A Crisis For The Guard by John
The tutor was from New England, and he was precisely what passes, with
Southerners, as typical. He was thin, he wore spectacles, he talked
dreamy abstractions, and he looked clerical. Indeed, his ancestors had
been clergymen for generations, and, by nature and principle, he was an
apostle of peace and a non-combatant. He had just come to the Gap—a
cleft in the Cumberland Mountains—to prepare two young Blue Grass
Kentuckians for Harvard. The railroad was still thirty miles away, and
he had travelled mule-back through mudholes, on which, as the joke ran,
a traveller was supposed to leave his card before he entered and
disappeared—that his successor might not unknowingly press him too
hard. I do know that, in those mudholes, mules were sometimes drowned.
The tutor's gray mule fell over a bank with him, and he would have gone
back had he not feared what was behind more than anything that was
possible ahead. He was mud-bespattered, sore, tired and dispirited when
he reached the Gap, but still plucky and full of business. He wanted to
see his pupils at once and arrange his schedule. They came in after
supper, and I had to laugh when I saw his mild eyes open. The boys were
only fifteen and seventeen, but each had around him a huge revolver and
a belt of cartridges, which he unbuckled and laid on the table after
shaking hands. The tutor's shining glasses were raised to me for light.
I gave it: my brothers had just come in from a little police duty, I
explained. Everybody was a policeman at the Gap, I added; and,
naturally, he still looked puzzled; but he began at once to question the
boys about their studies, and, in an hour, he had his daily schedule
mapped out and submitted to me. I had to cover my mouth with my hand
when I came to one item—"Exercise: a walk of half an hour every
Wednesday afternoon between five and six"—for the younger, known since
at Harvard as the colonel, and known then at the Gap as the Infant of
the Guard, winked most irreverently. As he had just come back from a
ten-mile chase down the valley on horseback after a bad butcher, and as
either was apt to have a like experience any and every day, I was not
afraid they would fail to get exercise enough; so I let that item of the
The tutor slept in my room that night, and my four brothers, the eldest
of whom was a lieutenant on the police guard, in a room across the
hallway. I explained to the tutor that there was much lawlessness in
the region; that we "foreigners" were trying to build a town, and that,
to ensure law and order, we had all become volunteer policemen. He
seemed to think it was most interesting.
About three o'clock in the morning a shrill whistle blew, and, from
habit, I sprang out of bed. I had hardly struck the floor when four
pairs of heavy boots thundered down the stairs just outside the door,
and I heard a gasp from the startled tutor. He was bolt upright in bed,
and his face in the moonlight was white with fear.
I told him it was a police whistle and that the boys were answering it.
Everybody jumped when he heard a whistle, I explained; for nobody in
town was permitted to blow one except a policeman. I guessed there would
be enough men answering that whistle without me, however, and I slipped
back into bed.
"Well," he said; and when the boys lumbered upstairs again and one
shouted through the door, "All right!" the tutor said again with
Next day there was to be a political gathering at the Gap. A Senator was
trying to lift himself by his own boot-straps into the Governor's
chair. He was going to make a speech, there would be a big and unruly
crowd, and it would be a crucial day for the Guard. So, next morning, I
suggested to the tutor that it would be unwise for him to begin work
with his pupils that day, for the reason that he was likely to be
greatly interrupted and often. He thought, however, he would like to
begin. He did begin, and within half an hour Gordon, the town sergeant,
thrust his head inside the door and called the colonel by name.
"Come on," he said; "they're going to try that d—n butcher." And seeing
from the tutor's face that he had done something dreadful, he slammed
the door in apologetic confusion. The tutor was law-abiding, and it was
the law that called the colonel, and so the tutor let him go—nay, went
with him and heard the case. The butcher had gone off on another man's
horse—the man owed him money, he said, and the only way he could get
his money was to take the horse as security. But the sergeant did not
know this, and he and the colonel rode after him, and the colonel,
having the swifter horse, but not having had time to get his own pistol,
took the sergeant's and went ahead. He fired quite close to the running
butcher twice, and the butcher thought it wise to halt. When he saw the
child who had captured him he was speechless, and he got off his horse
and cut a big switch to give the colonel a whipping, but the doughty
Infant drew down on him again and made him ride, foaming with rage, back
to town. The butcher was good-natured at the trial, however, and the
tutor heard him say, with a great guffaw:
"An' I do believe the d—n little fool would 'a' shot me."
Once more the tutor looked at the pupil whom he was to lead into the
classic halls of Harvard, and once more he said:
People were streaming into town now, and I persuaded the tutor that
there was no use for him to begin his studies again. He said he would go
fishing down the river and take a swim. He would get back in time to
hear the speaking in the afternoon. So I got him a horse, and he came
out with a long cane fishing-pole and a pair of saddle-bags. I told him
that he must watch the old nag or she would run away with him,
particularly when he started homeward. The tutor was not much of a
centaur. The horse started as he was throwing the wrong leg over his
saddle, and the tutor clamped his rod under one arm, clutching for the
reins with both hands and kicking for his stirrups with both feet. The
tip of the limber pole beat the horse's flank gently as she struck a
trot, and smartly as she struck into a lope, and so with arms, feet,
saddle-pockets, and fishing-rod flapping towards different points of the
compass, the tutor passed out of sight over Poplar Hill on a dead run.
As soon as he could get over a fit of laughter and catch his breath, the
"Do you know what he had in those saddle-pockets?"
"A bathing suit," he shouted; and he went off again.
Not even in a primeval forest, it seemed, would the modest Puritan bare
his body to the mirror of limpid water and the caress of mountain air.
The trouble had begun early that morning, when Gordon, the town
sergeant, stepped from his door and started down the street with no
little self-satisfaction. He had been arraying himself for a full hour,
and after a tub-bath and a shave he stepped, spic and span, into the
street with his head steadily held high, except when he bent it to look
at the shine of his boots, which was the work of his own hands, and of
which he was proud. As a matter of fact, the sergeant felt that he
looked just as he particularly wanted to look on that day—his best.
Gordon was a native of Wise, but that day a girl was coming from Lee,
and he was ready for her.
Opposite the Intermont, a pistol-shot cracked from Cherokee Avenue, and
from habit he started that way. Logan, the captain of the Guard—the
leading lawyer in that part of the State—was ahead of him however, and
he called to Gordon to follow. Gordon ran in the grass along the road to
keep those boots out of the dust. Somebody had fired off his pistol for
fun and was making tracks for the river. As they pushed the miscreant
close, he dashed into the river to wade across. It was a very cold
morning, and Gordon prayed that the captain was not going to be such a
fool as to follow the fellow across the river. He should have known
"In with you," said the captain quietly, and the mirror of the shining
boots was dimmed, and the icy water chilled the sergeant to the knees
and made him so mad that he flashed his pistol and told the runaway to
halt, which he did in the middle of the stream. It was Richards, the
tough from "the Pocket," and, as he paid his fine promptly, they had to
let him go. Gordon went back, put on his everyday clothes and got his
billy and his whistle and prepared to see the maid from Lee when his
duty should let him. As a matter of fact, he saw her but once, and then
he was not made happy.
The people had come in rapidly—giants from the Crab Orchard,
mountaineers from through the Gap, and from Cracker's Neck and
Thunderstruck Knob; Valley people from Little Stone-Gap, from the
furnace site and Bum Hollow and Wildcat, and people from Lee, from
Turkey Cove, and from the Pocket—the much-dreaded Pocket—far down in
the river hills.
They came on foot and on horseback, and left their horses in the bushes
and crowded the streets and filled the saloon of one Jack Woods—who had
the cackling laugh of Satan and did not like the Guard, for good
reasons, and whose particular pleasure was to persuade some customer to
stir up a hornet's nest of trouble. From the saloon the crowd moved up
towards the big spring at the foot of Imboden Hill, where, under
beautiful trunk-mottled beeches, was built the speakers' platform.
Precisely at three o'clock the local orator much flurried, rose, ran his
hand through his long hair and looked in silence over the crowd.
"Fellow citizens! There's beauty in the stars, of night and in the
glowin' orb of day. There's beauty in the rollin' meadow and in the
quiet stream. There's beauty in the smilin' valley and in the
everlastin' hills. Therefore, fellow citizens—THEREFORE, fellow
citizens, allow me to introduce to you the future Governor of these
United States—Senator William Bayhone." And he sat down with such a
beatific smile of self-satisfaction that a fiend would not have had the
heart to say he had not won.
Now, there are wandering minstrels yet in the Cumberland Hills. They
play fiddles and go about making up "ballets" that involve local
history. Sometimes they make a pretty good verse—this, for instance,
about a feud:
The death of these two men
Caused great trouble in our land.
Caused men to leave their families
And take the parting hand.
Retaliation, still at war,
May never, never cease.
I would that I could only see
Our land once more at peace.
There was a minstrel out in the crowd, and pretty soon he struck up his
fiddle and his lay, and he did not exactly sing the virtues of Billy
Bayhone. Evidently some partisan thought he ought, for he smote him on
the thigh with the toe of his boot and raised such a stir as a rude
stranger might had he smitten a troubadour in Arthur's Court. The crowd
thickened and surged, and four of the Guard emerged with the fiddler and
his assailant under arrest. It was as though the Valley were a sheet of
water straightway and the fiddler the dropping of a stone, for the
ripple of mischief started in every direction. It caught two
mountaineers on the edge of the crowd, who for no particular reason
thumped each other with their huge fists, and were swiftly led away by
that silent Guard. The operation of a mysterious force was in the air
and it puzzled the crowd. Somewhere a whistle would blow, and, from this
point and that, a quiet, well-dressed young man would start swiftly
toward it. The crowd got restless and uneasy, and, by and by,
experimental and defiant. For in that crowd was the spirit of Bunker
Hill and King's Mountain. It couldn't fiddle and sing; it couldn't
settle its little troubles after the good old fashion of fist and skull;
it couldn't charge up and down the streets on horseback if it pleased;
it couldn't ride over those puncheon sidewalks; it couldn't drink openly
and without shame; and, Shades of the American Eagle and the Stars and
Stripes, it couldn't even yell. No wonder, like the heathen, it raged.
What did these blanked "furriners" have against them anyhow? They
couldn't run their country—not much.
Pretty soon there came a shrill whistle far down-town—then another and
another. It sounded ominous, indeed, and it was, being a signal of
distress from the Infant of the Guard, who stood before the door of Jack
Woods's saloon with his pistol levelled on Richards, the tough from the
Pocket, the Infant, standing there with blazing eyes, alone and in the
heart of a gathering storm.
Now the chain of lawlessness that had tightened was curious and
significant. There was the tough and his kind—lawless, irresponsible
and possible in any community. There was the farm-hand who had come to
town with the wild son of his employer—an honest, law-abiding farmer.
Came, too, a friend of the farmer who had not yet reaped the crop of
wild oats sown in his youth. Whiskey ran all into one mould. The
farm-hand drank with the tough, the wild son with the farm-hand, and the
three drank together, and got the farmer's unregenerate friend to drink
with them; and he and the law-abiding farmer himself, by and by, took a
drink for old time's sake. Now the cardinal command of rural and
municipal districts all through the South is, "Forsake not your friend":
and it does not take whiskey long to make friends. Jack Woods had given
the tough from the Pocket a whistle.
"You dassen't blow it," said he.
Richards asked why, and Jack told him. Straightway the tough blew the
whistle, and when the little colonel ran down to arrest him he laughed
and resisted, and the wild son and the farm-hand and Jack Woods showed
an inclination to take his part. So, holding his "drop" on the tough
with one hand, the Infant blew vigorously for help with the other.
Logan, the captain, arrived first—he usually arrived first—and Gordon,
the sergeant, was by his side—Gordon was always by his side. He would
have stormed a battery if the captain had led him, and the captain would
have led him—alone—if he thought it was his duty. Logan was as calm as
a stage hero at the crisis of a play. The crowd had pressed close.
"Take that man," he said sharply, pointing to the tough whom the colonel
held covered, and two men seized him from behind.
The farm-hand drew his gun.
"No, you don't!" he shouted.
"Take him," said the captain quietly; and he was seized by two more and
It was then that Sturgeon, the wild son, ran up.
"You can't take that man to jail," he shouted with an oath, pointing at
The captain waved his hand. "And him!"
As two of the Guard approached, Sturgeon started for his gun. Now,
Sturgeon was Gordon's blood cousin, but Gordon levelled his own pistol.
Sturgeon's weapon caught in his pocket, and he tried to pull it loose.
The moment he succeeded Gordon stood ready to fire. Twice the hammer of
the sergeant's pistol went back almost to the turning-point, and then,
as he pulled the trigger again, Macfarlan, first lieutenant, who once
played lacrosse at Yale, rushed, parting the crowd right and left, and
dropped his billy lightly three times—right, left and right—on
Sturgeon's head. The blood spurted, the head fell back between the
bully's shoulders, his grasp on his pistol loosened, and he sank to his
knees. For a moment the crowd was stunned by the lightning quickness of
it all. It was the first blow ever struck in that country with a piece
of wood in the name of the law.
"Take 'em on, boys," called the captain, whose face had paled a little,
though he seemed as cool as ever.
And the boys started, dragging the three struggling prisoners, and the
crowd, growing angrier and angrier, pressed close behind, a hundred of
them, led by the farmer himself, a giant in size, and beside himself
with rage and humiliation. Once he broke through the guard line and was
pushed back. Knives and pistols began to flash now everywhere, and loud
threats and curses rose on all sides—the men should not be taken to
jail. The sergeant, dragging Sturgeon, looked up into the blazing eyes
of a girl on the sidewalk, Sturgeon's sister—the maid from Lee. The
sergeant groaned. Logan gave some order just then to the Infant, who
ran ahead, and by the time the Guard with the prisoners had backed to a
corner there were two lines of Guards drawn across the street. The first
line let the prisoners and their captors through, closed up behind, and
backed slowly towards the corner, where it meant to stand.
It was very exciting there. Winchesters and shotguns protruded from the
line threateningly, but the mob came on as though it were going to press
through, and determined faces blenched with excitement, but not with
fear. A moment later, the little colonel and the Guards on either side
of him were jabbing at men with cocked Winchesters. At that moment it
would have needed but one shot to ring out to have started an awful
carnage; but not yet was there a man in the mob—and that is the trouble
with mobs—who seemed willing to make a sacrifice of himself that the
others might gain their end. For one moment they halted, cursing and
waving; their pistols, preparing for a charge; and in that crucial
moment the tutor from New England came like a thunderbolt to the rescue.
Shrieks of terror from children, shrieks of outraged modesty from women,
rent the air down the street where the huddled crowd was rushing right
and left in wild confusion, and, through the parting crowd, the tutor
flew into sight on horseback, bareheaded, barefooted, clad in a gaudily
striped bathing suit, with his saddle-pockets flapping behind him like
wings. Some mischievous mountaineers, seeing him in his bathing suit on
the point of a rock up the river, had joyously taken a pot-shot or two
at him, and the tutor had mounted his horse and fled. But he came as
welcome and as effective as an emissary straight from the God of
Battles, though he came against his will, for his old nag was frantic
and was running away. Men, women and children parted before him, and
gaping mouths widened as he passed. The impulse of the crowd ran faster
than his horse, and even the enraged mountaineers in amazed wonder
sprang out of his way, and, far in the rear, a few privileged ones saw
the frantic horse plunge towards his stable, stop suddenly, and pitch
his mottled rider through the door and mercifully out of sight. Human
purpose must give way when a pure miracle comes to earth to baffle it.
It gave way now long enough to let the oaken doors of the calaboose
close behind tough, farm-hand, and the farmer's wild son. The line of
Winchesters at the corner quietly gave way. The power of the Guard was
established, the backbone of the opposition broken; henceforth, the work
for law and order was to be easy compared with what it had been. Up at
the big spring under the beeches sat the disgusted orator of the day
and the disgusted Senator, who, seriously, was quite sure that the
Guard, being composed of Democrats, had taken this way to shatter his
Next morning, in court, the members of the Guard acted as witnesses
against the culprits. Macfarlan stated that he had struck Sturgeon over
the head to save his life, and Sturgeon, after he had paid his fine,
said he would prefer being shot to being clubbed to death, and he bore
dangerous malice for a long time, until he learned what everybody else
knew, that Macfarlan always did what he thought he ought, and never
spoke anything but the literal truth, whether it hurt friend, foe or
After court, Richards, the tough, met Gordon, the sergeant, in the road.
"Gordon," he said, "you swore to a ---- lie about me a while ago."
"How do you want to fight?" asked Gordon.
"Come on"; and Gordon started for the town limits across the river,
Richards following on horseback. At a store, Gordon unbuckled his belt
and tossed his pistol and his police badge inside. Jack Woods, seeing
this, followed, and the Infant, seeing Woods, followed too. The law was
law, but this affair was personal, and would be settled without the
limits of law and local obligation. Richards tried to talk to Gordon,
but the sergeant walked with his head down, as though he could not
hear—he was too enraged to talk.
While Richards was hitching his horse in the bushes the sergeant stood
on the bank of the river with his arms folded and his chin swinging from
side to side. When he saw Richards in the open he rushed for him like a
young bull that feels the first swelling of his horns. It was not a
fair, stand-up, knock-down English fight, but a Scotch tussle, in which
either could strike, kick, bite or gouge. After a few blows they
clinched and whirled and fell, Gordon on top—with which advantage he
began to pound the tough from the Pocket savagely. Woods made as if to
pull him off, but the Infant drew his pistol. "Keep off!"
"He's killing him!" shouted Woods, halting.
"Let him holler 'Enough,' then," said the Infant.
"He's killing him!" shouted Woods.
"Let Gordon's friends take him off, then," said the Infant. "Don't you
And it was done. Richards was senseless and speechless—he really
couldn't shout "Enough." But he was content, and the day left a very
satisfactory impression on him and on his friends.
If they misbehaved in town they would be arrested: that was plain. But
it was also plain that if anybody had a personal grievance against one
of the Guard he could call him out of the town limits and get
satisfaction, after the way of his fathers. There was nothing personal
at all in the attitude of the Guard towards the outsiders; which
recognition was a great stride toward mutual understanding and final
All that day I saw that something was troubling the tutor from New
England. It was the Moral Sense of the Puritan at work, I supposed, and,
that night, when I came in with a new supply of "billies" and gave one
to each of my brothers, the tutor looked up over his glasses and cleared
"Now," said I to myself, "we shall catch it hot on the savagery of the
South and the barbarous Method of keeping it down"; but before he had
said three words the colonel looked as though he were going to get up
and slap the little dignitary on the back—which would have created a
"Have you an extra one of those—those—"
"Billies?" I said, wonderingly.
"Yes. I—I believe I shall join the Guard myself," said the tutor from