A Cumberland Vendetta by John Fox, Jr.
TO MINERVA AND ELIZABETH
I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X XI XII XIII XIV XV
THE cave had been their hiding-place as children; it was a secret
refuge now against hunger or darkness when they were hunting in the
woods. The primitive meal was finished; ashes were raked over the red
coals; the slice of bacon and the little bag of meal were hung high
against the rock wall; and the two stepped from the cavern into a thicket
Parting the bushes toward the dim light, they stood on a massive
shoulder of the mountain, the river girding it far below, and the
afternoon shadows at their feet. Both carried guns-the tall mountaineer,
a Winchester; the boy, a squirrel rifle longer than himself. Climbing
about the rocky spur, they kept the same level over log and bowlder and
through bushy ravine to the north. In half an hour, they ran into a path
that led up home from the river, and they stopped to rest on a cliff that
sank in a solid black wall straight under them. The sharp edge of a steep
corn-field ran near, and, stripped of blade and tassel, the stalks and
hooded ears looked in the coming dusk a little like monks at prayer. In
the sunlight across the river the corn stood thin and frail. Over there a
drought was on it; and when drifting thistle-plumes marked the noontide
of the year, each yellow stalk had withered blades and an empty sheath.
Every-where a look of vague trouble lay upon the face of the mountains,
and when the wind blew, the silver of the leaves showed ashen. Autumn was
There was no physical sign of kinship between the two, half-brothers
though they were. The tall one was dark; the boy, a foundling, had flaxen
hair, and was stunted and ~lender. He was a dreamy~looking little fellow,
and one may easily find his like throughout the Cumberland -paler than
his fellows, from staying much indoors, with half-haunted face, and eyes
that are deeply pathetic when not cunning; ignorantly credited with
idiocy and uncanny powers; treated with much forbearance, some awe, and a
little contempt; and suffered to do his pleasure-nothing, or much that is
"I tell ye, Rome," he said, taking up the thread of talk that was
broken at the cave, "when Uncle Gabe says he's afeard thar's trouble
comm', hit's a-comm'; 'n' I want you to git me a Winchester. I'm
a-gittin' big enough now. I kin shoot might' nigh as good as you, 'n'
whut am I fit fer with this hyeh old pawpaw pop-gun?"
"I don't want you fightin', boy, I've told ye. Y'u air too little 'n'
puny, 'n' I want ye to stay home 'n' take keer o' mam 'n' the cattle-ef
fightin' does come, I reckon thar won't be triuch."
Don't ye? " cried the boy, with sharp contempt-" with ole Jas Lewallen
a-devilin' Uncle Rufe, 'n' that blackheaded young Jas a-climbin' on
stumps over thar 'cross the river, n' crowin' n' sayin' out open in
Hazlan that ye air afeard o him? Yes; 'n' he called me a idgit." The
boy's voice broke into a whimper of rage.
"Shet up, Isom! Don't you go gittin' mad now. You'll be sick ag'in.
I'll tend to him when the time comes." Rome spoke with rough kindness,
but ugly lines had gathered at his mouth and forehead. The boy's tears
came and went easily. He drew his sleeve across his eyes, and looked up
the river. Beyond the bend, three huge birds rose into the sunlight and
floated toward them. Close at hand, they swerved side-wise.
"They hain't buzzards," he said, standing up, his anger gone; "look at
them straight wings!
Again the eagles swerved, and two shot across the river. The third
dropped with shut wings to the bare crest of a gaunt old poplar under
"Hit's a young un, Rome Y" said the boy, excitedly. "He's goin' to
wait thar tell the old uns come back. Gimme that gun!
Catching up the Winchester, he slipped over the ledge; and Rome leaned
suddenly forward, looking down at the river.
A group of horsemen had ridden around the bend, and were coming at a
walk down the other shore. Every man carried something across his
saddle-bow. There was a gray horse among them - young Jasper's - and an
evil shadow came into Rome's face, and quickly passed. Near a strip of
woods the gray turned up the mountain from the party, and on its back he
saw the red glint of a woman's dress. With a half-smile he watched the
scarlet figure ride from the woods, and climb slowly up through the sunny
corn. On the spur above and full in the rich yellow light, she halted,
half turning in her saddle. He rose to his feet, to his full height, his
head bare, and thrown far back between his big shoulders, and, still as
statues, the man and the woman looked at each other across the gulf of
darkening air. A full minute the woman sat motionless, then rode on. At
the edge of the woods she stopped and turned again.
The eagle under Rome leaped one stroke in the air, and dropped like a
clod into the sea of leaves. The report of the gun and a faint cry of
triumph rose from below. It was good marksmanship, but on the cliff Rome
did not heed it. Something had fluttered in the air above the girl's
head, and he laughed aloud. She was waving her bonnet at him.
JUST where young Stetson stood, the mountains racing along each bank
of the Cumberland had sent out against each other, by mutual impulse, two
great spurs. At the river's brink they stopped sheer, with crests
uplifted, as though some hand at the last moment had hurled them apart,
and had led the water through the breach to keep them at peace. To-day
the crags looked seamed by thwarted passion; and, sullen with firs, they
made fit symbols of the human hate about the base of each.
When the feud began, no one knew. Even the original cause was
forgotten. Both families had come as friends from Virginia long ago, and
had lived as enemies nearly half a century. There was hostility before
the war, but, until then, little bloodshed. Through the hatred of change,
characteristic of the mountaineer the world over, the Lewallens were for
the Union. The Stetsons owned a few slaves, and they fought for them.
Peace found both still neighbors and worse foes. The war armed them, and
brought back an ancestral contempt for human life; it left them a
heritage of lawlessness that for mutual protection made necessary the
very means used by their feudal forefathers; personal hatred supplanted
its dead issues, and with them the war went on. The Stetsons had a good
strain of Anglo-Saxon blood, and owned valley-lands; the Lewallens kept
store and made "moonshine"; so kindred and debtors and kindred and
tenants were arrayed with one or the other leader, and gradually the
retainers of both settled on one or the other side of the river. In time
of hostility the Cumberland came to be the boundary between life and
death for the dwellers on each shore. It was feudalism born again.
Above one of the spurs each family had its home; the Stetsons, under
the seared face of Thunderstruck Knob; the Lewallens, just beneath the
wooded rim of Wolf's Head. The eaves and chimney of each cabin were
faintly visible from the porch of the other. The first light touched the
house of the Stetsons; the last, the Lewallen cabin. So there were times
when the one could not turn to the sunrise nor the other to the sunset
but with a curse in his heart, for his eye must fall on the home of his
For years there had been peace. The death of Rome Stetson's father
from ambush, and the fight in the court-house square, had forced it.
After that fight only four were left-old Jasper Lewallen and young
Jasper, the boy Rome and his uncle, Rufe Stetson. Then Rufe fled to the
West, and the Stetsons were helpless. For three years no word was heard
of him, but the hatred burned in the heart of Rome's mother, and was
traced deep in her grim old face while she patiently waited the day of
retribution. It smouldered, too, in the hearts of the women of both clans
who had lost husbands or sons or lovers; and the friends and kin of each
had little to do with one another, and met and passed with watchful eyes.
Indeed, it would take so little to turn peace to war that the wonder was
that peace had lived so long. Now trouble was at hand. Rufe Stetson had
come back at last, a few months since, and had quietly opened store at
the county-seat, Hazlan-a little town five miles up the river, where
Troubled Fork runs seething into the Cumberland-a point of neutrality for
the factions, and consequently a battIe-ground. Old Jasper's store was at
the other end of the town, and the old man had never been known to brook
competition. He had driven three men from Hazlan during the last term of
peace for this offence, and everybody knew that the fourth must leave or
fight. Already Rufe Stetson had been warned not to appear outside his
door after dusk. Once or twice his wife had seen skulking shadows under
the trees across the road, and a tremor of anticipation ran along both
banks of the Cumberland.
A FORTNIGHT later, court came. Rome was going to Hazlan, and the
feeble old Stetson mother limped across the porch from the kitchen,
trailing a Winchester behind her. Usually he went unarmed, but he took
the gun now, as she gave it, in silence.
The boy Isom was not well, and Rome had told him to ride the horse.
But the lad had gone on afoot to his duties at old Gabe Bunch's mill, and
Rome himself rode down Thunderstruck Knob through the mist and dew of the
early morning. The sun was coming up over Virginia, and through a dip in
Black Mountain the foot-hills beyond washed in blue waves against its
white disk. A little way down the mountain, the rays shot through the gap
upon him, and, lancing the mist into tatters, and lighting the dew-drops,
set the birds singing. Rome rode, heedless of it all, under primeval oak
and poplar, and along rain-clear brooks and happy waterfalls, shut in by
laurel and rhododendron, and singing past mossy stones and lacelike ferns
that brushed his stirrup. On the brow of every cliff he would stop to
look over the trees and the river to the other shore, where the gray line
of a path ran aslant Wolf's Head, and was lost in woods above and
At the river he rode up-stream, looking still across it. Old Gabe
Bunch halloed to him from the doorway of the mill, as he splashed through
the creek, and Isom's thin face peered through a breach in the logs. At
the ford beyond, he checked his horse with a short oath of pleased
surprise. Across the water, a scarlet dress was moving slowly past a
brown field of corn. The figure was bonneted, but he knew the girl's walk
and the poise of her head that far away. Just who she was, however, he
did not know, and he sat irresolute. He had seen her first a month since,
paddling along the other shore, erect, and with bonnet off and hair down;
she had taken the Lewallen path up the mountain. Afterward, he saw her
going at a gallop on young Jasper's gray horse, bareheaded again, and
with her hair loose to the wind, and he knew she was one of his enemies.
He thought her the girl people said young Jasper was going to marry, and
he had watched her the more closely. From the canoe she seemed never to
notice him; but he guessed, from the quickened sweep of her paddle, that
she knew he was looking at her, and once, when he halted on his way home
up the mountain, she half turned in her saddle and looked across at him.
This happened again, and then she waved her bonnet at him. It was bad
enough, any Stetson seeking any Lewallen for a wife, and for him to court
young Jasper's sweetheart-it was a thought to laugh at. But the mischief
was done. The gesture thrilled him, whether it meant defiance or
good-will, and the mere deviltry of such a courtship made him long for it
at every sight of her with the river between them. At once he began to
plan how he should get near her, but, through some freak, she had paid no
further heed to him. He saw her less often-for a week, in-deed, he had
not seen her at all till this day-and the forces that hindrance generates
in an imperious nature had been at work within him. The chance now was
one of gold, and with his life in his hand he turned into the stream.
Across, he could see something white on her shoulder-an empty bag. It was
grinding~day, and she was going to the mill-the Lewallen mill. She
stopped as he galloped up, and turned, pushing back her bonnet with one
hand; and he drew rein. But the friendly, expectant light in her face
kindled to such a blaze of anger in her eyes that he struck his horse
violently, as though the beast had stopped of its own accord, and,
cursing himself, kept on. A little farther, he halted again. Three
horsemen, armed with Winchesters, were jogging along toward town ahead of
him, and he wheeled about sharply. The girl, climbing rapidly toward
Steve Bray-ton's cabin, was out of the way, but he was too late to reach
the ford again. Down the road two more Lewallens with guns were in sight,
and he lashed his horse into the stream where the water was deep. Old
Gabe, looking from the door of his mill, quit laughing to himself; and
under cover of the woods, the girl watched man and horse fighting the
tide. Twice young Stetson turned his head. But his enemies apparently had
not seen him, and horse and rider scrambled up the steep bank and under
shelter of the trees. The girl had evidently learned who he was. Her
sudden anger was significant, as was the sight of the Lewallens going
armed to court, and Rome rode on, uneasy.
When he reached Troubled Fork, in sight of Hazlan, he threw a
cartridge into place and shifted the slide to see that it was ready for
use. Passing old Jasper's store on the edge of the town, he saw the old
man's bushy head through the open door, and Lewallens and Braytons
crowded out on the steps and looked after him. All were armed. Twenty
paces farther he met young Jasper on his gray, and the look on his
enemy's face made him grip his rifle. With a flashing cross-fire from eye
to eye, the two passed, each with his thumb on the hammer of his
Winchester. The groups on the court-house steps stopped talking as he
rode by, and turned to look at him. He saw none of his own friends, and
he went on at a gallop to Rufe Stetson's store. His uncle was not in
sight. Steve Marcum and old Sam Day stood in the porch, and inside a
woman was crying. Several Stetsons were near, and all with grave faces
gathered about him.
He knew what the matter was before Steve spoke. His uncle had been
driven from town. A last warning had come to him on the day before. The
hand of a friend was in the caution, and Rufe rode away at dusk. That
night his house was searched by men masked and armed. The Lewallens were
in town, and were ready to fight. The crisis had come.
BACK at the mill old Gabe was troubled. Usually he sat in a
cane-bottomed chair near the hopper, whittling, while the lad tended the
mill, and took pay in an oaken toll-dish smooth with the use of half a
century. But the incident across the river that morning had made the old
man uneasy, and he moved restlessly from his chair to the door, and back
again, while the boy watched him, wondering what the matter was, but
asking no questions. At noon an old mountaineer rode by, and the miller
"Any news in town?" he asked.
"Hain't been to town. Reckon fightin' 's goin' on thar from whut I
heerd." The careless, high-pitched answer brought the boy with wide eyes
to the door.
Whut d'ye hear? " asked Gabe. Jes heerd fightin' 's goin' on!
Then every man who came for his meal brought a wild rumor from town,
and the old miller moved his chair to the door, and sat there whittling
fast, and looking anxiously toward Hazlan. The boy was in a fever of
unrest, and old Gabe could hardly keep him in the mill. In the middle of
the afternoon the report of a rifle came down the river, breaking into
echoes against the cliffs below, and Isom ran out the door, and stood
listening for another, with an odd contradiction of fear and delight on
his eager face. In a few moments Rome Stetson galloped into sight, and,
with a shrill cry of relief, the boy ran down the road to meet him, and
ran back, holding by a stirrup. Young Stetson's face was black with
passion, and his eyes were heavy with drink. At the door of the mill he
swung from his horse, and for a moment was hardly able to speak from
rage. There had been no fight. The Stetsons were few and unprepared. They
had neither the guns nor, without Rufe, the means to open the war, and
they believed Rufe had gone for arms. So they had chafed in the store all
day, and all day Lewallens on horseback and on foot were in sight; and
each was a taunt to every Stetson, and, few as they were, the young and
hot-headed wanted to go out and fight. In the afternoon a tale-bearer had
brought some of Jasper's boasts to Rome, and, made reckless by moonshine
and much brooding, he sprang up to lead them. Steve Marcum, too, caught
up his gun, but old Sam's counsel checked him, and the two by force held
Rome back. A little later the Lewallens left town. The Stetsons, too,
disbanded, and on the way home a last drop of gall ran Rome's cup of
bitterness over. Opposite Steve Brayton's cabin a jet of smoke puffed
from the bushes across the river, and a bullet furrowed the road in front
of him. That was the shot they had heard at the mill. Somebody was
drawing a dead-line," and Rome wheeled his horse at the brink of it. A
mocking yell came over the river, and a gray horse flashed past an open
space in the bushes. Rome knew the horse and knew the yell; young Jasper
was "bantering" him. Nothing maddens the mountaineer like this childish
method of insult; and telling of it, Rome sat in a corner, and loosed a
torrent of curses against young Lewallen and his clan.
Old Gabe had listened without a word, and the strain in his face was
eased. Always the old man had stood for peace. He believed it had come
after the court-house fight, and he had hoped against hope, even when
Rufe came back to trade against old Jasper; for Rufe was big and
good-natured, and unsuspected of resolute purpose, and the Lewallens'
power had weakened. So, now that Rufe was gone again, the old miller half
believed he was gone for good. Nobody was hurt; there was a chance yet
for peace, and with a rebuke on his tongue and relief in his face, the
old man sat back in his chair and went on whittling. The boy turned
eagerly to a crevice in the logs and, trembling with excitement, searched
the other bank for Jasper's gray horse, going home.
He called me a idgit," he said to himself, with a threatening shake of
his head. "Jes wouldn't I like to hev a chance at him! Rome ull git him!
Rome ull git him!"
There was no moving point of white on the broad face of the mountains
nor along the river road. Jasper was yet to come and, with ears alert to
every word behind him, the lad fixed his eyes where he should see him
"Oh, he didn't mean to hit me. Not that he ain't mean enough to shoot
from the bresh," Rome broke out savagely. "That's jes whut I'm afeard he
will do. Thar was too much daylight fer him. Ef he jes don't come
a-sneakin' over hyeh, 'n' waitin' in the lorrel atter dark fer me, it's
all I axe."
Waitin' in the lorrel! " Old Gabe could hold back no longer. "Hit's a
shame, a burn-in' shame! I don' know whut things air comm' to! 'Pears
like all you young folks think about is killin' somebody. Folks usen to
talk about how fer they could kill a deer; now it's how fer they kin kill
a man. I hev knowed the time when a man would 'a' been druv out o' the
county fer drawin' a knife ur a pistol; 'n' ef a feller was ever killed,
it was kinder accidental, by a Barlow. I reckon folks got use' to weepons
'n' killin' 'n' bushwhackin' in the war. Looks like it's been gittin'
wuss ever sence, 'n' now hit's dirk 'n' Winchester, 'n' shootin' from the
bushes all the time. Hit's wuss 'n stealin' money to take a
feller-creetur' s life that way!
The old miller's indignation sprang from memories of a better youth.
For the courtesies of the code went on to the Blue Grass, and before the
war the mountaineer fought with English fairness and his fists. It was a
disgrace to use a deadly weapon in those days; it was a disgrace now not
to use it.
Oh, I know all the excuses folks make," he went on: " hit's fa'r fer
one as 'tis fer t'other; y'u can't fight a man fa'r 'n' squar' who'll
shoot you in the back; a pore man can't fight money in the couhts; 'n'
thar hain't no witnesses in the lorrel but leaves; 'n' dead men don't hev
much to say. I know it all. Hit's cur'us, but it act'-ally looks like
lots o' decent young folks hev got usen to the idee-thar's so much of it
goin' on, 'n' thar's so much talk 'bout killin' 'n' layin' out in the
lorrel. Reckon folks 'll git to pesterm' women n' strangers bimeby, 'n'
robbin' 'n' thievin'. Hit's bad enough thar's so leetle law thet folks
hev to take it in their own hands oncet in a while, but this shootin'
from the bresh-hit's p'int'ly a sin 'n' shame! Why," he concluded,
pointing his remonstrance as he always did, "I seed your grandad and
young Jas's fight up thar in Hazlan full two hours 'fore the war-fist and
skull-'n' your grandad was whooped. They got up and shuk hands. I don't
see why folks can't fight that way now. I wish Rufe 'n' old Jas 'n' you
'n' young Jas could have it out fist and skull, 'n' stop this killin' o'
people like hogs. Thar's nobody left but you four. But thar's no chance
o' that, I reckon."
"I'll fight him anyway, 'n' I reckon ef he don't die till I lay out in
the lorrel fer him, he'll live a long time. Ef a Stetson ever done sech
meanness as that I never heerd it."
Nother hev I," said the old man, with quick justice. " You air a
over-bearin' race, all o' ye, but I never knowed ye to be that mean.
Hit's all the wus fer ye thet ye air in sech doin's. I tell ye,
A faint cry rose above the drone of the millstones, and old Gabe
stopped with open lips to listen. The boy's face was pressed close to the
logs. A wet paddle had flashed into the sunlight from out the bushes
across the river. He could just see a canoe in the shadows under them,
and with quick suspicion his brain pictured Jasper's horse hitched in the
bushes, and Jasper stealing across the river to waylay Rome. But the
canoe moved slowly out of sight downstream and toward the deep water, the
paddler unseen, and the boy looked around with a weak smile. Neither
seemed to have heard him. Rome was brooding, with his sullen face in his
hands; the old miller was busy with his own thoughts; and the boy turned
again to his watch.
Jasper did not come. Isom's eyes began to ache from the steady gaze,
and now and then he would drop them to the water swirling beneath. A slow
wind swayed the overhanging branches at the mouth of the stream, and
under them was an eddy. Escaping this, the froth and bubbles raced out to
the gleams beating the air from the sunlit river. He saw one tiny fleet
caught; a mass of yellow scum bore down and, sweeping through bubbles and
eddy, was itself struck into fragments by something afloat. A tremulous
shadow shot through a space of sunlight into the gloom cast by a thicket
of rhododendrons, and the boy caught his breath sharply. A moment more,
and the shape of a boat and a human figure quivered on the water running
under him. The stern of a Lewallen canoe swung into the basin, and he
sprang to his feet.
"Rome!" The cry cut sharply through the drowsy air. " Thar he is!
The old miller rose to his feet. The boy threw himself behind the
sacks of grain. Rome wheeled for his rifle, and stood rigid before the
door. There was a light step without, the click of a gun-lock within; a
shadow fell across the doorway, and a girl stood at the threshold with an
empty bag in her hand.
WITH a little cry she shrank back a step. Her face paled and her lips
trembled, and for a moment she could not speak. But her eyes swept the
group, and were fixed in two points of fire on Rome.
"Why don't ye shoot! "she asked, scornfully.
"I hev heerd that the Stetsons have got to makin war on women-folks,
but I never believed it afore." Then she turned to the miller.
Kin I git some more meal hyeh? " she asked. " Or have ye stopped
sellin' to folks on t'other side? " she added, in a tone that sought no
"You kin have all ye want," said old Gabe, quietly.
"The mill on Dead Crick is broke ag'in," she continued, " 'n' co'n is
skeerce on our side. We'll have to begin buyin' purty soon, so I thought
I'd save totin' the co'n down hyeh." She handed old Gabe the empty
Well,'' said he, '' as it air gittin' late, 'n' ye have to climb the
mountain ag'in, I'll let ye have that comm' out o' the hopper now. Take a
The girl sat down in the low chair, and, loos ening the strings of her
bonnet, pushed it back from her head. An old-fashioned horn comb dropped
to the floor, and when she stooped to pick it up she let her hair fall in
a head about her shoulders. Thrusting one hand under it, she calmly
tossed the whole mass of chestnut and gold over the back of the chair,
where it fell rippling like water through a bar of sunlight. With head
thrown back and throat bared, she shook it from side to side, and, slowly
coiling it, pierced it with the coarse comb. Then passing her hands
across her forehead and temples, as women do, she folded them in her lap,
and sat motionless. The boy, crouched near, held upon her the mesmeric
look of a serpent. Old Gabe was peering covertly from under the brim of
his hat, with a chuckle at his lips. Rome had fallen back to a corner of
the mill, sobered, speechless, his rifle in a nerveless hand. The passion
that fired him at the boy's warning had as swiftly gone down at sight of
the girl, and her cutting rebuke made him hot again with shame. He was
angry, too-more than angry-because he felt so helpless, a sensation that
was new and stifling. The scorn of her face, as he remembered it that
morning, hurt him again while he looked at her. A spirit of contempt was
still in her eyes, and quivering about her thin lips and nostrils. She
had put him beneath further notice, and yet every toss of her head, every
movement of her hands, seemed meant for him, to irritate him. And once,
while she combed her hair, his brain whirled with an impulse to catch the
shining stuff in one hand and to pinion both her wrists with the other,
Just to show her that he was master, and still would harm her not at all.
But he shut his teeth, and watched her. Among mountain women the girl was
more than pretty; elsewhere only her hair, perhaps, would have caught the
casual eye. She wore red homespun and coarse shoes; her hands were brown
and hardened. Her arms and shoulders looked muscular, her waist was
rather large-being as nature meant it-and her face in repose had a heavy
look. But the poise of her head suggested native pride and dignity; her
eyes were deep, and full of changing lights; the scarlet dress, loose as
it was, showed rich curves in her figure, and her movements had a certain
childlike grace. Her brow was low, and her mouth had character; the chin
was firm, the upper lip short, and the teeth were even and white.
"I reckon thar's enough to fill the sack, Isom," said the old miller,
breaking the strained silence of the group. The girl rose and handed him
a few pieces of silver.
I reckon I'd better pay fer it all," she said. I s'pose I won't be
over hyeh ag'in."
Old Gabe gave some of the coins back.
"Y'u know whut my price al'ays is," he said.
I'm obleeged," answered the girl, flushing.
"Co'n hev riz on our side. I thought mebbe you charged folks over thar
"I sells fer the same, ef co'n is high ur low," was the answer. "This
side or t'other makes no diff'unce to me. I hev frien's on both sides,
'n' I take no part in sech doin's as air a shame to the mountains."
There was a quick light of protest in the girl's dark eyes; but the
old miller was honored by both factions, and without a word she turned to
the boy, who was tying the sack.
The boat's loose! " he called out, with. the string between his teeth;
and she turned again and ran out. Rome stood still.
Kerry the sack out, boy, 'n' holp the gal." Old Gabe's voice was
stern, and the young mountaineer doggedly swung the bag to his shoulders.
The girl had caught the rope, and drawn the rude dugout along the
"Who axed ye to do that?" she asked, angrily.
Rome dropped the bag into the boat, and merely looked her in the
"Look hyeh, Rome Stetson"-the sound of his name from her lips almost
startled him-"I'll hev ye understan' that I don't want to be bounden to
you, nor none o' yer kin."
Turning, she gave an impatient sweep with her paddle. The prow of the
canoe dipped and was motionless. Rome had caught the stern, and the girl
wheeled in hot anger. Her impulse to strike may have been for the moment
and no longer, or she may have read swiftly no unkindness in the
mountaineer's steady look; for the uplifted oar was stayed in the air, as
though at least she would hear him.
"I've got nothin' ag'in' you," he said, slowly, Jas Lewallen hev been
threatenin' me, 'n' I thought it was him, 'n' I was ready fer him, when
you come into the mill. I wouldn't hurt you nur no other woman. Y'u ought
to know it, 'n' ye do know it."
The words were masterful, but said in a way that vaguely soothed the
girl's pride, and the oar was let slowly into the water.
"I reckon y'u air a friend o' his," he added, still quietly. "I've
seed ye goin' up thar, but I've got nothin' ag'in' ye, whoever ye
She turned on him a sharp look of suspicion. "I reckon I do be a
friend o' hisn," she said, deliberately; and then she saw that he was in
earnest. A queer little smile went like a ray of light from her eyes to
her lips, and she gave a quick stroke with her paddle. The boat shot into
the current, and was carried swiftly toward the Cumberland. The girl
stood erect, swaying through light and shadow like a great scarlet flower
blowing in the wind; and Rome watched her till she touched the other
bank. Swinging the sack out, she stepped lightly after it, and, without
looking behind her, disappeared in the bushes.
The boy Isom was riding away when Rome, turned, and old Gabe was
watching from the door of the mill.
Who is that gal? " he asked, slowly. It seemed somehow that he had
known her a long while ago. A puzzled frown overlay his face, and the old
"You a-axin' who she be, 'n' she a-axin who you be, 'n' both o' ye
a-knowin' one 'nother sence ye was knee-high. Why, boy, hit's old
IN a flash of memory Rome saw the girl as vividly as when he last saw
her years ago. They had met at the mill, he with his father, she with
hers. There was a quarrel, and the two men were held apart. But the old
sore as usual was opened, and a week later Rome's father was killed from
the brush. He remembered his mother's rage and grief, her calls for
vcngeance, the uprising, the fights, plots, and ambushes. He remembered
the look the girl had given him that long ago, and her look that day was
When fighting began, she had been sent for safety to the sister of her
dead mother in another county. When peace came, old Jasper married again
and the girl refused to come home. Lately the step-mother, too, had
passed away, and then she came back to live. All this the old miller told
in answer to Rome's questions as the two walked away in the twilight.
This was why he had not recognized her, and why her face yet seemed
familiar even when he crossed the river that morning.
"Uncle Gabe, how do you reckon the gal knowed who I was?"
"She axed me."
"She axed you! Whar?"
Over thar in the mill." The miller was watching the young mountaineer
closely. The manner of the girl was significant when she asked who Rome
was, and the miller knew but one reason possible for his foolhardiness
"Do you mean to say she have been over hyeh afore?"
"Why, yes, come to think about it, three or four times while Isom was
sick, and whut she come fer I can't make out. The mill over thar wasn't
broke long, 'n' why she didn't go thar or bring more co'n at a time, to
save her the trouble o' so many trips, I can't see to save me.
Young Stetson was listening eagerly. Again the miller cast his
Mebbe she's spyin'."
Rome faced him, alert with suspicion; but old Gabe was laughing
"Don't you be a fool, Rome. The gal comes and goes in that boat, 'n'
she couldn't see a soul without my knowin' it. She seed ye ridin' by one
day, 'n' she looked mighty cur'us when I tole her who ye was."
Old Gabe stopped his teasing, Rome's face was so troubled, and himself
"Rome," he said, earnestly, "I wish to the good Lord ye wasn't in sech
doin's. Ef that had been young Jas 'stid o' Marthy, I reckon ye would 'a'
killed him right thar."
"I wasn't going to let him kill me," was the sullen answer.
The two had stopped at a rickety gate swinging open on the road. The
young mountaineer was pushing a stone about with the toe of his boot. He
had never before listened to remonstrance with such patience, and old
Gabe grew bold.
"You've been drinkin' ag'in, Rome," he said, sharply, " 'n' I know it.
Hit's been moonshine that's whooped you Stetsons, not the Lewallens, long
as I kin rickollect, 'n' it ull be moonshine ag'in ef ye don't let it
Rome made no denial, no defence. "Uncle Gabe," he said slowly, still
busied with the stone, " hev that gal been over hyeh sence y'u tol' her
who I was?"
The old man was waiting for the pledge that seemed on his lips, but he
did not lose his temper.
Not till to-day," he said, quietly.
Rome turned abruptly, and the two separated with no word of parting.
For a moment the miller watched the young fellow striding away under his
"I have been atter peace a good while," he said to himself, " but I
reckon thar's a bigger hand a-workin' now than mine." Then he lifted his
voice. "Ef Isom's too sick to come down to the mill to-morrer, I wish
you'd come 'n' holp me."
Rome nodded back over his shoulder, and went on, with head bent, along
the river road. Passing a clump of pines at the next curve, he pulled a
bottle from his pocket.
"Uncle Gabe's about right, I reckon," he said, half aloud; and he
raised it above his head to hurl it away, but checked it in mid-air. For
a moment he looked at the colorless liquid, then, with quick nervousness,
pulled the cork of sassafras leaves, gulped down the pale moonshine, and
dashed the bottle against the trunk of a beech. The fiery stuff does its
work in a hurry. He was thirsty when he reached the mouth of a brook that
tumbled down the mountain along the pathway that would lead him home, and
he stooped to drink where the water sparkled in a rift of dim light from
overhead. Then he sat upright on a stone, with his wide hat-brim curved
in a crescent over his forehead, his hands caught about his knees, and
his eyes on the empty air.
He was scarcely over his surprise that the girl was young Lewallen's
sister, and the discovery had wrought a curious change. The piquant
impulse of rivalry was gone, and something deeper was taking its place.
He was confused and a good deal troubled, thinking it all over. He tried
to make out what the girl meant by looking at him from the mountain-side,
by waving her bonnet at him, and by coming to old Gabe's mill when she
could have gone to her own. To be sure, she did not know then who he was,
and she had stopped coming when she learned; but why had she crossed
again that day? Perhaps she too was bantering him, and he was at once
angry and drawn to her; for her mettlesome spirit touched his own love of
daring, even when his humiliation was most bitter-when she told him he
warred on women; when he held out to her the branch of peace and she
swept it aside with a stroke of her oar. But Rome was little conscious of
the weight of subtle facts like these. His unseeing eyes went back to her
as she combed her hair. He saw the color in her cheeks, the quick light
in her eyes, the naked, full throat once more, and the wavering forces of
his unsteady brain centred in a stubborn resolution-to see it all again.
He would make Isom stay at home, if need be, and he would take the boy's
place at the mill. If she came there no more, he would cross the river
again. Come peace or war, be she friend or enemy, he would see her. His
thirst was fierce again, and, with this half-drunken determination in his
heart, he stooped once more to drink from the cheerful little stream. As
he rose, a loud curse smote the air. The river, pressed between two
projecting cliffs, was narrow at that point, and the oath came across the
water. An instant later a man led a lamed horse from behind a bowlder,
and stooped to examine its leg. The dusk was thickening, but Rome knew
the huge frame and gray beard of old Jasper Lewallen. The blood beat in a
sudden tide at his temples, and, half by instinct, he knelt behind a
rock, and, thrusting his rifle through a crevice, cocked it softly.
Again the curse of impatience came over the still water, and old
Jasper rose and turned toward him. The glistening sight caught in the
centre of his beard. That would take him in the throat; it might miss,
and he let the sight fall till the bullet would cut the fringe of gray
hair into the heart. Old Jasper, so people said, had killed his father in
just this way; he had driven his uncle from the mountains; he was trying
now to revive the feud. He was the father of young Jasper, who had
threatened his life, and the father of the girl whose contempt had cut
him to the quick twice that day. Again her taunt leaped through his
heated brain, and his boast to the old miller followed it. His finger
trembled at the trigger.
"No; by--, no! "he breathed between his teeth; and old Jasper passed
NEXT day the news of Rufe Stetson's flight went down the river on the
wind, and before nightfall the spirit of murder was loosed on both shores
of the Cumberland. The more cautious warned old Jasper. The Stetsons were
gaining strength again, they said; so were their feudsmen, the Marcums,
enemies of the Braytons, old Jasper's kinspeople. Keeping store, Rufe had
made money in the West, and money and friends right and left through the
mountains. With all his good-nature, he was a persistent hater, and he
was shrewd. He had waited the chance to put himself on the side of the
law, and now the law was with him. But old Jasper laughed contemptuously.
Rufe Stetson was gone again, he said, as he had gone before, and this
time for good. Rufe had tried to do what nobody had done, or could do,
while he was alive. Anyway, he was reckless, and he cared little if war
did come again. Still, the old man prepared for a fight, and Steve Marcum
on the other shore made ready for Rufe's return.
It was like the breaking of peace in feudal days. The close kin of
each leader were already about him, and now the close friends of each
took sides. Each leader trading in Hazlan had debtors scattered through
the mountains, and these rallied to aid the man who had befriended them.
There was no grudge but served a pretext for partisanship in the coming
war. Political rivalry had wedged apart two strong families, the Marcums
and Braytons; a boundary line in dispute was a chain of bitterness; a
suit in a country court had sown seeds of hatred. Sometimes it was a
horse-trade, a fence left down, or a gate left open, and the trespassing
of cattle; in one instance, through spite, a neighbor had docked the tail
of a neighbor's horse-had " muled his critter," as the owner phrased the
outrage. There was no old sore that was not opened by the crafty leaders,
no slumbering bitterness that they did not wake to life. " Help us to
revenge, and we will he!p you," was the whispered promise. So, had one
man a grudge against another, he could set his foot on one or the other
shore, sure that his enemy would be fighting for the other.
Others there were, friends of neither leader, who, under stress of
poverty or hatred of work, would fight with either for food and clothes;
and others still, the ne'er-do-wells and outlaws, who fought by the day
or month for hire. Even these were secured by one or the other faction,
for Steve and old Jasper left no resource untried, knowing well that the
fight, if there was one, would be fought to a quick and decisive end. The
day for the leisurely feud, for patient planning, and the slow picking
off of men from one side or the other, was gone. The people in the Blue
Grass, who had no feuds in their own country, were trying to stop them in
the mountain. Over in Breathitt, as everybody knew, soldiers had come
from the " settlemints," had arrested the leaders, and had taken them to
the Blue Grass for the feared and hated ordeal of trial by a jury of
"bigoted furriners." On the heels of the soldiers came a young preacher
up from the Jellico hills, half " citizen," half furriner," with long
black hair and a scar across his forehead, who was stirring up the
people, it was said, " as though Satan was atter them." Over there the
spirit of the feud was broken, and a good effect was already perceptible
around Hazlan. In past days every pair of lips was sealed with fear, and
the non-combatants left crops and homes, and moved down the river, when
trouble began. Now only the timid considered this way of escape. Steve
and old Jasper found a few men who refused to enter the fight. Several,
indeed, talked openly against the renewal of the feud, and somebody, it
was said, had dared to hint that he would send to the Governor for aid if
it should break out again. But these were rumors touching few people.
For once again, as time and time again before, one bank of the
Cumberland was arrayed with mortal enmity against the other, and old Gabe
sat, with shaken faith, in the door of his mill. For years he had worked
and prayed for peace, and for a little while the Almighty seemed lending
aid. Now the friendly grasp was loosening, and yet the miller did all he
could. He begged Steve Marcum to urge Rufe to seek aid from the law when
the latter came back; and Steve laughed, and asked what justice was
possible for a Stetson, with a Lewallen for a judge and Braytons for a
jury. The miller pleaded with old Jasper, and old Jasper pointed to the
successes of his own life.
"I hev triumphed ag'in' my enemies time 'n' ag'in," he said. "The Lord
air on my side, 'n' I gits a better Christian ever' year." The old man
spoke with the sincerity of a barbarism that has survived the dark ages,
and, holding the same faith, the miller had no answer. It was old Gabe
indeed who had threatened to send to the Governor for soldiers, and this
he would have done, perhaps, had there not been one hope left, and only
one. A week had gone, and there was no word from Rufe Stetson. Up on
Thunderstruck Knob the old Stetson mother was growing pitiably eager and
restless. Every day she slipped like a ghost through the leafless woods
and in and out the cabin, kindling hatred. At every dawn or dusk she was
on her porch peering through the dim light for Rufe Stetson. Steve Marcum
was ill at ease. Rome Stetson alone seemed unconcerned, and his name was
on every gossiping tongue.
He took little interest and no hand in getting ready for the war. He
forbade the firing of a gun till Rufe came back, else Steve should fight
his fight alone. He grew sullen and morose. His old mother's look was a
thorn in his soul, and he stayed little at home. He hung about the mill,
and when Isom became bedfast, the big mountaineer, who had never handled
anything but a horse, a plough, or a rifle, settled him-self, to the
bewilderment of the Stetsons, into the boy's duties, and nobody dared
question him. Even old Gabe jested no longer. The matter was too
Meanwhile the winter threw off the last slumbrous mood of autumn, as a
sleeper starts from a dream. A fortnight was gone, and still no message
came from the absent leader. One shore was restive, uneasy; the other
confident, mocking. Between the two, Rome Stetson waited his chance at
DAY was whitening on the Stetson shore. Across the river the air was
still sharp with the chill of dawn, and the mists lay like flocks of
sheep under shelter of rock and crag. A peculiar cry radiated from the
Lewallen cabin with singular resonance on the crisp air-the mountain cry
for straying cattle. A soft low came from a distant patch of laurel, and
old Jasper's girl, Martha, folded. her hands like a conch at her mouth,
and the shrill cry again startled the air.
Ye better come, ye pieded cow-brute." Picking up a cedar piggin, she
stepped from the porch toward the meek voice that had answered her.
Temper and exertion had brought the quick blood to her face. Her head was
bare, her thick hair was loosely coiled, and her brown arms were naked
almost to the shoulder. At the stable a young mountaineer was overhauling
Air you goin' to ride the hoss to-day, Jas?" she asked,
"That's jes whut I was aimin' to do. I'm a-goin' to town."
Well, I 'lowed I was goin' to mill to-day. The co'n is 'mos'
"Well, y'u 'lowed wrong," he answered, imperturbably.
Y'u're mean, Jas Lewallen," she cried, hotly; " that's whut ye air,
The young mountaineer looked up, whistled softly, and laughed. But
when he brought his horse to the door an hour later there was a bag of
corn across the saddle.
"As ye air so powerful sot on goin' to mill, whether or no, I'll leave
this hyeh sack at the bend O' the road, 'n' ye kin git it thar. I'll
bring the meal back ef ye puts it in the same place. I hates to see
women-folks a-ridin' this horse. Hit spiles him."
The horse was a dapple-gray of unusual beauty, and as the girl reached
out her hand to stroke his throat, he turned to nibble at her arm.
"I reckon he'd jes as lieve have me ride him as you, Jas," she said. "
Me 'n' him have got to be great friends. Ye orter n't to be so
Well, he ain't no hoss to be left out'n the bresh now, 'n' I hain't
goin' to 'low it."
Old Jasper had lounged out of the kitchen door, and stood with his
huge bulk against a shrinking pillar of the porch. The two men were much
alike. Both had the same black, threatening brows meeting over the bridge
of the nose. A kind of grim humor lurked about the old man's mouth, which
time might trace about young Jasper's. The girl's face had no humor; the
same square brows, apart and clearly marked, gave it a strong, serious
cast, and while she had the Lewallen fire, she favored her mother enough,
so the neighbors said, "to have a mighty mild, takin' way about her ef
You're right, Jas," the old mountaineer said; "the hoss air a sin 'n'
temptation. Hit do me good ever' time I look at him. Thar air no sech
hoss, I tell ye, this side o' the settlements."
The boy started away, and the old man followed, and halted him out of
the girl's hearing.
"Tell Eli Crump 'n' Jim Stover to watch the Breathitt road close now,"
he said, in a low voice. " See all them citizens I tol' ye, 'n' tell 'em
to be ready when I says the word. Thar's no tellin' whut's goin' to
Young Jasper nodded his head, and struck his horse into a gallop. The
old man lighted his pipe, and turned back to the house. The girl, bonnet
in hand, was starting for the valley.
"Thar ain't no use goin' to Gabe Bunch's fer yer grist," he said. "
The mill on Dead Crick's a-runnin' ag'in, 'n' I don't want ye over thar
axin favors, specially jes now."
"I lef' somethin' fer ye to eat, dad," she replied, " ef ye gits
hungry before I git back."
You heerd me? " he called after her, knitting his brows.
Yes, dad; I heerd ye," she answered, adding to herself, " But I don't
heed ye." In truth, the girl heeded nobody. It was not her way to ask
consent, even her own, nor to follow advice. At the bend of the road she
found the bag, and for an instant she stood wavering. An impulse turned
her to the river, and she loosed the boat, and headed it across the
swift, shallow water from the ford and straight toward the mill. At every
stroke of her paddle the water rose above the prow of the boat, and,
blown into spray, flew back and drenched her; the wind loosed her hair,
and, tugging at her skirts, draped her like a statue; and she fought
them, wind and water, with mouth set and a smile in her eyes. One sharp
struggle still, where the creek leaped into freedom; the mouth grew a
little firmer, the eyes laughed more, the keel grated on pebbles, and the
boat ran its nose into the withered sedge on the Stetson shore.
A tall gray figure was pouring grain into the hopper when she reached
the door of the mill. She stopped abruptly, Rome Stetson turned, and
again the two were face to face. No greeting passed. The girl lifted her
head with a little toss that deepened the set look about the
mountaineer's mouth; her lax figure grew tense as though strung suddenly
against some coming harm, and her eyes searched the shadows without once
resting on him.
Whar's Uncle Gabe? " She spoke shortly, and as to a stranger.
Gone to town," said Rome, composedly. He had schooled himself for this
When's he comm' back?
Not 'fore night, I reckon."
Well, who's tendin' this mill?
For answer he tossed the empty bag into the corner and, without
looking at her, picked up another bag.
"I reckon ye see me, don't ye? " he asked, coolly. " Hev a cheer, and
rest a spell. Hit's a purty long climb whar you come from."
The girl was confused. She stayed in the doorway, a little helpless
and suspicious. What was Rome Stetson doing here? His mastery of the
situation, his easy confidence, puzzled and irritated her. Should she
leave? The mountaineer was a Stetson, a worm to tread on if it crawled
across the path. It would be like backing down before an enemy. He might
laugh at her after she was gone, and, at that thought, she sat down in
the chair with composed face, looking through the door at the tumbling
water, which broke with a thousand tints under the sun, but able still to
see Rome, sidewise, as he moved about the hopper, whistling softly.
Once she looked around, fancying she saw a smile on his sober face.
Their eyes came near meeting, and she turned quite away.
Ever seed a body out'n his head?
The girl's eyes rounded with a start of surprise.
Well, it's plumb cur'us. Isom's been that way lately. Isom's sick, ye
know. Uncle Gabe's got the rheumatiz, 'n' Isom's mighty fond o' Uncle
Gabe, 'n' the boy pestered me till I come down to he'p him. Hit p'int'ly
air strange to hear him talkin'. He's jes a-ravin' 'bout hell 'n' heaven,
'n' the sin o' killin' folks. You'd ha' thought he hed been convicted,
though none o' our fambly hev been much atter religion. He says as how
the wrath uv a livin' God is a-goin' to sweep these mount ins, ef some
mighty tall repentin' hain't done. Of co'se he got all them notions from
Gabe. But Isom al'ays was quar, 'n' seed things hisself. He ain't no
The girl was listening. Morbidly sensitive to the supernatural, she
had turned toward him, and her face was relaxed with fear and awe.
"He's havin' dreams 'n' sech-like now, 'n' I reckon thar's nothing
he's seed or heerd that he don' talk about. He's been a-goin' on about
you," he added, abruptly. The girl's hands gave a nervous twitch. "Oh, he
don't say nothin' ag'in' ye. I reckon he tuk a fancy to ye. Mam was plumb
distracted, not knowin' whar he had seed ye. She thought it was like his
other talk, 'n' I never let on-a-knowin' how mam was." A flush rose like
a flame from the girl's throat to her hair. " But hit's this," Rome went
on in an unsteady tone, "that he talks most about, 'n' I'm sorry myself
that trouble's a-comm'." He dropped all pretence now. "I've been
a-watchin' fer ye over thar on t' other shore a good deal lately. I
didn't know ye at fust, Marthy "-he spoke her name for the first time-'
'n' Gabe says y'u didn't know me. I remembered ye, though, 'n' I want to
tell ye now what I tol' ye then: I've got nothin' ag'in you. I was hopin'
ye mought come over ag'in-hit was sorter cur'us that y'u was the same
gal-the same gal-"
His self-control left him; he was halting in speech, and blundering he
did not know where. Fumbling an empty bag at the hopper, he had not dared
to look at the girl till he heard her move. She had risen, and was
picking up her bag. The hard antagonism of her face calmed him
Hain't ye goin' to have yer grist ground?
Not hyeh," she answered, quickly.
"Why, gal " He got no further. Martha was gone, and he followed her to
the bank, bewildered.
The girl's suspicion, lulled by his plausible explanation, had grown
sharp again. The mountaineer knew that she had been coming there. He was
at the mill for another reason than to take the boy's place; and with
swift in-tuition she saw the truth.
He got angry as she rode away-angry with himself that he had let her
go; and the same half-tender, half-brutal impulse seized him as when he
saw her first. This time he yielded. His horse was at hand, and the river
not far below was narrow. The bridle-path that led to the Lewallen cabin
swerved at one place to a cliff overlooking the river, and by hard riding
and a climb of a few hundred feet on foot he could overtake her half-way
up the mountain steep.
The plan was no more than shaped before he was in the saddle and
galloping down the river. The set of his face changed hardly a line while
he swam the stream, and, drenched to the waist, scaled the cliff. When he
reached the spot, he found the prints of a woman's shoe in the dust of
the path, going down. There were none returning, and he had not long to
wait. A scarlet bit of color soon flashed through the gray bushes below
him. The girl was without her bag of corn. She was climbing slowly, and
was looking at the ground as though in deep thought. Reckless as she was,
she had come to realize at last just what she had done. She had been
pleased at first, as would have been any woman, when she saw the big
mountaineer watching her, for her life was lonely. She had waved her
bonnet at him from mere mischief. She hardly knew it herself, but she had
gone across the river to find out who he was. She had shrunk from him as
from a snake thereafter, and had gone no more until old Jasper had sent
her because the Lewallen mill was broken, and because she was a woman,
and would be safe from harm. She had met him then when she could not help
herself. But now she had gone of her own accord. She had given this
Stetson, a bitter enemy, a chance to see her, to talk with her. She had
listened to him; she had been on the point of letting him grind her corn.
And he knew how often she had gone to the mill, and he could not know
that she had ever been sent. Perhaps he thought that she had come to make
overtures of peace, friendship, even more. The suspicion reddened her
face with shame, and her anger at him was turned upon herself. Why she
had gone again that day she hardly knew. But if there was another reason
than simple perversity, it was the memory of Rome Stetson's face when he
caught her boat and spoke to her in a way she could not answer. The anger
of the moment came with every thought of the incident afterward, and with
it came too this memory of his look, which made her at once defiant and
uneasy. She saw him now only when she was quite close, and, startled, she
stood still; his stern look brought her the same disquiet, but she gave
no sign of fear.
Whut's the matter with ye?
The question was too abrupt, too savage, and the girl looked straight
at him, and her lips tightened with a resolution not to speak. The
movement put him beyond control.
"Y'u puts hell into me, Marthy Lewallen; y'u puts downright hell into
me." The words came between gritted teeth. "I want to take ye up 'n'
throw ye off this cliff clean into the river, 'n' I reckon the next
minute I'd jump off atter ye. Y'u've 'witched me, gal! I forgits who ye
air 'n' who I be, 'n' sometimes I want to come over hyeh 'n' kerry ye
out'n these mount ins, n' nuver come back. You know whut I've been
watchin' the river fer sence the fust time I seed ye. You know whut I've
been a-stayin' at the mill fer, 'n' Steve mad 'n' mam a-jowerin'-'n'
a-lookin' over hyeh fer ye night 'n' day! Y'u know whut I've jes swum
over hyeh fer! Whut's the matter with ye?"
Martha was not looking for a confession like this. It took away her
shame at once, and the passion of it thrilled her, and left her
trembling. While he spoke her lashes drooped quickly, her face softened,
and the color came back to it. She began intertwining her fingers, and
would not look up at him.
Ef y'u hates me like the rest uv ye, why don't ye say it right out?
'N' ef ye do hate me, whut hev you been lookin' 'cross the river fer, 'n'
a-shakin' yer bonnet at me, 'n' paddlin' to Gabe's fer yer grist, when
the mill on Dead Crick's been a-runnin', 'n' I know it? You've been
banterin' me, hev ye? "-the blood rose to his eyes again. " Ye mustn't
fool with me, gal, by , ye mustn't. Whut hev you been goin' over thar
fer? " He even took a threatening step toward her, and, with a helpless
gesture, stopped. The girl was a little frightened. Indeed, she smiled,
seeing her power over him; she seemed even about to laugh outright; but
the smile turned to a quick look of alarm, and she bent her head suddenly
to listen to something below. At last she did speak. "Somebody's comm'! "
she said. " You'd better git out O' the way," she went on, hurriedly.
"Somebody's comm', I tell ye! Don't ye hear?
It was no ruse to get rid of him. The girl's eyes were dilating.
Something was coming far below. Rome could catch the faint beats of a
horse's hoofs. He was unarmed, and he knew it was death for him to be
seen on that forbidden mountain; but he was beyond caution, and ready to
welcome any vent to his passion, and he merely shook his head.
Ef it's Satan hisself, I hain't goin' to run." The hoof-beats came
nearer. The rider must soon see them from the coil below.
Rome, hit's Jas! He's got his rifle, and he'll kill ye, 'n' me too! "
The girl was white with distress. She had called him by his name, and the
tone was of appeal, not anger. The black look passed from his face, and
he caught her by the shoulders with rough tenderness; but she pushed him
away, and without a word he sprang from the road and let himself
noiselessly down the cliff. The hoof-beats thundered above his head, and
Young Jasper's voice hailed Martha.
This hyeh's the bigges' meal I ever straddled. Why d'n't ye git the
For a moment the girl did not answer, and Rome waited, breathless. "
Wasn't the mill runnin'? Whyn't ye go on 'cross the river?
That's whut I did," said the girl, quietly. Uncle Gabe wasn't thar,
'n' Rome Stetson was. I wouldn't 'low him to grin' the co 'n, 'n' so I
toted hit back."
Rome Stetson! " The voice was lost in a volley of oaths.
The two passed out of hearing, and Rome went plunging down the
mountain, swinging recklessly from one little tree to another, and
wrenching limbs from their sockets out of pure physical ecstasy. When he
reached his horse he sat down, breathing heavily, on a bed of moss, with
a strange new yearning in his heart. If peace should come! Why not peace,
if Rufe should not come back? He would be the leader then, and without
him there could be no war. Old Jasper had killed his father. He was too
young at the time to feel poignant sorrow now, and somehow he could look
even at that death in a fairer way. His father had killed old Jasper's
brother. So it went back: a Lewallen killed a Stetson; that Stetson had
killed a Lewallen, until one end of the chain of deaths was lost, and the
first fault could not be placed, though each clan put it on the other. In
every generation there had been compromises- periods of peace; why not
now? Old Gabe would gladly help him. He might make friends with young
Jasper; he might even end the feud. And then-he and Martha-why not? He
closed his eyes, and for one radiant moment t all seemed possible. And
then a gaunt image rose in the dream, and only the image was left. It was
the figure of his mother, stern and silent through the years, opening her
grim lips rarely without some curse against the Lewallen race. He
remembered she had smiled for the first time when she heard of the new
trouble-the flight of his uncle and the hope of conflict. She had turned
to him with her eyes on fire and her old hands clinched. She had said
nothing, but he understood her look. And now-Good God! what would she
think and say if she could know what he had done? His whole frame
twitched at the thought, and, with a nervous spring to escape it, he was
on his feet, and starting down the mountain.
Close to the river he heard voices below him, and he turned his horse
quickly aside into the bushes. Two women who had been washing clothes
passed, carrying white bundles home. They were talking of the coming
"That ar young Stetson ain't much like his dad," said one. "Young Jas
has been a-darin' 'n' a-banterin' him, 'n' he won't take it up. They say
he air turnin' out a plumb coward."
When he reached the Stetson cabin three horses with drooping heads
were hitched to the fence. All had travelled a long way. One wore a man's
saddle; on the others were thick blankets tied together with leathern
In the dark porch sat several men. Through the kitchen door he could
see his mother getting supper. Inside a dozen rifles leaned against the
wall in the firelight, and about their butts was a pile of ammunition. In
the doorway stood Rufe Stetson.
ALL were smoking and silent. Several spoke from the shadows as Rome
stepped on the porch, and Rufe Stetson faced him a moment in the doorway,
Seem kinder s'prised? " he said, with a searching look. " Wasn't
lookin' for me? I reckon I'll s'prise sev'ral ef I hev good-luck."
The subtlety of this sent a chuckle of appreciation through the porch,
but Rome passed in without answer.
Isom lay on his bed within the circle of light, and his face in the
brilliant glow was white, and his eyes shone feverishly. " Rome," he
said, excitedly, " Uncle Rufe's hyeh, 'n' they laywayed him, 'n'____" He
paused abruptly. His mother came in, and at her call the mountaineers
trooped through the covered porch, and sat down to supper in the kitchen.
They ate hastily and in silence, the mother attending their wants, and
Rome helping her. The meal finished, they drew their chairs about the
fire. Pipes were lighted, and Rufe Stetson rose and closed the door.
Thar's no use harryin' the boy," he said; "I reckon he'll be too puny
to take a hand."
The mother stopped clearing the table, and sat on the rock hearth
close to the fire, her withered lips shut tight about a lighted pipe, and
her sunken eyes glowing like the coal of fire in its black bowl. Now and
then she would stretch her knotted hands nervously into the flames, or
knit them about her knees, looking closely at the heavy faces about her,
which had lightened a little with expectancy. Rufe Stetson stood before
the blaze, his hands clasped behind him, and his huge figure bent in
reflection. At intervals he would look with half-shut eyes at Rome, who
Sat with troubled face outside the firelight. Across the knees of Steve
Marcum, the best marksman in the mountains, lay the barrel of a new
Winchester. Old Sam Day, Rufe's father-in-law and counsellor to the
Stetsons for a score of years, sat as if asleep on the opposite side of
the fireplace from the old mother, with his big square head pressed down
between his misshapen shoulders.
"The time hev come, Rome." Rufe spoke between the puffs of his pipe,
and Rome's heart quickened, for every eye was upon him. Thar's goin' to
be trouble now. I hear as how young Jasper hev been talkin' purty tall
about ye-'lowin' as how ye air afeard O' him."
Rome felt his mother's burning look. He did not turn toward her nor
Rufe, but his face grew sullen, and his voice was low and harsh. "I
reckon he'll find out about that when the time comes," he said,
quietly-too quietly, for the old mother stirred uneasily, and significant
glances went from eye to eye. Rufe did not look up from the floor. He had
been told about Rome's peculiar conduct, and, while the reason for it was
beyond guessing, he knew the temper of the boy and how to kindle it. He
had thrust a thorn in a tender spot, and he let it rankle. How sorely it
did rankle he little knew. The voice of the woman across the river was
still in Rome 5 ears. Nothing cuts the mountaineer to the quick like the
name of coward. It stung him like the lash of an ox-whip then; it smarted
all the way across the river and up the mountain. Young Jasper had been
charging him broadcast with cowardice, and Jasper's people no doubt
believed it. Perhaps his own did -his uncle, his mother. The bare chance
of such a humiliation set up an inward rage. He wondered how he could
ever have been such a fool as to think of peace. The woman's gossip had
swept kindly impulses from his heart with a fresh tide of bitterness,
and, helpless now against its current, he sullenly gave way, and let his
passions loose to drift with it.
"Whar d' ye git the guns, Rufe? " Steve was testing the action of the
Winchester with a kindling look, as the click of the locks struck softly
through the silence.
"Jackson; 'way up in Breathitt, at the eend of the new road."
"No wonder y'u've been gone so long."
"I had to wait thar fer the guns, 'n' I had to travel atter dark comm'
back, 'n' lay out'n the bresh by day. Hit's full eighty mile up
"Air ye shore nobody seed ye?"
The question was from a Marcum, who had come in late, and several
laughed. Rufe threw back his dusty coat, which was ripped through the
lapel by a bullet.
They seed me well 'nough fer that," he said, grimly, and then he
looked toward Rome, who thought of old Jasper, and gave back a gleam of
fierce sympathy. There were several nods of approval along with the laugh
that followed. It was a surprise-so little consideration of an escape so
narrow-from Rufe; for, as old Gabe said, Rufe was big and good-natured,
and was not thought fit for leadership. But there was a change in him
when he came back from the West. He was quieter; he laughed less No one
spoke of the difference; it was too vague; but every one felt it, and it
had an effect. His flight had made many uneasy, but his return, for that
reason, brought a stancher fealty from these; and this was evident now.
All eyes were upon him, and all tongues, even old Sam's, waited now for
his to speak.
"Whut we've got to do, we've got to do mighty quick," he began, at
last. " Things air changin'. I seed it over thar in Breathitt. The
soldiers 'n' that scar-faced Jellico preacher hev broke up the fightin'
over thar, 'n' ef we don't watch out, they'll be a-doin' it hyeh, when we
start our leetle frolic. We hain't got no time to fool. Old Jas knows
this as well as me, 'n' thar's goin' to be mighty leetle chance fer 'em
to layway 'n' pick us off from the bresh. Thar's goin' to be fa'r
fightin' fer once, thank the Lord. They bushwhacked us dunn' the war, 'n'
they've laywayed us 'n' shot us to pieces ever sence; but now, ef God
A'mighty's willin', the thing's a-goin' to be settled one way or t'other
at last, I reckon."
He stopped a moment to think. The men's breathing could be heard, so
quiet was the room, and Rufe went on telling in detail, slowly, as if to
himself, the wrongs the Lewallens had done his people. When he came to
old Jasper his voice was low, and his manner was quieter than ever.
"Now old Jas have got to the p'int whar he says as how nobody in this
county kin undersell him 'n' stay hyeh. Old Jas druv Bond Vickers out'n
the mount 'ins fer tryin' hit. He druv Jess Hale away; 'n' them two air
The big mountaineer turned then, and knocked the ashes from his pipe.
His eyes grew a little brighter, and his nostrils spread, but with a
sweep of his arm he added, still quietly:
"Y' all know whut he's done."
The gesture lighted memories of personal wrongs in every breast; he
had tossed a fire-brand among fagots, and an angry light began to burn
from the eyes that watched him.
"Ye know, too, that he thinks he has played the same game with me; but
ye don't know, I reckon, that he had ole Jim Stover 'n' that mis'-able
Eli Crump a-hidin' in the bushes to shoot me "-again he grasped the torn
lapel; "that a body warned me to git away from Hazlan; n' the night I
left home they come thar to kill me, 'n' s'arched the house, 'n' skeered
Mollie n' the leetle gal 'most to death."
The mountaineer's self-control was lost suddenly in a furious oath.
The men did know, but in fresh anger they leaned forward in their chairs,
and twisted about with smothered curses. The old woman had stopped
smoking, and was rocking her body to and fro. Her lips were drawn in upon
her toothless gums, and her pipe was clinched against her sunken breast.
The head of the old mountaineer was lifted, and his eyes were open and
"I hear as how he says I'm gone fer good. Well, I have been kinder
easy-goin', hatin' to fight, but sence the day I seed Rome's dad thar
dead in his blood, I hev had jes one thing I wanted to do. Thar wasn't no
use stayin' hyeh; I seed that. Rome thar was too leetle, and they was too
many fer me. I knowed it was easier to git a new start out West, 'n' when
I come back to the mount'in, hit was to do jes-whut I'm - going - to - do
- now." He wheeled suddenly upon Rome, with one huge hand lifted. Under
it the old woman's voice rose in a sudden wail:
Yes; 'n' I want to see it done befoh I die. I hain't hyeh fer long,
but I hain't goin' to leave as long as ole Jas is hyeh, 'n' I want ye all
to know it. Ole Jas hev got to go fust. You hear me, Rome? I'm a-talkin'
to you; I'm a-talkin' to you. Hit's yo' time now!
The frenzied chant raised Rome from his chair. Rufe himself took up
the spirit of it, and his voice was above all caution.
"Yes, Rome! They killed him, boy. They sneaked on him, 'n' shot him to
pieces from the bushes. Yes; hit's yo' time now! Look hyeh, boys! " He
reached above the fireplace and took down an old rifle-his
brother's-which the old mother had suffered no one to touch. He held it
before the fire, pointing to two crosses made near the flash-pan. "
Thar's one fer ole Jim Lewallen! Thar's one fer ole Jas! He got Jim, but
ole Jas has got him, 'n' thar's his cross thar yit! Whar's yo' gun, Rome?
Shame on ye, boy!"
The wild-eyed old woman was before him. She had divined Rufe's
purpose, and was already at his side, with Rome's Winchester in one hand
and a clasp-knife in the other. Every man was on his feet; the door was
open, and the boy Isom was at the threshold, his eyes blazing from his
whitc face. Rome had strode forward.
Yes, boy; now's the time, right hyeh before us all!
The mother had the knife outstretched. Rome took it, and the scratch
of the point on the hard steel went twice through the stillness-one more
fer the young un"; the voice was the old mother's-then twice again.
The moon was sinking when Rome stood in the door alone. The tramp of
horses was growing fainter down the mountain. The trees were swaying in
the wind below him, and he could just see the gray cliffs on the other
shore. The morning seemed far away; it made him dizzy looking back to it
through the tumult of the day. Somewhere in the haze was the vision of a
girl's white face-white with distress for him. Her father and her brother
he had sworn to kill. He had made a cross for each, and each cross was an
oath. He closed the door; and then he gave way, and sat down with his
head in both hands. The noises in the kitchen ceased. The fire died away,
and the chill air gathered about him. When he rose, the restless eyes of
the boy were upon him from the shadows.
IT was court-day in Hazlan, but so early in the morning nothing was
astir in the town that hinted of its life on such a day. But for the ring
of a blacksmith's anvil on the quiet air, and the fact that nowhere was a
church-spire visible, a stranger would have thought that the peace of
Sabbath overlay a village of God-fearing people. A burly figure lounged
in the porch of a rickety house, and yawned under a swinging sign, the
rude letters of which promised" private entertainment " for the traveller
unlucky enough to pass that way. In the one long, narrow main street,
closely flanked by log and framed houses, nothing else human was in
sight. Out from this street, and in an empty square, stood the one brick
building in the place, the court-house, brick without, brick within;
unfinished, unpencilled, unpainted; panes out of the windows, a shutter
off here and there, or swinging drunkenly on one hinge; the door wide op
en, as though there was no privacy within-a poor structure, with the look
of a good man gone shiftless and fast going wrong.
Soon two or three lank brown figures appeared from each direction on
foot; then a horseman or two, and by and by mountaineers came in groups,
on horse and on foot. In time the side alleys and the court-house square
were filled with horses and mules, and even steers. The mountaineers
crowded the narrow street: idling from side to side; squatting for a
bargain on the wooden sidewalks; grouping on the porch of the rickety
hotel, and on the court-house steps loitering in and out of the one store
in sight. Out in the street several stood about a horse, looking at his
teeth, holding his eyes to the sun, punching his ribs, twisting his tail;
while the phlegmatic owner sat astride the submissive beast, and spoke
short answers to rare questions. Everybody talked politics, the crop
failure, or the last fight at the seat of some private war; but nobody
spoke of a Lewallen or a Stetson unless he knew his listener's heart, and
said it in a whisper. For nobody knew when the powder would flash, or who
had taken sides, or that a careless word might not array him with one or
the other faction.
A motley throng it was-in brown or gray homespun, with trousers in
cowhide boots, and slouched hats with brims curved according to
temperament, but with striking figures in it; the patriarch with long,
white hair, shorn even with the base of the neck, and bearded only at the
throat-a justice of the peace, and the sage of his district; a little
mountaineer with curling black hair and beard, and dark, fine features; a
grizzled giant with a head rugged enough to have been carelessly chipped
from stone; a bragging candidate claiming everybody's notice; a square-
shouldered fellow surging through the crowd like a stranger; an
open-faced, devil-may- care young gallant on fire with moonshine; a
skulking figure with brutish mouth and shifting eyes. Indeed, every
figure seemed distinct; for, living apart from his neighbor, and
troubling the law but little in small matters of dispute, the mountaineer
preserves independence, and keeps the edges of his individuality unworn.
Apparently there was not a woman in town. Those that lived there kept
housed, and the fact was significant. Still, it was close to noon, and
yet not a Stetson or a Lewallen had been seen. The stores of Rufe and old
Jasper were at the extremities of the town, and the crowd did not move
those ways. It waited in the centre, and whetted impatience by sly trips
in twos and three to stables or side alleys for "mountain dew." Now and
then the sheriff, a little man with a mighty voice, would appear on the
courthouse steps, and summon a witness to court, where a frightened judge
gave instructions to a frightened jury. But few went, unless called; for
the interest was outside; every man in the streets knew that a storm was
nigh, and was waiting to see it burst.
Noon passed. A hoarse bell and a whining hound had announced dinner in
the hotel. The guests were coming again into the streets. Eyes were
brighter, faces a little more flushed, and the "moonshine" was passed
more openly. Both ways the crowd watched closely. The quiet at each end
of the street was ominous, and the delay could last but little longer.
The lookers-on themselves were getting quarrelsome. The vent must come
soon, or among them there would be trouble.
Thar comes Jas Lewallen! " At last. A dozen voices spoke at once. A
horseman had appeared far down the street from the Lewallen end. The
clouds broke from about the sun, and a dozen men knew the horse that bore
him; for the gray was prancing the street sidewise, and throwing the
sunlight from his flanks. Nobody followed, and the crowd was puzzled.
Young Jasper carried a Winchester across his saddle-bow, and, swaying
with the action of his horse, came on.
"What air he about?"
"He's a plumb idgit."
He mus' be crazy."
The wonder ceased. Young Jasper was reeling. Two or three Stetsons
slipped from the crowd, and there was a galloping of hoofs the other way.
Another horseman appeared from the Lewallen end, riding hastily. The
new-comer's errand was to call Jasper back. But the young dare-devil was
close to the crowd, and was swinging a bottle over his head.
Come back hyeh, Jas! Come hyeh!" The new-comer was shouting afar off
while he galloped. Horses were being untethered from the side alleys.
Several more Lewallen riders came in sight. They could see the gray
shining in the sunlight amid the crowd, and the man sent after him halted
at a safe distance, gesticulating; and they, too, spurred forward.
Hello, boys! " young Jasper was calling out, as he swayed from side to
side, the people everywhere giving him way.
"Fun to-day, by- ! fun to-day! Who'll hev a drink? Hyeh's hell to the
Stetsons, whar some of 'em '11 be afore night!
With a swagger he lifted the bottle to his lips, and, stopping short,
let it fall untouched to the ground. He had straightened in his saddle,
and was looking up the street. With a deep curse he threw the Winchester
to his shoulder, fired, and before his yell had died on his lips horse
and rider were away like a shaft of light. The crowd melted like magic
from the street. The Stetsons, chiefly on foot, did not return the fire,
but halted up the street, as if parleying. Young Jasper joined his party,
and they, too, stood still a moment, puzzled by the irresolution of the
"Watch out! they're gittin' round ye! Run for the court-house, ye
fools !-ye, run! " The voice came in a loud yell from somewhere down the
street, and its warning was just in time.
A wreath of smoke came about a corner of the house far down the
street, and young Jasper yelled, and dashed up a side alley with his
followers. A moment later judge, jury, witnesses, and sheriff were flying
down the court-house steps at the point of Lewallen guns; the Lewallen
horses, led by the gray, were snorting through the streets; their riders,
barricaded in the forsaken court-house, were puffing a stream of fire and
smoke from every window of court-room below and jury-room above.
The streets were a bedlam. The Stetsons were yelling with triumph. The
Lewallens were divided, and Rufe placed three Stetsons with Winchesters
on each side of the courthouse, and kept them firing. Rome, pale and
stern, hid his force between the square and the Lewallen store. He was
none too quick. The rest were coming on, led by old Jasper. It was
reckless, riding that way right into death; but the old man believed
young Jasper's life at stake, and the men behind asked no questions when
old Jasper led them. The horses' hoofs beat the dirt street like the
crescendo of thunder. The fierce old man's hat was gone, and his
mane-like hair was shaking in the wind. Louder-and still the Stetsons
were quiet-quiet too long. The wily old man saw the trap, and, with a
yell, whirled the column up an alley, each man flattening over his
saddle. From every window, from behind every corner and tree, smoke
belched from the mouth of a Winchester. Two horses went down; one
screamed; the other struggled to his feet, and limped away with an empty
saddle. One pf the fallen men sprang into safety behind a house, and one
lay still, with his arms stretched out and his face in the dust.
From behind barn, house, and fence the Lewallens gave back a
scattering fire; but the Stetsons crept closer, and were plainly in
greater numbers. Old Jasper was being surrounded, and he mounted again,
and all, followed by a chorus of bullets and triumphant yells, fled for a
wooded slope in the rear of the court-house. A dozen Lewallens were
prisoners, and must give up or starve. There was savage joy in the
Stetson crowd, and many-footed rumor went all ways that night.
Despite sickness and Rome's strict order, Isom had ridden down to the
mill. Standing in the doorway, he and old Gabe saw up the river, where
the water broke into foam over the ford, a riderless gray horse plunging
across. Later it neighed at a gate under Wolf's Head, and Martha Lewallen
ran out to meet it. Across under Thunderstruck Knob that night the old
Stetson mother listened to Isom's story of the fight with ghastly joy in
her death-marked face.
ALL night the court-house was guarded and on guard. At one corner of
the square Rufe Stetson, with a few men, sat on watch in old Sam Day's
cabin-the fortress of the town, built for such a purpose, and used for it
many times before. The prisoners, too, were alert, and no Stetson
ventured into the open square, for the moon was high; an exposure
anywhere was noted instantly by the whistle of a rifle-ball, and the
mountaineer takes few risks except under stress of drink or passion. Rome
Stetson had placed pickets about the town wherever surprise was possible.
All night he patrolled the streets to keep his men in such readiness as
he could for the attack that the Lewallens would surely make to rescue
their living friends and to avenge the dead ones.
But the triumph was too great and unexpected. Two Braytons were dead;
several more were prisoners with young Jasper in the courthouse; and
As the night deepened without attack the Stetsons drank more, and grew
reckless. A dance was started. Music and "moonshine" were given to every
man who bore a Winchester. The night was broken with drunken yells, the
random discharge of fire-arms, and the mono-tone of heavy feet. The two
leaders were helpless, and the inaction of the Lewallens puzzled them.
Chafed with anxiety, they kept their eyes on the court-house or on the
thicket of gloom where their enemies lay. But the woods were as quiet as
the pall of shadows over them. Once Rome, making his rounds, saw a figure
crawling through a field of corn. It looked like Crump's, but before he
could fire the man rolled like a ball down the bushy bank to the river.
An instant later some object went swiftly past a side street-somebody on
horseback-and a picket fired an alarm. The horse kept on, and Rome threw
his rifle on a patch of moonlight, but when the object flashed through,
his finger was numbed at the trigger. In the moonlight the horse looked
gray, and the rider was seated sidewise. A bullet from the court-house
clipped his hat-brim as he ran recklessly across the street to where
Steve Marcum stood in the dark behind old Sam's cabin.
"Jim Hale 'll git him as he goes up the road," said Steve, calmly-and
then with hot impatience, "Why the hell don't he shoot?
Rome started forward in the moonlight, and Steve caught his arm. Two
bullets hissed from the court-house, and he fell back.
A shot sounded from the bushes far away from the road. The horse kept
on, and splashed into Troubled Fork, and Steve swore bitterly.
"Hit hain't Jim. Hit's that mis'able Bud Vickers; he's been a-stan
din' guard out'n the bushes 'stid o' the road. That was a spy, I tell ye,
'n' the coward let him in and let him out. They'll know now we're all
drunk! Whut's the matter?
Rome's mouth was half open. He looked white and sick, and Steve
thought he had been hit, but he took off his hat. " Purty close! " he
said, with a laugh, pointing at the bullet-hole through the brim.
Steve, unsuspicious, went on: "Hit was a spy, I tell ye. Bud was
afeard to stan' in the road, 'n' I'm goin' out thar 'n' twist his damned
neck. We've got 'em, Rome! I tell ye, we've got 'em! Ef we kin git
through this night, and git the boys sober in the morning, we've got 'em
The night did pass in safety, darkness wore away without attack, and
morning broke on the town in its drunken stupor. Then the curious silence
of the Lewallens was explained. The rumor came that old Jasper was dead,
and it went broadcast. Later, friends coming to the edge of the town for
the bodies of the dead Lewallens confirmed it. A random ball had passed
through old Lewallen's body in the wild flight for the woods, and during
the night he had spent his last breath in a curse against the man who
Then each Stetson, waked from his drunken sleep, drank again when he
heard of the death. The day bade fair to be like the night, and again the
anxiety of the leaders was edged with fear. Old Jasper dead and young
Jasper a prisoner, the chance was near to end the feud, or there would be
no Lewallen left to lead their enemies. But, again, they were wellnigh
helpless. Already they had barely enough men to guard their prisoners. Of
the Marcums, Steve alone was able to handle a Winchester, and outside the
sounds of the carousal were in the air and growing louder. In a little
while, if the Lewallens but knew it, escape would be easy and the
Stetsons could be driven from the town.
Oh, they know it," said Steve. "They'll be a-whoopin' down out O' them
woods purty soon, 'n' we re goin to ketch hell. I'd like to know mighty
well who that spy was last night. That cussed Bud Vickers says it was a
ha'nt, on a white hoss, with long hair flyin' in the wind, 'n' that he
shot plumb through it. I jus' wish I'd a had a chance at it."
Still, noon came again without trouble, and the imprisoned Lewallens
had been twenty-four hours without food. Their ammunition was getting
scarce. The firing was less frequent, though the watch was as close as
ever, and twice a Winchester had sounded a signal of distress. All knew
that a response must come soon; and come it did. A picket, watching the
river road, saw young Jasper's horse coming along the dark bushes far up
the river, and brought the news to the group standing behind old Sam's
cabin. The gray galloped into sight, and, skirting the woods, came
straight for the town-with a woman on his back. The stirrup of a man's
saddle dangled on one side, and the woman's bonnet had fallen from her
head. Some one challenged her.
Stop, I tell ye! Don't ye go near that courthouse! Stop, I tell ye!
I'll shoot! Stop!"
Rome ran from the cabin with a revolver in each hand. A drunken
mountaineer was raising a Winchester to his shoulder, and, springing from
the back of the gray at the court-house steps, was Martha Lewallen.
"I'll kill the fust man that lifts his finger to hurt the gal," Rome
said, knocking the drunken man's gun in the air. "We hain't fightin'
It was too late to oppose her, and the crowd stood helplessly
watching. No one dared approach, so, shielding with her body the space of
the opening door, she threw the sack of food within. Then she stood a
moment talking and, turning, climbed to her saddle. The gray was spotted
with foam, and showed the red of his nostrils with every breath as, with
face flushed and eyes straight before her, she rode slowly toward the
crowd. What was she about? Rome stood rigid, his forgotten pistols
hanging at each side; the mouth of the drunken mountaineer was open with
stupid wonder; the rest fell apart as she came around the corner of the
cabin and, through the space given, rode slowly, her skirt almost
brushing Rome, looking neither to the right nor to the left; and when she
had gone quite through them all, she wheeled and rode, still slowly,
through the open fields toward the woods which sheltered the Lewallens,
while the crowd stood in bewildered silence looking after her. Yells of
laughter came from the old court-house. Some of the Stetsons laughed,
too; some swore, a few grumbled; but there was not one who was not
stirred by the superb daring of the girl, though she had used it only to
show her contempt.
" Rome, you're a fool; though, fer a fac', we can't shoot a woman; 'n'
anyways I ruther shoot her than the hoss. But lemme tell ye, thar was
more'n sump'n to eat in that bag! They air up to some dodge."
Rufe Stetson had watched the incident through a port-hole of the
cabin, and his tone was at once jesting and anxious.
"That grub won't last more'n one day, I reckon," said the drunken
mountaineer. We'll watch out fer the gal nex' time. We're boun' to git
'em one time or t'other."
"She rid through us to find out how many of us wasn't dead drunk,"
said Steve Marcum, still watching the girl as she rode on, toward the
woods; "'n' I'm a-thinkin' they'll be down on us purty soon now, 'n' I
reckon we'll have to run fer it. Look thar boys!"
The girl had stopped at the edge of the woods; facing the town, she
waved her bonnet high above her head.
"Well, whut in the--! "he said, with slow emphasis, and then he leaped
from the door with a yell. The bonnet was a signal to the beleaguered
Lewallens. The rear door of the courthouse had been quietly opened, and
the prisoners were out in a body and scrambling over the fence before the
pickets could give an alarm. The sudden yells, the crack of Winchesters,
startled even the revellers and all who could, headed by Rome and Steve
Marcum, sprang into the square, and started in pursuit. But the Lewallens
had got far ahead, and were running in zigzag lines to dodge the balls
flying after them. Half-way to the woods was a gully of red clay, and
into this the fleetest leaped, and turned instantly to cover their
comrades. The Winchesters began to rattle from the woods, and the bullets
came like rain from everywhere.
"T-h-up! T-h-up! T-h-up! " there were three of them-the peculiar soft,
dull messages of hot lead to living flesh. A Stetson went down; another
stumbled; Rufe Stetson, climbing the fence, caught at his breast with an
oath, and fell back. Rome and Steve dropped for safety to the ground.
Every other Stetson turned in a panic, and every Lewallen in the gully
leaped from it, and ran under the Lewallen fire for shelter in the woods.
The escape was over.
"That was a purty neat trick," said Steve, wiping a red streak from
his cheek. " Nex' time she tries that, she'll git herself into
At nightfall the wounded leader and the dead one were carried up the
mountain, each to his home; and there was mourning far into the night on
one bank of the Cumberland, and, serious though Rufe Stetson's wound was,
exultation on the other. But in it Rome could take but little part. There
had been no fault to find with him in the fight. But a reaction had set
in when he saw the girl flash in the moonlight past the sights of his
Winchester, and her face that day had again loosed within him a flood of
feeling that drove the lust for revenge from his veins. Even now, while
he sat in his own cabin, his thoughts were across the river where Martha,
broken at last, sat at her death vigils. He knew what her daring ride
that day had cost her, with old Jasper dead out there in the woods; and
as she passed him he had grown suddenly humbled, shamed. He grew
heart-sick now as he thought of it all; and the sight of his mother on
her bed in the corner, close to death as she was, filled him with
bitterness. There was no help for him. He was alone now, pitted against
young Jasper alone. On one bed lay his uncle-nigh to death. There was the
grim figure in the corner, the implacable spirit of hate and revenge. His
rifle was against the wall. If there was any joy for him in old Jasper's
death, it was that his hand had not caused it, and yet-God help
him!-there was the other cross, the other oath.
THE star and the crescent were swinging above Wolf's Head, and in the
dark hour that breaks into dawn a cavalcade of Lewallens forded the
Cumberland, and galloped along the Stetson shore. At the head rode young
Jasper, and Crump the spy.
Swift changes had followed the court-house fight. In spite of the
death of Rufe Stetson from his wound, and several other Stetsons from
ambush, the Lewallens had lost ground. Old Jasper's store had fallen into
the hands of creditors -" furriners "-for debts, and it was said his
homestead must follow. In a private war a leader must be more than
leader. He must feed and often clothe his followers, and young Jasper had
not the means to carry on the feud. The famine had made corn dear. He
could feed neither man nor horse, and the hired feudsmen fell away,
leaving the Lewallens and the Braytons and their close kin to battle
alone. So Jasper avoided open combat and resorted to ambush and surprise;
and, knowing in some way every move made by the Stetsons, with great
daring and success. It was whispered, too, that he no longer cared who
owned what he might want for himself. Several dark deeds were traced to
him. In a little while he was a terror to good citizens, and finally old
Gabe asked aid of the Governor. Soldiers from the settlements were looked
for any day, and both factions knew it. At the least this would delay the
war, and young Jasper had got ready for a last fight, which was close at
Half a mile on the riders swerved into a wooded slope. There they hid
their horses in the brush, and climbed the spur stealthily. The naked
woods showed the cup-like shape of the mountains there-a basin from which
radiated upward wooded ravines, edged with ribs of rock. In this basin
the Stetsons were encamped. The smoke of a fire was visible in the dim
morning light, and the Lewallens scattered to surround the camp, but the
effort was vain. A picket saw the creeping figures; his gun echoed a
warning from rock to rock, and with yells the Lewallens ran forward. Rome
sprang from his sleep near the fire, bareheaded, rifle in hand, his body
plain against a huge rock, and the bullets hissed and spat about him as
he leaped this way and that, firing as he sprang, and shouting for his
men. Steve Marcum alone answered. Some, startled from sleep, had fled in
a panic; some had run deeper into the woods for shelter. And bidding
Steve save himself, Rome turned up the mountain, running from tree to
tree, and dropped unhurt behind a fallen chestnut. Other Stetsons, too,
had turned, and answering bullets began to whistle to the enemy, but they
were widely separated and ignorant of one another's position, and the
Lewallens drove them one by one to new hiding-places, scattering them
more. To his right Rome saw Steve Marcum speed like a shadow up through a
little open space, but he feared to move, for several Lewallens had
recognized him, and were watching him alone. He could not even fire; at
the least exposure there was a chorus of bullets about his ears. In a
moment they began to come obliquely from each side-the Lewallens were
getting around him. In a moment more death was sure there, and once again
he darted up the mountain. The bullets sang after him like maddened bees.
He felt one cut his hat and another sting his left arm, but he raced up,
up, till the firing grew fainter as he climbed, and ceased an instant
altogether. Then, still farther below, came a sudden crash of reports.
Stetsons were pursuing the men who were after him, but he could not join
them. The Lewallens were scattered everywhere between him and his own
man, and a desccnt might lead him to the muzzle of an enemy's Winchester.
So he climbed over a ledge of rock and lay there, peeping through a
crevice between two bowlders, gaining his breath. The firing was far
below him now, and was sharp. Evidently his pursuers were too busy
defending themselves to think further of him, and he began to plan how he
should get back to his friends. But he kept hidden, and, searching the
cliffs below him for a sheltered descent, he saw something like a
slouched hat just over a log, scarcely fifty feet below him. Presently
the hat was lifted a few inches; a figure rose cautiously and climbed
toward the ledge, shielding itself behind rock and tree. Very quietly
Rome crawled back to the face of the cliff behind him, and crouched
behind a rock with his cocked rifle across his knees. The man must climb
over the ledge; there would be a bare, level floor of rock between
them-the Lewallen would be at his mercy-and Rome, with straining eyes,
waited. There was a footfall on the other side of the ledge; a soft clink
of metal against stone. The Lewallen was climbing slowly-slowly. Rome
could hear his heavy breathing. A grimy hand slipped over the sharp comb
of the ledge; another appeared, clinched about a Winchester-then the
slouched hat, and under it the dark, crafty face of young Jasper. Rome
sat like the stone before him, with a half-smile on his lips. Jasper
peered about with the sly caution of a fox, and his face grew puzzled and
chagrined as he looked at the cliffs above him.
He was drawing himself over the ledge, and the low, stern voice
startled him, as a knife might have done, thrust suddenly from the empty
air at his breast. Rome rose upright against the cliff, with his resolute
face against the stock of a Winchester.
"Drap that gun!"
The order was given along Stetson's barrel, and the weapon was
dropped, the steel ringing on the stone floor. Rome lowered his gun to
the hollow of his arm, and the two young leaders faced each other for the
first time in the life of either.
Seem kinder s'prised to see me," said the Stetson, grimly. " Hev ye
got a pistol?
Young Jasper glared at him in helpless ferocity.
He drew a long-bladed penknife from his pocket, and tossed it at
"Jes' move over thar, will ye?"
The Lewallen took his stand against the cliff. Rome picked up the
fallen rifle and leaned it against the ledge.
"Now, Jas Lewallen, thar's nobody left in this leetle trouble 'cept
you 'n' me, 'n' ef one of us was dead, I reckon t'other could live hyeh,
'n' thar'd be peace in these mount'ins. I thought o' that when I had ye
at the eend o' this Winchester. I reckon you would 'a' shot me dead ef I
had poked my head over a rock as keerless as you." That is just what he
would have done, and Jasper did not answer. "I've swore to kill ye, too,"
added Rome, tapping his gun; "I've got a cross fer ye hyeh."
The Lewallen was no coward. Outcry or resistance was useless. The
Stetson meant to taunt him, to make death more bitter; for Jasper
expected death, and he sullenly waited for it against the cliff.
"You've been banterin me a long time now, 'lowin' as how ye air the
better man o' the two; n' I've got a notion o' givin' ye a chance to
prove yer tall talk. Hit's not our way to kill a man in cold blood, 'n' I
don't want to kill ye anyways ef I kin he'p it. Seem s'prised ag'in.
Reckon ye don't believe me? I don't wonder when I think o' my own dad,
'n' all the meanness yo folks have done mine; but I've got a good reason
fer not killin' ye-ef I kin he'p it. Y'u don't know what it is, 'n'
y'u'll never know; but I'll give yer a chance now fer yer life ef y'u'll
sw'ar on a stack o' Bibles as high as that tree thar that y'u'll leave
these mount'ins ef I whoops ye, 'n' nuver come back ag'in as long as you
live. I'll leave, ef ye whoops me. Now whut do ye say? Will ye sw'ar?
"I reckon I will, seem' as I've got to," was the surly answer. But
Jasper's face was dark with suspicion, and Rome studied it keenly. The
Lewallens once had been men whose word was good, but he did not like
"I reckon I'll trust ye," he said, at last, more through confidence in
his own strength than faith in his enemy; foi Jasper whipped would be as
much at his mercy as he was now. So Rome threw off his coat, and began
winding his homespun suspenders about his waist. Watching him closely,
Jasper did the same.
The firing below had ceased. A flock of mountain vultures were sailing
in great circles over the thick woods. Two eagles swept straight from the
rim of the sun above Wolf's Head, beating over a turbulent sea of mist
for the cliffs, scarcely fifty yards above the ledge, where a pine-tree
grew between two rocks. At the instant of lighting, they wheeled away,
each with a warning scream to the other. A figure lying flat behind the
pine had frightened them, and now a face peeped to one side, flushed with
eagerness over the coming fight. Both were ready now, and the Lewallen
grew suddenly white as Rome turned again and reached down for the
"I reckon I'll put 'em a leetle furder out o' the way," he said,
kicking the knife over the cliff; and, standing on a stone, he thrust
them into a crevice high above his head.
"Now, Jas, we'll fight this gredge out, as our grandads have done
Lewallen and Stetson were man to man at last. Suspicion was gone now,
and a short, brutal laugh came from the cliff.
"I'll fight ye! Oh, by God, I'll fight ye!"
The ring of the voice struck an answering gleam from Rome's gray eyes,
and the two sprang for each other. It was like the struggle of primeval
men who had not yet learned even the use of clubs. For an instant both
stood close, like two wild beasts crouched for a spring, and circling
about to get at each other's throats, with mouths set, eyes watching
eyes, and hands twitching nervously. Young Jasper leaped first, and the
Stetson, wary of closing with him, shrank back. There were a few quick,
heavy blows, and the Lewallen was beaten away with blood at his lips.
Then each knew the advantage of the other. The Stetson's reach was
longer; the Lewallen was shorter and heavier, and again he closed in.
Again Rome sent out his long arm. A turn of Jasper's head let the heavy
fist pass over his shoulder. The force of the blow drove Rome forward;
the two clinched, and Jasper's arms tightened about the Stetson's waist.
With a quick gasp for breath Rome loosed his hold, and, bending his
enemy's head back with one hand, rained blow after blow in his face with
the other. One terrible stroke on the jaw, and Jasper's arms were loosed;
the two fell apart, the one stunned, the other breathless. One dazed
moment only, and for a third time the Lewallen came on. Rome had been
fighting a man; now he faced a demon. Jasper's brows stood out like
bristles, and the eyes under them were red and fierce like a mad bull's.
Again Rome's blows fell, but again the Lewallen reached him, and this
time he got his face under the Stetson's chin, -'id the heavy fist fell
upon the back of his head, and upon his neck, as upon wood and leather.
Again Rome had to gasp for breath, and again the two were fiercely
locked-their corded arms as tense as serpents. Around and around they
whirled, straining, tripping, breaking the silence only with deep, quick
breaths and the stamping of feet, Jasper firm on the rock, and Rome's
agility saving him from being lifted in the air and tossed from the
cliff. There was no pause for rest. It was a struggle to the end, and a
quick one; and under stress of excitement the figure at the pine-tree had
risen to his knees- jumping even to his feet in plain view, when the
short, strong arms of the Lewallen began at last to draw Rome closer
still, and to bend him backward. The Stetson was giving way at last. The
Lewallen's vindictive face grew blacker, and his white teeth showed
between his snarling lips as he fastened one leg behind his enemy's, and,
with chin against his shoulder, bent him slowly, slowly back. The two
breathed in short, painful gasps; their swollen muscles trembled under
the strain as with ague. Back - back - the Stetson was falling; he seemed
almost down, when-the trick is an old one-whirling with the quickness of
light, he fell heavily on his opponent, and caught him by the throat with
"'Nough? " he asked, hoarsely. It was the first word uttered.
The only answer was a fierce struggle. Rome felt the Lewallen's teeth
sinking in his arm, and his fingers tightened like twisting steel, till
Jasper caught his breath as though strangling to death.
"'Nough?" asked the hoarse voice again.
No answer; tighter clinched the fingers. The Lewallen shook his head
feebly; his purple face paled suddenly as Rome loosed his hold, and his
lips moved in a whisper.
Rome rose dizzily to one knee. Jasper turned, gasping, and lay with
his face to the rock. For a while both were quiet, Rome, panting with
open mouth and white with exhaustion, looking down now and then at the
Lewallen, whose face was turned away with shame.
The sun was blazing above Wolf's Head now, and the stillness about
them lay unbroken on the woods below.
"I've whooped ye, Jas," Rome said, at last; "I've whooped ye in a fa'r
fight, 'n' I've got nothin' now to say 'bout yer tall talk, 'n' I reckon
you hevn't nuther. Now, hit's understood, hain't it, that y'u'll leave
Y'u kin go West," he continued, as the Lewallen did not answer. "
Uncle Rufe used to say thar's a good deal to do out thar, 'n' nobody axes
questions. Thar's nobody left hyeh but you 'n' me, but these mount'ins
was never big 'nough fer one Lewallen 'n' one Stetson, 'n' you've got to
go. I reckon ye won't believe me, but I'm glad I didn't hev to kill ye.
But you've promised to go, now, 'n' I'll take yer word fer it." He turned
his face, and the Lewallen, knowing it from the sound of his voice,
sprang to his feet.
A wild curse burst from Rome's lips, and both leaped for the guns. The
Lewallen had the start of a few feet, and Rome, lamed in the fight,
stumbled and fell. Before he could rise Jasper had whirled, with one of
the Winchesters above his head and his face aflame with fury. Asking no
mercy, Rome hid his face with one arm and waited, stricken faint all at
once, and numb. One report struck his ears, muffled, whip-like. A dull
wonder came to him that the Lewallen could have missed at such close
range, and he waited for another. Some one shouted-a shrill hallo. A loud
laugh followed; a light seemed breaking before Rome's eyes, and he lifted
his head. Jasper was on his face again, motionless; and Steve Marcum's
tall figure was climbing over a bowlder toward him.
"That was the best fight I've seed in my time, by God," he said,
coolly, " 'n', Rome, y'u air the biggest fool this side o' the
settlements, I reckon. I had dead aim on him, 'n' I was jest a-thinkin'
hit was a purty good thing fer you that old long-nosed Jim Stover chased
me up hyeh, when, damn me, ef that boy up thar didn't let his ole gun
loose. I'd a-got Jas myself ef he hadn't been so all-fired quick o'
Up at the root of the pine-tree Isom stood motionless, with his long
rifle in one hand and a little cloud of smoke breaking above his white
face. When Rome looked up he started down without a word. Steve swung
himself over the ledge.
"I heerd the shootin'," said the boy, " up thar at the cave, 'n' I
couldn't stay thar. I knowed ye could whoop him, Rome, 'n' I seed Steve,
too, but I was afeard-" Then he saw the body. His tongue stopped, his
face shrivelled, and Steve, hanging with one hand to the ledge, watched
" Rome," said the boy, in a quick whisper, "is he daid?
" Come on! " said Steve, roughly. "They'll be up hyeh atter us in a
minute. Leave Jas's gun thar, 'n' send that boy back home."
That day the troops came-young Blue Grass Kentuckians. That night,
within the circle of their camp-fires, a last defiance was cast in the
teeth of law and order. Flames rose within the old court- house, and
before midnight the moonlight fell on four black walls. That night, too,
the news of young Jasper's fate was carried to the death-bed of Rome's
mother, and before day the old woman passed in peace. That day Stetsons
and Lewallens disbanded. The Lewallens had no leader; the Stetsons, no
enemies to fight. Some hid, some left the mountains, some gave themselves
up for trial. Upon Rome Stetson the burden fell. Against him the law was
set. A price was put on his head, his house was burned-a last act of
Lewallen hate-and Rome was homeless, the last of his race, and an
WITH the start of a few hours and the sympathy of his people one
mountaineer can defy the army of the United States; and the mountaineers
usually laugh when they hear troops are coming. For the time they stop
fighting and hide in the woods; and when the soldiers are gone, they come
out again, and begin anew their little pleasantries. But the soldiers can
protect the judge on his bench and the county-seat in time of court, and
for these purposes they serve well.
The search for Rome Stetson, then, was useless. His friends would aid
him; his enemies feared to betray him. So the soldiers marched away one
morning, and took their prisoners for safe- keeping in the Blue Grass,
until court should open at Hazlan.
Meantime, spring came and deepened-the mountain spring. The berries of
the wintergreen grew scarce, and Rome Stetson, " hiding out," as the
phrase is, had to seek them on thc northem face of the mountains. The
moss on the naked winter trees brightened in color, and along the river,
where willows drooped, ran faint lines of green. The trailing arbutus
gave out delicate pink blossoms, and the south wind blew apart the petals
of the anemone. Soon violets unfolded above the dead leaves; azaleas
swung their yellow trumpets through the undergrowth; over-head, the
dogwood tossed its snow-flakes in gusts through the green and gold of new
leaves and sunlight; and higher still waved the poplar blooms, with honey
ready on every crimson heart for the bees. Down in the valley Rome
Stetson could see about every little cabin pink clouds and white clouds
of peach and of apple blossoms. Amid the ferns about him shade-loving
trilliums showed their many-hued faces, and every opening was thickly
peopled with larkspur seeking the sun. The giant magnolia and the
umbrella-tree spread their great creamy flowers; the laurel shook out
myriads of pink and white bells, and the queen of mountain flowers was
stirring from sleep in the buds of the rhododendron.
With the spring new forces pulsed the mountain air. The spirit of the
times reached even Hazlan. A railroad was coming up the river, so the
rumor was. When winter broke, surveyors had appeared; after them, mining
experts and purchasers of land. New ways of bread-making were open to
all, and the feudsman began to see that he could make food and clothes
more easily and with less danger than by sleeping with his rifle in the
woods, and by fighting men who had done him no harm. Many were tired of
fighting; many, forced into the feud, had fought unwillingly. Others had
sold their farms and wild lands, and were moving toward the Blue Grass or
westward. The desperadoes of each faction had fled the law or were in its
clutches. The last Lewallen was dead; the last Stetson was hidden away in
the mountains. There were left Mareums and Braytons, but only those who
felt safest from indictment; in these a spirit of hostility would live
for years, and, roused by passion or by drink, would do murder now on one
side of the Cumberland and now on the other; but the Stetson-Lewallen
feud, old Gabe believed, was at an end at last.
All these things the miller told Rome Stetson, who well knew what they
meant. He was safe enough from the law while the people took no part in
his capture, but he grew apprehensive when he learned of the changes
going on in the valley. None but old Gabe knew where he was, to be sure,
but with his own enemies to guide the soldiers he could not hope to
remain hidden long. Still, with that love of the mountains characteristic
of all races born among them, he clung to his own land. He would rather
stay where he was the space of a year and die, he told old Gabe
passionately, than live to old age in another State.
But there was another motive, and he did not hide it. On the other
side he had one enemy left-the last, too, of her race-who was more to him
than his own dead kindred, who hated him, who placed at his door all her
sorrows. For her he was living like a wolf in a cave, and old Gabe knew
it. Her-he would not leave.
"I tell ye, Rome, you've got to go. Thar's no use talkin'. Court comes
the fust Monday in June. The soldiers ull be hyeh. Hit won't be safe.
Thar's some that s'picions I know whar ye air now, 'n' they'll be spyin',
'n' mebbe hit'll git me into trouble, too, aidin' 'n' abettin' a man to
git away who air boun' to the law."
The two were sitting on the earthen floor of the cave before a little
fire, and Rome, with his hands about his knees and his brows knitted, was
staring into the yellow blaze. His unshorn hair fell to his shoulders;
his face was pale from insufficient food and exercise, and tense with a
look that was at once caged and defiant.
"Uncle Gabe," he asked, quietly, for the old man's tone was a little
querulous, " air ye sorry ye holped me? Do ye blame me fer whut I've
"No," said the old miller, answering both questions; "I don't. I
believe whut ye tol' me. Though, even ef ye had 'a' done it, I don't know
as I'd blame ye, seem' that it was a fa'r fight. I don't doubt he was
doin' his best to kill you."
Rome turned quickly, his face puzzled and darkening.
Uncle Gabe, whut air you drivin' at? " The old man spat into the fire,
and shifted his position uneasily, as Rome's hand caught his knee.
Well, ef I have to tell ye, I s'pose I must. Thar's been nothin'
pertickler ag'in ye so fer, 'cept fer breakin' that confederatin' statute
'bout bandin' fightin' men together; 'n' nobody was very anxious to git
hol' o' ye jes fer that, but now "-the old man stopped a moment, for
Rome's eyes were kindling-" they say that ye killed Jas Lew allen, 'n'
that ye air a murderer; 'n' hit air powerful strange how all of a suddint
folks seem to be gittin' down on a man as kills his fellow-creetur; 'n'
now they means to hunt ye til they ketch ye."
It was all out now, and the old man was relieved. Rome rose to his
feet, and in sheer agony of spirit paced the floor.
"I tol' ye, Uncle Gabe, that I didn't kill him."
So ye did, 'n' I believe ye. But a feller seed you 'n' Steve comm'
from the place whar Jas was found dead, 'n' whar the dirt 'n' rock was
throwed about as by two bucks in spring-time. Steve says he didn't do it,
'n' he wouldn't say you didn't. Looks to me like Steve did the kuhn', 'n'
was lyin' a leetle. He hain't goin' to confess hit to save your neck; 'n'
he can't no way, fer he hev lit out o' these mount'ins-long ago."
If Steve was out of danger, suspicion could not harm him, and Rome
"Isom's got the lingerin' fever ag'in, 'n' he's out"i his head. He's
ravin' 'bout that fight. Looks like ye tol' him 'bout it. He says,' Don't
tell Uncle Gabe'; 'n' he keeps sayin' it. Hit'll 'most kill him ef you go
'way; but he wants ye to git out o' the mount'ins; 'n', Rome, you've got
"Who was it, Uncle Gabe, that seed me 'n' Steve comm' 'way from
He air the same feller who hev been spyin' ye all the time this war's
been goin' on; hit's that dried-faced, snaky Eli Crump, who ye knocked
down 'n' choked up in Hazlan one day fer sayin' something ag'in
"I knowed it-I knowed it-oh, ef I could git my fingers roun' his
throat once more-jes once more-I'd be 'mos' ready to die."
He stretched out his hands as he strode back and forth, with his
fingers crooked like talons; his shadow leaped from wall to wall, and his
voice, filling the cave, was, for the moment, scarcely human. The old man
waited till the paroxysm was over and Rome had again sunk before the
"Hit 'u'd do no good, Rome," he said, rising to go. "You've got enough
on ye now, without the sin o' takin' his life. You better make up yer
mind to leave the mount ins now right 'way. You're a-gittin' no more'n
half-human, livin' up hyeh like a catamount. I don't see how ye kin stand
it. Thar's no hope o' things blowin' over, boy, 'n' givin' ye a chance o'
comm' out ag'in, as yer dad and yer grandad usen to do afore ye. The
citizens air gittin' tired o' these wars. They keeps out the furriners
who makes roads 'n' buys lands; they air ag'in' the law, ag'in' religion,
ag'in' yo' pocket, 'n' ag'in' mine. Lots o' folks hev been ag'in' all
this fightin' fer a long time, but they was too skeery to say so. They
air talkin' mighty big now, seem' they kin git soldiers hyeh to pertect
'em. So ye mought as well give up the idea o' staying hyeh, 'less'n ye
want to give yourself up to the law."
The two stepped from the cave, and passed through the rhododendrons
till they stood on the cliff overlooking the valley. The rich light lay
like a golden mist between the mountains, and through it, far down, the
river moaned like the wind of a coming storm.
Did ye tell the gal whut I tol' ye?"
"Yes, Rome; hit wasn't no use. She says Steve's word's as good as
yourn; 'n' she knowed about the crosses. Folks say she swore awful ag'in'
ye at young Jas's burial, 'lowin' that she'd hunt ye down herse'f, ef the
soldiers didn't ketch ye. I hain't seed her sence she got sick; 'pears
like ever'body's sick. Mebbe she's a leetle settled down now-no tellin'.
No use foolin' with her, Rome. You git away from hyeh. Don't you worry
'bout Isom-I'll take keer o' him, 'n' when he gits well, he'll want to
come atter ye, 'n' I'll let him go. He couldn't live hyeh without you.
But y'u must git away, Rome, 'n' git away mighty quick."
With hands clasped behind him, Rome stood and watched the bent figure
slowly pick its way around the stony cliff.
"I reckon I've got to go. She's ag'in' me; they're all ag'in' me. I
reckon I've jes got to go. Somehow, I've been kinder hopin'-" He closed
his lips to check the groan that rose to them, and turned again into the
gloom behind him.
JUNE came. The wild rose swayed above its image along every little
shadowed stream, and the scent of wild grapes was sweet in the air and as
vagrant as a bluebird's note in autumn. The rhododendrons burst into
beauty, making gray ridge and gray cliff blossom with purple, hedging
streams with snowy clusters and shining leaves, and lighting up dark
coverts in the woods as with white stars. The leaves were full,
woodthrushes sang, and bees droned like unseen running water in the
With June came circuit court once more-and the soldiers. Faint music
pierced the dreamy chant of the river one morning as Rome lay on a
bowlder in the summer sun; and he watched the guns flashing like another
stream along the water, and then looked again to the Lewallen cabin.
Never, morning, noon, or night, when he came from the rhododendrons, or
when they closed about him, did he fail to turn his eyes that way. Often
he would see a bright speck moving about the dim lines of the cabin, and
he would scarcely breathe while he watched it, so easily would it
disappear. Always he had thought it was Martha, and now he knew it was,
for the old miller had told him more of the girl, and had wrung his heart
with pity. She had been ill a long while. The "furriners " had seized old
Jasper's cahin and land. The girl was homeless, and she did not know it,
for no one had the heart to tell her. She was living with the Braytons;
and every day she went to the cabin, "moonin'' n' sorrowin' aroun'," as
old Gabe said; and she was much changed.
Once more the miller came-for the last time, he said, firmly. Crump
had trailed him, and had learned where Rome was. The search would begin
next day-perhaps that very night-and Crump would guide the soldiers. Now
he must go, and go quickly. The boy, too, sent word that unless Rome
went, he would have something to tell. Old Gabe saw no significance in
the message; but he had promised to deliver it, and he did. Rome wavered
then; Steve and himself gone, no suspicion would fall on the lad. If he
were caught, the boy might confess. With silence Rome gave assent, and
the two parted in an apathy that was like heartlessness. Only old Gabe's
shrunken breast heaved with something more than weariness of descent, and
Rome stood watching him a long time before he turned back to the cave
that had sheltered him from his enemies among beasts and men. In a moment
he came out for the last time, and turned the opposite way. Climbing
about the spur, he made for the path that led down to the river. When he
reached it he glanced at the sun, and stopped in indecision. Straight
above him was a knoll, massed with rhododendrons, the flashing leaves of
which made it like a great sea-wave in the slanting sun, while the blooms
broke slowly down over it like foam. Above this was a gray sepulchre of
dead, standing trees, more gaunt and spectre-like than ever, with the
rich life of summer about it. Higher still were a dark belt of stunted
firs and the sandstone ledge, and above these-home. He was risking his
liberty, his life. Any clump of bushes might bristle suddenly with
Winchesters. If the soldiers sought for him at the cave they would at the
same time guard the mountain paths; they would guard, too, the Stetson
cabin. But no matter-the sun was still high, and he turned up the steep.
The ledge passed, he stopped with a curse at his lips and the pain of a
knife-thrust at his heart. A heap of blackened stones and ashes was
before him. The wild mountain-grass was growing up about it. The bee-gums
were overturned and rifled. The garden was a tangled mass of weeds. The
graves in the little family burying-ground were unprotected, the fence
was gone, and no boards marked the last two ragged mounds. Old Gabe had
never told him. He, too, like Martha, was homeless, and the old miller
had been kind to him, as the girl's kinspeople had been to her.
For a long while he sat on the remnant of the burned and broken fence,
and once more the old tide of bitterness rose within him and ebbed away.
There were none left to hate, to wreak vengeance on. It was hard to leave
the ruins as they were; and yet he would rather leave weeds and ashes
than, like Martha, have some day to know that his home was in the hands
of a stranger. When he thought of the girl he grew calmer; his own
sorrows gave way to the thought of hers; and half from habit he raised
his face to look across the river. Two eagles swept from a dark ravine
under the shelf of rock where he had fought young Jasper, and made for a
sun-lighted peak on the other shore. From them his gaze fell to Wolf's
Head and to the cabin beneath, and a name passed his lips in a
Then he took the path to the river, and he found the canoe where old
Gabe had hidden it. Before the young moon rose he pushed into the stream
and drifted with the current. At the mouth of the creek that ran over old
Gabe's water-wheel he turned the prow to the Lewallen shore.
Not yit! Not yit! " he said.
THAT night Rome passed in the woods, with his rifle, in a bed of
leaves. Before daybreak he had built a fire in a deep ravine to cook his
breakfast, and had scattered the embers that the smoke should give no
sign. The sun was high when he crept cautiously in sight of the Lewallen
cabin. It was much like his own home on the other shore, except that the
house, closed and desolate, was standing, and the bees were busy. At the
corner of the kitchen a rusty axe was sticking in a half-cut piece of
timber, and on the porch was a heap of kindling and fire wood-the last
work old Jasper and his son had ever done. In the Lewallens' garden,
also, two graves were fresh; and the spirit of neglect and ruin overhung
All the morning he waited in the edge of the laurel, peering down the
path, watching the clouds race with their shadows over the mountains, or
pacing to and fro in his covert of leaves and flowers. He began to fear
at last that she was not coming, that she was ill, and once he started
down the mountain toward Steve Brayton's cabin. The swift descent brought
him to his senses, and he stopped half-way, and climbed back again to his
hiding-place. What he was doing, what he meant to do, he hardly knew.
Mid-day passed; the sun fell toward the mountains, and once more came the
fierce impulse to see her, even though he must stalk into the Brayton
cabin. Again, half-crazed, he started impetuously through the brush, and
shrank back, and stood quiet. A little noise down the path had reached
his ear. In a moment he could hear slow foot-falls, and the figure of the
girl parted the pink-and-white laurel blossoms, which fell in a shower
about her when she brushed through them. She passed quite near him,
walking slowly, and stopped for a moment to rest against a pillar of the
porch. She was very pale; her face was traced deep with suffering, and
she was, as old Gabe said, much changed. Then she went on toward the
garden, stepping with an effort over the low fence, and leaned as if weak
and tired against the apple-tree, the boughs of which shaded the two
graves at her feet. For a few moments she stood there, listless, and Rome
watched her with hungry eyes, at a loss what to do. She moved presently,
and walked quite around the graves without looking at them; then came
back past him, and, seating herself in the porch, turned her face to the
river. The sun lighted her hair, and in the sunken, upturned eyes Rome
saw the shimmer of tears.
"Marthy! " He couldn't help it-the thick, low cry broke like a groan
from his lips, and the girl was on her feet, facing him. She did not know
the voice, nor the shaggy, half-wild figure in the shade of the laurel;
and she started back as if to run; but seeing that the man did not mean
to harm her, she stopped, looking for a moment with wonder and even with
quick pity at the hunted face with its white appeal. Then a sudden spasm
caught her throat, and left her body rigid, her hands shut, and her eyes
dry and hard-she knew him. A slow pallor drove the flush of surprise from
her face, and her lips moved once, but there was not even a whisper from
them. Rome raised one hand before his face, as though to ward off
something. " Don't look at mc that way, Marthy-my God, don't! I didn't
kill him. I sw'ar it! I give him a chance fer his life. I know, I
know-Steve says he didn't. Thar was only us two. Hit looks ag'in' me; but
I hain't killed one nur t'other. I let 'em both go. Y'u don't believe me?
" He went swiftly toward her, his gun outstretched. Hyeh, gal! I heerd ye
swore ag' in' me out thar in the gyarden-'lowin' that you was goin' to
hunt me down yerself if the soldiers didn't. Hyeh's yer chance!
The girl shrank away from him, too startled to take the weapon; and he
leaned it against her, and stood away, with his hands behind him.
Kill me ef ye think I'm a-lyin' to ye," he said. "Y'u kin git even
with me now. But I want to tell ye fust "-the girl had caught the muzzle
of the gun convulsively, and was bending over it, her eyes burning, her
face inscrutable-hit was a fa'r fight betwixt us, 'n' I whooped him. He
got his gun then, 'n' would 'a' killed me ag'in' his oath ef he hadn't
been shot fust Hit's so, too, 'bout the crosses. I made 'em; they're
right thar on that gun; but whut could I do with mam a-standin' right
thar with the gun 'n' Uncle Rufe a-tellin' 'bout my own dad layin' in his
blood, 'n' Isom 'n' the boys lookin' on! But I went ag'in' my oath; I
gave him his life when I had the right to take it. I could 'a' killed yer
dad once, 'n' I had the right to kill him, too, fer killin' mine; but I
let him go, 'n' I reckon I done that fer ye, too. 'Pears like I hain't
done nothin' sence I seed ye over thar in the mill that day that wasn't
done fer ye. Somehow ye put me dead ag'in' my own kin, 'n' tuk away all
my hate ag'in' yourn. I couldn't fight fer thinkin' I was fightin' you,
'n' when I seed ye comm' through the bushes jes now, so white 'n'
sickly-like, I couldn't hardly git breath, a-thinkin' I was the cause of
all yer misery. That's all!" He stretched out his arms. Shoot, gal, ef ye
don't believe me. I'd jes as lieve die, ef ye thinks I'm lyin' to ye, 'n'
ef ye hates me fer whut I hain't done."
The gun had fallen to the earth. The girl, trembling at the knees,
sank to her seat on the porch, and, folding her arms against the pillar,
pressed her forehead against them, her face unseen. Rome stooped to pick
up the weapon.
"I'm goin' 'way now," he went on, slowly, after a little pause, "but I
couldn't leave hyeh without seem' you. I wanted ye to know the truth, 'n'
I 'lowed y'u'd believe me ef I tol' ye myself. I've been a-waitin' thar
in the lorrel fer ye sence mornin'. Uncle Gabe tol' me ye come hyeh ever'
day. He says I've got to go. I've been hopin' I mought come out o' the
bushes some day. But Uncle Gabe says ever'body's ag'in' me more' n ever,
'n' that the soldiers mean to ketch me. The gov'ner out thar in the
settlements says as how he'll give five hundred dollars fer me, livin' or
dead. He'll nuver git me livin'-I've swore that-'n' as I hev done nothin'
sech as folks on both sides hev done who air walkin' roun' free, I hain't
goin' to give up. Hit's purty hard to leave these mount'ins. Reckon I'll
nuver see 'em ag'in. Been livin' like a catamount over thar on the knob.
I could jes see you over hyeh, 'n' I reckon I hain't done much 'cept lay
over thar on a rock 'n' watch ye movin' round. Hit's mighty good to feel
that ye believe me, 'n' I want ye to know that I been stayin' over thar
fer nothin' on earth but jes to see you ag'in; 'n' I want ye to know that
I was a-sorrowin' fer ye when y'u was sick, 'n' a-pinin' to see ye, 'n'
a-hopin' some day y'u mought kinder git over yer hate fer me." He had
been talking with low tenderness, half to himself, and with his face to
the river, and he did not see the girl's tears falling to the porch. Her
sorrow gave way in a great sob now, and he turned with sharp remorse, and
stood quite near her.
"Don't cry, Marthy," he said. "God knows hit's hard to think I've
brought all this on ye when I'd give all these mount 'ins to save ye from
it. Whut d' ye say? Don't cry."
The girl was trying to speak at last, and Rome bent over to catch the
"I hain't cryin' fer myself," she said, faintly, and then she said no
more; but the first smile that had passed over Rome's face for many a day
passed then, and he put out one big hand, and let it rest on the heap of
"Marthy, I hate to go 'way, leavin' ye hyeh with nobody to take keer
o' ye. You're all alone hyeh in the mount'ins; I'm all alone; 'n' I
reckon I'll be all alone wharever I go, ef you stay hyeh. I got a boat
down thar on the river, 'n' I'm goin' out West whar Uncle Rufe use to
live. I know I hain't good fer nothin' much "-he spoke almost huskily; he
could scarcely get the words to his lips-" but I want ye to go with me.
The girl did not answer, but her sobbing ceased slowly, while Rome
stroked her hair; and at last she lifted her face, and for a moment
looked to the other shore. Then she rose. There is a strange pride in the
"As you say, Rome, thar's nobody left but you, 'n' nobody but me; but
they burned you out, we hain't even-yit." Her eyes were on Thunderstruck
Knob, where the last sunlight used to touch the Stetson cabin.
"Hyeh, Rome!" He knew what she meant, and he kneeled at the pile of
kindling-wood near the kitchen door. Then they stood back and waited. The
sun dipped below a gap in the mountains, the sky darkened, and the flames
rose to the shingled porch, and leaped into the gathering dusk. On the
outer edge of the quivering light, where it touched the blossomed laurel,
the two stood till the blaze caught the eaves of the cabin; and then they
turned their faces where, burning to ashes in the west, was another fire,
whose light blended in the eyes of each with a light older and more
lasting than its own-the light eternal.