Taking the Blue Ribbon at the Country
by Charles Egbert Craddock
Jenks Hollis sat on the fence. He slowly turned the quid of tobacco in
his cheek, and lifting up his voice spoke with an oracular drawl:—
"Ef he kin take the certif'cate it's the mos' ez he kin do. He ain't
never a-goin' ter git no premi-um in this life, sure 's ye air a
And he relapsed into silence. His long legs dangled dejectedly among
the roadside weeds; his brown jeans trousers, that had despaired of
ever reaching his ankles, were ornamented here and there with
ill-adjusted patches, and his loose-fitting coat was out at the
elbows. An old white wool hat drooped over his eyes, which were fixed
absently on certain distant blue mountain ranges, that melted tenderly
into the blue of the noonday sky, and framed an exquisite mosaic of
poly-tinted fields in the valley, far, far below the grim gray crag on
which his little home was perched.
Despite his long legs he was a light weight, or he would not have
chosen as his favorite seat so rickety a fence. His interlocutor, a
heavier man, apparently had some doubts, for he leaned only slightly
against one of the projecting rails as he whittled a pine stick, and
with his every movement the frail structure trembled. The log cabin
seemed as rickety as the fence. The little front porch had lost a
puncheon here and there in the flooring—perhaps on some cold winter
night when Hollis's energy was not sufficiently exuberant to convey
him to the wood-pile; the slender posts that upheld its roof seemed
hardly strong enough to withstand the weight of the luxuriant vines
with their wealth of golden gourds which had clambered far over the
moss-grown clapboards; the windows had fewer panes of glass than rags;
and the chimney, built of clay and sticks, leaned portentously away
from the house. The open door displayed a rough, uncovered floor; a
few old rush-bottomed chairs; a bedstead with a patch-work calico
quilt, the mattress swagging in the centre and showing the badly
arranged cords below; strings of bright red pepper hanging from the
dark rafters; a group of tow-headed, grave-faced, barefooted children;
and, occupying almost one side of the room, a broad, deep,
old-fashioned fireplace, where winter and summer a lazy fire burned
under a lazy pot.
Notwithstanding the poverty of the aspect of the place and the evident
sloth of its master, it was characterized by a scrupulous cleanliness
strangely at variance with its forlorn deficiencies. The rough floor
was not only swept but scoured; the dark rafters, whence depended the
flaming banners of the red pepper, harbored no cobwebs; the grave
faces of the white-haired children bore no more dirt than was
consistent with their recent occupation of making mudpies; and the
sedate, bald-headed baby, lying silent but wide-awake in an uncouth
wooden cradle, was as clean as clear spring water and yellow soap
could make it. Mrs. Hollis herself, seen through the vista of opposite
open doors, energetically rubbing the coarse wet clothes upon the
resonant washboard, seemed neat enough in her blue-and-white checked
homespun dress, and with her scanty hair drawn smoothly back from her
brow into a tidy little knot on the top of her head.
Spare and gaunt she was, and with many lines in her prematurely old
face. Perhaps they told of the hard fight her brave spirit waged
against the stern ordering of her life; of the struggles with
squalor,—inevitable concomitant of poverty,—and to keep together the
souls and bodies of those numerous children, with no more efficient
assistance than could be wrung from her reluctant husband in the
short intervals when he did not sit on the fence. She managed as well
as she could; there was an abundance of fine fruit in that low line of
foliage behind the house—but everybody on Old Bear Mountain had fine
fruit. Something rarer, she had good vegetables—the planting and
hoeing being her own work and her eldest daughter's; an occasional
shallow furrow representing the contribution of her husband's plough.
The althea-bushes and the branches of the laurel sheltered a goodly
number of roosting hens in these September nights; and to the pond,
which had been formed by damming the waters of the spring branch in
the hollow across the road, was moving even now a stately procession
of geese in single file. These simple belongings were the trophies of
a gallant battle against unalterable conditions and the dragging,
dispiriting clog of her husband's inertia.
His inner life—does it seem hard to realize that in that uncouth
personality concentred the complex, incomprehensible, ever-shifting
emotions of that inner life which, after all, is so much stronger, and
deeper, and broader than the material? Here, too, beat the hot heart
of humanity—beat with no measured throb. He had his hopes, his
pleasure, his pain, like those of a higher culture, differing only in
object, and something perhaps in degree. His disappointments were
bitter and lasting; his triumphs, few and sordid; his single
aspiration—to take the premium offered by the directors of the
Kildeer County Fair for the best equestrian.
This incongruous and unpromising ambition had sprung up in this wise:
Between the country people of Kildeer County and the citizens of the
village of Colbury, the county-seat, existed a bitter and deeply
rooted animosity manifesting itself at conventions, elections for the
legislature, etc., the rural population voting as a unit against the
town's candidate. On all occasions of public meetings there was a
struggle to crush any invidious distinction against the "country
boys," especially at the annual fair. Here to the rustics of Kildeer
County came the tug of war. The population of the outlying districts
was more numerous, and, when it could be used as a suffrage-engine,
all-powerful; but the region immediately adjacent to the town was far
more fertile. On those fine meadows grazed the graceful Jersey; there
gamboled sundry long-tailed colts with long-tailed pedigrees; there
greedy Berkshires fattened themselves to abnormal proportions; and the
merinos could hardly walk, for the weight of their own rich wardrobes.
The well-to-do farmers of this section were hand-in-glove with the
town's people; they drove their trotters in every day or so to get
their mail, to chat with their cronies, to attend to their affairs in
court, to sell or to buy—their pleasures centred in the town, and
they turned the cold shoulder upon the country, which supported them,
and gave their influence to Colbury, accounting themselves an
integrant part of it. Thus, at the fairs the town claimed the honor
and glory. The blue ribbon decorated cattle and horses bred within ten
miles of the flaunting flag on the judges' stand, and the foaming
mountain-torrents and the placid stream in the valley beheld no
cerulean hues save those of the sky which they reflected.
The premium offered this year for the best rider was, as it happened,
a new feature, and excited especial interest. The country's blood was
up. Here was something for which it could fairly compete, with none of
the disadvantages of the false position in which it was placed. Hence
a prosperous landed proprietor, the leader of the rural faction,
dwelling midway between the town and the range of mountains that
bounded the county on the north and east, bethought himself one day of
Jenkins Hollis, whose famous riding had been the feature of a certain
dashing cavalry charge—once famous, too—forgotten now by all but the
men who, for the first and only time in their existence, penetrated
in those war days the blue mountains fencing in their county from the
outer world, and looked upon the alien life beyond that wooded
barrier. The experience of those four years, submerged in the whirling
rush of events elsewhere, survives in these eventless regions in a
dreamy, dispassionate sort of longevity. And Jenkins Hollis's feat of
riding stolidly—one could hardly say bravely—up an almost sheer
precipice to a flame-belching battery came suddenly into the landed
magnate's recollection with the gentle vapors and soothing aroma of a
meditative after-dinner pipe. Quivering with party spirit, Squire
Goodlet sent for Hollis and offered to lend him the best horse on the
place, and a saddle and bridle, if he would go down to Colbury and
beat those town fellows out on their own ground.
No misgivings had Hollis. The inordinate personal pride characteristic
of the mountaineer precluded his feeling a shrinking pain at the
prospect of being presented, a sorry contrast, among the well-clad,
well-to-do town's people, to compete in a public contest. He did not
appreciate the difference—he thought himself as good as the best.
And to-day, complacent enough, he sat upon the rickety fence at home,
oracularly disparaging the equestrian accomplishments of the town's
"I dunno—I dunno," said his young companion doubtfully. "Hackett sets
mighty firm onto his saddle. He's ez straight ez any shingle, an' ez
tough ez a pine-knot. He come up hyar las' summer—war it las' summer,
now? No, 't war summer afore las'—with some o' them other Colbury
folks, a-fox-huntin', an' a-deer-huntin, an' one thing an' 'nother. I
seen 'em a time or two in the woods. An' he kin ride jes' ez good
'mongst the gullies and boulders like ez ef he had been born in the
hills. He ain't a-goin' ter be beat easy."
"It don't make no differ," retorted Jenks Hollis. "He'll never git no
premi-um. The certif'cate's good a-plenty fur what ridin' he kin
Doubt was still expressed in the face of the young man, but he said no
more, and, after a short silence, Mr. Hollis, perhaps not relishing
his visitor's want of appreciation, dismounted, so to speak, from the
fence, and slouched off slowly up the road.
Jacob Brice still stood leaning against the rails and whittling his
pine stick, in no wise angered or dismayed by his host's unceremonious
departure, for social etiquette is not very rigid on Old Bear
Mountain. He was a tall athletic fellow, clad in a suit of brown
jeans, which displayed, besides the ornaments of patches, sundry deep
grass stains about the knees. Not that piety induced Brice to spend
much time in the lowly attitude of prayer, unless, indeed, Diana might
be accounted the goddess of his worship. The green juice was pressed
out when kneeling, hidden in some leafy, grassy nook, he heard the
infrequent cry of the wild turkey, or his large, intent blue eyes
caught a glimpse of the stately head of an antlered buck, moving
majestically in the alternate sheen of the sunlight and shadow of the
overhanging crags; or while with his deft hunter's hands he dragged
himself by slow, noiseless degrees through the ferns and tufts of rank
weeds to the water's edge, that he might catch a shot at the feeding
wild duck. A leather belt around his waist supported his powder-horn
and shot-pouch,—for his accoutrements were exactly such as might have
been borne a hundred years ago by a hunter of Old Bear Mountain,—and
his gun leaned against the trunk of a chestnut-oak.
Although he still stood outside the fence, aimlessly lounging, there
was a look on his face of a half-suppressed expectancy, which rendered
the features less statuesque than was their wont—an expectancy that
showed itself in the furtive lifting of his eyelids now and then,
enabling him to survey the doorway without turning his head. Suddenly
his face reassumed its habitual, inexpressive mask of immobility, and
the furtive eyes were persistently downcast.
A flare of color, and Cynthia Hollis was standing in the doorway,
leaning against its frame. She was robed, like September, in brilliant
yellow. The material and make were of the meanest, but there was a
certain appropriateness in the color with her slumberous dark eyes and
the curling tendrils of brown hair which fell upon her forehead and
were clustered together at the back of her neck. No cuffs and no
collar could this costume boast, but she had shown the inclination to
finery characteristic of her age and sex by wearing around her throat,
where the yellow hue of her dress met the creamy tint of her skin, a
row of large black beads, threaded upon a shoe-string in default of an
elastic, the brass ends flaunting brazenly enough among them. She held
in her hand a string of red pepper, to which she was adding some newly
gathered pods. A slow job Cynthia seemed to make of it.
She took no more notice of the man under the tree than he accorded to
her. There they stood, within twelve feet of each other, in utter
silence, and, to all appearance, each entirely unconscious of the
other's existence: he whittling his pine stick; she, slowly, slowly
stringing the pods of red pepper.
There was something almost portentous in the gravity and sobriety of
demeanor of this girl of seventeen; she manifested less interest in
the young man than her own grandmother might have shown.
He was constrained to speak first. "Cynthy"—he said at length,
without raising his eyes or turning his head. She did not answer; but
he knew without looking that she had fixed those slumberous brown eyes
upon him, waiting for him to go on. "Cynthy"—he said again, with a
hesitating, uneasy manner. Then, with an awkward attempt at raillery,
"Ain't ye never a-thinkin' 'bout a-gittin' married?"
He cast a laughing glance toward her, and looked down quickly at his
clasp-knife and the stick he was whittling. It was growing very
Cynthia's serious face relaxed its gravity. "Ye air foolish, Jacob,"
she said, laughing. After stringing on another pepper-pod with great
deliberation, she continued: "Ef I war a-studyin' 'bout a-gittin'
married, thar ain't nobody round 'bout hyar ez I'd hev." And she added
another pod to the flaming red string, so bright against the yellow of
That stick could not long escape annihilation. The clasp-knife moved
vigorously through its fibres, and accented certain arbitrary clauses
in its owner's retort. "Ye talk like," he said, his face as
monotonous in its expression as if every line were cut in marble—"ye
talk like—ye thought ez how I—war a-goin' ter ax ye—ter marry me. I
ain't though, nuther."
The stick was a shaving. It fell among the weeds. The young hunter
shut his clasp-knife with a snap, shouldered his gun, and without a
word of adieu on either side the conference terminated, and he walked
off down the sandy road.
Cynthia stood watching him until the laurel-bushes hid him from sight;
then sliding from the door-frame to the step, she sat motionless, a
bright-hued mass of yellow draperies and red peppers, her slumberous
deep eyes resting on the leaves that had closed upon him.
She was the central figure of a still landscape. The mid-day sunshine
fell in broad effulgence upon it; the homely, dun-colored shadows had
been running away all the morning, as if shirking the contrast with
the splendors of the golden light, until nothing was left of them
except a dark circle beneath the wide-spreading trees. No breath of
wind stirred the leaves, or rippled the surface of the little pond.
The lethargy of the hour had descended even upon the towering
pine-trees, growing on the precipitous slope of the mountain, and
showing their topmost plumes just above the frowning, gray
crag—their melancholy song was hushed. The silent masses of dazzling
white clouds were poised motionless in the ambient air, high above the
valley and the misty expanse of the distant, wooded ranges.
A lazy, lazy day, and very, very warm. The birds had much ado to find
sheltering shady nooks where they might escape the glare and the heat;
their gay carols were out of season, and they blinked and nodded under
their leafy umbrellas, and fanned themselves with their wings, and
twittered disapproval of the weather. "Hot, hot, red-hot!" said the
Now and then an acorn fell from among the serrated chestnut leaves,
striking upon the fence with a sounding thwack, and rebounding in the
weeds. Those chestnut-oaks always seem to unaccustomed eyes the
creation of Nature in a fit of mental aberration—useful freak! the
mountain swine fatten on the plenteous mast, and the bark is highly
esteemed at the tan-yard.
A large cat was lying at full length on the floor of the little porch,
watching with drowsy, half-closed eyes the assembled birds in the
tree. But she seemed to have relinquished the pleasures of the chase
until the mercury should fall.
Close in to the muddiest side of the pond over there, which was all
silver and blue with the reflection of the great masses of white
clouds, and the deep azure sky, a fleet of shining, snowy geese was
moored, perfectly motionless too. No circumnavigation for them this
And Cynthia's dark brown eyes, fixed upon the leafy vista of the road,
were as slumberous as the noontide sunshine.
"Cynthy! whar is the gal?" said poor Mrs. Hollis, as she came around
the house to hang out the ragged clothes on the althea-bushes and the
rickety fence. "Cynthy, air ye a-goin' ter sit thar in the door all
day, an' that thar pot a-bilin' all the stren'th out 'n that thar
cabbige an' roas'in'-ears? Dish up dinner, child, an' don't be so slow
an' slack-twisted like yer dad."
* * * * *
Great merriment there was, to be sure, at the Kildeer Fair grounds,
situated on the outskirts of Colbury, when it became known to the
convulsed town faction that the gawky Jenks Hollis intended to compete
for the premium to be awarded to the best and most graceful rider. The
contests of the week had as usual resulted in Colbury's favor; this
was the last day of the fair, and the defeated country population
anxiously but still hopefully awaited its notable event.
A warm sun shone; a brisk autumnal breeze waved the flag flying from
the judges' stand; a brass band in the upper story of that structure
thrilled the air with the vibrations of popular waltzes and marches,
somewhat marred now and then by mysteriously discordant bass tones;
the judges, portly, red-faced, middle-aged gentlemen, sat below in
cane-bottom chairs critically a-tilt on the hind legs. The rough
wooden amphitheatre, a bold satire on the stately Roman edifice, was
filled with the denizens of Colbury and the rosy rural faces of the
country people of Kildeer County; and within the charmed arena the
competitors for the blue ribbon and the saddle and bridle to be
awarded to the best rider were just now entering, ready mounted, from
a door beneath the tiers of seats, and were slowly making the tour of
the circle around the judges' stand. One by one they came, with a
certain nonchalant pride of demeanor, conscious of an effort to
display themselves and their horses to the greatest advantage, and yet
a little ashamed of the consciousness. For the most part they were
young men, prosperous looking, and clad according to the requirements
of fashion which prevailed in this little town. Shut in though it was
from the pomps and vanities of the world by the encircling chains of
blue ranges and the bending sky which rested upon their summits, the
frivolity of the mode, though somewhat belated, found its way and
ruled with imperative rigor. Good riders they were undoubtedly,
accustomed to the saddle almost from infancy, and well mounted. A
certain air of gallantry, always characteristic of an athletic
horseman, commended these equestrian figures to the eye as they slowly
circled about. Still they came—eight—nine—ten—the eleventh, the
long, lank frame of Jenkins Hollis mounted on Squire Goodlet's "John
The horsemen received this ungainly addition to their party with
polite composure, and the genteel element of the spectators remained
silent too from the force of good breeding and good feeling; but the
"roughs," always critically a-loose in a crowd, shouted and screamed
with derisive hilarity. What they were laughing at Jenks Hollis never
knew. Grave and stolid, but as complacent as the best, he too made the
usual circuit with his ill-fitting jeans suit, his slouching old wool
hat, and his long, gaunt figure. But he sat the spirited "John
Barleycorn" as if he were a part of the steed, and held up his head
with unwonted dignity, inspired perhaps by the stately attitudes of
the horse, which were the result of no training nor compelling reins,
but the instinct transmitted through a long line of high-headed
ancestry. Of a fine old family was "John Barleycorn."
A deeper sensation was in store for the spectators. Before Jenkins
Hollis's appearance most of them had heard of his intention to
compete, but the feeling was one of unmixed astonishment when entry
No. 12 rode into the arena, and, on the part of the country people,
this surprise was supplemented by an intense indignation. The twelfth
man was Jacob Brice. As he was a "mounting boy," one would imagine
that, if victory should crown his efforts, the rural faction ought to
feel the elation of success, but the prevailing sentiment toward him
was that which every well-conducted mind must entertain concerning the
individual who runs against the nominee. Notwithstanding the fact that
Brice was a notable rider, too, and well calculated to try the mettle
of the town's champion, there arose from the excited countrymen a
keen, bitter, and outraged cry of "Take him out!" So strongly does the
partisan heart pulsate to the interests of the nominee! This frantic
petition had no effect on the interloper. A man who has inherited half
a dozen violent quarrels, any one of which may at any moment burst
into a vendetta,—inheriting little else,—is not easily dismayed by
the disapprobation of either friend or foe. His statuesque features,
shaded by the drooping brim of his old black hat were as calm as ever,
and his slow blue eyes did not, for one moment, rest upon the excited
scene about him, so unspeakably new to his scanty experience. His
fine figure showed to great advantage on horseback, despite his
uncouth, coarse garb; he was mounted upon a sturdy, brown mare of
obscure origin, but good-looking, clean-built, sure-footed, and with
the blended charm of spirit and docility; she represented his whole
estate, except his gun and his lean, old hound, that had accompanied
him to the fair, and was even now improving the shining hour by
quarreling over a bone outside the grounds with other people's
The judges were exacting. The riders were ordered to gallop to the
right—and around they went. To the left—and there was again the
spectacle of the swiftly circling equestrian figures. They were
required to draw up in a line, and to dismount; then to mount, and
again to alight. Those whom these manoeuvres proved inferior were
dismissed at once, and the circle was reduced to eight. An exchange of
horses was commanded; and once more the riding, fast and slow, left
and right, the mounting and dismounting were repeated. The proficiency
of the remaining candidates rendered them worthy of more difficult
ordeals. They were required to snatch a hat from the ground while
riding at full gallop. Pistols loaded with blank cartridges were fired
behind the horses, and subsequently close to their quivering and
snorting nostrils, in order that the relative capacity of the riders
to manage a frightened and unruly steed might be compared, and the
criticism of the judges mowed the number down to four.
Free speech is conceded by all right-thinking people to be a blessing.
It is often a balm. Outside of the building and of earshot the
defeated aspirants took what comfort they could in consigning, with
great fervor and volubility, all the judicial magnates to that torrid
region unknown to polite geographical works.
Of the four horsemen remaining in the ring, two were Jenkins Hollis
and Jacob Brice. Short turns at full gallop were prescribed. The
horses were required to go backward at various gaits. Bars were
brought in and the crowd enjoyed the exhibition of the standing-leap,
at an ever-increasing height and then the flying-leap—a tumultuous
confused impression of thundering hoofs and tossing mane and grim
defiant faces of horse and rider, in the lightning-like moment of
passing. Obstructions were piled on the track for the "long jumps,"
and in one of the wildest leaps a good rider was unhorsed and rolled
on the ground while his recreant steed that had balked at the last
moment scampered around and around the arena in a wild effort to find
the door beneath the tiers of seats to escape so fierce a
competition. This accident reduced the number of candidates to the two
mountaineers and Tip Hackett, the man whom Jacob had pronounced a
formidable rival. The circling about, the mounting and dismounting,
the exchange of horses were several times repeated without any
apparent result, and excitement rose to fever heat.
The premium and certificate lay between the three men. The town
faction trembled at the thought that the substantial award of the
saddle and bridle, with the decoration of the blue ribbon, and the
intangible but still precious secondary glory of the certificate and
the red ribbon might be given to the two mountaineers, leaving the
crack rider of Colbury in an ignominious lurch; while the country
party feared Hollis's defeat by Hackett rather less than that Jenks
would be required to relinquish the premium to the interloper Brice,
for the young hunter's riding had stricken a pang of prophetic terror
to more than one partisan rustic's heart. In the midst of the
perplexing doubt, which tried the judges' minds, came the hour for
dinner, and the decision was postponed until after that meal.
The competitors left the arena, and the spectators transferred their
attention to unburdening hampers, or to jostling one another in the
Everybody was feasting but Cynthia Hollis. The intense excitement of
the day, the novel sights and sounds utterly undreamed of in her
former life, the abruptly struck chords of new emotions suddenly set
vibrating within her, had dulled her relish for the midday meal; and
while the other members of the family repaired to the shade of a tree
outside the grounds to enjoy that refection, she wandered about the
"floral hall," gazing at the splendors of bloom thronging there, all
so different from the shy grace, the fragility of poise, the delicacy
of texture of the flowers of her ken,—the rhododendron, the azalea,
the Chilhowee lily,—yet vastly imposing in their massed exuberance
and scarlet pride, for somehow they all seemed high colored.
She went more than once to note with a kind of aghast dismay those
trophies of feminine industry, the quilts; some were of the "log
cabin" and "rising sun" variety, but others were of geometric
intricacy of form and were kaleidoscopic of color with an amazing
labyrinth of stitchings and embroideries—it seemed a species of
effrontery to dub one gorgeous poly-tinted silken banner a quilt. But
already it bore a blue ribbon, and its owner was the richer by the
prize of a glass bowl and the envy of a score of deft-handed
competitors. She gazed upon the glittering jellies and preserves,
upon the biscuits and cheeses, the hair-work and wax flowers, and
paintings. These latter treated for the most part of castles and seas
rather than of the surrounding altitudes, but Cynthia came to a pause
of blank surprise in front of a shadow rather than a picture which
represented a spring of still brown water in a mossy cleft of a rock
where the fronds of a fern seemed to stir in the foreground. "I hev
viewed the like o' that a many a time," she said disparagingly. To her
it hardly seemed rare enough for the blue ribbon on the frame.
In the next room she dawdled through great piles of prize fruits and
vegetables—water-melons unduly vast of bulk, peaches and pears and
pumpkins of proportions never seen before out of a nightmare, stalks
of Indian corn eighteen feet high with seven ears each,—all
apparently attesting what they could do when they would, and that all
the enterprise of Kildeer County was not exclusively of the feminine
Finally Cynthia came out from the midst of them and stood leaning
against one of the large pillars which supported the roof of the
amphitheatre, still gazing about the half-deserted building, with the
smouldering fires of her slumberous eyes newly kindled.
To other eyes and ears it might not have seemed a scene of tumultuous
metropolitan life, with the murmuring trees close at hand dappling the
floor with sycamore shadows, the fields of Indian corn across the
road, the exuberant rush of the stream down the slope just beyond, the
few hundred spectators who had intently watched the events of the day;
but to Cynthia Hollis the excitement of the crowd and movement and
noise could no further go.
By the natural force of gravitation Jacob Brice presently was walking
slowly and apparently aimlessly around to where she was standing. He
said nothing, however, when he was beside her, and she seemed entirely
unconscious of his presence. Her yellow dress was as stiff as a board,
and as clean as her strong, young arms could make it; at her throat
were the shining black beads; on her head she wore a limp, yellow
calico sunbonnet, which hung down over her eyes, and almost obscured
her countenance. To this article she perhaps owed the singular purity
and transparency of her complexion, as much as to the mountain air,
and the chiefly vegetable fare of her father's table. She wore it
constantly, although it operated almost as a mask, rendering her more
easily recognizable to their few neighbors by her flaring attire than
by her features, and obstructing from her own view all surrounding
scenery, so that she could hardly see the cow, which so much of her
time she was slowly poking after.
She spoke unexpectedly, and without any other symptom that she knew of
the young hunter's proximity. "I never thought, Jacob, ez how ye would
hev come down hyar, all the way from the mountings, to ride agin my
dad, an' beat him out'n that thar saddle an' bridle."
"Ye won't hev nothin' ter say ter me," retorted Jacob sourly.
A long silence ensued.
Then he resumed didactically, but with some irrelevancy, "I tole ye
t'other day ez how ye war old enough ter be a-studyin' 'bout gittin'
"They don't think nothin' of ye ter our house, Jacob. Dad 's always
a-jowin' at ye." Cynthia's candor certainly could not be called in
The young hunter replied with some natural irritation: "He hed better
not let me hear him, ef he wants to keep whole bones inside his skin.
He better not tell me, nuther."
"He don't keer enough 'bout ye, Jacob, ter tell ye. He don't think
nothin' of ye."
Love is popularly supposed to dull the mental faculties. It developed
in Jacob Brice sudden strategic abilities.
"Thar is them ez does," he said diplomatically.
Cynthia spoke promptly with more vivacity than usual, but in her
customary drawl and apparently utterly irrelevantly:—
"I never in all my days see no sech red-headed gal ez that thar Becky
Stiles. She's the red-headedest gal ever I see." And Cynthia once more
Jacob resumed, also irrelevantly:—
"When I goes a-huntin' up yander ter Pine Lick, they is mighty perlite
ter me. They ain't never done nothin' agin me, ez I knows on." Then,
after a pause of deep cogitation, he added, "Nor hev they said nothin'
agin me, nuther."
Cynthia took up her side of the dialogue, if dialogue it could be
called, with wonted irrelevancy: "That thar Becky Stiles, she's got
the freckledest face—ez freckled ez any turkey-aig" (with an
indescribable drawl on the last word).
"They ain't done nothin' agin me," reiterated Jacob astutely, "nor
said nothin' nuther—none of 'em."
Cynthia looked hard across the amphitheatre at the distant Great Smoky
Mountains shimmering in the hazy September sunlight—so ineffably
beautiful, so delicately blue, that they might have seemed the ideal
scenery of some impossibly lovely ideal world. Perhaps she was
wondering what the unconscious Becky Stiles, far away in those dark
woods about Pine Lick, had secured in this life besides her freckled
face. Was this the sylvan deity of the young hunter's adoration?
Cynthia took off her sunbonnet to use it for a fan. Perhaps it was
well for her that she did so at this moment; it had so entirely
concealed her head that her hair might have been the color of Becky
Stiles's, and no one the wiser. The dark brown tendrils curled
delicately on her creamy forehead; the excitement of the day had
flushed her pale cheeks with an unwonted glow; her eyes were alight
with their newly kindled fires; the clinging curtain of her bonnet had
concealed the sloping curves of her shoulders—altogether she was
attractive enough, despite the flare of her yellow dress, and
especially attractive to the untutored eyes of Jacob Brice. He
relented suddenly, and lost all the advantages of his tact and
"I likes ye better nor I does Becky Stiles," he said moderately. Then
with more fervor, "I likes ye better nor any gal I ever see."
The usual long pause ensued.
"Ye hev got a mighty cur'ous way o' showin' it," Cynthia replied.
"I dunno what ye 're talkin' 'bout, Cynthy."
"Ye hev got a mighty cur'ous way o' showin' it," she reiterated, with
renewed animation—"a-comin' all the way down hyar from the mountings
ter beat my dad out'n that thar saddle an' bridle, what he's done sot
his heart onto. Mighty cur'ous way."
"Look hyar, Cynthy." The young hunter broke off suddenly, and did not
speak again for several minutes. A great perplexity was surging this
way and that in his slow brains—a great struggle was waging in his
heart. He was to choose between love and ambition—nay, avarice too
was ranged beside his aspiration. He felt himself an assured victor in
the competition, and he had seen that saddle and bridle. They were on
exhibition to-day, and to him their material and workmanship seemed
beyond expression wonderful, and elegant, and substantial. He could
never hope otherwise to own such accoutrements. His eyes would never
again even rest upon such resplendent objects, unless indeed in
Hollis's possession. Any one who has ever loved a horse can appreciate
a horseman's dear desire that beauty should go beautifully
caparisoned. And then, there was his pride in his own riding, and his
anxiety to have his preeminence in that accomplishment acknowledged
and recognized by his friends, and, dearer triumph still, by his
enemies. A terrible pang before he spoke again.
"Look hyar, Cynthy," he said at last; "ef ye will marry me, I won't
go back in yander no more. I'll leave the premi-um ter them ez kin
"Ye're foolish, Jacob," she replied, still fanning with the yellow
calico sunbonnet. "Ain't I done tole ye, ez how they don't think
nothin' of ye ter our house? I don't want all of 'em a-jowin' at me,
"Ye talk like ye ain't got good sense, Cynthy," said Jacob irritably.
"What's ter hender me from hitchin' up my mare ter my uncle's wagon
an' ye an' me a-drivin' up hyar to the Cross-Roads, fifteen mile, and
git Pa'son Jones ter marry us? We'll get the license down hyar ter the
Court House afore we start. An' while they'll all be a-foolin' away
thar time a-ridin' round that thar ring, ye an' me will be a-gittin'
married." Ten minutes ago Jacob Brice did not think riding around that
ring was such a reprehensible waste of time. "What's ter hender? It
don't make no differ how they jow then."
"I done tole ye, Jacob," said the sedate Cynthia, still fanning with
With a sudden return of his inspiration, Jacob retorted, affecting an
air of stolid indifference: "Jes' ez ye choose. I won't hev ter ax
Becky Stiles twict."
And he turned to go.
"I never said no, Jacob," said Cynthia precipitately. "I never said ez
how I wouldn't hev ye."
"Waal, then, jes' come along with me right now while I hitch up the
mare. I ain't a-goin' ter leave yer a-standin' hyar. Ye're too
skittish. Time I come back ye'd hev done run away I dunno whar." A
moment's pause and he added: "Is ye a-goin' ter stand thar all day,
Cynthy Hollis, a-lookin' up an' around, and a-turnin' yer neck fust
this way and then t'other, an' a-lookin' fur all the worl' like a wild
turkey in a trap, or one o' them thar skeery young deer, or sech
senseless critters? What ails the gal?"
"Thar'll be nobody ter help along the work ter our house," said
Cynthia, the weight of the home difficulties bearing heavily on her
"What's ter hender ye from a-goin' down thar an' lendin' a hand every
wunst in a while? But ef ye're a-goin' ter stand thar like ye hedn't
no more action than a—a-dunno-what,—jes' like yer dad, I ain't. I'll
jes' leave ye a-growed ter that thar post, an' I'll jes' light out
stiddier, an' afore the cows git ter Pine Lick, I'll be thar too. Jes'
ez ye choose. Come along ef ye wants ter come. I ain't a-goin' ter ax
ye no more."
"I'm a-comin'," said Cynthia.
There was great though illogical rejoicing on the part of the country
faction when the crowds were again seated, tier above tier, in the
amphitheatre, and the riders were once more summoned into the arena,
to discover from Jacob Brice's unaccounted-for absence that he had
withdrawn and left the nominee to his chances.
In the ensuing competition it became very evident to the not
altogether impartially disposed judges that they could not, without
incurring the suspicions alike of friend and foe, award the premium to
their fellow-townsman. Straight as a shingle though he might be, more
prepossessing to the eye, the ex-cavalryman of fifty battles was far
better trained in all the arts of horsemanship.
A wild shout of joy burst from the rural party when the most portly
and rubicund of the portly and red-faced judges advanced into the ring
and decorated Jenkins Hollis with the blue ribbon. A frantic
antistrophe rent the air. "Take it off!" vociferated the bitter town
faction—"take it off!"
A diversion was produced by the refusal of the Colbury champion to
receive the empty honor of the red ribbon and the certificate. Thus
did he except to the ruling of the judges. In high dudgeon he faced
about and left the arena, followed shortly by the decorated Jenks,
bearing the precious saddle and bridle, and going with a wooden face
to receive the congratulations of his friends.
The entries for the slow mule race had been withdrawn at the last
moment; and the spectators, balked of that unique sport, and the fair
being virtually over, were rising from their seats and making their
noisy preparations for departure. Before Jenks had cleared the
fair-building, being somewhat impeded by the moving mass of humanity,
he encountered one of his neighbors, a listless mountaineer, who spoke
on this wise:—
"Does ye know that thar gal o' yourn—that thar Cynthy?"
Mr. Hollis nodded his expressionless head—presumably he did know
"Waal," continued his leisurely interlocutor, still interrogative,
"does ye know Jacob Brice?"
Ill-starred association of ideas! There was a look of apprehension on
Jenkins Hollis's wooden face.
"They hev done got a license down hyar ter the Court House an' gone
a-kitin' out on the Old B'ar road."
This was explicit.
"Whar's my horse?" exclaimed Jenks, appropriating "John Barleycorn" in
his haste. Great as was his hurry, it was not too imperative to
prevent him from strapping upon the horse the premium saddle, and
inserting in his mouth the new bit and bridle. And in less than ten
minutes a goodly number of recruits from the crowd assembled in
Colbury were also "a-kitin'" out on the road to Old Bear, delighted
with a new excitement, and bent on running down the eloping couple
with no more appreciation of the sentimental phase of the question and
the tender illusions of love's young dream than if Jacob and Cynthia
were two mountain foxes.
Down the red-clay slopes of the outskirts of the town "John
Barleycorn" thunders with a train of horsemen at his heels. Splash
into the clear fair stream whose translucent depths tell of its
birthplace among the mountain springs—how the silver spray showers
about as the pursuers surge through the ford leaving behind them a
foamy wake!—and now they are pressing hard up the steep ascent of the
opposite bank, and galloping furiously along a level stretch of road,
with the fences and trees whirling by, and the September landscape
flying on the wings of the wind. The chase leads past fields of
tasseled Indian corn, with yellowing thickly swathed ears, leaning
heavily from the stalk; past wheat-lands, the crops harvested and the
crab-grass having its day at last; past "woods-lots" and their black
shadows, and out again into the September sunshine; past rickety
little homes, not unlike Hollis's own, with tow-headed children,
exactly like his, standing with wide eyes, looking at the rush and
hurry of the pursuit—sometimes in the ill-kept yards a wood-fire is
burning under the boiling sorghum kettle, or beneath the branches of
the orchard near at hand a cider-mill is crushing the juice out of the
red and yellow, ripe and luscious apples. Homeward-bound prize cattle
are overtaken—a Durham bull, reluctantly permitting himself to be led
into a fence corner that the hunt may sweep by unobstructed, and
turning his proud blue-ribboned head angrily toward the riders as if
indignant that anything except him should absorb attention; a gallant
horse, with another floating blue streamer, bearing himself as
becometh a king's son; the chase comes near to crushing sundry
grunting porkers impervious to pride and glory in any worldly
distinctions of cerulean decorations, and at last is fain to draw up
and wait until a flock of silly over-dressed sheep, running in frantic
fear every way but the right way, can be gathered together and guided
to a place of safety.
And once more, forward; past white frame houses with porches, and
vine-grown verandas, and well-tended gardens, and groves of oak and
beech and hickory trees—"John Barleycorn" makes an ineffectual but
gallant struggle to get in at the large white gate of one of these
comfortable places, Squire Goodlet's home, but he is urged back into
the road, and again the pursuit sweeps on. Those blue mountains, the
long parallel ranges of Old Bear and his brothers, seem no more a
misty, uncertain mirage against the delicious indefinable tints of the
horizon. Sharply outlined they are now, with dark, irregular shadows
upon their precipitous slopes which tell of wild ravines, and
rock-lined gorges, and swirling mountain torrents, and great,
beetling, gray crags. A breath of balsams comes on the freshening
wind—the lungs expand to meet it. There is a new aspect in the scene;
a revivifying current thrills through the blood; a sudden ideal beauty
descends on prosaic creation.
"'Pears like I can't git my breath good in them flat countries," says
Jenkins Hollis to himself, as "John Barleycorn" improves his speed
under the exhilarating influence of the wind. "I'm nigh on to
sifflicated every time I goes down yander ter Colbury" (with a jerk of
his wooden head in the direction of the village).
Long stretches of woods are on either side of the road now, with no
sign of the changing season in the foliage save the slender, pointed,
scarlet leaves and creamy plumes of the sourwood, gleaming here and
there; and presently another panorama of open country unrolls to the
view. Two or three frame houses appear with gardens and orchards, a
number of humble log cabins, and a dingy little store, and the
Cross-Roads are reached. And here the conclusive intelligence meets
the party that Jacob and Cynthia were married by Parson Jones an hour
ago, and were still "a-kitin'," at last accounts, out on the road to
The pursuit stayed its ardor. On the auspicious day when Jenkins
Hollis took the blue ribbon at the County Fair and won the saddle and
bridle he lost his daughter.
They saw Cynthia no more until late in the autumn when she came,
without a word of self-justification or apology for her conduct, to
lend her mother a helping hand in spinning and weaving her little
brothers' and sisters' clothes. And gradually the éclat attendant
upon her nuptials was forgotten, except that Mrs. Hollis now and then
remarks that she "dunno how we could hev bore up agin Cynthy's
a-runnin' away like she done, ef it hedn't a-been fur that thar saddle
an' bridle an' takin' the blue ribbon at the County Fair."