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Electioneerin' on Big Injun Mounting by Charles Egbert Craddock

 

“An' ef ye'll believe me, he hev hed the face an' grace ter come a-prowlin' up hyar on Big Injun Mounting, electioneerin' fur votes, an' a-shakin' hands with every darned critter on it.”

To a superficial survey the idea of a constituency might have seemed incongruous enough with these rugged wilds. The July sunshine rested on stupendous crags; the torrent was bridged only by a rainbow hovering above the cataract; in all the wide prospect of valley and far-stretching Alleghany ranges the wilderness was broken by no field or clearing. But over this gloomy primeval magnificence of nature universal suffrage brooded like a benison, and candidates munificently endowed with “face an' grace” were wont to thread the tangled mazes of Big Injun Mounting.

The presence of voters in this lonely region was further attested by a group of teamsters, who had stopped at the wayside spring that the oxen might drink, and in the interval of waiting had given themselves over to the interest of local politics and the fervor of controversy.

“Waal, they tells me ez he made a powerful good 'torney-gineral las' time. An' it 'pears ter me ez the mounting folks oughter vote fur him agin them town cusses, 'kase he war born an' raised right down hyar on the slope of Big Injun Mounting. He never lef' thar till he war twenty year old, when he went ter live yander at Carrick Court House, an' arter a while tuk ter studyin' of law.”

The last speaker was the most uncouth of the rough party, and poverty-stricken as to this world's goods. Instead of a wagon, he had only a rude “slide;” his lean oxen were thrust from the water by the stronger and better fed teams; and his argument in favor of the reelection of the attorney for the State in this judicial circuit— called in the vernacular “the 'torney-gineral”—was received with scant courtesy.

“Ye 're a darned fool ter be braggin' that Rufus Chadd air a mounting boy!” exclaimed Abel Stubbs, scornfully. “He hev hed the insurance ter git ez thick ez he kin with them town folks down thar at Ephesus, an' he hev made ez hard speeches agin everybody that war tuk ter jail from Big Injun ez ef he hed never Laid eyes on 'em till that minit; an' arter all that the mounting folks hev done fur him, too! 'T war thar vote that elected him the fust time he run, 'kase the convention put up that thar Taylor man, what nobody knowed nuthin' about an' jes' despised; an' the t' other candidates would'nt agree ter the convention, but jes' went before the people ennyhow, an' the vote war so split that Big Injun kerried Rufe Chadd in. An' what do he do? Ef it hed'nt hev been fur his term a-givin' out he would hev jailed the whole mounting arter a while!”

The dwellers on Big Injun Mounting are not the first rural community that have aided in the election of a prosecuting officer, and afterward have become wroth with a fiery wrath because he prosecutes.

“An' them town folks,” Abel Stubbs continued, after a pause,—“at fust they war mightily interrupted 'bout the way that the election hed turned out, an' they promised the Lord that they would never butt agin a convention no more while they lived in this life. Hevin' a mounting lawyer over them town folks in Colbury an' Ephesus war mighty humbling ter thar pride, I reckon; nobody hed never hearn tell o' sech a thing afore. But when these hyar horsethieves an' mounting fellers ginerally got ter goin' in sech a constancy ter the pen'tiary, them town folks changed thar tune 'bout Rufe Chadd. They 'lowed ez they hed never hed sech a good 'torney-gineral afore. An' now they air goin' ter hev a new election, an' hyar is Rufe a-leadin' off at the head of the convention ez graceful ez ef he hed never butted agin it in his life.”

“Waal,” drawled a heavy fellow, speaking for the first time,—a rigid soul, who would fain vote the straight ticket,—“I won't support Rufe Chadd; an' yit I dunno how I kin git my cornsent ter vote agin the nominee.”

“Rufe Chadd air goin' ter be beat like hell broke loose,” said Abel Stubbs, hopefully.

“He will ef Big Injun hev enny say so 'bout 'n it,” rejoined the rigid voter. “I hev never seen a man ez onpopular ez he is nowadays on this mounting.”

“I hev hearn tell that the kin-folks of some of them convicts, what he made sech hard speeches agin, hev swore ter git even with him yit,” said Abel Stubbs. “Rufe Chadd hev been shot at twice in the woods sence he kem up on Big Injun Mounting. I seen him yestiddy, an' he tole me so; an' he showed me his hat whar a rifle ball hed done gone through. An' I axed him ef he warn't afeard of all them men what hed sech a grudge agin him. 'Mister Stubbs,' he say, sorter saft,—ye know them's the ways he hev l'arned in Ephesus an' Colbury an' sech, an' he hed, afore he ever left Big Injun Mounting, the sassiest tongue that ever wagged,—'Mister Stubbs,' Rufe say, mighty perlite, 'foolin' with me is like makin' faces at a rattlesnake: it may be satisfying to the feelin's, but 't ain't safe.' That's what Rufe tole ter me.”

“'T would pleasure me some ter see Rufe Chadd agin,” said the driver of the slide. “Me an' him air jes' the same age,—thirty-three year. We used ter go huntin' tergether some. They tells me ez he hev app'inted ter speak termorrer at the Settlemint along of them t'other five candidates what air a-runnin' agin him. I likes ter hear him speak; he knocks things up somehow.”

“He did talk mighty sharp an' stingin' the fust time he war electioneerin' on Big Injun Mounting,” the rigid voter reluctantly admitted; “but mebbe he hev furgot how sence he hev done been livin' with them town folks.”

“Ef ye wants ter know whether Rufe Chadd hev furgot how ter talk, jes' take ter thievin' of horses an' sech, will ye!” exclaimed Abel Stubbs, with an emphatic nod. “Ye oughter hev hearn the tale my brother brung from the court-house at Ephesus when Josh Green war tried. He said Rufe jes' tuk that jury out 'n tharselves; an' he gits jes' sech a purchase on every jury he speaks afore. My brother says he believes that ef Rufe hed gin the word, that jury would hev got out 'n thar cheers an' throttled Josh. It's a mighty evil sort 'n gift,—this hyar way that Rufe talks.”

“Waal, his tongue can't keep the party from bein' beat. I hates ter see it disgraced agin,” said the rigid voter. “But law, I can't stand hyar all day jowin' 'bout Rufus Chadd! I hev got my wheat ter thrash this week, though I don't expec' ter make more 'n enough fur seed fur nex' year,—ef that. I must be joltin' along.”

The ox-carts rumbled slowly down the steep hill, the slide continued its laborious ascent, and the forest was left once more to the fitful stir of the wind and the ceaseless pulsations of the falling torrent. The shadows of the oak leaves moved to and fro with dazzling effects of interfulgent sunbeams. Afar off the blue mountains shimmered through the heated air; but how cool was this clear rush of emerald water and the bounding white spray of the cataract! The sudden flight of a bird cleft the rainbow; there was a flash of moisture on his swift wings, and he left his wild, sweet cry echoing far behind him. Beetling high above the stream, the crags seemed to touch the sky. One glance up and up those towering, majestic steeps,—how it lifted the soul! The Settlement, perched upon the apparently inaccessible heights, was not visible from the road below. It cowered back affrighted from the verge of the great cliff and the grimly yawning abysses. The huts, three or four in number, were all silent, and might have been all tenantless, so lonely was their aspect. Behind them rose the dense forest, filling the background. In a rush- bottomed chair before the little store was the only human creature to be seen in the hamlet,—a man whose appearance was strangely at variance with his surroundings. He had the long, lank frame of the mountaineer; but instead of the customary brown jeans clothes, he wore a suit of blue flannel, and a dark straw hat was drawn over his brow. This simple attire and the cigar that he smoked had given great offense to the already prejudiced dwellers on Big Injun Mounting. It was not deemed meet that Rufe Chadd should “git tuk up with them town ways, an' sot hisself ter wearin' of storeclothes. “ His face was a great contrast to the faces of the stolid mountaineers. It was keenly chiseled; the constant friction of thought had worn away the grosser lines, leaving sharply defined features with abrupt turns of expression. The process might be likened to the gradual denudation of those storied strata of his mountains by the momentum of their torrents.

And here was no quiet spirit. It could brook neither defeat nor control; conventional barriers went down before it; and thus some years ago it had come to pass that a raw fellow from the unknown wildernesses of the circuit was precipitated upon it as the attorney for the State. A startling sensation had awaited the dull court-rooms of the villages. The mountaineer seemed to have brought from his rugged heights certain subtle native instincts, and the wily doublings of the fox, the sudden savage spring of the catamount, the deadly sinuous approach of the copperhead, were displayed with a frightful effect translated into human antagonism. There was a great awakening of the somnolent bar; counsel for the defense became eager, active, zealous, but the juries fell under his domination, as the weak always submit to the strong. Those long-drawn eases that hang on from term to term because of faint-hearted tribunals, too merciful to convict, too just to acquit, vanished as if by magic from the docket. The besom of the law swept the country, and his name was a terror and a threat.

His brethren of the bar held him in somewhat critical estimation. It was said that his talents were not of a high order; that he knew no law; that he possessed only a remarkable dexterity with the few broad principles familiar to him, and a certain swift suppleness in their application, alike effectual and imposing. He was a natural orator, they admitted. His success lay in his influence on a jury, and his influence on a jury was due to a magnetic earnestness and so strong a belief in his own powers that every word carried conviction with it. But he did not see in its entirety the massive grandeur of that greatest monument of human intellect known as the common law of England.

In the face of all detraction, however, there were the self-evident facts of his success and the improvement in the moral atmosphere wrought during his term of office. He was thinking of these things as he sat with his absorbed eyes fastened upon the horizon, and of the change in himself since he had left his humble home on the slope of Big Injun Mounting. There he had lived seventeen years in ignorance of the alphabet; he was the first of his name who could write it. From an almost primitive state he had overtaken the civilization of Ephesus and Colbury,—no great achievement, it might seem to a sophisticated imagination; but the mountains were a hundred years behind the progress of those centres. His talents had burst through the stony crust of circumstance, like the latent fires of a volcano. And he had plans for the future. Only a short while ago he had been confident when he thought of them; now they were hampered by the great jeopardy of his reelection, because of the egregious blindness that could not distinguish duty from malice, justice from persecution. He had felt the strength of education and civilization; he was beginning to feel the terrible strength of ignorance. His faith in his own powers was on the wane. He had experienced a suffocating sense of impotence when, in stumping Big Injun Mounting, he had been called upon by the meagre but vociferous crowd to justify the hard bearing of the prosecution upon Josh Green “fur stealin' of Squire Bibb's old gray mare, that ye knows, Rufe,—fur ye hev plowed with her,—war'nt wurth more 'n ten dollars. Ef Josh hed'nt been in the dark, he would'nt hev teched sech a pore old critter. Tell us 'bout'n seven year in the pen'tiary fur a mare wuth ten dollars.” What possibility—even with Chadd's wordy dexterity—of satisfying such demands as this! He found that the strength of ignorance lies in its blundering brutality. And he found, too, that mental supremacy does not of its inherent nature always aspire, but can be bent downward to low ends. The opposing candidates made capital of these illogical attacks; they charged him with his most brilliant exploits as ingenious perversions of the law and attempts upon the liberties of the people. Chadd began to despair of dissipating the prejudice and ignorance so readily crystallized by his opponents, and the only savage instinct left to him was to die game. He justified his past conduct by the curt declaration that he had done his duty according to the law, and he asked the votes of his fellow-citizens with an arrogant hauteur worthy of Coriolanus.

The afternoon was wearing away; the lengthening shadows were shifting; the solitary figure that had been motionless in the shade was now motionless in the golden sunshine. A sound broke upon the air other than the muffled thunder of the falls and the droning reiteration of the katydid. There came from the rocky path threading the forest the regular beat of horses' hoofs, and in a few moments three men rode into the clearing that sloped to the verge of the cliff. The first faint footfall was a spell to wake the Settlement to sudden life: sundry feminine faces were thrust out of the rude windows; bevies of lean-limbed, tow- headed, unkempt children started up from unexpected nooks; the store-keeper strolled to the door, and stood with his pipe in his mouth, leaning heavily against the frame; and Rufus Chadd changed his position with a slow, lounging motion, and turned his eyes upon the road.

“Waal,” said the store-keeper, with frank criticism, as the trio came in sight, “Isaac Boker's drunk agin. It's the natur' of the critter, I'm a-thinkin'. He hev been ter the still, ez sure ez ye air born. I hopes 't ain't a dancin'- drunk he hev got. The las' time he hed a dancin'-drunk, he jes' bounced up an' down the floor, an' hollered an' sung an' sech, an' made sech a disturbament that the Settlemint war kep' awake till daybreak, mighty nigh. 'T war mighty pore enjoymint for the Settlemint. 'T war like sittin' up with the sick an' dead, stiddier along of a happy critter like him. I'm powerful sorry far his wife, 'kase he air mighty rough ter her when he air drank ; he cut her once a toler'ble bad slash. She hev hed ter do all the work far four year,—plowin', an' choppin' wood, an cookin', an' washin', an' sech. It hev aged her some. An' all her chillen is gals,—little gals. Boys, now, mought grow some help, but gals is more no 'count the bigger they gits. She air a tried woman, surely. Isaac is drunk ez a constancy,—dancin'-drunk, mos'ly. Nuthin' kin stop him.”

“A good thrashing would help him a little, I'm thinking,” drawled the lawyer. “And if I lived here as a constancy I'd give it to him the first sober spell he had.” His speech was slow; his voice was spiritless and languid; he still possessed the tone and idiom of the mountaineer, but he had lost the characteristic pronunciation, more probably from the influence of other associations than an appreciation of its incorrectness.

“That ain't the right sort o' sawder fur a candidate, Rufe,” the store-keeper admonished him. “An' 't ain't safe no how fur sech a slim, stringy boy ez ye air ter talk that way 'bout 'n Isaac Boker. He air a tremenjous man, an' ez strong ez an ox.”

“I can thrash any man who beats his wife,” protested the officer of the law. “I don't see how the Settlement gets its own consent to let that sort of thing go on.”

“She air his wife,” said the store-keeper, who was evidently of conservative tendencies. “An' she air powerful tuk up with him. I hev hearn her 'low ez he air better dancin'-drunk than other men sober. She could hev married other men; she didn't suffer with hevin' no ch'ice.”

“He ought to be put under lock and key,” said Chadd. “That would sober him. I wish these dancin'-drunk fellows could be sent to the state-prison. I could make a jury think ten years was almost too good for that wife-beating chap. I'd like to see him get away from me.”

There was a certain calculating cruelty in his face as he said this. He was animated by no chivalric impulse to protect the weak and helpless; the spirit roused within him was rather the instinct of the beast of prey. The storekeeper looked askance at him. In his mental review of the changes wrought in the past few years there was one that had escaped Rufus Chadd's attention. The process was insinuating and gradual, but the result was bold and obvious. In the constant opposition in which he was placed to criminals, in the constant contemplation of the worst phases of human nature, in the active effort which his duty required to bring the perpetrators of all foul deeds to justice, he had grown singularly callous and pitiless. The individual criminal had been merged in the abstract idea of crime. After the first few cases he had been able to banish the visions of the horrors brought upon other lives than that of the prisoner by the verdict of guilty. Mother, wife, children,—these pale, pursuing phantoms were exorcised by prosaic custom, and his steely insensibility made him the master of many a harrowing court-room scene.

“That would be a mighty pore favor ter his wife,” said the store-keeper, after a pause. “She hed ruther be beat.”

The three men had dismounted, hitched their horses, and were now approaching the store. Rufus Chadd rose to shake hands with the foremost of the party. The quick fellow was easily schooled, and the store-keepers comment upon his lack of policy induced him to greet the new-comers with a greater show of cordiality than he had lately practiced toward his constituents.

“I never looked ter find ye hyar this soon, Rufe,” said one of the arrivals. “What hev ye done with the t'other candidates?”

“I left them behind, as I always do,” said Chadd, laughing, “and as I expect to do again next Thursday week, if I can get you to promise to vote for me.”

“I ain't a-goin' ter vote fur ye,—nary time,” interpolated Boker, as he reeled heavily forward.

“Well, I'm sorry for that,” said Chadd, with the candidate's long-suffering patience. “Why?”

Isaac Boker felt hardly equal to argument, but he steadied himself as well as he could, and looked vacantly into the eyes of his interlocutor for some pointed inspiration; perhaps he caught there an intimation of the contempt in which he was held. He still hesitated, but with a sudden anger inflaming his bloated face. Chadd waited a moment for a reply; then he turned carelessly away, saying that he would stroll about a little, as sitting still so long was fatiguing.

“Ef ye war whar ye oughter be, a-follerin' of the plow,” said Isaac Boker, “ye would'nt git a chance ter tire yerself a-sittin' in a cheer.”

“I don't hold myself too high for plowing,” replied Chadd, in a conciliatory manner. “Plowing is likely work for any able-bodied man.” This speech was unlucky. There was in it an undercurrent of suggestion to Isaac Boker's suspicious conscience. He thought Chadd intended a covert allusion to his own indolence in the field, and his wife's activity as a substitute. “It was only an accident that took me out of the furrow,” Chadd continued.

“'T war a killin' accident ter the country,” said Isaac Boker. “Fur they tells me that ye don't know no more law than a mounting fox.” Chadd laughed, but he sneered too. His patience was evaporating. Still he restrained his irritation by an effort, and Boker went on: “Folks ez is bred ter the plow ain't got the sense an' the showin' ter make peart lawyers. An' that's why I ain't a-goin' ter vote fur ye.”

This plain speaking was evidently relished by the others; they said nothing, but their low acquiescent chuckle demonstrated their opinion.

“I haven't asked you for your vote,” said Chadd, sharply.

The burly fellow paused for a moment, in stupid surprise; then his drunken wrath rising, he exclaimed, “An' why'nt ye ax me fur my vote, then? Ye're the damnedest critter in this country, Rufe Chadd, ter come electioneerin' on Big Injun Mounting, an' a-makin' out ez I ain't good enough ter be axed ter vote fur ye! Ye hed better not be tryin' ter sot me down lower 'n other folks. I'll break that empty cymlin' of a head of yourn,” and he raised his clenched fist.

“If you come a step nearer I'll throw you off the bluff,” said Chadd.

“That'll be a powerful cur'ous tale ter go the rounds o' the mounting,” remarked one of the disaffected by-standers. “Ye hev done all ye kin ter torment yer own folks up hyar on Big Injun Mounting what elected ye afore; an' then ye comes up hyar agin, an' the fust man that says he won't vote fur ye must be flunged off 'n the bluff.”

“'Pears ter me,” said Isaac Boker, surlily, and still shaking his fist, “ez thar ain't all yit in the pen'tiary that desarves ter go thar. Better men than ye air, Rufe Chadd, hev been locked up, an' hung too, sence ye war elected ter office.”

There was a sudden change in the lawyer's attitude; a strong tension of the muscles of a wild-cat ready to spring; the quickening of his blood showed in his scarlet face; there was a fiery spark in his darkening eyes.

“Oh, come now, Rufe,” said one of the lookers- on hastily. “Ye ought'nt ter git ter fightin' with a drunken man. Jes' walk yerself off fur a while.”

“Oh, he can say what he likes while he's drunk,” replied Chadd, with a short, scornful laugh. “But I tell you, now, he had better keep his fists for his wife.”

The others gathered about the great, massive fellow, who was violently gesticulating and incoherently asserting his offended dignity. Chadd strolled away toward the gloomy woods, his hands in his pockets, and his eyes bent upon the ground. Glances of undisguised aversion followed him,—from the group about the store, from the figures in the windows and doors of the poor dwellings, even from the half-clad children who paused in their spiritless play to gaze after him. He was vaguely conscious of these pursuing looks of hatred, but only once he saw the universal sentiment expressed in a face. As the long shadows of the forest fell upon his path, he chanced to raise his eyes, and encountered those of a woman, standing in Boker's cabin. He went on, feeling like a martyr. The thick foliage closed upon him; the sound of his languid footsteps died in the distance, and the figures on the cliff stood in the sunset glow, watching the spot where he had disappeared, as silent and as motionless as if they had fallen under some strange, uncanny spell.

The calm of the woodland, the refreshing aromatic odors, the rising wind after the heat of the sultry day, exerted a revivifying influence upon the lawyer's spirits, as he walked on into the illimitable solitudes of the forest. Night was falling before he turned to retrace his way; above the opaque, colorless leaves there was the lambent glinting of a star; the fitful plaint of a whip-poor-will jarred the dark stillness; grotesque black shadows had mustered strong among the huge boles of the trees. But he took no note of the gathering gloom; somehow, his heart had grown suddenly light. He had forgotten the drunken wrangler and all the fretting turmoils of the canvass; once he caught himself in making plans, with his almost impossible success in the election as a basis. And yet, inconsistently enough, he felt a dismayed astonishment at his unaccountable elation. The workings of his own mind and their unexpected developments were always to him strange phenomena. He was introspective enough to take heed of this inward tumult, and he had a shrewd suspicion that more activity was there than in all the mental exercitations of the combined bench and bar of the circuit. But he harbored a vague distrust of this uncontrollable power within, so much stronger than the untutored creature to whom it appertained. A harassing sense of doubleness often possessed him, and he was torn by conflicting counsels,—the inherent inertia and conservatism of the mountaineer, who would fain follow forever the traditional customs of his ancestry, and an alien overwhelming impetus, which carried him on in spite of himself, and bewildered him with his own exploits. He was helpless under this unreasonable expectation of success, and regarded the mental gymnastic of joyous anticipation with perplexed surprise. “I'm fixing a powerful disappointment for myself,” he said.

He could now see, through the long vista of the road, the open space where the Settlement was perched upon the crag. The black, jagged outline of the rock serrated the horizon, and was cut sharply into the delicate, indefinable tints of the sky. Above it a great red moon was rising. There was the gleam of the waterfall; how did it give the sense of its emerald green in the darkness? The red, rising moon showed, but did not illumine, the humble cluster of log huts upon the great cliff. Here and there a dim yet genial flare of firelight came broadly flickering out into the night. It was darker still in the dense woods from which the road showed this nocturnal picture framed in the oak leaves above his head. But was a sudden flash of lightning shooting, across that clear, tenderly- tinted sky? He felt his warm blood gushing down his face; he had a dizzying sense of falling heavily; and he heard, strangely dulled, a hoarse, terrified cry, which he knew he did not utter. It echoed far through the quiet woods, startling the apathetic inhabitants of the Settlement, and waking all the weird spirits of the rocks. The men sitting in the store took their pipes from their mouths, and looked at each other in surprise.

“What's that?” asked one of the newly- arrived candidates, an Ephesus man, who held that the mountains were not over and above safe for civilized people, and was fain to investigate unaccustomed sounds.

“Jes' somebody a-hollerin' fur thar cow, mebbe,” said the store-keeper. “Or mebbe it air Isaac Boker, ez gits dancin'-drunk wunst in a while.”

The cry rose again, filling all the rocky abysses and mountain heights with a frenzied horror. From the woods a dark figure emerged upon the crag; it seemed to speed along the sky, blotting out, as it went, the moon and stars. The men at the store sprang to their feet, shaken by a speechless agitation, when Isaac Boker rushed in among them, suddenly sobered, and covered with blood.

“I hev done it!” he exclaimed, with a pallid anguish upon his bloated face. “I met him in the woods, an' slashed him ter pieces.”

The red moon turned to gold in the sky, and the world was flooded with a gentle splendor; and as the hours went by no louder sound broke upon the gilded dusk than the throb of the cataract, pulsing like the heart of the mountains, and the stir of the wind about the rude hut where the wounded man had been carried.

When Rufus Chadd opened his eyes upon the awe-stricken faces that clustered about the bed, he had no need to be reminded of what had happened. The wave of life, which it seemed would have carried him so far, had left him stranded here in the ebb, while all the world sailed on.

“They hev got Isaac Boker tied hard an' fast, Rufe,” said the store-keeper, in an attempt to reply to the complex changes of expression that flitted over the pale face.

Chadd did not answer. He was thinking that no adequate retribution could be inflicted upon Isaac Boker. The crime was not only the destruction of merely sensuous human life, but, alas, of that subtler entity of human schemes, and upward-reaching ambitions, and the immeasurable opportunity of achievement, which after all is the essence of the thing called life. He was to die at the outset of his career, which his own steadfast purpose and unaided talent had rendered honorable and brilliant, for the unreasoning fury of a drunken mountaineer. And this was an end for a man who had turned his ambitious eyes upon a chief-justice's chair,—an absurd ambition but for its splendid effrontery! In all this bitterness, however, it was some comfort to know that the criminal had not escaped.

“Are you able to tell how it happened, Chadd?” asked one of the lawyers.

As Chadd again opened his eyes, they fell upon the face of a woman standing just within the door,—so drawn and piteous a face, with such lines of patient endurance burnt into it, with such a woful prophecy in the sunken, horror-stricken eyes, he turned his head that he might see it no more. He remembered that face with another expression upon it. It had given him a look like a stab from the door of Boker's hut, when he had passed in the afternoon. He wished never to see it again, and yet he was constrained to glance back. There it was, with its quiver of a prescient heart-break. He felt a strange inward thrill, a bewildering rush of emotion. That sense of doubleness and development which so mystified him was upon him now. He was surprised at himself when he said, distinctly, so that all might hear, “If I die—don't let them prosecute Isaac Boker.”

There was a sudden silence, so intense that it seemed as if the hush of death had already fallen, or that the primeval stillness of creation was never broken. Had his soul gone out into the night? Was there now in the boundless spaces of the moonlit air some mysterious presence, as incomprehensible to this little cluster of overawed humanity as to the rocks and woods of the mighty, encompassing wilderness? How did the time pass? It seemed hours before the stone-like figure stirred again, and yet the white radiance on the puncheon floor had not shifted. His consciousness was coming back from those vague border-lands of life and death. He was about to speak once more. “Nobody can know how it happened except me.” And then again, as he drifted away, “Don't let them prosecute.”

There was a fine subject of speculation at the Settlement the next morning, when the country-side gathered to hear the candidates speak. The story of Isaac Boker's attack upon Rufus Chadd was repeated to every new-comer, and the astonishment created by the victim's uncharacteristic request when he had thought he was dying revived with each consecutive recital. It presently became known that no fatal result was to be anticipated. The doctor, who lived twenty miles distant, and who had just arrived, said that the wounds, though painful, were not dangerous, and his opinion added another element of interest to the eager discussion of the incident.

Thus relieved of the shadow of an impending tragedy, the knots of men congregated on the great cliff gradually gave themselves up to the object of their meeting. Candidates of smiling mien circulated among the saturnine, grave- faced mountaineers. In circulation, too, were other genial spirits, familiarly known as “applejack.” It was a great occasion for the storekeeper; so pressing and absorbing were his duties that he had not a moment's respite, until Mr. Slade, the first speaker of the day, mounted a stump in front of the store and began to address his fellow-citizens. He was a large, florid man, with a rotund voice and a smooth manner, and he was considered Chadd's most formidable competitor. The mountaineers hastily concentrated in a semicircle about him, listening with the close attention singularly characteristic of rural audiences. Behind the crowd was the immensity of the unpeopled forests; below, the mad fret of the cataract; above, the vast hemisphere of the lonely skies; and far, far away was the infinite stretching of those blue ranges that the Indians called The Endless.

Chadd had lain in a sort of stupor all the morning, vaguely conscious of the distant mountains visible through the open window,— vaguely conscious of numbers of curious faces that came to the door and gazed in upon him,—vaguely conscious of the candidate's voice beginning to resound in the noontide stillness. Then he roused himself.

The sensation of the first speech came at its close. As Chadd lay in expectation of the stentorian “Hurrah for Slade!” which should greet his opponent's peroration, his face flushed, his hands trembled; he lifted himself on his elbow, and listened again. He could hardly trust his senses, yet there it was once more—his own name, vibrating in a prolonged cheer among the mountain heights, and echoing far down the narrow valley.

That sympathetic heart of the multitude, so quick to respond to a noble impulse, had caught the true interpretation of last night's scene, and to-day all the barriers of ignorance and misunderstanding were down.

The heaviest majority ever polled on Big Injun Mounting was in the reelection of the attorney for the State. And the other candidates thought it a fine electioneering trick to get one's self artistically slashed; they became misanthropic in their views of the inconstancy of the people, and lost faith in saving grace and an overruling Providence.

This uncharacteristic episode in the life of Rufus Chadd was always incomprehensible to his associates. He hardly understood it himself. He had made a keen and subtle distinction in a high moral principle. As Abel Stubbs said, in extenuation of the inconsistency of voting for him, “I knows that this hyar Rufe Chadd air a powerful hard man, an' evil-doers ez offends agin the law ain't got no mercy ter expect from him. But then he don't hold no grudge agin them ez hev done him harm. An' that's what I 'm a-lookin' at.”

 
 
 

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