
life, possibly, he looked young. But he did not doubt that this was the
stronghold of the illicit distillers, of whom one heard so much in
the Cove and saw so little. A lapse of caution, an inconsiderate
movement, and he might be captured and dealt with as a spy and informer.
Nevertheless his discovery was of scant value unless he utilized it
further. He had always believed that his nephew had fled to the secret
haunts of the moonshiners. Now he only knew it the more surely; and what
did this avail him, and how aid in the capture of the recusant clerk and
assistant postmaster? He hesitated a moment; then fixing the spot in his
mind by the falling of a broad crystal sheet of water from a ledge some
forty feet high, by a rotting log at its base that seemed to rise
continually, although the moving cataract appeared motionless, by
certain trees and their relative position, and the blue peaks on a
distant skyey background of a faint cameo yellow, he slowly turned his
horse's rein and took his way out of danger. It was chiefly some
demonstration on the animal's part that he had feared. A snort, a
hoof-beat, a whinny would betray him, and very liable was the animal to
any of these expressions. One realizes how unnecessary is speech for the
exposition of opinion when brought into contradictory relations with the
horse which one rides or drives. All day had this animal snorted his
doubts of his master's sanity; all day had he protested against these
aimless, fruitless rambles; all day had he held back with a high head
and a hard mouth, while whip and spur pressed him through laurel almost
impenetrable, and through crevices of crags almost impassable. For were
there not all the fair roads of the county to pace and gallop upon
if one must needs be out and jogging! Unseen objects, vaguely discerned
to be moving in the undergrowth affrighted the old plough-horse of the
levels—infinitely reassured and whinnying with joyful relief when
the head of horned cattle showed presently as the cause of the
commotion. He would have given much a hundred times that day, and he
almost said so a hundred times, too, to be at home, with the old
bull-tongue plough behind him, running the straight rational furrow in
the good bare open field, so mellow for corn, lying in the sunshine,
"Ef I git ye home wunst more, I'll be bound I'll leave ye thar,"
Nehemiah said, ungratefully, as they wended their way along; for without
the horse he could not have traversed the long distances of his search,
however unwillingly the aid was given.
He annotated his displeasure by a kick in the ribs; and when the old
equine farmer perceived that they were absolutely bound binward, and
that their aberrations were over for the present, he struck a sharp gait
that would have done honor to his youthful days, for he had worn out
several pairs of legs in Nehemiah's fields, and was often spoken of as
being upon the last of those useful extremities. He stolidly shook his
head, which he thought so much better than his master's, and bedtime
found them twenty miles away and at home.
Nehemiah felt scant fatigue. He was elated with his project. He scented
success in the air. It smelled like the season. It too was suffused with
the urgent pungency of the rising sap, with the fragrance of the
wild-cherry, with the vinous promise of the orchard, with the richness
of the mould, with the vagrant perfume of the early flowers.
He lighted a tallow dip, and he sat him down with writing materials at
the bare table to indite a letter while all his household slept. The
windows stood open to the dark night, and Spring hovered about outside,
and lounged with her elbows on the sill, and looked in. He constantly
saw something pale and elusive against the blackness, for there was no
moon, but he thought it only the timid irradiation with which his tallow
dip suffused the blossoming wands of an azalea, growing lithe and tall
hard by. With this witness only he wrote the letter—an anonymous
letter, and therefore he was indifferent to the inadequacies of his
penmanship and his spelling. He labored heavily in its composition, now
and then perpetrating portentous blots. He grew warm, although the fire
that had served to cook supper had long languished under the bank of
ashes. The tallow dip seemed full of caloric, and melted rapidly in
pendulous drippings. He now and again mopped his red face, usually so
bloodless, with his big bandanna handkerchief, while all the zephyrs
were fanning the flying tresses of Spring at the window, and the soft,
sweet, delicately attuned vernal chorus of the marshes were tentatively
running over sotto voce their allotted melodies for the season. Oh, it
was a fine night outside, and why should a moth, soft-winged and
cream-tinted and silken-textured, come whisking in from the dark, as
silently as a spirit, to supervise Nehemiah Yerby's letter, and travel
up and down the page all befouled with the ink? And as he sought
to save the sense of those significant sentences from its trailing
silken draperies, why should it rise suddenly, circling again and again
about the candle, pass through the flame, and fall in quivering agonies
once more upon the page? He looked at it, dead now, with satisfaction.
It had come so very near ruining his letter—an important letter,
describing the lair of the illicit distillers to a deputy marshal of the
revenue force, who was known to be in a neighboring town. He had good
reason to withhold his signature, for the name of the informer in the
ruthless vengeance of the region would be as much as his life was worth.
The moth had not spoiled the letter—the laborious letter; he was
so glad of that! He saw no analogies, he received not even a subtle
warning, as he sealed and addressed the envelope and affixed the
postage-stamp. Then he snuffed out the candle with great satisfaction.
The next morning the missive was posted, and all Nehemiah Yerby's plans
took a new lease of life. The information he had given would result in
an immediate raid upon the place. Leander would be captured among the
moonshiners, but his youth and his uncle's representations—for he
would give the officers an inkling of the true state of the
case—would doubtless insure the boy's release, and his restoration
to those attractive commercial prospects which had been devised for
The ordering of events is an intricate process, and to its successful
exploitation a certain degree of sagacious prescience is a prerequisite,
as well as a thorough mastery of the lessons of experience. For a day or
so all went well in the inner consciousness of Nehemiah Yerby. The
letter had satisfied his restless craving for some action toward the
consummation of his ambition, and he had not the foresight to realize
how soon the necessity of following it up would supervene. He first grew
uneasy lest his letter had not reached its destination; then, when the
illimitable field of speculation was thus opened out, he developed an
ingenuity of imagination in projecting possible disaster. Day after day
passed, and he heard naught of his cherished scheme. The
revenuers—craven wretches he deemed them, and he ground his teeth
with rage because of their seeming cowardice in their duty, since their
duty could serve his interests—might not have felt exactly
disposed to risk their lives in these sweet spring days, when perhaps
even a man whose life belongs to the government might be presumed to
take some pleasure in it, by attempting to raid the den of a gang of
moonshiners on the scanty faith of an informer's word, tenuous guaranty
at best, and now couched in an anonymous letter, itself synonym
for a lie. Oh, what fine eulogies rose in his mind upon the manly virtue
of courage! How enthusing it is at all times to contemplate the courage
of others!—and how safe!
Then a revulsion of belief ensued, and he began to fear that they might
already have descended upon their quarry, and with all their captives
have returned to the county town by the road by which they
came—nearer than the route through the cross-roads, though far
more rugged. Why had not this possibility before occurred to him! He had
so often prefigured their triumphant advent into the hamlet with all
their guarded and shackled prisoners, the callow Leander in the midst,
and his own gracefully enacted rôle of virtuous, grief-stricken,
pleading relative, that it seemed a recollection—something that
had really happened—rather than the figment of anticipation. But
no word, no breath of intimation, had ruffled the serenity of the
cross-roads. The calm, still, yellow sunshine day by day suffused the
land like the benignities of a dream—almost too good to be true.
Every man with the heart of a farmer within him was at the
plough-handles, and making the most of the fair weather. The cloudless
sky and the auspicious forecast of fine days still to come did more to
prove to the farmer the existence of an all-wise, overruling Providence
than all the polemics of the world might accomplish. The furrows
multiplied everywhere save in Nehemiah's own fields, where he often
stood so long in the turn-row that the old horse would desist from
twisting his head backward in surprise, and start at last of his own
motion, dragging the plough, the share still unanchored in the
ground, half across the field before he could be stopped. The vagaries
of these "lands" that the absent-minded Nehemiah laid off attracted some
"What ails yer furrows ter run so crooked, Nehemiah?" observed a
passer-by, a neighbor who had been to the blacksmith-shop to get his
plough-point sharpened; he looked over the fence critically. "Yer
eyesight mus' be failin' some."
"I dun'no'," rejoined Nehemiah, hastily. Then reverting to his own
absorption. "War it you-uns ez I hearn say thar war word kem ter the
cross-roads 'bout some revenuers raidin' 'round somewhar in the woods?"
The look of surprise cast upon him seemed to his alert anxiety to
betoken suspicion. "Laws-a-massy, naw!" exclaimed his interlocutor. "Ye
air the fust one that hev named sech ez that in these diggin's, fur I'd
hev hearn tell on it, sure, ef thar hed been enny sech word goin' the
Nehemiah recoiled into silence, and presently his neighbor went
whistling on his way. He stood motionless for a time, until the man was
well out of sight, then he began to hastily unhitch the plough-gear. His
resolution was taken. He could wait no longer. For aught he knew the
raiders might have come and gone, and be now a hundred miles away with
their prisoners to stand their trial in the Federal court. His schemes
might have all gone amiss, leaving him in naught the gainer. He could
rest in uncertainty no more. He feared to venture further questions when
no rumor stirred the air. They rendered him doubly liable to
suspicion—to the law-abiding as a possible moonshiner, to
any sympathizer with the distillers as a probable informer. He
determined to visit the spot, and there judge how the enterprise had
When next he heard that fine sylvan symphony of the sound of the falling
water—the tinkling bell-like tremors of its lighter tones mingling
with the sonorous, continuous, deeper theme rising from its weight and
volume and movement; with the surging of the wind in the pines; with the
occasional cry of a wild bird deep in the new verdure of the forests
striking through the whole with a brilliant, incidental, detached
effect—no faint vibration was in its midst of the violin's string,
listen as he might. More than once he sought to assure himself that he
heard it, but his fancy failed to respond to his bidding, although again
and again he took up his position where it had before struck his ear.
The wild minstrelsy of the woods felt no lack, and stream and wind and
harping pine and vagrant bird lifted their voices in their wonted
strains. He could hardly accept the fact; he would verify anew the
landmarks he had made and again return to the spot, his hat in his hand,
his head bent low, his face lined with anxiety and suspense. No sound,
no word, no intimation of human presence. The moonshiners were doubtless
all gone long ago, betrayed into captivity, and Leander with them. He
had so hardened his heart toward his recalcitrant young kinsman and his
Sudley friends, he felt so entirely that in being among the moonshiners
Leander had met only his deserts in coming to the bar of Federal
justice, that he would have experienced scant sorrow if the nephew
had not carried off with his own personality his uncle's book-keeper and
postmaster's clerk. And so—alas, for Leander! As he meditated on
the untoward manner in which he had overshot his target, this marksman
of fate forgot the caution which had distinguished his approach, for
hitherto it had been as heedful as if he fully believed the lion still
in his den. He slowly patrolled the bank below the broad, thin, crystal
sheet, seeing naught but its rainbow hovering elusively in the sun, and
its green and white skein-like draperies pendulous before the great dark
arch over which the cataract fell. The log caught among the rocks in the
spray at the base was still there, seeming always to rise while the
restless water seemed motionless.
No trace that human beings had ever invaded these solitudes could he
discover. No vague, faint suggestion of the well-hidden lair of the
moonshiners did the wild covert show forth. "The revenuers war smarter'n
me; I'll say that fur 'em," he muttered at last as he came to a
stand-still, his chin in his hand, his perplexed eyes on the ground. And
suddenly—a footprint on a marshy spot; only the heel of a boot,
for the craggy ledges hid all the ground but this, a mere sediment of
sand in a tiny hollow in the rock from which the water had evaporated.
It was a key to the mystery. Instantly the rugged edges of the cliff
took on the similitude of a path. Once furnished with this idea, he
could perceive adequate footing all adown the precipitous way. He was
not young; his habits had been inactive, and were older even than his
age. He could not account for it afterward, but he followed for a
few paces this suggestion of a path down the precipitous sides of the
stream. He had a sort of triumph in finding it so practicable, and he
essayed it still farther, although the sound of the water had grown
tumultuous at closer approach, and seemed to foster a sort of responsive
turmoil of the senses; he felt his head whirl as he looked at the
bounding, frothing spray, then at the long swirls of the current at the
base of the fall as they swept on their way down the gorge. As he sought
to lift his fascinated eyes, the smooth glitter of the crystal sheet of
falling water so close before him dazzled his sight. He wondered
afterward how his confused senses and trembling limbs sustained him
along the narrow, rugged path, here and there covered with oozing green
moss, and slippery with the continual moisture. It evidently was wending
to a ledge. All at once the contour of the place was plain to him; the
ledge led behind the cataract that fell from the beetling heights above.
And within were doubtless further recesses, where perchance the
moonshiners had worked their still. As he reached the ledge he could see
behind the falling water and into the great concave space which it
screened beneath the beetling cliff. It was as he had expected—an
arched portal of jagged brown rocks, all dripping with moisture and
oozing moss, behind the semi-translucent green-and-white drapery of the
But he had not expected to see, standing quietly in the great vaulted
entrance, a man with his left hand on a pistol in his belt, the mate of
which his more formidable right hand held up with a steady finger
on the trigger.
This much Nehemiah beheld, and naught else, for the glittering profile
of the falls, visible now only aslant, the dark, cool recess beyond,
that menacing motionless figure at the vanishing-point of the
perspective, all blended together in an indistinguishable whirl as his
senses reeled. He barely retained consciousness enough to throw up both
his hands in token of complete submission. And then for a moment he knew
no more. He was still leaning motionless against the wall of rock when
he became aware that the man was sternly beckoning to him to continue
his approach. His dumb lips moved mechanically in response, but any
sound must needs have been futile indeed in the pervasive roar of the
waters. He felt that he had hardly strength for another step along the
precipitous way, but there is much tonic influence in a beckoning
revolver, and few men are so weak as to be unable to obey its behests.
Poor Nehemiah tottered along as behooved him, leaving all the world,
liberty, volition, behind him as the descending sheet of water fell
between him and the rest of life and shut him off.
"That's it, my leetle man! I thought you could make it!" were the first
words he could distinguish as he joined the mountaineer beneath the
Nehemiah Yerby had never before seen this man. That in itself was
alarming, since in the scanty population of the region few of its
denizens are unknown to each other, at least by sight. The tone of
satire, the gleam of enjoyment in his keen blue eye, were not
reassuring to the object of his ridicule. He was tall and somewhat
portly, and he had a bluff and offhand manner, which, however, served
not so much to intimate his good-will toward you as his abounding
good-humor with himself. He was a man of most arbitrary temper, one
could readily judge, not only from his own aspect and manner, but from
the docile, reliant, approving cast of countenance of his reserve
force—a half-dozen men, who were somewhat in the background,
lounging on the rocks about a huge copper still. They wore an attentive
aspect, but offered to take no active part in the scene enacted before
them. One of them—even at this crucial moment Yerby noticed it
with a pang of regretful despair—held noiseless on his knee a
violin, and more than once addressed himself seriously to rubbing rosin
over the bow. There was scant music in his face—a square
physiognomy, with thick features, and a shock of hay-colored hair
striped somewhat with an effect of darker shades like a weathering
stack. He handled the bow with a blunt, clumsy hand that augured little
of delicate skill, and he seemed from his diligence to think that rosin
is what makes a fiddle play. He was evidently one of those unhappy
creatures furnished with some vague inner attraction to the charms of
music, with no gift, no sentiment, no discrimination. Something faintly
sonorous there was in his soul, and it vibrated to the twanging of the
strings. He was far less alert to the conversation than the others,
whose listening attitudes attested their appreciation of the importance
of the moment.
"Waal," observed the moonshiner, impatiently, eying the tremulous
and tongue-tied Yerby, "hev ye fund what ye war a-huntin' fur?"
So tenacious of impressions was Nehemiah that it was the violin in those
alien hands which still focussed his attention as he stared gaspingly
about. Leander was not here; probably had never been here; and the
twanging of those strings had lured him to his fate. Well might he
contemn the festive malevolence of the violin's influence! His letter
had failed; no raider had intimidated these bluff, unafraid, burly
law-breakers, and he had put his life in jeopardy in his persistent
prosecution of his scheme. He gasped again at the thought.
"Waal," said the moonshiner, evidently a man of short patience, and
with a definite air of spurring on the visitor's account of himself, "we
'ain't been lookin' fur any spy lately, but I'm 'lowin' ez we hev fund
His fear thus put into words so served to realize to Yerby his immediate
danger that it stood him in the stead of courage, of brains, of
invention; his flaccid muscles were suddenly again under control; he
wreathed his features with his smug artificial smile, that was like a
grimace in its best estate, and now hardly seemed more than a
contortion. But beauty in any sense was not what the observer was
prepared to expect in Nehemiah, and the moonshiner seemed to accept the
smile at its face value, and to respect its intention.
"Spies don't kem climbin' down that thar path o' yourn in full view
through the water"—for the landscape was as visible through the
thin falling sheet as if it had been the slightly corrugated glass
of a window—"do they?" Yerby asked, with a jocose intonation.
"That thar shootin'-iron o' yourn liked ter hev skeered me ter death
whenst I fust seen it."
His interlocutor pondered on this answer for a moment. He had an adviser
among his corps whose opinion he evidently valued; he exchanged a quick
glance with one of the men who was but dimly visible in the shadows
beyond the still, where there seemed to be a series of troughs leading a
rill of running water down from some farther spring and through the tub
in which the spiral worm was coiled. This man had a keen, white, lean
face, with an ascetic, abstemious expression, and he looked less like a
distiller than some sort of divine—some rustic pietist, with
strange theories and unhappy speculations and unsettled mind. It was a
face of subtle influences, and the very sight of it roused in Nehemiah a
more heedful fear than the "shootin'-iron" in the bluff moonshiner's
hand had induced. He was silent, while the other resumed the office of
"Ye ain't 'quainted hyar"—he waved his hand with the pistol in it
around at the circle of uncowering men, although the mere movement made
Nehemiah cringe with the thought that an accidental discharge might as
effectually settle his case as premeditated and deliberate murder. "Ye
dun'no' none o' us. What air ye a-doin' hyar?"
"Why, that thar war the very trouble," Yerby hastily explained. "I
didn't know none o' ye! I hed hearn ez thar war a still somewhars on
Hide-an'-Seek Creek"—once more there ensued a swift exchange of
glances among the party—"but nobody knew who run it nor whar
'twar. An' one day, consider'ble time ago, I war a-passin' nigh
'bouts an' I hearn that fiddle, an' that revealed the spot ter me. An' I
kem ter-day 'lowin' ye an' me could strike a trade."
Once more the bluff man of force turned an anxious look of inquiry to
the pale, thoughtful face in the brown and dark green shadows beyond the
copper gleam of the still. If policy had required that Nehemiah should
be despatched, his was the hand to do the deed, and his the stomach to
support his conscience afterward. But his brain revolted from the
discriminating analysis of Nehemiah's discourse and a decision on its
"Trade fur what?" he demanded at last, on his own responsibility, for no
aid had radiated from the face which his looks had interrogated.
"Fur whiskey, o' course." Nehemiah made the final plunge boldly. "I be
goin' ter open a store at the cross-roads, an' I 'lowed I could git
cheaper whiskey untaxed than taxed. I 'lowed ye wouldn't make it ef ye
didn't expec' ter sell it. I didn't know none o' you-uns, an' none o'
yer customers. An' ez I expec' ter git mo' profit on sellin' whiskey 'n
ennything else in the store, I jes took foot in hand an' kem ter see
'boutn it mysef. I never 'lowed, though, ez it mought look cur'ous ter
you-uns, or like a spy, ter kem ez bold ez brass down the path in full
The logic of the seeming security of his approach, and the apparent
value of his scheme, had their full weight. He saw credulity gradually
overpowering doubt and distrust, and his heart grew light with relief.
Even their cautious demur, intimating a reserve of opinion to the effect
that they would think about it, did not daunt him now. He
believed, in the simplicity of his faith in his own craft, now once more
in the ascendant, that if they should accept his proposition he would be
free to go without further complication of his relations with wild-cat
whiskey. He could not sufficiently applaud his wits for the happy
termination of the adventure to which they had led him. He had gone no
further in the matter than he had always intended. Brush whiskey was the
commodity that addressed itself most to his sense of speculation. For
this he had always expected to ferret out some way of safely
negotiating. He had gone no further than he should have done, at all
events, a little later. He even began mentally to "figger on the price"
down to which he should be able to bring the distillers, as he accepted
a proffered seat in the circle about the still. He could neither divide
nor multiply by fractions, and it is not too much to say that he might
have been throttled on the spot if the moonshiners could have had a
mental vision of the liberties the stalwart integers were taking with
their price-current, so to speak, and the preternatural discount that
was making so free with their profits. So absorbed in this pleasing
intellectual exercise was Nehemiah that he did not observe that any one
had left the coterie; but when a stir without on the rocks intimated an
approach he was suddenly ill at ease, and this discomfort increased when
the new-comer proved to be a man who knew him.
"Waal, Nehemiah Yerby!" he exclaimed, shaking his friend's hand, "I
never knowed you-uns ter be consarned in sech ez moonshinin'. I
hev been a-neighborin' Isham hyar," he laid his heavy hand on the tall
moonshiner's shoulder, "fur ten year an' better, but I won't hev nuthin'
ter do with bresh whiskey or aidin' or abettin' in illicit 'stillin'. I
like Isham, an' Isham he likes me, an' we hev jes agreed ter disagree."
Nehemiah dared not protest nor seek to explain. He could invent no story
that would not give the lie direct to his representations to the
moonshiners. He felt that their eyes were upon him. He could only hope
that his silence did not seem to them like denial—and yet was not
tantamount to confession in the esteem of his upbraider.
"Yes, sir," his interlocutor continued, "it's a mighty bad government
ter run agin." Then he turned to the moonshiner, evidently taking up the
business that had brought him here. "Lemme see what sorter brand ye hev
registered fur yer cattle, Isham."
Yerby's heart sank when the suspicion percolated through his brain that
this man had been induced to come here for the purpose of recognizing
him. More fixed in this opinion was he when no description of the brand
of the cattle could be found, and the visitor finally went away, his
From time to time during the afternoon other men went out and returned
with recruits on various pretexts, all of which Nehemiah believed masked
the marshalling of witnesses to incriminate him as one of themselves, in
order to better secure his constancy to the common interests, and in
case he was playing false to put others into possession of the
facts as to the identity of the informer. His liability to the law for
aiding and abetting in moonshining was very complete before the day
darkened, and his jeopardy as to the information he had given made him
shake in his shoes.
For at any moment, he reflected, in despair, the laggard raiders might
swoop down upon them, and the choice of rôles offered to him was
to seem to them a moonshiner, or to the moonshiners an informer. The
first was far the safer, for the clutches of the law were indeed feeble
as contrasted with the popular fury that would pursue him unwearied for
years until its vengeance was accomplished. From the one, escape was to
the last degree improbable; from the other, impossible.
Any pretext to seek to quit the place before the definite arrangements
of his negotiation were consummated seemed even to him, despite his
eagerness to be off, too tenuous, too transparent, to be essayed,
although he devised several as he sat meditative and silent amongst the
group about the still. The prospect grew less and less inviting as the
lingering day waned, and the evening shadows, dank and chill,
perceptibly approached. The brown and green recesses of the grotto were
at once murkier, and yet more distinctly visible, for the glow of the
fire, flickering through the crevices of the metal door of the furnace,
had begun to assert its luminous quality, which was hardly perceptible
in the full light of day, and brought out the depth of the shadows. The
figures and faces of the moonshiners showed against the deepening gloom.
The sunset clouds were still red without; a vague roseate
suffusion was visible through the falling water. The sun itself had not
yet sunk, for an oblique and almost level ray, piercing the cataract,
painted a series of faint prismatic tints on one side of the rugged
arch. But while the outer world was still in touch with the clear-eyed
day, night was presently here, with mystery and doubt and dark presage.
The voice of Hoho-hebee Falls seemed to him louder, full of strange,
uncomprehended meanings, and insistent iteration. Vague echoes were
elicited. Sometimes in a seeming pause he could catch their lisping
sibilant tones repeating, repeating—what? As the darkness
encroached yet more heavily upon the cataract, the sense of its unseen
motion so close at hand oppressed his very soul; it gave an idea of the
swift gathering of shifting invisible multitudes, coming and
going—who could say whence or whither? So did this impression
master his nerves that he was glad indeed when the furnace door was
opened for fuel, and he could see only the inanimate, ever-descending
sheet of water—the reverse interior aspect of Hoho-hebee
Falls—all suffused with the uncanny tawny light, but showing white
and green tints like its diurnal outer aspect, instead of the colorless
outlines, resembling a drawing of a cataract, which the cave knew by
day. He did not pause to wonder whether the sudden transient
illumination was visible without, or how it might mystify the untutored
denizens of the woods, bear, or deer, or wolf, perceiving it aglow in
the midst of the waters like a great topaz, and anon lost in the gloom.
He pined to see it; the momentary cessation of darkness, of the
effect of the sounds, so strange in the obscurity, and of the chill,
pervasive mystery of the invisible, was so grateful that its influence
was tonic to his nerves, and he came to watch for its occasion and to
welcome it. He did not grudge it even when it gave the opportunity for a
close, unfriendly, calculating scrutiny of his face by the latest comer
to the still. This was the neighboring miller, also liable to the
revenue laws, the distillers being valued patrons of the mill, and since
he ground the corn for the mash he thereby aided and abetted in the
illicit manufacture of the whiskey. His life was more out in the world
than that of his underground confrères, and perhaps, as he had
a thriving legitimate business, and did not live by brush whiskey, he
had more to lose by detection than they, and deprecated even more any
unnecessary risk. He evidently took great umbrage at the introduction of
Nehemiah amongst them.
"Oh yes," he observed, in response to the cordial greeting which he met;
"an' I'm glad ter see ye all too. I'm powerful glad ter kem ter the
still enny time. It's ekal ter goin' ter the settlemint, or plumb ter
town on a County Court day. Ye see everybody, an' hear all the news,
an' meet up with interestin' strangers. I tell ye, now, the mill's
plumb lonesome compared ter the still, an' the mill's always hed the
name of a place whar a heap o' cronies gathered ter swap lies, an'
The irony of this description of the social delights and hospitable
accessibilities of a place esteemed the very stronghold of secrecy
itself—the liberty of every man in it jeopardized by the
slightest lapse of vigilance or judgment—was very readily to be
appreciated by the group, who were invited by this fair show of words to
look down the vista of the future to possible years of captivity in the
jails of far-away States as Federal prisoners. The men gazed heavily and
anxiously from one to another as the visitor sank down on the rocks in a
relaxed attitude, his elbow on a higher ledge behind him, supporting his
head on his hand; his other hand was on his hip, his arm stiffly akimbo,
while he looked with an expression of lowering exasperation at Yerby. It
was impossible to distinguish the color of his garb, so dusted with
flour was he from head to foot; but his long boots drawn over his
trousers to the knee, and his great spurs, and a brace of pistols in his
belt, seemed incongruous accessories to the habiliments of a miller. His
large, dark hat was thrust far back on his head; his hair, rising
straight in a sort of elastic wave from his brow, was powdered white;
the effect of his florid color and his dark eyes was accented by the
contrast; his pointed beard revealed its natural tints because of his
habit of frequently brushing his hand over it, and was distinctly red.
He was lithe and lean and nervous, and had the impatient temper
characteristic of mercurial natures. It mattered not to him what was the
coercion of the circumstances which had led to the reception of the
stranger here, nor what was the will of the majority; he disapproved of
the step; he feared it; he esteemed it a grievance done him in his
absence; and he could not conceal his feelings nor wait a more fitting
time to express them in private. His irritation and objection
evidently caused some solicitude amongst the others. He was important to
them, and they deprecated his displeasure. Isham Beaton listened to the
half-covert sneers of his words with perturbation plainly depicted on
his face, and the man whom Nehemiah had at first noticed as one whose
character seemed that of adviser, and whose opinion was valued, now
spoke for the first time. He handed over a broken-nosed pitcher with the
remark, "Try the flavor of this hyar whiskey, Alfred; 'pears like ter me
the bes' we-uns hev ever hed."
His voice was singularly smooth; it had all the qualities of culture;
every syllable, every lapse of his rude dialect, was as distinct as if
he had been taught to speak in this way; his tones were low and even,
and modulated to suave cadences; the ear experienced a sense of relief
after the loud, strident voice of the miller, poignantly penetrating and
"Naw, Hilary, I don't want nuthin' ter drink. 'Bleeged ter ye, but I
ain't wantin' nuthin' ter drink," reiterated the miller, plaintively.
Isham Beaton cast a glance of alarm at the dimly seen, monastic face of
his adviser in the gloom. It was unchanged. Its pallor and its keen
outline enabled its expression to be discerned as he himself went
through the motions of sampling the rejected liquor, shook his head
discerningly, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, and deposited the
pitcher near by on a shelf of the rock.
A pause ensued. Nehemiah, with every desire to be agreeable,
hardly knew how to commend himself to the irate miller, who would have
none of his very existence. No one could more eagerly desire him to be
away than he himself. But his absence would not satisfy the miller;
nothing less than that the intruder should never have been here. Every
perceptible lapse of the moonshiners into anxiety, every recurrent
intimation of their most pertinent reason for this anxiety, set Nehemiah
a-shaking in his shoes. Should it be esteemed the greatest good to the
greatest number to make safely away with him, his fate would forever
remain unknown, so cautious had he been to leave no trace by which he
might be followed. He gazed with deprecating urbanity, and with his lips
distended into a propitiating smile, at the troubled face powdered so
white and with its lowering eyes so dark and petulant. He noted that the
small-talk amongst the others, mere unindividualized lumpish fellows
with scant voice in the government of their common enterprise, had
ceased, and that they no longer busied themselves with the necessary
work about the still, nor with the snickering interludes and horse-play
with which they were wont to beguile their labors. They had all seated
themselves, and were looking from one to the other of the more important
members of the guild with an air which betokened the momentary
expectation of a crisis. The only exception was the man who had the
violin; with the persistent, untimely industry of incapacity, he twanged
the strings, and tuned and retuned the instrument, each time producing a
result more astonishingly off the key than before. He was
evidently unaware of this till some one with senses ajar would suggest
that all was not as it should be in the drunken reeling catch he sought
to play, when he would desist in surprise, and once more diligently rub
the bow with rosin, as if that mended the matter. The miller's lowering
eyes rested on his shadowy outline as he sat thus engaged, for a moment,
and then he broke out suddenly:
"Yes, this hyar still is the place fur news, an' the place ter look out
fur what ye don't expec' ter happen. It's powerful pleasant ter be
a-meetin' of folks hyar—this hyar stranger this evenin'"—his
gleaming teeth in the semi-obscurity notified Yerby that a smile of
spurious politeness was bent upon him, and he made haste to grin very
widely in response—"an' that thar fiddle 'minds me o' how
onexpected 'twar whenst I met up with Lee-yander hyar—'pears ter
me, Bob, ez ye air goin' ter diddle the life out'n his fiddle—an'
Hilary jes begged an' beseeched me ter take the boy with me ter help
'round the mill, ez he war a-runnin' away. Ye want me ter 'commodate
this stranger too, ez mebbe air runnin' from them ez wants him, hey
The grin was petrified on Nehemiah's face. He felt his blood rush
quickly to his head in the excitement of the moment. So here was the
bird very close at hand! And here was his enterprise complete and
successful. He could go away after the cowardly caution of the
moonshiners should have expended itself in dallying and delay, with his
negotiation for the "wild-cat" ended, and his accomplished young
relative in charge. He drew himself erect with a sense of power.
The moonshiners, the miller, would not dare to make an objection. He
knew too much! he knew far too much!
The door of the furnace was suddenly flung ajar, but he was too much
absorbed to perceive the change that came upon the keen face of Hilary
Tarbetts, who knelt beside it, as the guest's portentous triumphant
smile was fully revealed. Yerby did not lose, however, the glance of
reproach which the moonshiner cast upon the miller, nor the miller's air
at once triumphant, ashamed, and regretful. He had in petulant pique
disclosed the circumstance which he had pledged himself not to disclose.
"This man's name is Yerby too," Hilary said, significantly, gazing
steadily at the miller.
The miller looked dumfounded for a moment. He stared from one to the
other in silence. His conscious expression changed to obvious
discomfiture. He had expected no such result as this. He had merely
given way to a momentary spite in the disclosure, thinking it entirely
insignificant, only calculated to slightly annoy Hilary, who had made
the affair his own. He would not in any essential have thwarted his
comrade's plans intentionally, nor in his habitual adherence to the
principles of fair play would he have assisted in the boy's capture. He
drew himself up from his relaxed posture; his spurred feet shuffled
heavily on the stone floor of the grotto. A bright red spot appeared on
each cheek; his eyes had become anxious and subdued in the quick
shiftings of temper common to the red-haired gentry; his face of
helpless appeal was bent on Hilary Tarbetts, as if relying on his
resources to mend the matter; but ever and anon he turned his eyes,
animated with a suspicious dislike, on Yerby, who, however, could have
snapped his fingers in the faces of them all, so confident, so
hilariously triumphant was he.
"Yerby, I b'lieve ye said yer name war, an' so did Peter Green," said
Tarbetts, still kneeling by the open furnace door, his pale cheek
reddening in the glow of the fire.
Thus reminded of the testimony of his acquaintance, Yerby did not
venture to repudiate his cognomen.
"An' what did ye kem hyar fur?" blustered the miller. "A-sarchin' fur
Yerby's lips had parted to acknowledge this fact, but Tarbetts suddenly
anticipated his response, and answered for him:
"Oh no, Alfred. Nobody ain't sech a fool ez ter kem hyar ter this hyar
still, a stranger an' mebbe suspected ez a spy, ter hunt up stray
children, an' git thar heads shot off, or mebbe drownded in a mighty
handy water-fall, or sech. This hyar man air one o' we-uns. He air
a-tradin' fur our liquor, an' he'll kerry a barrel away whenst he goes."
Yerby winced at the suggestion conveyed so definitely in this crafty
speech; he was glad when the door of the furnace closed, so that his
face might not tell too much of the shifting thoughts and fears that
The miller's fickle mind wavered once more. If Yerby had not come for
the boy, he himself had done no damage in disclosing Leander's
whereabouts. Once more his quickly illumined anger was kindled against
Tarbetts, who had caused him a passing but poignant self-reproach.
"Waal, then, Hilary," he demanded, "what air ye a-raisin' sech a row
fur? Lee-yander ain't noways so special precious ez I knows on.
Toler'ble lazy an' triflin', an' mightily gi'n over ter moonin' over a
readin'-book he hev got. That thar mill war a-grindin' o' nuthin' at all
more'n haffen ter-day, through me bein' a-nappin', and Lee-yander plumb
demented by his book so ez he furgot ter pour enny grist inter the
hopper. Shucks! his kin is welcome ter enny sech critter ez that, though
I ain't denyin' ez he'd be toler'ble spry ef he could keep his nose
out'n his book," he qualified, relenting, "or his fiddle out'n his
hands. I made him leave his fiddle hyar ter the still, an' I be goin'
ter hide his book."
"No need," thought Nehemiah, scornfully. Book and scholar and it might
be fiddle too, so indulgent had the prospect of success made him, would
by to-morrow be on the return route to the cross-roads. He even ventured
to differ with the overbearing miller.
"I dun'no' 'bout that; books an' edication in gin'ral air toler'ble
useful wunst in a while;" he was thinking of the dark art of dividing
and multiplying by fractions. "The Yerbys hev always hed the name o'
bein' quick at thar book."
Now the democratic sentiment in this country is bred in the bone, and
few of its denizens have so diluted it with Christian grace as to
willingly acknowledge a superior. In such a coterie as this
"eating humble-pie" is done only at the muzzle of a "shootin'-iron."
"Never hearn afore ez enny o' the Yerbys knowed B from bull-foot,"
remarked one of the unindividualized lumpish moonshiners, shadowy,
indistinguishable in the circle about the rotund figure of the still. He
yet retained acrid recollections of unavailing struggles with the
alphabet, and was secretly of the opinion that education was a painful
thing, and, like the yellow-fever or other deadly disease, not worth
having. Nevertheless, since it was valued by others, the Yerbys should
scathless make no unfounded claims. "Ef the truth war knowed, nare one
of 'em afore could tell a book from a bear-trap."
Nehemiah's flush the darkness concealed; he moistened his thin lips, and
then gave a little cackling laugh, as if he regarded this as pleasantry.
But the demolition of the literary pretensions of his family once begun
went bravely on.
"Abner Sage larnt this hyar boy all he knows," another voice took up the
testimony. "Ab 'lows ez his mother war quick at school, but his
dad—law! I knowed Ebenezer Yerby! He war a frien'ly sorter cuss,
good-nachured an' kind-spoken, but ye could put all the larnin' he hed
in the corner o' yer eye."
"An' Lee-yander don't favor none o' ye," observed another of the
undiscriminated, unimportant members of the group, who seemed to the
groping scrutiny of Nehemiah to be only endowed with sufficient identity
to do the rough work of the still, and to become liable to the Federal
law. "Thar's Hil'ry—he seen it right off. Hil'ry he tuk a
look at Lee-yander whenst he wanted ter kem an' work along o' we-uns,
'kase his folks wanted ter take him away from the Sudleys. Hil'ry opened
the furnace door—jes so; an' he cotch the boy by the
arm"—the great brawny fellow, unconsciously dramatic, suited the
action to the word, his face and figure illumined by the sudden red
glow—"an' Hil'ry, he say, 'Naw, by God—ye hev got yer
mother's eyes in yer head, an' I'll swear ye sha'n't larn ter be a sot!'
An' that's how kem Hil'ry made Alf Bixby take Lee-yander ter work in the
mill. Ef ennybody tuk arter him he war convenient ter disappear down
hyar with we-uns. So he went ter the mill."
"An' I wisht I hed put him in the hopper an' ground him up," said the
miller, in a blood-curdling tone, but with a look of plaintive anxiety
in his eyes. "He hev made a heap o' trouble 'twixt Hil'ry an' me fust
an' last. Whar's Hil'ry disappeared to, ennyways?"
For the flare from the furnace showed that this leading spirit amongst
the moonshiners had gone softly out. Nehemiah, whose courage was
dissipated by some subtle influence of his presence, now made bold to
ask, "An' what made him ter set store on Lee-yander's mother's eyes?"
His tone was as bluffly sarcastic as he dared.
"Shucks—ye mus' hev hearn that old tale," said the miller,
cavalierly. "This hyar Malviny Hixon—ez lived down in Tanglefoot
Cove then—her an' Hil'ry war promised ter marry, but the revenuers
captured him—he war a-runnin' a still in Tanglefoot then—an'
they kep' him in jail somewhar in the North fur five year. Waal,
she waited toler'ble constant fur two or three year, but Ebenezer Yerby
he kem a-visitin' his kin down in Tanglefoot Cove, an' she an' him met
at a bran dance, an' the fust thing I hearn they war married, an' 'fore
Hil'ry got back she war dead an' buried, an' so war Ebenezer."
There was a pause while the flames roared in the furnace, and the
falling water desperately dashed upon the rocks, and its tumultuous
voice continuously pervaded the silent void wildernesses without, and
the sibilant undertone, the lisping whisperings, smote the senses anew.
"He met up with cornsider'ble changes fur five year," remarked one of
the men, regarding the matter in its chronological aspect.
Nehemiah said nothing. He had heard the story before, but it had been
forgotten. A worldly mind like his is not apt to burden itself with the
sentimental details of an antenuptial romance of the woman whom his
half-brother had married many years ago.
A persuasion that it was somewhat unduly long-lived impressed others of
"It's plumb cur'us Hil'ry ain't never furgot her," observed one of them.
"He hev never married at all. My wife says it's jes contrariousness. Ef
Malviny hed been his wife an' died, he'd hev married agin 'fore the year
war out. An' I tell my wife that he'd hev been better acquainted with
her then, an' would hev fund out ez no woman war wuth mournin' 'bout fur
nigh twenty year. My wife says she can't make out ez how Hil'ry 'ain't
got pride enough not ter furgive her fur givin' him the mitten
like she done. An' I tell my wife that holdin' a gredge agin a woman fur
bein' fickle is like holdin' a gredge agin her fur bein' a woman."
He paused with an air, perceived somehow in the brown dusk, of having
made a very neat point. A stir of assent was vaguely suggested when some
chivalric impulse roused a champion at the farther side of the worm,
whose voice rang out brusquely:
"Jes listen at Tom! A body ter hear them tales he tells 'bout argufyin'
with his wife would 'low he war a mighty smart, apt man, an' the pore
foolish 'oman skeercely hed a sensible word ter bless herself with. When
everybody that knows Tom knows he sings mighty small round home. Ye
stopped too soon, Tom. Tell what yer wife said to that."
Tom's embarrassed feet shuffled heavily on the rocks, apparently in
search of subterfuge. The dazzling glintings from the crevices of the
furnace door showed here and there gleaming teeth broadly agrin.
"Jes called me a fool in gineral," admitted the man skilled in argument.
"An' didn't she 'low ez men folks war fickle too, an' remind ye o' yer
young days whenst ye went a-courtin' hyar an' thar, an' tell over a
string o' gals' names till she sounded like an off'cer callin' the
"Ye-es," admitted Tom, thrown off his balance by this preternatural
insight, "but all them gals war a-tryin' ter marry me—not me
tryin' ter marry them."
There was a guffaw at this modest assertion, but the disaffected
miller's tones dominated the rude merriment.
"Whenst a feller takes ter drink folks kin spell out a heap o' reasons
but the true one—an' that's 'kase he likes it. Hil'ry 'ain't never
named that 'oman's name ter me, an' I hev knowed him ez well ez ennybody
hyar. Jes t'other day whenst that boy kem, bein' foolish an' maudlin, he
seen suthin' oncommon in Lee-yander's eyes—they'll be mighty
oncommon ef he keeps on readin' his tomfool book, ez he knows by heart,
by the firelight when it's dim. Ef folks air so sot agin strong drink,
let 'em drink less tharsefs. Hear Brother Peter Vickers preach agin
liquor, an' ye'd know ez all wine-bibbers air bound fur hell."
"But the Bible don't name 'whiskey' once," said the man called Tom, in
an argumentative tone. "Low wines I'll gin ye up;" he made the
discrimination in accents betokening much reasonable admission; "but
nare time does the Bible name whiskey, nor yit peach brandy, nor
"Nor cider nor beer," put in an unexpected recruit from the darkness.
The miller was silent for a moment, and gave token of succumbing to this
unexpected polemic strength. Then, taking thought and courage together,
"Ye can't say the Bible ain't down on 'strong drink'?" There was no
answer from the vanquished, and he went on in the overwhelming miller's
voice: "Hil'ry hed better be purtectin' hisself from strong drink,
'stiddier the boy—by makin' him stay up thar at the mill whar he
knows thar's no drinkin' goin' on—ez will git chances at it
other ways, ef not through him, in the long life he hev got ter
live. The las' time the revenuers got Hil'ry 'twar through bein' ez
drunk ez a fraish-biled owl. It makes me powerful oneasy whenever I know
ye air all drunk an' a-gallopadin' down hyar, an' no mo' able to act
reasonable in case o' need an' purtect yersefs agin spies an' revenuers
an' sech 'n nuthin' in this worl'. The las' raid, ye 'member, we hed the
still over yander;" he jerked his thumb in the direction present to his
thoughts, but unseen by his coadjutors; "a man war wounded, an' we
dun'no' but what killed in the scuffle, an' it mought be a hangin'
matter ter git caught now. Ye oughter keep sober; an' ye know, Isham, ye
oughter keep Hil'ry sober. I dun'no' why ye can't. I never could abide
the nasty stuff—it's enough ter turn a bullfrog's stomach. Whiskey
is good ter sell—not ter drink. Let them consarned idjits in the
flat woods buy it, an' drink it. Whiskey is good ter sell—not ter
This peculiar temperance argument was received in thoughtful silence,
the reason of all the mountaineers commending it, while certain of them
knew themselves and were known to be incapable of profiting by it.
Nehemiah had scant interest in this conversation. He was conscious of
the strain on his attention as he followed it, that every point of the
situation should be noted, and its utility canvassed at a leisure
moment. He marked the allusion to the man supposed to have been killed
in the skirmish with the raiders, and he appraised its value as coercion
in any altercation that he might have in seeking to take Leander
from his present guardians. But he felt in elation that this was likely
to be of the slightest; the miller evidently found himself hampered
rather than helped by the employment of the boy; and as to the
moonshiner's sentimental partisanship, for the sake of an old attachment
to the dead-and-gone mountain girl, there was hardly anything in the
universe so tenuous as to bear comparison with its fragility. "A few
drinks ahead," he said to himself, with a sneer, "an' he won't remember
who Malviny Hixon was, ef thar is ennything in the old tale—which
it's more'n apt thar ain't."
He began, after the fashion of successful people, to cavil because his
success was not more complete. How the time was wasting here in this
uncomfortable interlude! Why could he not have discovered Leander's
whereabouts earlier, and by now be jogging along the road home with the
boy by his side? Why had he not bethought himself of the mill in the
first instance—that focus of gossip where all the news of the
countryside is mysteriously garnered and thence dispensed bounteously to
all comers? It was useless, as he fretted and chafed at these untoward
omissions, to urge in his own behalf that he did not know of the
existence of the mill, and that the miller, being an ungenial and
choleric man, might have perversely lent himself to resisting his demand
for the custody of the young runaway. No, he told himself emphatically,
and with good logic, too, the miller's acrimony rose from the fact of a
stranger's discovery of the still and the danger of his introduction
into its charmed circle. And that reflection reminded him anew of
his own danger here—not from the lawless denizens of the place,
but from the forces which he himself had evoked, and again he glanced
out toward the water-fall as fearful of the raiders as any moonshiner of
But what sudden glory was on the waters, mystic, white, an opaque
brilliance upon the swirling foam and the bounding spray, a crystalline
glitter upon the smooth expanse of the swift cataract! The moon was in
the sky, and its light, with noiseless tread, sought out strange, lonely
places, and illusions were astir in the solitudes. Pensive peace,
thoughts too subtle for speech to shape, spiritual yearnings, were
familiars of the hour and of this melancholy splendor; but he knew none
of them, and the sight gave him no joy. He only thought that this was a
night for the saddle, for the quiet invasion of the woods, when the few
dwellers by the way-side were lost in slumber. He trembled anew at the
thought of the raiders whom he himself had summoned; he forgot his
curses on their laggard service; he upbraided himself again that he had
not earlier made shift to depart by some means—by any
means—before the night came with this great emblazoning bold-faced
moon that but prolonged the day; and he started to his feet with a
galvanic jerk and a sharp exclamation when swift steps were heard on the
rocks outside, and a man with the lightness of a deer sprang down the
ledges and into the great arched opening of the place.
"'Tain't nobody but Hil'ry," observed Isham Beaton, half in reproach,
half in reassurance.
The pervasive light without dissipated in some degree the gloom within
the grotto; a sort of gray visibility was on the appurtenances and
the figures about the still, not strong enough to suggest color, but
giving contour. His fright had been marked, he knew; a sort of surprised
reflectiveness was in the manner of several of the moonshiners, and
Nehemiah, with his ready fears, fancied that this inopportune show of
terror had revived their suspicions of him. It required some effort to
steady his nerves after this, and when footfalls were again audible
outside, and all the denizens of the place sat calmly smoking their
pipes without so much as a movement toward investigating the sound, he,
knowing whose steps he had invited thither, had great ado with the
coward within to keep still, as if he had no more reason to fear an
approach than they.
A great jargon in the tone of ecstasy broke suddenly on the air upon
this new entrance, shattering what little composure Nehemiah had been
able to muster; a wide-mouthed exaggeration of welcome in superlative
phrases and ready chorus. Swiftly turning, he saw nothing for a moment,
for he looked at the height which a man's head might reach, and the
new-comer measured hardly two feet in stature, waddled with a very
uncertain gait, and although he bore himself with manifest complacence,
he had evidently heard the like before, as he was jovially hailed by
every ingratiating epithet presumed to be acceptable to his infant mind.
He was attended by a tall, gaunt boy of fifteen, barefooted, with
snaggled teeth and a shock of tow hair, wearing a shirt of unbleached
cotton, and a pair of trousers supported by a single suspender drawn
across a sharp, protuberant shoulder-blade behind and a very narrow
chest in front. But his face was proud and happy and gleeful, as
if he occupied some post of honor and worldly emolument in attending
upon the waddling wonder on the floor in front of him, instead of being
assigned the ungrateful task of seeing to it that a very ugly baby
closely related to him did not, with the wiliness and ingenuity of
infant nature, invent some method of making away with himself. For he
was an ugly baby as he stood revealed in the flare of the furnace
door, thrown open that his admirers and friends might feast their eyes
upon him. His short wisps of red hair stood straight up in front; his
cheeks were puffy and round, but very rosy; his eyes were small and
dark, but blandly roguish; his mouth was wide and damp, and had in it a
small selection of sample teeth, as it were; he wore a blue checked
homespun dress garnished down the back with big horn buttons, sparsely
set on; he clasped his chubby hands upon a somewhat pompous stomach; he
sidled first to the right, then to the left, in doubt as to which of the
various invitations he should accept.
"Kem hyar, Snooks!" "Right hyar, Toodles!" "Me hyar, Monkey Doodle!"
"Hurrah fur the leetle-est moonshiner on record!" resounded fulsomely
about him. Many were the compliments showered upon him, and if his
flatterers told lies, they had told more wicked ones. The pipes all went
out, and the broken-nosed pitcher languished in disuse as he trotted
from one pair of outstretched arms to another to give an exhibition of
his progress in the noble art of locomotion; and if he now and again sat
down, unexpectedly to himself and to the spectator, he was promptly put
upon his feet again with spurious applause and encouragement. He
gave an exhibition of his dancing—a funny little shuffle of
exceeding temerity, considering the facilities at his command for that
agile amusement, but he was made reckless by praise—and they all
lied valiantly in chorus. He repeated all the words he knew, which were
few, and for the most part unintelligible, crowed like a cock, barked
like a dog, mewed like a cat, and finally went away, his red cheeks yet
more ruddily aglow, grave and excited and with quickly beating pulses,
like one who has achieved some great public success and led captive the
hearts of thousands.
The turmoils of his visit and his departure were great indeed. It all
irked Nehemiah Yerby, who had scant toleration of infancy and little
perception of the jocosity of the aspect of callow human nature, and it
seemed strange to him that these men, all with their liberty, even their
existence, jeopardized upon the chances that a moment might bring forth,
could so relax their sense of danger, so disregard the mandates of
stolid common-sense, and give themselves over to the puerile
beguilements of the visitor. The little animal was the son of one of
them, he knew, but he hardly guessed whom until he marked the paternal
pride and content that had made unwontedly placid the brow of the irate
miller while the ovation was in progress. Nehemiah greatly preferred the
adult specimen of the race, and looked upon youth as an infirmity which
would mend only with time. He was easily confused by a stir; the
gurglings, the ticklings, the loud laughter both in the deep bass of the
hosts and the keen treble of the guest had a befuddling effect upon him;
his powers of observation were numbed. As the great, burly forms
shifted to and fro, resuming their former places, the red light from the
open door of the furnace illumining their laughing, bearded
countenances, casting a roseate suffusion upon the white turmoils of the
cataract, and showing the rugged interior of the place with its damp and
dripping ledges, he saw for the first time among them Leander's slight
figure and smiling face; the violin was in his hand, one end resting on
a rock as he tightened a string; his eyes were bent upon the instrument,
while his every motion was earnestly watched by the would-be fiddler.
Nehemiah started hastily to his feet. He had not expected that the boy
would see him here. To share with one of his own household a secret like
this of aiding in illicit distilling was more than his hardihood could
well contemplate. As once more the contemned "ping-pang" of the process
of tuning fell upon the air, Leander chanced to lift his eyes. They
smilingly swept the circle until they rested upon his uncle. They
suddenly dilated with astonishment, and the violin fell from his
nerveless hand upon the floor. The surprise, the fear, the repulsion his
face expressed suddenly emboldened Nehemiah. The boy evidently had not
been prepared for the encounter with his relative here. Its only
significance to his mind was the imminence of capture and of being
constrained to accompany his uncle home. He cast a glance of indignant
reproach upon Hilary Tarbetts, who was not even looking at him. The
moonshiner stood filling his pipe with tobacco, and as he deftly
extracted a coal from the furnace to set it alight, he shut the
door with a clash, and for a moment the whole place sunk into
invisibility, the vague radiance vouchsafed to the recesses of the
grotto by the moonbeams on the water without annihilated for the time by
the contrast with the red furnace glare. Nehemiah had a swift fear that
in this sudden eclipse Leander might slip softly out and thus be again
lost to him, but as the dull gray light gradually reasserted itself, and
the figures and surroundings emerged from the gloom, resuming shape and
consistency, he saw Leander still standing where he had disappeared in
the darkness; he could even distinguish his pale face and lustrous eyes.
Leander at least had no intention to shirk explanations.
"Why, Uncle Nehemiah!" he said, his boyish voice ringing out tense and
excited above the tones of the men, once more absorbed in their wonted
interests. A sudden silence ensued amongst them. "What air ye a-doin'
"Waal, ah, Lee-yander, boy—" Nehemiah hesitated. A half-suppressed
chuckle among the men, whom he had observed to be addicted to
horse-play, attested their relish of the situation. Ridicule is always
of unfriendly intimations, and the sound served to put Nehemiah on his
guard anew. He noticed that the glow in Hilary's pipe was still and
dull: the smoker did not even draw his breath as he looked and listened.
Yerby did not dare avow the true purpose of his presence after his
representations to the moonshiners, and yet he could not, he would not
in set phrase align himself with the illicit vocation. The boy was too
young, too irresponsible, too inimical to his uncle, he reflected
in a sudden panic, to be intrusted with this secret. If in his
hap-hazard, callow folly he should turn informer, he was almost too
young to be amenable to the popular sense of justice. He might, too, by
some accident rather than intention, divulge the important knowledge so
unsuitable to his years and his capacity for guarding it. He began to
share the miller's aversion to the introduction of outsiders to the
still. He felt a glow of indignation, as if he had always been a party
in interest, that the common safety should not be more jealously
guarded. The danger which Leander's youth and inexperience threatened
had not been so apparent to him when he first heard that the boy had
been here, and the menace was merely for the others. As he felt the
young fellow's eyes upon him he recalled the effusive piety of his
conversation at Tyler Sudley's house, his animadversions on
violin-playing and liquor-drinking, and Brother Peter Vickers's mild and
merciful attitude toward sinners in those unspiced sermons of his, that
held out such affluence of hope to the repentant rather than to the
self-righteous. The blood surged unseen into Nehemiah's face. For shame,
for very shame he could not confess himself one with these outcasts. He
made a feint of searching in the semi-obscurity for the rickety chair on
which he had been seated, and resumed his former attitude as Leander's
voice once more rang out:
"What air ye a-doin' hyar, Uncle Nehemiah?"
"Jes a-visitin', sonny; jes a-visitin'."
There was a momentary pause, and the felicity of the answer was
demonstrated by another chuckle from the group. His senses, alert to the
emergency, discriminated a difference in the tone. This time the laugh
was with him rather than at him. He noted, too, Leander's dumfounded
pause, and the suggestion of discomfiture in the boy's lustrous eyes,
still widely fixed upon him. As Leander stooped to pick up the violin he
remarked with an incidental accent, and evidently in default of retort,
"I be powerful s'prised ter view ye hyar."
Nehemiah smarted under the sense of unmerited reproach; so definitely
aware was he of being out of the character which he had assumed and worn
until it seemed even to him his own, that he felt as if he were
constrained to some ghastly masquerade. Even the society of the
moonshiners as their guest was a reproach to one who had always piously,
and in such involuted and redundant verbiage, spurned the ways and
haunts of the evil-doer. According to the dictates of policy he should
have rested content with his advantage over the silenced lad. But his
sense of injury engendered a desire of reprisal, and he impulsively
carried the war into the enemy's country.
"I ain't in no ways s'prised ter view you-uns hyar, Lee-yander," he
said. "From the ways, Lee-yander, ez ye hev been brung up by them
slack-twisted Sudleys—ungodly folks 'ceptin' what little
regeneration they kin git from the sermons of Brother Peter Vickers, who
air onsartain in his mind whether folks ez ain't church-members air
goin' ter be damned or no—I ain't s'prised none ter view ye hyar."
He suddenly remembered poor Laurelia's arrogations of special
piety, and it was with exceeding ill will that he added: "An' Mis'
Sudley in partic'lar. Ty ain't no great shakes ez a shoutin' Christian.
I dun'no' ez I ever hearn him shout once, but his wife air one o' the
reg'lar, mournful, unrejicing members, always questioning the decrees of
Providence, an' what ain't no nigher salvation, ef the truth war knowed,
'n a sinner with the throne o' grace yit ter find."
Leander had not picked up the violin; this disquisition had arrested his
hand until his intention was forgotten. He came slowly to the
perpendicular, and his eyes gleamed in the dusk. A vibration of anger
was in his voice as he retorted:
"Mebbe so—mebbe they air sinners; but they'd look powerful comical
"Ty Sudley ain't one o' the drinkin' kind," interpolated the miller, who
evidently had the makings of a temperance man. "He never sot foot hyar
in his life."
"Them ez kem a-visitin' hyar," blustered the boy, full of the
significance of his observations and experience, "air either wantin' a
drink or two 'thout payin' fur it, or else air tradin' fur liquor ter
sell, an' that's the same ez moonshinin' in the law."
There was a roar of delight from the circle of lumpish figures about the
still which told the boy that he had hit very near to the mark. Nehemiah
hardly waited for it to subside before he made an effort to divert
"An' what air you-uns doin' hyar?" he demanded. "Tit for tat."
"Why," bluffly declared Leander, "I be a-runnin' away from you-uns. An'
I 'lowed the still war one place whar I'd be sure o' not meetin'
ye. Not ez I hev got ennything agin moonshinin' nuther," he added,
hastily, mindful of a seeming reflection on his refuge. "Moonshinin' is
business, though the United States don't seem ter know it. But I hev
hearn ye carry on so pious 'bout not lookin' on the wine whenst it be
red, that I 'lowed ye wouldn't like ter look on the still
whenst—whenst it's yaller." He pointed with a burst of callow
merriment at the big copper vessel, and once more the easily excited
mirth of the circle burst forth irrepressibly.
Encouraged by this applause, Leander resumed: "Why, I even turns my
back on the still myself out'n respec' ter the family—Cap'n an'
Neighbor bein' so set agin liquor. Cap'n's ekal ter preachin' on it ef
ennything onexpected war ter happen ter Brother Vickers. An' when I
hev ter view it, I look at it sorter cross-eyed." The flickering line
of light from the crevice of the furnace door showed that he was
squinting frightfully, with the much-admired eyes his mother had
bequeathed to him, at the rotund shadow, with the yellow gleams of the
metal barely suggested in the brown dusk. "So I tuk ter workin' at the
mill. An' I hev got nuthin' ter do with the still." There was a pause.
Then, with a strained tone of appeal in his voice, for a future with
Uncle Nehemiah had seemed very terrible to him, "So ye warn't a-sarchin'
hyar fur me, war ye, Uncle Nehemiah?"
Nehemiah was at a loss. There is a peculiar glutinous quality in the
resolve of a certain type of character which is not allied to
steadfastness of purpose, nor has it the enlightened persistence of
obstinacy. In view of his earlier account of his purpose he could
not avow his errand; it bereft him of naught to disavow it, for Uncle
Nehemiah was one of those gifted people who, in common parlance, do not
mind what they say. Yet his reluctance to assure Leander that he was not
the quarry that had led him into these wilds so mastered him, the
spurious relinquishment had so the aspect of renunciation, that he
hesitated, started to speak, again hesitated, so palpably that Hilary
Tarbetts felt impelled to take a hand in the game.
"Why don't ye sati'fy the boy, Yerby?" he said, brusquely. He took his
pipe out of his mouth and turned to Leander. "Naw, bub. He's jes tradin'
fur bresh whiskey, that's all; he's sorter skeery 'bout bein' a
wild-catter, an' he didn't want ye ter know it."
The point of red light, the glow of his pipe, the only exponent of his
presence in the dusky recess where he sat, shifted with a quick,
decisive motion as he restored it to his lips.
The blood rushed to Nehemiah's head; he was dizzy for a moment; he heard
his heart thump heavily; he saw, or he fancied he saw, the luminous
distention of Leander's eyes as this Goliath of his battles was thus
delivered into his hands. To meet him here proved nothing; the law was
not violated by Nehemiah in the mere knowledge that illicit whiskey was
in process of manufacture; a dozen different errands might have brought
him. But this statement put a sword, as it were, into the boy's hands,
and he dared not deny it.
"'Pears ter me," he blurted out at last, "ez ye air powerful slack with
"Lee-yander ain't," coolly returned Tarbetts. "He knows all thar is ter
know 'bout we-uns—an' why air ye not ter share our per'ls?"
"I ain't likely ter tell," Leander jocosely reassured him. "But I can't
help thinkin' how it would rejice that good Christian 'oman, Cap'n
Sudley, ez war made ter set on sech a low stool 'bout my pore old
And thus reminded of the instrument, he picked it up, and once more,
with the bow held aloft in his hand, he dexterously twanged the strings,
and with his deft fingers rapidly and discriminatingly turned the
screws, this one up and that one down. The earnest would-be musician,
who had languished while the discussion was in progress, now plucked up
a freshened interest, and begged that the furnace door might be set ajar
to enable him to watch the process of tuning and perchance to detect its
subtle secret. No objection was made, for the still was nearly empty,
and arrangements tending to replenishment were beginning to be
inaugurated by several of the men, who were examining the mash in tubs
in the further recesses of the place. They were lighted by a lantern
which, swinging to and fro as they moved, sometimes so swiftly as to
induce a temporary fluctuation threatening eclipse, suggested in the
dusk the erratic orbit of an abnormally magnified fire-fly. It barely
glimmered, the dullest point of white light, when the rich flare from
the opening door of the furnace gushed forth and the whole rugged
interior was illumined with its color. The inadequate moonlight fell
away; the chastened white splendor on the foam of the cataract, the
crystalline glitter, timorously and elusively shifting, were
annihilated; the swiftly descending water showed from within only a
continuously moving glow of yellow light, all the brighter from the
dark-seeming background of the world glimpsed without. A wind had risen,
unfelt in these recesses and on the weighty volume of the main sheet of
falling water, but at its verge the fitful gusts diverted its downward
course, tossing slender jets aslant, and sending now and again a shower
of spray into the cavern. Nehemiah remembered his rheumatism with a
shiver. The shadows of the men, instead of an unintelligible
comminglement with the dusk, were now sharp and distinct, and the light
grotesquely duplicated them till the cave seemed full of beings who were
not there a moment before—strange gnomes, clumsy and burly, slow
of movement, but swift and mysterious of appearance and disappearance.
The beetling ledges here and there imprinted strong black similitudes of
their jagged contours on the floor; with the glowing, weird illumination
the place seemed far more uncanny than before, and Leander, with his
face pensive once more in response to the gentle strains slowly elicited
by the bow trembling with responsive ecstasy, his large eyes full of
dreamy lights, his curling hair falling about his cheek as it rested
upon the violin, his figure, tall and slender and of an adolescent
grace, might have suggested to the imagination a reminiscence of Orpheus
in Hades. They all listened in languid pleasure, without the effort to
appraise the music or to compare it with other performances—the
bane of more cultured audiences; only the ardent amateur, seated close
at hand on a bowlder, watched the bowing with a scrutiny which
betokened earnest anxiety that no mechanical trick might elude him. The
miller's half-grown son, whose ear for any fine distinctions in sound
might be presumed to have been destroyed by the clamors of the mill, sat
a trifle in the background, and sawed away on an imaginary violin with
many flourishes and all the exaggerations of mimicry; he thus furnished
the zest of burlesque relished by the devotees of horse-play and simple
jests, and was altogether unaware that he had a caricature in his shadow
just behind him, and was doing double duty in making both Leander and
himself ridiculous. Sometimes he paused in excess of interest when the
music elicited an amusement more to his mind than the long-drawn,
pathetic cadences which the violinist so much affected. For in sudden
changes of mood and in effective contrast the tones came showering forth
in keen, quick staccato, every one as round and distinct as a globule,
but as unindividualized in the swift exuberance of the whole as a drop
in a summer's rain; the bow was but a glancing line of light in its
rapidity, and the bounding movement of the theme set many a foot astir
marking time. At last one young fellow, an artist too in his way, laid
aside his pipe and came out to dance. A queer pas seul it might have
been esteemed, but he was light and agile and not ungraceful, and he
danced with an air of elation—albeit with a grave face—which
added to the enjoyment of the spectator, for it seemed so slight an
effort. He was long-winded, and was still bounding about in the
double-shuffle and the pigeon-wing, his shadow on the wall nimbly
following every motion, when the violin's cadence quavered off in
a discordant wail, and Leander, the bow pointed at the water-fall,
exclaimed: "Look out! Somebody's thar! Out thar on the rocks!"
It was upon the instant, with the evident intention of a surprise, that
a dozen armed men rushed precipitately into the place. Nehemiah, his
head awhirl, hardly distinguished the events as they were confusedly
enacted before him. There were loud, excited calls, unintelligible,
mouthing back in the turbulent echoes of the place, the repeated word
"Surrender!" alone conveying meaning to his mind. The sharp, succinct
note of a pistol-shot was a short answer. Some quick hand closed the
door of the furnace and threw the place into protective gloom. He was
vaguely aware that a prolonged struggle that took place amongst a group
of men near him was the effort of the intruders to reopen it. All
unavailing. He presently saw figures drawing back to the doorway out of
the mêlée, for moonshiner and raider were alike
indistinguishable, and he became aware that both parties were equally
desirous to gain the outer air. Once more pistol-shots—outside
this time—then a tumult of frenzied voices. Struck by a
pistol-ball, Tarbetts had fallen from the ledge under the weight of the
cataract and into the deep abysses below. The raiders were swiftly
getting to saddle again. Now and then a crack mountain shot drew a bead
upon them from the bushes; but mists were gathering, the moon was
uncertain, and the flickering beams deflected the aim. Two or three of
the horses lay dead on the river-bank, and others carried
double, ridden by men with riddled hats. They were in full retreat, for
the catastrophe on the ledge of the cliff struck dismay to their hearts.
Had the man been shot, according to the expectation of those who resist
arrest, this would be merely the logical sequence of events. But to be
hurled from a crag into a cataract savored of atrocity, and they dreaded
the reprisals of capture.
"'LOOK OUT! SOMEBODY'S THAR!'"
It was soon over. The whole occurrence, charged with all the
definitiveness of fate, was scant ten minutes in transition. A laggard
hoof-beat, a faint echo amidst the silent gathering of the moonlit
mists, and the loud plaint of Hoho-hebee Falls were the only sounds that
caught Nehemiah's anxious ear when he crept out from behind the empty
barrels and tremulously took his way along the solitary ledges, ever and
anon looking askance at his shadow, that more than once startled him
with a sense of unwelcome companionship. The mists, ever thickening,
received him into their midst. However threatening to the retreat of the
raiders, they were friendly to him. Once, indeed, they parted, showing
through the gauzy involutions of their illumined folds the pale moon
high in the sky, and close at hand a horse's head just above his own,
with wild, dilated eyes and quivering nostrils. Its effect was as
detached as if it were only drawn upon a canvas; the mists rolled over
anew, and but that he heard the subdued voice of the rider urging the
animal on, and the thud of the hoofs farther away, he might have thought
this straggler from the revenue party some wild illusion born of his
The fate of Hilary Tarbetts remained a mystery. When the stream was
dragged for his body it was deemed strange that it should not be
found, since the bowlders that lay all adown the rocky gorge so
interrupted the sweep of the current that so heavy a weight seemed
likely to be caught amongst them. Others commented on the strength and
great momentum of the flow, and for this reason it was thought that in
some dark underground channel of Hide-and-Seek Creek the moonshiner had
found his sepulchre. A story of his capture was circulated after a time;
it was supposed that he dived and swam ashore after his fall, and that
the raiders overtook him on their retreat, and that he was now immured,
a Federal prisoner. The still and all the effects of the brush-whiskey
trade disappeared as mysteriously, and doubtless this silent flitting
gave rise to the hopeful rumor that Tarbetts had been seen alive and
well since that fateful night, and that in some farther recesses of the
wilderness, undiscovered by the law, he and like comrades continue their
chosen vocation. However that may be, the vicinity of Hoho-hebee Falls,
always a lonely place, is now even a deeper solitude. The beavers,
unmolested, haunt the ledges; along their precipitous ways the deer come
down to drink; on bright days the rainbow hovers about the falls; on
bright nights they glimmer in the moon; but never again have they glowed
with the shoaling orange light of the furnace, intensifying to the deep
tawny tints of its hot heart, like the rich glamours of some great
This alien glow it was thought had betrayed the place to the raiders,
and Nehemiah's instrumentality was never discovered. The post-office
appointment was bestowed upon his rival for the position, and it
was thought somewhat strange that he should endure the defeat with such
exemplary resignation. No one seemed to connect his candidacy with his
bootless search for his nephew. When Leander chanced to be mentioned,
however, he observed with some rancor that he reckoned it was just as
well he didn't come up with Lee-yander; there was generally mighty
little good in a runaway boy, and Lee-yander had the name of being
disobejent an' turr'ble bad.
Leander found a warm welcome at home. His violin had been broken in the
mêlée, and the miller, though ardently urged, never could
remember the spot where he had hidden the book—such havoc had the
confusion of that momentous night wrought in his mental processes.
Therefore, unhampered by music or literature, Leander addressed himself
to the plough-handles, and together that season he and "Neighbor" made
the best crop of their lives.
Laurelia sighed for the violin and Leander's music, though, as she
always made haste to say, some pious people misdoubted whether it were
not a sinful pastime. On such occasions it went hard with Leander not to
divulge his late experiences and the connection of the pious Uncle
Nehemiah therewith. But he always remembered in time Laurelia's
disability to receive confidences, being a woman, and consequently
unable to keep a secret, and he desisted.
One day, however, when he and Ty Sudley, ploughing the corn, now
knee-high, were pausing to rest in the turn-row, a few furrows apart, in
an ebullition of filial feeling he told all that had befallen him
in his absence. Ty Sudley, divided between wrath toward Nehemiah and
quaking anxiety for the dangers that Leander had been constrained to
run—ex post facto tremors, but none the less acute—felt
moved now and then to complacence in his prodigy.
"So 'twar you-uns ez war smart enough ter slam the furnace door an'
throw the whole place inter darkness! That saved them moonshiners and
raiders from killin' each other. It saved a deal o' bloodshed—ez
sure ez shootin'. 'Twar mighty smart in ye. But"—suddenly
bethinking himself of sundry unfilial gibes at Uncle Nehemiah and the
facetious account of his plight—"Lee-yander, ye mustn't be so
turr'ble bad, sonny; ye mustn't be so turr'ble bad."
"Naw, ma'am, Neighbor, I won't," Leander protested.
And he went on following the plough down the furrow and singing loud and
THE RIDDLE OF THE ROCKS
Upon the steep slope of a certain "bald" among the Great Smoky Mountains
there lie, just at the verge of the strange stunted woods from which the
treeless dome emerges to touch the clouds, two great tilted blocks of
sandstone. They are of marked regularity of shape, as square as if hewn
with a chisel. Both are splintered and fissured; one is broken in twain.
No other rock is near. The earth in which they are embedded is the rich
black soil not unfrequently found upon the summits. Nevertheless no
great significance might seem to attach to their isolation—an
outcropping of ledges, perhaps; a fracture of the freeze; a trace of
ancient denudation by the waters of the spring in the gap, flowing now
down the trough of the gorge in a silvery braid of currents, and with a
murmur that is earnest of a song.
It may have been some distortion of the story heard only from the lips
of the circuit rider, some fantasy of tradition invested with the
urgency of fact, but Roger Purdee could not remember the time when he
did not believe that these were the stone tables of the Law that Moses
flung down from the mountain-top in his wrath. In the dense ignorance of
the mountaineer, and his secluded life, he knew of no foreign
countries, no land holier than the land of his home. There was no
incongruity to his mind that it should have been in the solemn silence
and austere solitude of the "bald," in the magnificent ascendency of the
Great Smoky, that the law-giver had met the Lord and spoken with Him.
Often as he lay at length on the strange barren place, veiled with the
clouds that frequented it, a sudden sunburst in their midst would
suggest anew what supernal splendors had once been here vouchsafed to
the faltering eye of man. The illusion had come to be very dear to him;
in this insistent localization of his faith it was all very near. And so
he would go down to the slope below, among the weird, stunted trees, and
look once more upon the broken tables, and ponder upon the strange signs
written by time thereon. The insistent fall of the rain, the incisive
blasts of the wind, coming again and again, though the centuries went,
were registered here in mystic runes. The surface had weathered to a
whitish-gray, but still in tiny depressions its pristine dark color
showed in rugose characters. A splintered fissure held delicate fucoid
impressions in fine script full of meaning. A series of worm-holes
traced erratic hieroglyphics across a scaling corner; all the varied
texts were illuminated by quartzose particles glittering in the sun, and
here and there fine green grains of glauconite. He knew no names like
these, and naught of meteorological potency. He had studied no other
rock. His casual notice had been arrested nowhere by similar signs.
Under the influence of his ignorant superstition, his cherished
illusion, the lonely wilderness, what wonder that, as he pondered
upon the rocks, strange mysteries seemed revealed to him? He found
significance in these cabalistic scriptures—nay, he read inspired
words! With the ramrod of his gun he sought to follow the fine tracings
of the letters writ by the finger of the Lord on the stone tables that
Moses flung down from the mountain-top in his wrath.
With a devout thankfulness Purdee realized that he owned the land where
they lay. It was worth, perhaps, a few cents an acre; it was utterly
untillable, almost inaccessible, and his gratulation owed its fervor
only to its spiritual values. He was an idle and shiftless fellow, and
had known no glow of acquisition, no other pride of possession. He
herded cattle much of the time in the summer, and he hunted in the
winter—wolves chiefly, their hair being long and finer at this
season, and the smaller furry gentry; for he dealt in peltry. And so,
despite the vastness of the mountain wilds, he often came and knelt
beside the rocks with his rifle in his hand, and sought anew to decipher
the mystic legends. His face, bending over the tables of the Law with
the earnest research of a student, with the chastened subduement of
devotion, with all the calm sentiments of reverie, lacked something of
its normal aspect. When a sudden stir of the leaves or the breaking of a
twig recalled him to the world, and he would lift his head, it might
hardly seem the same face, so heavy was the lower jaw, so insistent and
coercive his eye. But if he took off his hat to place therein his cotton
bandana handkerchief or (if he were in luck and burdened with game) the
scalp of a wild-cat—valuable for the bounty offered by the
State—he showed a broad, massive forehead that added the
complement of expression, and suggested a doubt if it were ferocity his
countenance bespoke or force. His long black hair hung to his shoulders,
and he wore a tangled black beard; his deep-set dark blue eyes were
kindled with the fires of imagination. He was tall, and of a commanding
presence but for his stoop and his slouch. His garments seemed a trifle
less well ordered than those of his class, and bore here and there the
traces of the blood of beasts; on his trousers were grass stains deeply
grounded, for he knelt often to get a shot, and in meditation beside the
rocks. He spent little time otherwise upon his knees, and perhaps it was
some intuition of this fact that roused the wrath of certain brethren of
the camp-meeting when he suddenly appeared among them, arrogating to
himself peculiar spiritual experiences, proclaiming that his mind had
been opened to strange lore, repeating thrilling, quickening words that
he declared he had read on the dead rocks whereon were graven the
commandments of the Lord. The tumultuous tide of his rude eloquence, his
wild imagery, his ecstasy of faith, rolled over the assembly and awoke
it anew to enthusiasms. Much that he said was accepted by the more
intelligent ministers who led the meeting as figurative, as the finer
fervors of truth, and they felt the responsive glow of emotion and
quiver of sympathy. He intended it in its simple, literal significance.
And to the more local members of the congregation the fact was patent.
"Sech a pack o' lies hev seldom been tole in the hearin' o'
Almighty Gawd," said Job Grinnell, a few days after the breaking up of
camp. He was rehearsing the proceedings at the meeting partly for the
joy of hearing himself talk, and partly at the instance of his wife, who
had been prevented from attending by the inopportune illness of one of
the children. "Ez I loant my ear ter the words o' that thar brazen
buzzard I eyed him constant. Fur I looked ter see the jedgmint o' the
Lord descend upon him like S'phira an' An'ias."
"Who?" asked his wife, pausing in her task of picking up chips. He had
spoken of them so familiarly that one might imagine they lived close by
in the cove.
"An'ias an' S'phira—them in the Bible ez war streck by lightnin'
fur lyin'," he explained.
"I 'member her," she said. "S'phia, I calls her."
"Waal, A'gusta, S'phira do me jes ez well," he said, with the
momentary sulkiness of one corrected. "Thar war a man along, though. An'
'pears ter me thar war powerful leetle jestice in thar takin' off, ef
Roger Purdee be 'lowed ter stan' up thar in the face o' the meetin' an'
lie so ez no yearthly critter in the worl' could b'lieve
him—'ceptin' Brother Jacob Page, ez 'peared plumb out'n his head
with religion, an' got ter shoutin' when this Purdee tuk ter tellin' the
law he read on them rocks—Moses' tables, folks calls 'em—up
yander in the mounting."
He nodded upward toward the great looming range above them. His house
was on a spur of the mountain, overshadowed by it; shielded. It was to
him the Almoner of Fate. One by one it doled out the days, dawning from
its summit; and thence, too, came the darkness and the glooms of
night. One by one it liberated from the enmeshments of its tangled
wooded heights the constellations to gladden the eye and lure the fancy.
Its largess of silver torrents flung down its slopes made fertile the
little fields, and bestowed a lilting song on the silence, and took a
turn at the mill-wheel, and did not disdain the thirst of the humble
cattle. It gave pasturage in summer, and shelter from the winds of the
winter. It was the assertive feature of his life; he could hardly have
imagined existence without "the mounting."
"Tole what he read on them rocks—yes, sir, ez glib ez swallerin' a
persimmon. 'Twarn't the reg'lar ten comman'ments—some cur'ous new
texts—jes a-rollin' 'em out ez sanctified ez ef he hed been called
ter preach the gospel! An' thar war Brother Eden Bates a-answerin'
'Amen' ter every one. An' Brother Jacob Page: 'Glory, brother! Ye hev
received the outpourin' of the Sperit! Shake hands, brother!' An' sech
ez that. Ter hev hearn the commotion they raised about that thar derned
lyin' sinner ye'd hev 'lowed the meetin' war held ter glorify him
stiddier the Lord."
Job Grinnell himself was a most notorious Christian. Renown, however,
with him could never be a superfluity, or even a sufficiency, and he
grudged the fame that these strange spiritual utterances were acquiring.
He had long enjoyed the distinction of being considered a miraculous
convert; his rescue from the wily enticements of Satan had been
celebrated with much shaking and clapping of hands, and cries of
"Glory," and muscular ecstasy. His religious experiences
thenceforth, his vacillations of hope and despair, had been often
elaborated amongst the brethren. But his was a conventional soul; its
expression was in the formulas and platitudes of the camp-meeting. They
sank into oblivion in the excitement attendant upon Purdee's wild
utterances from the mystic script of the rocks.
As Grinnell talked, he often paused in his work to imitate the
gesticulatory enthusiasms of the saints at the camp-meeting. He was a
thickset fellow of only medium height, and was called, somewhat
invidiously, "a chunky man." His face was broad, prosaic, good-natured,
incapable of any fine gradations of expression. It indicated an
elementary rage or a sluggish placidity. He had a ragged beard of a
reddish hue, and hair a shade lighter. He wore blue jeans trousers and
an unbleached cotton shirt, and the whole system depended on one
suspender. He was engaged in skimming a great kettle of boiling sorghum
with a perforated gourd, which caught the scum and strained the liquor.
The process was primitive, instead of the usual sorghum boiler and
furnace, the kettle was propped upon stones laid together so as to
concentrate the heat of the fire. His wife was continually feeding the
flames with chips which she brought in her apron from the wood-pile. Her
countenance was half hidden in her faded pink sun-bonnet, which,
however, did not obscure an expression responsive to that on the man's
face. She did not grudge Purdee the salvation he had found; she only
grudged him the prestige he had derived from its unique method.
"Why can't the critter elude Satan with less n'ise?" she asked,
"Edzackly," her husband chimed in.
Now and then both turned a supervisory glance at the sorghum mill down
the slope at some little distance, and close to the river. It had been a
long day for the old white mare, still trudging round and round the
mill; perhaps a long day as well for the two half-grown boys, one of
whom fed the machine, thrusting into it a stalk at a time, while the
other brought in his arms fresh supplies from the great pile of sorghum
cane hard by.
All the door-yard of the little log cabin was bedaubed with the scum of
the sorghum which Job Grinnell flung from his perforated gourd upon the
ground. The idle dogs—and there were many—would find, when
at last disposed to move, a clog upon their nimble feet. They often sat
down with a wrinkling of brows and a puzzled expression of muzzle to
investigate their gelatinous paws with their tongues, not without
certain indications of pleasure, for the sorghum was very sweet; some of
them, that had acquired the taste for it from imitating the children,
One, a gaunt hound, hardly seemed so idle; he had a purpose in life, if
it might not be called a profession. He lay at length, his paws
stretched out before him, his head upon them; his big brown eyes were
closed only at intervals; ever and again they opened watchfully at the
movement of a small child, ten months old, perhaps, dressed in pink
calico, who sat in the shadow formed by the protruding clay and stick
chimney, and played by bouncing up and down and waving her fat
hands, which seemed a perpetual joy and delight of possession to her.
Take her altogether, she was a person of prepossessing appearance,
despite her frank display of toothless gums, and around her wide mouth
the unseemly traces of sorghum. She had the plumpest graces of dimples
in every direction, big blue eyes with long lashes, the whitest possible
skin, and an extraordinary pair of pink feet, which she rubbed together
in moments of joy as if she had mistaken them for her hands. Although
she sputtered a good deal, she had a charming, unaffected laugh, with
the giggle attachment natural to the young of her sex.
Suddenly there sounded an echo of it, as it were—a shrill, nervous
little whinny; the boys whirled round to see whence it came. The
persistent rasping noise of the sorghum mill and the bubbling of the
caldron had prevented them from hearing an approach. There, quite close
at hand, peering through the rails of the fence, was a little girl of
seven or eight years of age.
"I wanter kem in an' see you-uns's baby!" she exclaimed, in a high,
shrill voice. "I want to pat it on the head."
She was a forlorn little specimen, very thin and sharp-featured. Her
homespun dress was short enough to show how fragile were the long lean
legs that supported her. The curtain of her sun-bonnet, which was
evidently made for a much larger person, hung down nearly to the hem of
her skirt; as she turned and glanced anxiously down the road, evidently
suspecting a pursuer, she looked like an erratic sun-bonnet out
for a stroll on a pair of borrowed legs.
She turned again suddenly and applied her thin, freckled little face to
the crack between the rails. She smiled upon the baby, who smiled in
response, and gave a little bounce that might be accounted a courtesy.
The younger of the boys left the cane pile and ran up to his brother at
the mill, which was close to the fence. "Don't ye let her do it," he
said, venomously. "That thar gal is one of the Purdee fambly. I know
her. Don't let her in." And he ran back to the cane.
Grinnell had seemed pleased by this homage at the shrine of the family
idol; but at the very mention of the "Purdee fambly" his face hardened,
an angry light sprang into his eyes, and his gesture in skimming with
the perforated gourd the scum from the boiling sorghum was as energetic
as if with the action he were dashing the "Purdee fambly" from off the
face of the earth. It was an ancient feud; his grandfather and some
contemporary Purdee had fallen out about the ownership of certain
vagrant cattle; there had been blows and bloodshed, other members of the
connection had been dragged into the controversy; summary reprisals were
followed by counter-reprisals. Barns were mysteriously fired, hen-roosts
robbed, horses unaccountably lamed, sheep feloniously sheared by unknown
parties; the feeling widened and deepened, and had been handed down to
the present generation with now and then a fresh provocation, on the
part of one or the other, to renew and continue the rankling old
"SHE SMILED UPON THE
And here stood the hereditary enemy, wanting to pat
their baby on the head.
"Naw, sir, ye won't!" exclaimed the boy at the mill, greatly incensed at
the boldness of this proposition, glaring at the lean, tender, wistful
little face between the rails of the fence.
But the baby, who had not sense enough to know anything about hereditary
enemies, bounced and laughed and gurgled and sputtered with glee, and
waved her hands, and had never looked fatter or more beguiling.
"I jes wanter pat it wunst," sighed the hereditary enemy, with a lithe
writhing of her thin little anatomy in the anguish of denial—"jes
"Naw, sir!" exclaimed the youthful Grinnell, more insistently than
before. He did not continue, for suddenly there came running down the
road a boy of his own size, out of breath, and red and angry—the
pursuer, evidently, that the hereditary enemy had feared, for she
crouched up against the fence with a whimper.
"Kem along away from thar, ye miser'ble little stack o' bones!" he
cried, seizing his sister by one hand and giving her a
jerk—"a-foolin' round them Grinnells' fence an' a-hankerin' arter
thar old baby!"
He felt that the pride of the Purdee family was involved in this
admission of envy.
"I jes wanter pat it on the head wunst," she sighed.
"Waal, ye won't now," said the Grinnell boys in chorus.
The Purdee grasp was gentler on the little girl's arm. This was due not
to fraternal feeling so much as to loyalty to the clan; "stack o'
bones" though she was, they were Purdee bones.
"Kem along," Ab Purdee exhorted her. "A baby ain't nuthin' extry,
nohow"—he glanced scoffingly at the infantile Grinnell. "The
mountings air fairly a-roamin' with 'em."
"We-uns 'ain't got none at our house," whined the sun-bonnet,
droopingly, moving off slowly on its legs, which, indeed, seemed
borrowed, so unsteady and loath to go they were.
The Grinnell boys laughed aloud, jeeringly and ostentatiously, and the
Purdee blood was moved to retort: "We-uns don't want none sech ez that.
Nary tooth in her head!"
And indeed the widely stretched babbling lips displayed a vast vacuity
Job Grinnell, who had listened with an attentive ear to the talk of the
children, had nevertheless continued his constant skimming of the scum.
Now he rose from his bent posture, tossed the scum upon the ground, and
with the perforated gourd in his hand turned and looked at his wife.
Augusta had dropped her apron and chips, and stood with folded arms
across her breast, her face wearing an expression of exasperated
The Grinnell boys were humbled and abashed. The wicked scion of the
Purdee house, joying to note how true his shaft had sped, was again
fitting his bow.
"An' ez bald-headed ez the mounting."
The baby had a big precedent, but although no peculiar shame attaches to
the bare pinnacle of the summit, she—despite the difference
in size and age—was expected to show up more fully furnished, and
in keeping with the rule of humanity and the gentilities of life.
No teeth, no hair, no sign of any: the fact that she was so backward was
a sore point with all the family. Job Grinnell suddenly dropped the
perforated gourd, and started down toward the fence. The acrimony of the
old feud was as a trait bred in the bone. Such hatred as was inherent in
him was evoked by his religious jealousies, and the pious sense that he
was following the traditions of his elders and upholding the family
honor blended in gentlest satisfaction with his personal animosity
toward Roger Purdee as he noticed the boy edging off from the fence to a
safe distance. He eyed him derisively for a moment.
"Kin ye kerry a message straight?" The boy looked up with an expression
of sullen acquiescence, but said nothing. "Ax yer dad—an' ye kin
tell him the word kems from me—whether he hev read sech ez this on
the lawgiver's stone tables yander in the mounting: 'An' ye shall claim
sech ez be yourn, an' yer neighbor's belongings shall ye in no wise
boastfully medjure fur yourn, nor look upon it fur covetiousness, nor
yit git up a big name in the kentry fur ownin' sech ez be another's.'"
He laughed silently—a twinkling, wrinkling demonstration over all
his broad face—a laugh that was younger than the man, and would
have befitted a square-faced boy.
The youthful Purdee, expectant of a cuffing, stood his ground more
doubtfully still under the insidious thrusts of this strange weapon,
sarcasm. He knew that they were intended to hurt; he was wounded
primarily in the intention, but the exact lesion he could not locate. He
could meet a threat with a bold face, and return a blow with the best.
But he was mortified in this failure of understanding, and perplexity
cowed him as contention could not. He hung his head with its sullen
questioning eyes, and he found great solace in a jagged bit of cloth on
the torn bosom of his shirt, which he could turn in his embarrassed
"Whar be yer dad?" Grinnell asked.
"Up yander in the mounting," replied the subdued Purdee.
"A-readin' of mighty s'prisin' matter writ on the rocks o' the yearth!"
exclaimed Grinnell, with a laugh. "Waal, jes keep that sayin' o' mine in
yer head, an' tell him when he kems home. An' look a-hyar, ef enny mo'
o' his stray shoats kem about hyar, I'll snip thar ears an' gin 'em my
The youth of the Purdee clan meditated on this for a moment. He could
not remember that they had missed any shoats. Then the full meaning of
the phrase dawned upon him—it was he and the wiry little sister
thus demeaned with a porcine appellation, and whose ears were
threatened. He looked up at the fence, the little low house, the barn
close by, the sorghum mill, the drying leaves of tobacco on the
scaffold, the saltatory baby; his eyes filled with helpless tears, that
could not conceal the burning hatred he was born to bear them all. He
was hot and cold by turns; he stood staring, silent and defiant,
motionless, sullen. He heard the melodic measure of the river, with
its crystalline, keen vibrations against the rocks; the munching
teeth of the old mare—allowed to come to a stand-still that the
noise of the sorghum mill might not impinge upon the privileges of the
quarrel; and the high, ecstatic whinny of the little sister waiting on
the opposite bank of the river, having crossed the foot-bridge. There
the Grinnell baby had chanced to spy her, and had bounced and grinned
and sputtered affably. It was she who had made all the trouble yearning
after the Grinnell baby.
He would not stay, however, to be ignominiously beaten, for Grinnell had
turned away, and was looking about the ground as if in search of a thick
stick. He accounted himself no craven, thus numerically at a
disadvantage, to turn shortly about, take his way down the rocky slope,
cross the foot-bridge, jerk the little girl by one hand and lead her
whimpering off, while the round-eyed Grinnell baby stared gravely after
her with inconceivable emotions. These presently resulted in rendering
her cross; she whined a little and rubbed her eyes, and, smarting from
her own ill-treatment of them, gave a sharp yelp of dismay. The old dog
arose and went and sat close by her, eying her solemnly and wagging his
tail, as if begging her to observe how content he was. His dignity was
somewhat impaired by sudden abrupt snaps at flies, which caused her to
wink, stare, and be silent in astonishment.
"Waal, Job Grinnell," exclaimed Augusta, as her husband came back and
took the perforated gourd from her hand—for she had been skimming
the sorghum in his absence—"ye air the longest-tongued man,
ter be so short-legged, I ever see!"
He looked a trifle discomfited. He had deported himself with unwonted
decision, conscious that Augusta was looking on, and in truth somewhat
supported by the expectation of her approval.
"What ails ye ter say words ye can't abide by—ye 'low ye 'pear so
graceful on the back track?" she asked.
He bent over the sorghum, silently skimming. His composure was somewhat
ruffled, and in throwing away the scum his gesture was of negligent and
discursive aim; the boiling fluid bespattered the foot of one of the
omnipresent dogs, whose shrieks rent the sky and whose activity on three
legs amazed the earth. He ran yelping to Mrs. Grinnell, nearly
overturning her in his turbulent demand for sympathy; then scampered
across to the boys, who readily enough stopped their work to examine the
wounded member and condole with its wheezing proprietor.
"What ye mean, A'gusta?" Grinnell said at length. "Kase I 'lowed I'd cut
thar ears? I ain't foolin'. Kem meddlin' about remarkin' on our chill'n
agin, I'll show 'em."
Augusta looked at him in exasperation. "I ain't keerin' ef all the
Purdees war deef," she remarked, inhumanly, "but what war them words ye
sent fur a message ter Purdee?—'bout pridin' on what ain't
Grinnell in his turn looked at her—but dubiously. However much a
man is under the domination of his wife, he is seldom wholly frank. It
is in this wise that his individuality is preserved to him. "I war
jes wantin' ter know ef them words war on the rocks," he said with a
disingenuousness worthy of a higher culture.
She received this with distrust. "I kin tell ye now—they ain't,"
she said, discriminatingly; "Purdee's words don't sound like them."
"Waal, now, what's the differ?" he demanded, with an indignation natural
enough to aspiring humanity detecting a slur upon one's literary style.
"Waal—" she paused as she knelt down to feed the fire, holding the
fragrant chips in her hand; the flame flickered out and lighted up her
reflective eyes while she endeavored to express the distinction she
felt: "Purdee's words don't sound ter me like the words of a man sech ez
Grinnell wrinkled his brows, trying to follow her here.
"They sound ter me like the words spoke in a dream—the
pernouncings of a vision." Mrs. Grinnell fancied that she too had a gift
of Biblical phraseology. "They sound ter me like things I hearn whenst I
war a-hungered arter righteousness an' seekin' religion, an' bided alone
in the wilderness a-waitin' o' the Sperit."
"'Gusta!" suddenly exclaimed her husband, with the cadence of amazed
conviction, "ye b'lieve the lie o' that critter, an' that he reads the
words o' the Lord on the rock!"
She looked up a little startled. She had been unconscious of the
circuitous approaches of credence, and shared his astonishment in the
"Waal, sir!" he said, more hurt and cast down than one would have
deemed possible. "I'm willin' ter hev it so. I'm jes nuthin' but a
sinner an' a fool, ripenin' fur damnation, an' he air a saint o' the
Now such sayings as this were frequent upon Job Grinnell's tongue. He
did not believe them; their utility was in their challenge to
contradiction. Thus they often promoted an increased cordiality of the
domestic relations and an accession of self-esteem.
Augusta, however, was tired; the boiling sorghum and the September sun
were debilitating in their effects. There was something in the scene
with the youthful Purdee that grated upon her half-developed
sensibilities. The baby was whimpering outright, and the cow was lowing
at the bars. She gave her irritation the luxury of withholding the salve
to Grinnell's wounded vanity. She said nothing. The tribute to Purdee
went for what it was worth, and he was forced to swallow the humble-pie
he had taken into his mouth, albeit it stuck in his throat.
A shadow seemed to have fallen into the moral atmosphere as the gentle
dusk came early on. One had a sense as if bereft, remembering that so
short a time ago at this hour the sun was still high, and that the
full-pulsed summer day throbbed to a climax of color and bloom and
redundant life. Now, the scent of harvests was on the air; in the
stubble of the sorghum patch she saw a quail's brood more than
half-grown, now afoot, and again taking to wing with a loud whirring
sound. The perfume of ripening muscadines came from the bank of the
river. The papaws hung globular among the leaves of the bushes, and the
persimmons were reddening. The vermilion sun was low in the sky
above the purpling mountains; the stream had changed from a crystalline
brown to red, to gold, and now it was beginning to be purple and silver.
And this reminded her that the full-moon was up, and she turned to look
at it—so pearly and luminous above the jagged ridge-pole of the
dark little house on the rise. The sky about it was blue, refining into
an exquisitely delicate and ethereal neutrality near the horizon. The
baby had fallen asleep, with its bald head on the old dog's shoulder.
After the supper was over, the sorghum fire still burned beneath the
great kettle, for the syrup was not yet made, and sorghum-boiling is an
industry that cannot be intermitted. The fire in the midst of the gentle
shadow and sheen of the night had a certain profane, discordant effect.
Pete's ill-defined figure slouching over it while he skimmed the syrup
was grimly suggestive of the distillations of strange elixirs and
unhallowed liquors, and his simple face, lighted by a sudden darting red
flame, had unrecognizable significance and was of sinister intent. For
Pete was detailed to attend to the boiling; the grinding was done, and
the old white mare stood still in the midst of the sorghum stubble and
the moonlight, as motionless and white as if she were carved in marble.
Job Grinnell sat and smoked on the porch.
Presently he got up suddenly, knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and
looked at it carefully before he stuck it into his pocket. He went,
without a word, down the rocky slope, past the old drowsing mare, and
across the foot-bridge. Two or three of the dogs, watching him as
he reappeared on the opposite bank, affected a mistake in identity. They
growled, then barked outright, and at last ran down and climbed the
fence and bounded about it, baying the vista where he had vanished,
until the sleepy old mare turned her head and gazed in mild surprise at
Augusta sat alone on the step of the porch.
She had various regrets in her mind, incipient even before he had quite
gone, and now defining themselves momently with added poignancy. A woman
who, in her retirement at home, charges herself with the control of a
man's conduct abroad, is never likely to be devoid of speculation upon
probable disasters to ensue upon any abatement of the activities of her
discretion. She was sorry that she had allowed so trifling a matter to
mar the serenity of the family; her conscience upbraided her that she
had not besought him to avoid the blacksmith's shop, where certain men
of the neighborhood were wont to congregate and drink deep into the
night. Above all, her mind went back to the enigmatical message, and she
wondered that she could have been so forgetful as to fail to urge him to
forbear angering Purdee, for this would have a cumulative effect upon
all the rancors of the old quarrels, and inaugurate perhaps a new series
"I ain't afeard o' no Purdee ez ever stepped," she said to herself,
defining her position. "But I'm fur peace. An' ef the Purdees will leave
we-uns be, I ain't a-goin' ter meddle along o' them."
She remembered an old barn-burning, in the days when she and her husband
were newly married, at his father's house. She looked up at the
barn hard by, on a line with the dwelling, with that tenderness which
one feels for a thing, not because of its value, but for the sake of
possession, for the kinship with the objects that belong to the home. A
cat was sitting high in a crevice in the logs where the daubing had
fallen out; the moon glittered in its great yellow eyes. A frog was
leaping along the open space about the rude step at Augusta's feet. A
clump of mullein leaves, silvered by the light, spangled by the dew, hid
him presently. What an elusive glistening gauze hung over the valley far
below, where the sense of distance was limited by the sense of
sight!—for it was here only that the night, though so brilliant,
must attest the incomparable lucidity of daylight. She could not even
distinguish, amidst those soft sheens of the moon and the dew, the
Lombardy poplar that grew above the door of old Squire Grove's house
down in the cove; in the daytime it was visible like a tiny finger
pointing upward. How drowsy was the sound of the katydid, now loudening,
now falling, now fainting away! And the tree-toad shrilled in the
dog-wood tree. The frogs, too, by the river in iterative fugue sent
forth a song as suggestive of the margins as the scent of the fern, and
the mint, and the fragrant weeds.
A convulsive start! She did not know that she slept until she was again
awake. The moon had travelled many a mile along the highways of the
skies. It hung over the purple mountains, over the farthest valley. The
cicada had grown dumb. The stars were few and faint. The air was
chill. She started to her feet; her garments were heavy with dew.
The fire beneath the sorghum kettle had died to a coal, flaring or
fading as the faint fluctuations of the wind might will. Near it Pete
slumbered where he too had sat down to rest. And Job—Job had never
He had found it a lightsome enough scene at the blacksmith's shop, where
it was understood that the neighboring politicians collogued at times,
or brethren in the church discussed matters of discipline or more
spiritual affairs. In which of these interests a certain corpulent jug
was most active it would be difficult perhaps to accurately judge. The
great barn-like doors were flung wide open, and there was a group of men
half within the shelter and half without; the shoeing-stool, a broken
plough, an empty keg, a log, and a rickety chair sufficed to seat the
company. The moonlight falling into the door showed the great slouching,
darkling figures, the anvil, the fire of the forge (a dim ashy coal),
and the shadowy hood merging indistinguishably into the deep duskiness
of the interior. In contrast, the scene glimpsed through the low window
at the back of the shop had a certain vivid illuminated effect. A spider
web, revealing its geometric perfection, hung half across one corner of
the rude casement; the moonbeams without were individualized in fine
filar delicacy, like the ravellings of a silver skein. The boughs of a
tree which grew on a slope close below almost touched the lintel; the
leaves seemed a translucent green; a bird slept on a twig, its head
beneath its wing.
THE BLACKSMITH'S SHOP
Back of the cabin, which was situated on a limited terrace, the great
altitudes of the mountain rose into the infinity of the night.
The drawling conversation was beset, as it were, by faint fleckings of
sound, lightly drawn from a crazy old fiddle under the chin of a gaunt,
yellow-haired young giant, one Ephraim Blinks, who lolled on a log, and
who by these vague harmonies unconsciously gave to the talk of his
comrades a certain theatrical effect.
Grinnell slouched up and sat down among them, responding with a nod to
the unceremonious "Hy're, Job?" of the blacksmith, who seemed thus to do
the abbreviated honors of the occasion. The others did not so formally
notice his coming.
The subject of conversation was the same that had pervaded his own
thoughts. He was irritated to observe how Purdee had usurped public
attention, and yet he himself listened with keenest interest.
"Waal," said the ponderous blacksmith, "I kin onderstan' mighty well ez
Moses would hev been mighty mad ter see them folks a-worshippin' o' a
calf—senseless critters they be! 'Twarn't no use flingin' down
them rocks, though, an' gittin' 'em bruk. Sandstone ain't like metal; ye
can't heat it an' draw it down an' weld it agin."
His round black head shone in the moonlight, glistening because of his
habit of plunging it, by way of making his toilet, into the barrel of
water where he tempered his steel. He crossed his huge folded bare arms
over his breast, and leaned back against the door on two legs of the
"Naw, sir," another chimed in. "He mought hev knowed he'd jes hev ter go
ter quarryin' agin."
"They air always a-crackin' up them folks in the Bible ez sech powerful
wise men," said another, whose untrained mind evidently held the germs
of advanced thinking. "'Pears ter me ez some of 'em conducted tharselves
ez foolish ez enny folks I know—this hyar very Moses one o' 'em.
Throwin' down them rocks 'minds me o' old man Pinner's tantrums. Sher'ff
kem ter his house 'bout a jedgmint debt, an' levied on his craps. An'
arter he war gone old man tuk a axe an' gashed bodaciously inter the
loom an' hacked it up. Ez ef that war goin' ter do enny good! His wife
war the mos' outed woman I ever see. They 'ain't got nare nother loom
nuther, an' hain't hearn no advices from the Lord."
The violinist paused in his playing. "They 'lowed Moses war a meek man
too," he said. "He killed a man with a brick-badge an' buried him in the
sand. Mighty meek ways"—with a satirical grimace.
The others, divining that this was urged in justification and precedent
for devious modern ways that were not meek, did not pursue this branch
of the subject.
"S'prised me some," remarked the advanced thinker, "ter hear ez them
tables o' stone war up on the bald o' the mounting thar. I hed drawed
the idee ez 'twar in some other kentry somewhar—I dunno—" He
stopped blankly. He could not formulate his geographical ignorance. "An'
I never knowed," he resumed, presently, "ez thar war enough gold in
Tennessee ter make a gold calf; they fund gold hyar, but 'twar mighty
"Mebbe 'twar a mighty leetle calf," suggested the blacksmith.
"Mebbe so," assented the other.
"Mebbe 'twar a silver one," speculated a third; "plenty o' silver they
'low thar air in the mountings."
The violinist spoke up suddenly. "Git one o' them Injuns over yander ter
Quallatown right seasonable drunk, an' he'll tell ye a power o' places
whar the old folks said thar war silver." He bowed his chin once more
upon the instrument, and again the slow drawling conversation proceeded
to soft music.
"Ef ye'll b'lieve me," said the advanced thinker, "I never war so
conflusticated in my life ez I war when he stood up in meetin' an' told
'bout'n the tables o' the law bein' on the bald! I 'lowed 'twar somewhar
'mongst some sort'n people named 'Gyptians."
"Mebbe some o' them Injuns air named 'Gyptians," suggested Spears, the
"Naw, sir," spoke up the fiddler, who had been to Quallatown, and was
the ethnographic authority of the meeting. "Tennessee Injuns be named
Cher'kee, an' Chick'saw, an' Creeks."
There was a silence. The moonlight sifted through the dark little shanty
of a shop; the fretting and foaming of a mountain stream arose from far
down the steep slope, where there was a series of cascades, a fine
water-power, utilized by a mill. The sudden raucous note of a night-hawk
jarred upon the air, and a shadow on silent wings sped past. The road
was dusty in front of the shop, and for a space there was no
shade. Into the full radiance of the moonlight a rabbit bounded along,
rising erect with a most human look of affright in its great shining
eyes as it tremulously gazed at the motionless figures. It too was
motionless for a moment. The young musician made a lunge at it with his
bow; it sprang away with a violent start—its elongated grotesque
shadow bounding kangaroo-like beside it—into the soft gloom of the
bushes. There was no other traveller along the road, and the talk was
renewed without further interruption. "Waal, sir, ef 'twarn't fur the
testimony o' the words he reads ez air graven on them rocks, I couldn't
git my cornsent ter b'lieve ez Moses ever war in Tennessee," said the
advanced thinker. "I ain't ondertakin' ter say what State he settled in,
but I 'lowed 'twarn't hyar. It mus' hev been, though, 'count o' the
scripture on them broken tables."
"I never knowed a meetin' woke ter sech a pint o' holiness. The saints
jes rampaged around till it fairly sounded like the cavortin's o' the
ungodly," a retrospective voice chimed in.
"I raised thirty-two hyme chunes," said the musician, who had a great
gift in quiring, and was the famed possessor of a robust tenor voice. "A
leetle mo' gloryin' aroun' an' I'd hev kem ter the eend o' my row, an'
hev hed ter begin over agin." He spoke with acrimony, reviewing the
jeopardy in which his répertoire had been placed.
"Waal," said the blacksmith, passing his hand over his black head, as
sleek and shining as a beaver's, "I'm a-goin' up ter the bald o' the
mounting some day soon, ef so be I kin make out ter shoe that mare
o' mine"—for the blacksmith's mount was always barefoot—"I'm
afeard ter trest her unshod on them slippery slopes; I want ter read
some o' them sayin's on the stone tables myself. I likes ter git a tex'
or the eend o' a hyme set a-goin' in my head—seems somehow ter
teach itself ter the anvil, an' then it jes says it back an' forth all
day. Yestiddy I never seen its
anvil jes rang with that ez ef the actial metal hed the gift o' prayer
"Waal, sir," exclaimed Job Grinnell, who had been having frequent
colloquies aside with the companionable jug, "ye mought jes ez well save
yer shoes an' let yer mare go barefoot. Thar ain't nare sign o' a word
writ on them rocks."
They all sat staring at him. Even the singing, long-drawn vibrations of
the violin were still.
"By Hokey!" exclaimed the young musician, "I'll take Purdee's word ez
soon ez yourn."
The whiskey which Grinnell had drunk had rendered him more plastic still
to jealousy. The day was not so long past when Purdee's oath would have
been esteemed a poor dependence against the word of so zealous a brother
as he—a pillar in the church, a shining light of the congregation.
He noted the significant fact that it behooved him to justify himself;
it irked him that this was exacted as a tribute to Purdee's newly
"Purdee's jes a-lyin' an' a-foolin' ye," he declared. "Ever been up on
They had lived in its shadow all their lives. Even by the
circuitous mountain ways it was not more than five miles from where they
sat. But none had chanced to have a call to go, and it was to them as a
foreign land to be explored.
"Waal, I hev, time an' agin," said Grinnell. "I dunno who gin them rocks
the name of Moses' tables o' the Law. Moses must hev hed a powerful
block an' tackle ter lift sech tremenjious rocks. I hev known 'em named
sech fur many a year. But I seen 'em not three weeks ago, an' thar ain't
nare word writ on 'em. Thar's the mounting; thar's the rocks; ye kin go
an' stare-gaze 'em an' sati'fy yerse'fs."
Whether it were by reason of the cumulative influences of the continual
references to the jug, or of that sense of reviviscence, that more alert
energy, which the cool Southern nights always impart after the sultry
summer days, the suggestion that they should go now and solve the
mystery, and meet the dawn upon the summit of the bald, found instant
acceptance, which it might not have secured in the stolid daylight.
The moon, splendid, a lustrous white encircled by a great halo of
translucent green, swung high above the duskily purple mountains. Below
in the valleys its progress was followed by an opalescent gossamer
presence that was like the overflowing fulness, the surplusage, of light
rather than mist. The shadows of the great trees were interlaced with
dazzling silver gleams. The night was almost as bright as the day, but
cool and dank, full of sylvan fragrance and restful silence and a
The blacksmith carried his rifle, for wolves were often abroad in
the wilderness. Two or three others were similarly armed; the advanced
thinker had a hunting-knife, Job Grinnell a pistol that went by the name
of "shootin'-iron." The musician carried no weapon. "I ain't 'feared o'
no wolf," he said; "I'll play 'em a chune." He went on in the vanguard,
his tousled yellow hair idealized with many a shimmer in the moonlight
as it hung curling down on his blue jeans coat, his cheek laid softly on
the violin, the bow glancing back and forth as if strung with moonbeams
as he played. The men woke the solemn silences with their loud mirthful
voices; they startled precipitate echoes; they fell into disputes and
wrangled loudly, and would have turned back if sure of the way home, but
Job Grinnell led steadily on, and they were fain to follow. They lagged
to look at a spot where some man, unheeded even by tradition, had dug
his heart's grave in a vain search for precious metal. A deep excavation
in the midst of the wilderness told the story; how long ago it was might
be guessed from the age of a stalwart oak that had sunk roots into its
depths; the shadows were heavy about it; a sense of despair brooded in
the loneliness. And so up and up the endless ascent; sometimes great
chasms were at one side, stretching further and further, and crowding
the narrow path—the herder's trail—against the sheer ascent,
till it seemed that the treacherous mountains were yawning to engulf
them. The air was growing colder, but was exquisitely clear and
exhilarating; the great dewy ferns flung silvery fronds athwart the way;
vines in stupendous lengths swung from the tops of gigantic trees
to the roots. Hark! among them birds chirp; a matutinal impulse seems
astir in the woods; the moon is undimmed; the stars faint only because
of her splendors; but one can feel that the earth has roused itself to a
sense of a new day. And there, with such feathery flashes of white foam,
such brilliant straight lengths of translucent water, such a leaping
grace of impetuous motion, the currents of the mountain stream, like the
arrows of Diana, shoot down the slopes. And now a vague mist is among
the trees, and when it clears away they seem shrunken, as under a spell,
to half their size. They grow smaller and smaller still, oak and
chestnut and beech, but dwarfed and gnarled like some old orchard. And
suddenly they cease, and the vast grassy dome uprises against the sky,
in which the moon is paling into a dull similitude of itself; no longer
wondrous, transcendent, but like some lily of opaque whiteness, fair and
fading. Beneath is a purple, deeply serious, and sombre earth, to which
mists minister, silent and solemn; myriads of mountains loom on every
hand; the half-seen mysteries of the river, which, charged with the red
clay of its banks, is of a tawny color, gleams as it winds in and out
among the white vapors that reach in fantastic forms from heaven above
to the valley below. There is a certain relief in the mist—it
veils the infinities of the scene, on which the mind can lay but a
"Folks tell all sort'n cur'ous tales 'bout'n this hyar spot," said Job
Grinnell, his square face, his red hair hanging about his ears, and his
ragged red beard visible in the dull light of the coming day. "I
hev hearn folks 'low ez a pa'tridge up hyar will look ez big ez a
Dominicky rooster. An' ef ye listens ye kin hear words from somewhar.
An' sometimes in the cattle-herdin' season the beastises will kem an'
crowd tergether, an' stan' on the bald in the moonlight all night."
"I dunno," said the advanced thinker, "ez I be s'prised enny ef Purdee,
ez be huntin' up hyar so constant, hev got sorter teched in the head,
ter take up sech a cur'ous notion 'bout'n them rocks."
He glanced along the slope at the spot, visible now, where Moses flung
the stone tables and they broke in twain. And there, standing beside
them, was a man of great height, dressed in blue jeans, his
broad-brimmed hat pushed from his brow, and his meditative dark eyes
fixed upon the rocks; a deer, all gray and antlered, lay dead at his
feet, and his rifle rested on the ground as he leaned on the muzzle.
A glance was interchanged between the others. Their intention, the
promptings of curiosity, had flagged during the long tramp and the
gradual waning of the influence of the jug. The coincidence of meeting
Purdee here revived their interest. Grinnell, remembering the ancient
feud, held back, being unlikely to elicit Purdee's views in the face of
their contradiction. The blacksmith and the young fiddler took their way
down toward him.
He looked up with a start, seeing them at some little distance. His
full, contemplative eyes rested upon them for a moment almost devoid of
questioning. It was not the face of a man who finds himself confronted
with the discovery of his duplicity and his hypocrisy. There was a
strange doubt stirring in the blacksmith's heart. As he approached he
looked upon the storied rocks with a sort of solemn awe, as if they had
indeed been given by the hand of the Lord to his servant, who broke them
here in his wrath. He knew that the step of the musician slackened as he
followed. What holy mysteries were they not rushing in upon? He spoke in
a bated voice.
"Roger," he said, "we'uns hearn ye tell 'bout the scriptures graven on
these hyar tables ez Moses flung down, an' we'uns 'lowed we'uns would
kem an' read some fur ourselves."
Purdee did not speak nor hesitate; he moved aside that the blacksmith
might stand where he had been—as it were at the foot of the page.
But what transcendent glories thronged the heavens—what august
splendors of dawn! Had the sun ever before risen like this, with the sky
an emblazonment of red, of gold, of darting gleams of light; with the
mountains most royally purple or most radiantly blue; with the prismatic
mists in flight; with the slow climax of the dazzling sphere ascending
to dominate it all?
The blacksmith knelt down to read. The musician, his silent violin under
his chin, leaned over his comrade's shoulder. The hunter stood still,
Alas! the corrugations of time, the fissile results of the frost; the
wavering line of ripple-marks of seas that shall ebb no more; growth of
lichen; an army of ants in full march; a passion-flower trailing from a
crevice, its purple blooms lying upon the gray stone near where
it is stamped with the fossil imprint of a sea-weed, faded long ago and
forgotten. Or is it, alas! for the eyes that can see only this?
"THE TABLES OF THE LAW"
The blacksmith looked up with a twinkling leer; the violinist recovered
his full height, and drew the bow dashingly across the strings; then let
his arm fall.
"Roger," the blacksmith said, "dad-burned ef I kin read ennything hyar."
The young musician looked over his brawny shoulder in silence.
"Whar d'ye make out enny letters, Roger?" persisted Spears.
Purdee leaned over and eagerly pointed with his ramrod to a curious
corrugation of the surface of the rock. Again the blacksmith bent down;
the musician craned forward, his yellow hair hanging about his bronzed
"I hev been toler'ble well acquainted with the alphabit," said Spears,
"fur goin' on thirty year an' better, an' I'll swar ter Heaven thar
ain't nare sign of a letter thar."
Purdee stared at him in wild-eyed amazement for a moment. Then he flung
himself upon his knees beside the great rock, and guiding his ramrod
over the surface, he exclaimed, "Hyar, Spears; right hyar!"
The blacksmith was all incredulous as he lent himself to a new posture,
and leaned forward to look with the languid indulgence of one who will
not again entertain doubt.
"Nare A, nor B, nor C, nor none o' the fambly," he declared.
"These hyar rocks ain't no Moses' tables sure enough; Moses never war in
Tennessee. They be jes like enny other rock, an' thar ain't a word o'
writin' on 'em."
He looked up with a curious questioning at Purdee's face—a strange
face for a man detected in a falsehood, a trick. The deep-set eyes were
wide as if straining for perception denied them. Despite the chill, rare
air, great drops had started on his brow, and were falling upon his
beard, and upon his hands. These strong hands were quivering; they
hovered above the signs on the rocks. The mystic letters, the inspired
words, where were they? Grope as he might, he could not find them. Alas!
doubt and denial had climbed the mountain—the awful limitations of
the more finite human creature—and his inspiration and the finer
enthusiasms of the truth were dead.
Dead with a throe that was almost like a literal death. This—on
this he had lived; the ether of ecstasy was the breath of his life. He
clutched at the stained red handkerchief knotted about his throat as if
he were suffocating; he tore it open as he swayed backward on his knees.
He did not hear—or he did not heed—the laugh among the
little crowd on the bald—satirical, rallying, zestful. He was deaf
to the strains of the violin, jeeringly and jerkingly playing a foolish
tune. It was growing fainter, for they had all turned about to betake
themselves once more to the world below. He could have seen, had he
cared to see, their bearded grinning faces peering through the stunted
trees, as descending they came near the spot where he had lavished
the spiritual graces of his feeling, his enthusiasm, his devotion, his
earnest reaching for something higher, for something holy, which had
refreshed his famished soul; had given to its dumbness words; had erased
the values of the years, of the nations; had made him friends with Moses
on the "bald"; had revealed to him the finger of the Lord on the stone.
He took no heed of his gestures, of which, indeed, he was unconscious.
They were fine dramatically, and of great power, as he alternately rose
to his full height, beating his breast in despair, and again sank upon
his knees, with a pondering brow and a searching eye, and a hovering,
trembling hand, striving to find the clew he had lost. They might have
impressed a more appreciative audience, but not one more entertained
than the cluster of men who looked and paused and leered in amusement at
one another, and thrust out satirical tongues. Long after they had
disappeared, the strains of the violin could be heard, filling the
solemn, stricken, strangely stunted woods with a grotesquely merry
presence, hilarious and jeering.
Purdee found it possible to survive the destruction of illusions. Most
of us do. It wrought in him, however, the saturnine changes natural upon
the relinquishment of a dear and dead fantasy. This ethereal entity is a
more essential component of happiness than one might imagine from the
extreme tenuity of the conditions of its existence. Purdee's fantasy may
have been a poor thing, but, although he could calmly enough close its
eyes, and straighten its limbs, and bury it decently from out the
offended view of fact, he felt that he should mourn it in his heart as
long as he should live. And he was bereaved.
There is a certain stage in every sorrow when it rejects sympathy.
Purdee, always taciturn, grave, uncommunicative, was invested with an
austere aloofness, and was hardly to be approached as he sat, silent and
absent, brooding over the fire at his own home. When roused by some
circumstance of the domestic routine, and it became apparent that his
mood was not sullenness or anger, but simple and complete introversion,
it added a dignity and suggested a remoteness that were yet less
reassuring. His son, who stood in awe of him—not because of
paternal severity, but because no boy could refrain from a worshipping
respect for so miraculous a shot, a woodsman so subtly equipped with all
elusive sylvan instincts and knowledge—forbore to break upon his
meditations by the delivery of Grinnell's message. Nevertheless the
consciousness of withholding it weighed heavily upon him. He only
pretermitted it for a time, until a more receptive state of mind should
warrant it. Day by day, however, he looked with eagerness when he came
into the cabin in the evening to ascertain if his father were still
seated in the chimney-corner silently smoking his pipe. Purdee had
seldom remained at home so long at a time, and the boy had a daily fear
that the gun on the primitive rack of deer antlers would be missing, and
word left in the family that he had taken the trail up the
mountain, and would return "'cordin' ter luck with the varmints." And
thus Job Grinnell's enigmatical message, that had the ring of defiance,
might remain indefinitely postponed.
Abner had not realized how long a time it had been delayed, until one
evening at the wood-pile, in tossing off a great stick to hew into
lengths for the chimney-place, he noticed that thin ice had formed in
the moss and the dank cool shadows of the interstices. "I tell ye now,
winter air a-comin'," he observed. He stood leaning on his axe-handle
and looking down upon the scene so far below; for Purdee's house was
perched half-way up on the mountain-side, and he could see over the
world how it fared as the sun went down. Far away upon the levels of the
valley of East Tennessee a golden haze glittered resplendent, lying
close upon an irradiated earth, and ever brightening toward the horizon,
and it seemed as if the sun in sinking might hope to fall in fairer
spheres than the skies he had left, for they were of a dun-color and an
opaque consistency. Only one horizontal rift gave glimpses of a dazzling
ochreous tint of indescribable brilliancy, from the focus of which the
divergent light was shed upon the western limits of the land. Chilhowee,
near at hand, was dark enough—a purplish garnet hue; but the
scarlet of the sour-wood gleamed in the cove; the hickory still flared
gallantly yellow; the receding ranges to the north and south were blue
and more faintly azure. The little log cabin stood with small fields
about it, for Purdee barely subsisted on the fruits of the soil, and did
not seek to profit. It had only one room, with a loft above; the barn
was a makeshift of poles, badly chinked, and showing through the
crevices what scanty store there was of corn and pumpkins. A
black-and-white work-ox, that had evidently no deficiency of ribs, stood
outside of the fence and gazed, a forlorn Tantalus, at these
unattainable dainties; now and then a muttered low escaped his lips.
Nobody noticed him or sympathized with him, except perhaps the little
girl, who had come out in her sun-bonnet to help her brother bring in
the fuel. He gruffly accepted her company, a little ashamed of her
because she was a girl; since, however, there was no other boy by to
laugh, he permitted her the delusion that she was of assistance.
As he paused to rest he reiterated, "Winter air a-comin', I tell ye."
"D'ye reckon, Ab," she asked, in her high, thin little voice, her hands
full of chips and the basket at her feet, "ez Grinnell's baby knows
Chris'mus air a-comin'?"
He glowered at her as he leaned on the axe. "I reckon Grinnell's old
baby dunno B from Bull-foot," he declared, gruffly.
The recollection of the message came over him. He had a pang of regret,
remembering all the old grudges against the Grinnells. They were
re-enforced by this irrepressible yearning after their baby, this
admission that they had aught which was not essentially despicable.
Nevertheless, he suddenly saw a reason for the Grinnell baby's
existence; he loaded up both arms with the sticks of wood, and, followed
by the peripatetic sun-bonnet, conscientiously weighed down with one
billet, he strode into the house, and let his burden fall with a
mighty clatter in the corner of the chimney. The sun-bonnet staggered up
and threw her stick on the top of the pile of wood.
Purdee, sitting silently smoking, glanced up at the noise. Abner took
advantage of the momentary notice to claim, too, the attention of his
mother. "I wish ye'd make Eunice quit talkin' 'bout the Grinnell's old
baby, like she war actially demented—uglies' bald-headed,
slab-sided, slobbery old baby I ever see—nare tooth in its head! I
do despise them Grinnells."
As he anticipated, his father spoke suddenly: "Ye jes keep away from
thar," he said, sternly. "I trest them folks no furder 'n a
"I ain't consortin' along o' 'em," declared the boy. "But I actially
hed ter take Eunice by the scalp o' her head an' lug her off one day
when she hung on thar fence a-stare-gazin' Grinnell's baby like 'twar
fitten ter eat."
The child's mother, a cadaverous, pale woman, was listlessly stringing
the warping-bars with hanks of variegated yarn. The grandmother, who
conserved a much more active and youthful interest in life, took down a
brown gourd used as a scrap-basket that was on a protruding lath of the
clay-and-stick chimney, and hunted among the scraps of homespun and bits
of yarn stowed within it. The room was much like the gourd in its aged
brown tint; its indigenous aspect, as if it had not been made with
hands, but was some spontaneous production of the soil; with its bits of
bright color—the peppers hanging from the rafters, the
rainbow-hued yarn festooning the warping-bars, the red coals of
the fire, the blue and yellow ware ranged on the shelf, the brown
puncheon floor and walls and ceiling and chimney—it might have
seemed the interior of a similar gourd of gigantic proportions. She
dressed a twig from the pile of wood in a gay scrap of cloth, casting
glances the while at the little girl, and handed it to her.
"I hain't never seen ez good a baby ez this," she said, with the
convincing coercive mendacity of a grandmother.
The little girl accepted it humbly; it was a good baby doubtless of its
sort, but it was not alive, which could not be denied of the Grinnell
baby, Grinnell though it was.
"An' Job Grinnell he kem down ter the fence, an' 'lowed he'd slit our
ears, an' named us shoats," continued her brother. Purdee lifted his
head. "An' sent a word ter dad," said the boy, tremulously.
"What word did he send ter—me?" cried Purdee.
The boy quailed to tell him. "He tole me ter ax ye ef ye ever read sech
ez this on Moses' tables in the mountings—'An' ye shell claim sech
ez be yer own, an' yer neighbors' belongings shell ye in no wise
boastfully medjure fur yourn, nor look upon it fur covetiousness, nor
yit git a big name up in the kentry fur ownin' sech ez be another's,'"
faltered the sturdy Abner.
The next moment he felt an infinite relief. He suddenly recognized the
fact that he had been chiefly restrained from repeating the words by an
unrealized terror lest they prove true—lest something his
father claimed was not his, indeed.
"'WHAT WORD DID HE SEND TER—ME?'"
But the expression of anger on Purdee's face was merged first in blank
astonishment, then in perplexed cogitation, then in renewed and
The wife turned from the warping-bars with a vague stare of surprise,
one hand poised uncertainly upon a peg of the frame, the other holding a
hank of "spun truck." The grandmother looked over her spectacles with
eyes sharp enough to seem subsidized to see through the mystery.
"In the name o' reason and religion, Roger Purdee," she adjured him,
"what air that thar perverted Philistine talkin' 'bout?"
"It air more'n I kin jedge of," said Purdee, still vainly cogitating.
He sat for a time silent, his dark eyes bent on the fire, his broad,
high forehead covered by his hat pulled down over it, his long, tangled,
dark locks hanging on his collar.
Suddenly he rose, took down his gun, and started toward the door.
"Roger," cried his wife, shrilly, "I'd leave the critter be. Lord knows
thar's been enough blood spilt an' good shelter burned along o' them
Purdees' an' Grinnells' quar'ls in times gone. Laws-a-massy!"—she
wrung her hands, all hampered though they were in the "spun
truck"—"I'd ruther be a sheep 'thout a soul, an' live in peace."
"A sca'ce ch'ice," commented her mother. "Sheep's got ter be butchered.
I'd ruther be the butcher, myself—healthier."
Purdee was gone. He had glanced absently at his wife as if he hardly
heard. He waited till she paused; then, without answer, he stepped
hastily out of the door and walked away.
The cronies at the blacksmith's shop latterly gathered within the great
flaring door, for the frost lay on the dead leaves without, the stars
scintillated with chill suggestions, and the wind was abroad on nights
like these. On shrill pipes it played; so weird, so wild, so prophetic
were its tones that it found only a shrinking in the heart of him whose
ear it constrained to listen. The sound of the torrent far below was
accelerated to an agitated, tumultuous plaint, all unknown when its
pulses were bated by summer languors. The moon was in the turmoil of the
clouds, which, routed in some wild combat with the winds, were streaming
And although the rigors of the winter were in abeyance, and the late
purple aster called the Christmas-flower bloomed in the sheltered grass
at the door, the forge fire, flaring or dully glowing, overhung with its
dusky hood, was a friendly thing to see, and in its vague illumination
the rude interior of the shanty—the walls, the implements of the
trade, the bearded faces grouped about, the shadowy figures seated on
whatever might serve, a block of wood, the shoeing-stool, a plough, or
perched on the anvil—became visible to Roger Purdee from far down
the road as he approached. Even the head of a horse could be seen thrust
in at the window, while the brute, hitched outside, beguiled the
dreary waiting by watching with a luminous, intelligent eye the gossips
within, as if he understood the drawling colloquy. They were suffering
some dearth of timely topics, supplying the deficiency with
reminiscences more or less stale, and had expected no such sensation as
they experienced when a long shadow fell athwart the doorway,—the
broad aperture glimmering a silvery gray contrasted with the brown
duskiness of the interior and the purple darkness of the distance; the
forge fire showed Purdee's tall figure leaning on the door-frame, and
lighted up his serious face beneath his great broad-brimmed hat, his
intent, earnest eyes, his tangled black beard and locks. He gave no
greeting, and silence fell upon them as his searching gaze scanned them
one by one.
"Whar's Job Grinnell?" he demanded, abruptly.
There was a shuffling of feet, as if those members most experienced
relief from the constraint that silence had imposed upon the party. A
vibration from the violin—a sigh as if the instrument had been
suddenly moved rather than a touch upon the strings—intimated that
the young musician was astir. But it was Spears, the blacksmith, who
"Kem in, Roger," he called out, cordially, as he rose, his massive
figure and his sleek head showing in the dull red light on the other
side of the anvil, his bare arms folded across his chest. "Naw, Job
ain't hyar; hain't been hyar for a right smart while."
There was a suggestion of disappointment in the attitude of the
motionless figure at the door. The deeply earnest, pondering face,
visible albeit the red light from the forge-fire was so dull, was keenly
watched. For the inquiry was fraught with peculiar meaning to those
cognizant of the long and bitter feud.
"I ax," said Purdee, presently, "kase Grinnell sent me a mighty cur'ous
word the t'other day." He lifted his head. "Hev enny o' you-uns hearn
him 'low lately ez I claim ennything ez ain't mine?"
There was silence for a moment. Then the forge was suddenly throbbing
with the zigzagging of the bow of the violin jauntily dandering along
the strings. His keen sensibility apprehended the sudden jocosity as a
jeer, but before he could say aught the blacksmith had undertaken to
"Waal, Purdee, ef ye hedn't axed me, I warn't layin' off ter say nuthin
'bout'n it. 'Tain't no consarn o' mine ez I knows on. But sence ye hev
axed me, I hold my jaw fur the fear o' no man. The words ain't writ ez I
be feared ter pernounce. An' ez all the kentry hev hearn 'bout'n it
'ceptin' you-uns, I dunno ez I hev enny call ter hold my jaw. The Lord
'ain't set no seal on my lips ez I knows on."
"Naw, sir!" said Purdee, his great eyes glooming through the dusk and
flashing with impatience. "He 'ain't set no seal on yer lips, ter jedge
by the way ye wallop yer tongue about inside o' 'em with fool words.
Whyn't ye bite off what ye air tryin' ter chaw?"
"Waal, then," said the admonished orator, bluntly, "Grinnell 'lows ye
don't own that thar lan' around them rocks on the bald, no more'n
ye read enny writin' on 'em."
"Not them rocks!" cried Purdee, standing suddenly erect—"the
tables o' the Law, writ with the finger o' the Lord—an' Moses
flung 'em down thar an' bruk 'em. All the kentry knows they air Moses'
tables. An' the groun' whar they lie air mine."
"'Tain't, Grinnell say 'tain't."
"Naw, sir," chimed in the young musician, his violin silent. "Job
Grinnell declars he owns it hisself, an' ef he war willin' ter stan' the
expense he'd set up his rights, but the lan' ain't wuth it. He 'lows his
line runs spang over them rocks, an' a heap furder."
Purdee was silent; one or two of the gossips laughed jeeringly; he had
been proved a liar once. It was well that he did not deny; he was put to
open shame among them.
"An' Grinnell say," continued Blinks, "ez ye hev gone an' tole big tales
'mongst the brethren fur ownin' sech ez ain't yourn, an' readin' of
s'prisin' sayin's on the rocks."
He bent his head to a series of laughing harmonics, and when he raised
it, hearing no retort, the silvery gray square of the door was empty. He
saw the moon glimmer on the clumps of grass outside where the
The group sat staring in amaze; the blacksmith strode to the door and
looked out, himself a massive, dark silhouette upon the shimmering
neutrality of the background. There was no figure in sight; no faint
foot-fall was audible, no rustle of the sere leaves; only the voice of
the mountain torrent, far below, challenged the stillness with its
He looked back for a moment, with a vague, strange doubt if he had seen
aught, heard aught, in the scene just past. "Hain't Purdee been hyar?"
he asked, passing his hand across his eyes. The sense of having dreamed
was so strong upon him that he stretched his arms and yawned.
The gleaming teeth of the grouped shadows demonstrated the merriment
evoked by the query. The chuckle was arrested midway.
"Ye 'pear ter 'low ez suthin' hev happened ter Purdee, an' that thar war
his harnt," suggested one.
The bold young musician laid down his violin suddenly. The instrument
struck upon a keg of nails, and gave out an abrupt, discordant jangle,
startling to the nerves. "Shet up, ye durned squeech-owl!" he exclaimed,
irritably. Then, lowering his voice, he asked: "Didn't they 'low down
yander in the Cove ez Widder Peters, the day her husband war killed by
the landslide up in the mounting, heard a hoe a-scrapin' mightily on the
gravel in the gyarden-spot, an' went ter the door, an' seen him thar
a-workin', an' axed him when he kem home? An' he never lifted his head,
but hoed on. An' she went down thar 'mongst the corn, an' she couldn't
find nobody. An' jes then the Johns boys rid up an' 'lowed ez Jim Peters
war dead, an' hed been fund in the mounting, an' they war a-fetchin' of
The horse's head within the window nodded violently among the
shadows, and the stones rolled beneath his hoof as he pawed the ground.
"Mis' Peters she knowed suthin' were a-goin' ter happen when she seen
that harnt a-hoein'."
"I reckon she did," said the blacksmith, stretching himself, his nerves
still under the delusion of recent awakening. "Jim never hoed none when
he war alive. She mought hev knowed he war dead ef she seen him hoein'."
"Waal, sir," exclaimed the violinist, "I'm a-goin' up yander ter
Purdee's ter-morrer ter find out what he died of, an' when."
That he was alive was proved the next day, to the astonishment of the
smith and his friends. The forge was the voting-place of the district,
and there, while the fire was flaring, the bellows blowing, the anvil
ringing, the echo vibrating, now loud, now faint, with the antiphonal
chant of the hammer and the sledge, a notice was posted to inform the
adjacent owners that Roger Purdee's land, held under an original grant
from the State, would be processioned according to law some twenty days
after date, and the boundaries thereof defined and established. The
fac-simile of the notice, too, was posted on the court-house door in the
county town twenty miles away, for there were those who journeyed so far
to see it.
"I wonder," said the blacksmith, as he stood in the unfamiliar street
and gazed at it, his big arms, usually bare, now hampered with his coat
sleeves and folded upon his chest—"I wonder ef he footed it all
the way ter town at the gait he tuk when he lit out from the
It was a momentous day when the county surveyor planted his
Jacob's-staff upon the State line on the summit of the bald. His sworn
chain-bearers, two tall young fellows clad in jeans, with broad-brimmed
wool hats, their heavy boots drawn high over their trousers, stood ready
and waiting, with the sticks and clanking chain, on the margin of the
ice-cold spring gushing out on this bleak height, and signifying more
than a fountain in the wilderness, since it served to define the
southeast corner of Purdee's land. The two enemies were perceptibly
conscious of each other. Grinnell's broad face and small eyes laden with
fat lids were persistently averted. Purdee often glanced toward him
gloweringly, his head held, nevertheless, a little askance, as if he
rejected the very sight. There was the fire of a desperate intention in
his eyes. Looking at his face, shaded by his broad-brimmed hat, one
could hardly have doubted now whether it expressed most ferocity or
force. His breath came quick—the bated breath of a man who watches
and waits for a supreme moment. His blue jeans coat was buttoned close
about his sun-burned throat, where the stained red handkerchief was
knotted. He wore a belt with his powder-horn and bullet-pouch, and
carried his rifle on his shoulder; the hand that held it trembled, and
he tried to quell the quiver. "I'll prove it fust, an' kill him
arterward—kill him arterward," he muttered.
In the other hand he held a yellowed old paper. Now and then he bent his
earnest dark eyes upon the grant, made many a year ago by the State
of Tennessee to his grandfather; for there had been no subsequent
The blacksmith had come begirt with his leather apron, his shirt-sleeves
rolled up, and with his hammer in his hand, an inopportune customer
having jeopardized his chance of sharing in the sensation of the day.
The other neighbors all wore their coats closely buttoned. Blinks
carried his violin hung upon his back; the sharp timbre of the wind,
cutting through the leafless boughs of the stunted woods, had a kindred
fibrous resonance. Clouds hung low far beneath them; here and there, as
they looked, the trees on the slopes showed above and again below the
masses of clinging vapors. Sometimes close at hand a peak would reveal
itself, asserting the solemn vicinage of the place, then draw its veil
slowly about it, and stand invisible and in austere silence. The
surveyor, a stalwart figure, his closely buttoned coat giving him a
military aspect, looked disconsolately downward.
"I hoped I'd die before this," he remarked. "I'm equal to getting over
anything in nature that's flat or oblique, but the vertical beats me."
He bent to take sight for a moment, the group silently watching him.
Suddenly he came to the perpendicular, and strode off down the rugged
slope over gullies and bowlders, through rills and briery tangles, his
eyes distended and eager as if he were led into the sylvan depths by the
lure of a vision. The chain-bearers followed, continually bending and
rising, the recurrent genuflections resembling the fervors of some
religious rite. The chain rustled sibilantly among the dead
leaves, and was ever and anon drawn out to its extremest length.
Then the dull clank of the links was silent.
"Stick!" called out the young mountaineer in the rear.
"Stuck!" responded his comrade ahead.
And once more the writhing and jingling among the withered leaves. The
surveyor strode on, turning his face neither to the right nor to the
left, with his Jacob's-staff held upright before him. The other men
trooped along scatteringly, dodging under the low boughs of the stunted
trees. They pressed hastily together when the great square
rocks—Moses' tables of the Law—came into view, lying where
it was said the man of God flung them upon the sere slope below, both
splintered and fissured, and one broken in twain. The surveyor was
bearing straight down upon them. The men running on either side could
not determine whether the line would fall within the spot or just
beyond. They broke into wild exclamations.
"Ye may hammer me out ez flat ez a skene," cried the blacksmith, "ef I
don't b'lieve ez Purdee hev got 'em."
"Naw, sir, naw!" cried another fervent amateur; "thar's the north. I jes
now viewed Grinnell's dad's deed; the line ondertakes ter run with
Purdee's line; he hev got seven hunderd poles ter the north; ef they air
a-goin' ter the north, them tables o' the Law air Grinnell's."
A wild chorus ensued.
"Naw!" "Yes!" "Thar they go!" "A-bearin' off that-a-way!" "Beats my
time!" as they stumbled and scuttled alongside the acolytes of the
Compass, who bowed down and rose up at every length of the chain.
Suddenly a cry from the chain-bearers.
The surveyor stopped to register the "out." It was a moment of thrilling
suspense; the rocks lay only a few chains further; Grinnell, into whose
confidence doubt had begun to be instilled, said to himself, all
a-tremble, that he would hardly have staked his veracity, his standing
with the brethren, if he had realized that it was so close a matter as
this. He had long known that his father owned the greater part of the
unproductive wilderness lying between the two ravines; the land was
almost worthless by reason of the steep slants which rendered it utterly
untillable. He was sure that by the terms of his deed, which his father
had from its vendor, Squire Bates, his line included the Moses' tables
on which Purdee had built so fallacious a repute of holiness. He looked
once more at the paper—"thence from Crystal Spring with Purdee's
line north seven hundred poles to a stake in the middle of the river."
Purdee too was all a-quiver with eagerness. He had not beheld those
rocks since that terrible day when all the fine values of his gifted
vision had been withdrawn from him, and he could read no more with eyes
blinded by the limitations of what other men could see—the
infinitely petty purlieus of the average sense. He had a vague idea that
should they say this was his land where those strange rocks lay,
he would see again, he would read undreamed-of words, writ with a pen of
fire. He started toward them, and then with a conscious effort he held
The surveyor took no heed of the sentiments involved in processioning
Purdee's land. He stood leaning on his Jacob's-staff, as interesting to
him as Moses' rocks, and in his view infinitely more useful, and wiped
his brow, and looked about, and yawned. To him it was merely the
surveying for a foolish cause of a very impracticable and steep tract of
land, and the only reason it should be countenanced by heaven or earth
was the fees involved. And this was what he saw at the end of Purdee's
Suddenly he took up his Jacob's-staff and marched on with a long stride,
bearing straight down upon the rocks. The whole cortége started
anew—the genuflecting chain-bearers, the dodging, scrambling,
running spectators. On one of the strange stunted leafless trees a
colony of vagrant crows had perched, eerie enough to seem the denizens
of those weird forests; they broke into raucous laughter—Haw! haw!
haw!—rising to a wild commotion of harsh, derisive discord as the
men once more gave vent to loud, excited cries. For the surveyor,
stalking ahead, had passed beyond the great tables of the Law; the
chain-bearers were drawing Purdee's line on the other side of them, and
they had fallen, if ever they fell here from Moses' hand and broke in
twain, upon Purdee's land, granted to his ancestor by the State of
He could not speak for joy, for pride. His dark eyes were illumined by a
glancing, amber light. He took off his hat and smoothed with his rough
hand his long black hair, falling from his massive forehead. He leaned
against one of the stunted oaks, shouldering his rifle that he had
loaded for Grinnell—he could hardly believe this, although he
remembered it. He did not want to shoot Grinnell; he would not waste the
And indeed Grinnell had much ado to defend himself against the sneers
and rebukes with which the party beguiled the way through the wintry
woods. "Ter go a-claimin' another man's land, an' put him ter the
expense o' processionin' it, an' git his line run!" exclaimed the
blacksmith, indignantly. "An' ye 'ain't got nare sign o' a show at
"I dunno how this hyar line air a-runnin'," declared Grinnell, sorely
beset. "I don't b'lieve it air a-runnin' north."
The surveyor was hard by. He had planted his staff again, and was once
more taking his bearings. He looked up for a second.
"Northwest," he said.
Grinnell stared for a moment; then strode up to the surveyor, and
pointed with his stubby finger at a word on his deed.
The official looked with interest at it; he held up suddenly Purdee's
grant and read aloud, "From Crystal Spring seven hundred poles
northwest to a stake in the middle of the river."
He examined, too, the original plat of survey which he had taken to
guide him, and also the plat made when Squire Bates sold to
Grinnell's father; "northwest" they all agreed. There was evidently a
clerical error on the part of the scrivener who had written Grinnell's
In a moment the harassed man saw that through the processioning of
Purdee's land he had lost heavily in the extent of his supposed
possessions. He it was who had claimed what was rightfully another's.
And because of the charge Purdee was the richer by a huge slice of
mountain land—how large he could not say, as he ruefully followed
the line of survey.
But for this discovery the interest of processioning Purdee's land would
have subsided with the determination of the ownership of the limited
environment of the stone tables of the Law. Now, as they followed the
ever-diverging line to the northwest, the group was pervaded by a
subdued and tremulous excitement, in which even the surveyor shared. Two
or three whispered apart now and then, and Grinnell, struggling to
suppress his dismay, was keenly conscious of the glances that sought him
again and again in the effort to judge how he was taking it. Only Purdee
himself was withdrawn from the interest that swayed them all. He had
loitered at first, dallying with a temptation to slip silently from the
party and retrace his way to the tables and ascertain, perchance, if
some vestige of that mystic scripture might not reveal itself to him
anew, or if it had been only some morbid fancy, some futile influence of
solitude, some fevered condition of the blood or the brain, that had
traced on the stone those gracious words, the mere echo of
which—his stuttered, vague recollections—had roused the
camp-meeting to fervid enthusiasms undreamed of before. And then he put
from him the project—some other time, perhaps, for doubts lurked
in his heart, hesitation chilled his resolve—some other time, when
his companions and their prosaic influence were all far away. He was
roused abruptly, as he stalked along, to the perception of the deepening
excitement among them. They had emerged from the dense growths of the
mountain to the lower slope, where pastures and fields—whence the
grain had been harvested—and a garden and a dwelling, with barns
and fences, lay before them all. And as Purdee stopped and stared, the
realization of a certain significant fact struck him so suddenly that it
seemed to take his breath away. That divergent line stretching to the
northwest had left within his boundaries the land on which his enemy had
built his home.
He looked; then he smote his thigh and laughed aloud.
The rocks on the river-bank caught the sound, and echoed it again and
again, till the air seemed full of derisive voices. Under their stings
of jeering clamor, and under the anguish of the calamity which his
reeling senses could scarcely measure, Job Grinnell's composure suddenly
gave way. He threw up his arms and called upon Heaven; he turned and
glared furiously at his enemy. Then, as Purdee's laughter still jarred
the air, he drew a "shooting-iron" from his pocket. The blacksmith
closed with him, struggling to disarm him. The weapon was discharged in
the turmoil, the ball glancing away in the first quiver of
sunshine that had reached the earth to-day, and falling spent across the
Grinnell wrested himself from the restraining grasp, and rushed down the
slope to his gate to hide himself from the gaze of the world—his
world, that little group. Then remembering that it was no longer his
gate, he turned from it in an agony of loathing. And knowing that earth
held no shelter for him but the sufferance of another man's roof, he
plunged into the leafless woods as if he heavily dragged himself by a
power which warred within him with other strong motives, and disappeared
among the myriads of holly bushes all aglow with their red berries.
The spectators still followed the surveyor and his Jacob's-staff, but
Purdee lingered. He walked around the fence with a fierce, gloating eye,
a panther-like, loping tread, as a beast might patrol a fold before he
plunders it. All the venom of the old feud had risen to the opportunity.
Here was his enemy at his mercy. He knew that it was less than seven
years since the enclosures had been made, acres and acres of tillable
land cleared, the houses built—all achieved which converted the
worthlessness of a wilderness into the sterling values of a farm.
He—he, Roger Purdee—was a rich man for the "mountings,"
joining his little to this competence. All the cruelties, all the
insults, all the traditions of the old vendetta came thronging into his
mind, as distinctly presented as if they were a series of hideous
pictures; for he was not used to think in detail, but in the full
portrayal of scenes. The Purdee wrongs were all avenged. This
result was so complete, so baffling, so ruinous temporally, so
humiliating spiritually! It was the fullest replication of revenge for
all that had challenged it.
"How Uncle Ezra would hev rej'iced ter hev lived ter see this day!" he
thought, with a pious regret that the dead might not know.
The next moment his attention was suddenly attracted by a movement in
the door-yard. A woman had been hanging out clothes to dry, and she
turned to go in, without seeing the striding figure patrolling the
enclosure. A baby—a small bundle of a red dress—was seated
on the pile of sorghum-cane where the mill had worked in the autumn; the
stalks were broken, and flimsy with frost and decay, and washed by the
rains to a pallid hue, yet more marked in contrast with the brown
ground. The baby's dress made a bright bit of color amidst the dreary
tones. As Purdee caught sight of it he remembered that this was
"Grinnell's old baby," who had been the cause of the renewal of the
ancient quarrel, which had resulted so benignantly for him. "I owe you a
good turn, sis," he murmured, satirically, glaring at the child as the
unconscious mother lifted her to go in the house. The baby, looking over
the maternal shoulder, encountered the stern eyes staring at her. She
stared gravely too. Then with a bounce and a gurgle she beamed upon him
from out the retirement of her flapping sun-bonnet; she smiled
radiantly, and finally laughed outright, and waved her hands and again
bounced beguilingly, and thus toothlessly coquetting, disappeared within
Before Purdee reached home, flakes of snow, the first of the season,
were whirling through the gray dusk noiselessly, ceaselessly, always
falling, yet never seeming to fall, rather to restlessly pervade the air
with a vacillating alienation from all the laws of gravitation. Elusive
fascinations of thought were liberated with the shining crystalline
aerial pulsation; some mysterious attraction dwelt down long vistas
amongst the bare trees; their fine fibrous grace of branch and twig was
accented by the snow, which lay upon them with exquisite lightness,
despite the aggregated bulk, not the densely packed effect which the
boughs would show to-morrow. The crags were crowned; their grim faces
looked frowningly out like a warrior's from beneath a wreath. Nowhere
could the brown ground be seen; already the pine boughs bent, the
needles failing to pierce the drifts. On the banks of the stream, on the
slopes of the mountain, in wildest jungles, in the niches and crevices
of bare cliffs, the holly-berries glowed red in the midst of the
ever-green snow-laden leaves and ice-barbed twigs. When his house at
last came into view, the roof was deeply covered; the dizzying whirl had
followed every line of the rail-fence; scurrying away along the furthest
zigzags there was a vanishing glimpse of a squirrel; the boles of the
trees were embedded in drifts; the chickens had gone to roost; the sheep
were huddling in the broad door of the rude stable; he saw their heads
lifted against the dark background within, where the ox was vaguely
glimpsed. He caught their mild glance despite the snow that in-starred
with its ever-shifting crystals the dark space of the aperture,
and intervened as a veil. They suddenly reminded him of the
season—that it was Christmas Eve; of the sheep which so many years
ago beheld the angel of the Lord and the glory of the great light that
shone about the shepherds abiding in the fields. Did they follow, he
wondered, the shepherds who went to seek for Christ? Ah, as he paused
meditatively beside the rail-fence—what matter how long ago it
was, how far away!—he saw those sheep lying about the fields under
the vast midnight sky. They lift their sleepy heads. Dawn? not yet,
surely; and they lay them down again. And one must bleat aloud, turning
to see the quickening sky; and one, woolly, white, white as snow, with
eyes illumined by the heralding heavens, struggles to its feet, and
another, and the flock is astir; and the shepherds, drowsing doubtless,
are awakened to good tidings of great joy.
What a night that was!—this night—Christmas Eve. He wondered
he had not thought of it before. And the light still shines, and the
angel waits, and the eternal hosts proclaim peace on earth, good-will
toward men, and summon us all to go and follow the shepherds and
see—what? A little child cradled in a manger. The mountaineer,
leaning on his gun by the rail-fence, looked through the driving snow
with the lights of divination kindling in his eyes, seeing it all,
feeling its meaning as never before. Christ came thus, he knew, for a
purpose. He could have come in the chariots of the sun or on the wings
of the wind. But He was cradled as a little child, that men might
revere humanity for the sake of Him who had graced it; that they,
thinking on Him, might be good to one another and to all little
As he burst into the door of his house the elations of his high
religious mood were rudely dispelled by shrill cries of congratulation
from his wife and her mother. For the news had preceded him. Ephraim
Blinks with his fiddle had stopped there on his way to play at some
neighboring merry-making, and had acquainted them with the result of
processioning Purdee's land.
"We'll go down thar an' live!" cried his wife, with a gush of joyful
tears. "Arter all our scratchin' along like ten-toed chickens all this
time, we'll hev comfort an' plenty! We'll live in Grinnell's good house!
But ter think o' our trials, an' how pore we hev been!"
"This air the Purdees' day!" cried the grandmother, her face flushed
with the semblance of youth. "Arter all ez hev kem an' gone, the
jedgmint o' the Lord hev descended on Grinnell, an' he air cast out. An'
his fields, an' house, an' bin, an' barn, air Purdee's!"
The fire flared and faded; shadows of the night gloomed thick in the
room—this night of nights that bestowed so much, that imposed so
much on man and on his fellow-man!
"Ain't the Grinnell baby got no home?" whimpered the hereditary enemy.
The mountaineer remembered the Lord of heaven and earth cradled, a
little Child, in the manger. He remembered, too, the humble child
smiling its guileless good-will at the fence. He broke out
"How kem the fields Purdee's," he cried, leaning his back against the
door and striking the puncheon floor with the butt of the gun till it
rang again and again, "or the house, or the bin, or the barn? Did he
plant 'em? Did he build 'em? Who made 'em his'n?"
"The law!" exclaimed both women in a breath.
"Thar ain't no law in heaven or yearth ez kin gin an honest man what
ain't his'n by rights," he declared.
An insistent feminine clamor arose, protesting the sovereign power of
the law. He quaked for a moment; dominant though he was in his own
house, he could not face them, but he could flee. He suddenly stepped
out of the door, and when they opened it and looked after him in the
snowy dusk and the whitened woods, he was gone.
And popular opinion coincided with them when it became known that he had
formally relinquished his right to that portion of the land improved by
Grinnell. He said to the old squire who drew up the quit-claim deed,
which he executed that Christmas Eve, that he was not willing to profit
by his enemy's mistake, and thus the consideration expressed in the
conveyance was the value of the land, considered not as a farm, but as
so many acres of wilderness before an axe was laid to the trunk of a
tree or the soil upturned by a plough. It was the minimum of value, and
Grinnell came cheaply off.
The blacksmith, the mountain fiddler, and the advanced thinker,
who had been active in the survey, balked of the expected excitement
attendant upon the ousting of Grinnell, and some sensational culmination
of the ancient feud, were not in sympathy with the pacific result, and
spoke as if they had given themselves to unrequited labors.
"Thar ain't no way o' settlin' what that thar critter Purdee owns
'ceptin' ez consarns Moses' tables o' the Law. He clings ter them," they
said, in conclave about the forge fire when the big doors were closed
and the snow, banking up the crevices, kept out the wind. "There ain't
no use in percessionin' Purdee's land."
And indeed Purdee's possessions were wider far than even that divergent
line which the county surveyor ran out might seem to warrant; for on the
mountain-tops largest realms of solemn thought were open to him. He
levied tribute upon the liberties of an enthused imagination. He exulted
in the freedom of the expanding spaces of a spiritual perception of the
spiritual things. When the snow slipped away from the tables of the Law,
the man who had read strange scripture engraven thereon took his way one
day, doubtful, but faltering with hope, up and up to the vast dome of
the mountain, and knelt beside the rocks to see if perchance he might
trace anew those mystic runes which he once had some fine instinct to
decipher. And as he pondered long he found, or thought he found, here a
familiar character, and there a slowly developing word, and
anon—did he see it aright?—a phrase; and suddenly it was
discovered to him that, whether their origin were a sacred mystery
or the fantastic scroll-work of time as the rock weathered, high
thoughts, evoking thrilling emotions, bear scant import to one who
apprehends only in mental acceptance. And he realized that the multiform
texts which he had read in the fine and curious script were but
paraphrases of the simple mandate to be good to one another for the sake
of that holy Child cradled in manger, and to all little children.