The Moonshiners At Hoho-Hebee Falls
by Charles Egbert Craddock
If the mission of the little school-house in Holly Cove was to
impress upon the youthful mind a comprehension and appreciation of the
eternal verities of nature, its site could hardly have been better
chosen. All along the eastern horizon deployed the endless files of the
Great Smoky Mountainsblue and sunlit, with now and again the
apparition of an unfamiliar peak, hovering like a straggler in the
far-distant rear, and made visible for the nonce by some exceptional
clarification of the atmosphere; or lowering, gray, stern; or with
ranks of clouds hanging on their flanks, while all the artillery of
heaven whirled about them, and the whole world quaked beneath the flash
and roar of its volleys. The seasons successively painted the great
landscapespring, with its timorous touch, its illumined haze, its
tender, tentative green and gray and yellow; summer, with its flush of
completion, its deep, luscious, definite verdure, and the golden
richness of fruition; autumn, with a full brush and all chromatic
splendors; winter, in melancholy sepia tones, black and brown and many
sad variations of the pallors of white. So high was the little
structure on the side of a transverse ridge that it commanded a vast
field of sky above the wooded ranges; and in the immediate foreground,
down between the slopes which were cleft to the heart, was the river,
resplendent with the reflected moods of the heavens. In this deep gorge
the winds and the pines chanted like a Greek chorus; the waves
continuously murmured an intricate rune, as if conning it by frequent
repetition; a bird would call out from the upper air some joyous
apothegm in a language which no creature of the earth has learned
enough of happiness to translate.
But the precepts which prevailed in the little school-house were to
the effect that rivers, except as they flowed as they listed to
confusing points of the compass, rising among names difficult to
remember, and emptying into the least anticipated body of water, were
chiefly to be avoided for their proclivity to drown small boys intent
on swimming or angling. Mountains, aside from the desirability of their
recognition as forming one of the divisions of land somewhat easily
distinguishable by the more erudite youth from plains, valleys, and
capes, were full of crags and chasms, rattlesnakes and vegetable
poisons, and a further familiarity with them was liable to result in
the total loss of the adventurousto see friends, family, and home no
These dicta, promulgated from the professorial chair, served to keep
the small body of callow humanity, with whose instruction Abner Sage
was intrusted by the State, well within call and out of harm's way
during the short recesses, while under his guidance they toddled along
the rough road that leads up the steeps to knowledge. But one there was
who either bore a charmed life or possessed an unequalled craft in
successfully defying danger; who fished and swam with impunity; who was
ragged and torn from much climbing of crags; whose freckled face bore
frequent red tokens of an indiscriminate sampling of berries. It is too
much to say that Abner Sage would have been glad to have his warnings
made terrible by some bodily disaster to the juvenile dare-devil of the
school, but Leander Yerby's disobedient incredulity as to the terrors
that menaced him, and his triumphant immunity, fostered a certain
grudge against him. Covert though it was, unrecognized even by Sage
himself, it was very definitely apparent to Tyler Sudley when
sometimes, often, indeed, on his way home from hunting, he would pause
at the school-house window, pulling open the shutter from the outside,
and gravely watch his protégé, who stood spelling at the head of the
For Leander Yerby's exploits were not altogether those of a physical
prowess. He was a mighty wrestler with the multiplication table. He had
met and overthrown the nine line in single-handed combat. He had
attained unto some interesting knowledge of the earth on which he
lived, and could fluently bound countries with neatness and precision,
and was on terms of intimacy with sundry seas, volcanoes, islands, and
other sizable objects. The glib certainty of his contemptuous
familiarity with the alphabet and its untoward combinations, as he
flung off words in four syllables in his impudent chirping treble,
seemed something uncanny, almost appalling, to Tyler Sudley, who could
not have done the like to save his stalwart life. He would stare
dumfounded at the erudite personage at the head of the class; Leander's
bare feet were always carefully adjusted to a crack between the
puncheons of the floor, literally toeing the mark ; his broad
trousers, frayed out liberally at the hem, revealed his skinny and
scarred little ankles, for his out-door adventures were not without a
record upon the more impressionable portions of his anatomy; his
waistband was drawn high up under his shoulder-blades and his ribs, and
girt over the shoulders of his unbleached cotton shirt by braces, which
all his learning did not prevent him from calling galluses; his cut,
scratched, calloused hands were held stiffly down at the side seams in
his nether garments in strict accordance with the regulations. But
rules could not control the twinkle in his big blue eyes, the mingled
effrontery and affection on his freckled face as he perceived the
on-looking visitor, nor hinder the wink, the swiftly thrust-out tongue,
as swiftly withdrawn, the egregious display of two rows of dishevelled
jagged squirrel teeth, when once more, with an offhand toss of his
tangled brown hair, he nimbly spelled a long twisted-tailed word, and
leered capably at the grave intent face framed in the window. Why,
Abner! Tyler Sudley would break out, addressing the teacher, all
unmindful of scholastic etiquette, a flush of pleasure rising to his
swarthy cheek as he thrust back his wide black hat on his long dark
hair and turned his candid gray eyes, all aglow, upon the cadaverous,
ascetic preceptor, ain't Lee-yander a-gittin' on powerful, powerful
fas' with his book?
Not in enny ways so special, Sage would reply in cavalier
discouragement, his disaffected gaze resting upon the champion scholar,
who stood elated, confident, needing no commendation to assure him of
his pre-eminence; but he air disobejient, an' turr'ble, turr'ble bad.
The nonchalance with which Leander Yerby hearkened to this criticism
intimated a persuasion that there were many obedient people in this
world, but few who could so disport themselves in the intricacies of
the English language; and Sudley, as he plodded homeward with his rifle
on his shoulder, his dog running on in advance, and Leander pattering
along behind, was often moved to add the weight of his admonition to
the teacher's reproof.
Lee-yander, he would gently drawl, ye mustn't be so bad, honey;
ye mustn't be so turr'ble bad.
Naw, ma'am, I won't, Leander would cheerily pipe out, and so the
procession would wend its way along.
For he still confused the gender in titles of respect, and from
force of habit he continued to do so in addressing Tyler Sudley for
many a year after he had learned better.
These lapses were pathetic rather than ridiculous in the hunter's
ears. It was he who had taught Leander every observance of verbal
humility toward his wife, in the forlorn hope of propitiating her in
the interest of the child, who, however, with his quick understanding
that the words sought to do honor and express respect, had of his own
accord transferred them to his one true friend in the household. The
only friend he had in the world, Sudley often felt, with a sigh over
the happy child's forlorn estate. And, with the morbid sensitiveness
peculiar to a tender conscience, he winced under the knowledge that it
was he who, through wrong-headedness or wrongheartedness, had contrived
to make all the world besides the boy's enemy. Both wrongheaded and
wronghearted he was, he sometimes told himself. For even now it still
seemed to him that he had not judged amiss, that only the perversity of
fate had thwarted him. Was it so fantastically improbable, so hopeless
a solace that he had planned, that he should have thought his wife
might take comfort for the death of their own child in making for its
sake a home for another, orphaned, forlorn, a burden, and a glad
riddance to those into whose grudging charge it had been thrown? This
bounty of hope and affection and comfort had seemed to him a free gift
from the dead baby's hands, who had no need of it since coming into its
infinite heritage of immortality, to the living waif, to whom it was
like life itself, since it held all the essential values of existence.
The idea smote him like an inspiration. He had ridden' twenty miles in
a snowy night to beg the unwelcome mite from the custody of its
father's half-brothers, who were on the eve of moving to a neighboring
county with all their kin and belongings.
Tyler Sudley was a slow man, and tenacious of impressions. He could
remember every detail of the events as they had happenedthe palpable
surprise, the moment of hesitation, the feint of denial which
successively ensued on his arrival. It mattered not what the season or
the hourhe could behold at will the wintry dawn, the deserted cabin,
the glow of embers dying on the hearth within; the white-covered wagon
slowly a-creak along the frozen road beneath the gaunt, bare,
overhanging trees, the pots and pans as they swung at the rear, the
bucket for water swaying beneath, the mounted men beside it, the few
head of swine and cattle driven before them. Years had passed, but he
could feel anew the vague stir of the living bundle which he held on
the pommel of his saddle, the sudden twist it gave to bring its
inquiring, apprehensive eyes, so large in its thin, lank-jawed, piteous
little countenance, to bear on his face, as if it understood its
transfer of custody, and trembled lest a worse thing befall it. One of
the women stopped the wagon and ran back to pin about its neck an
additional wrapping, an old red-flannel petticoat, lest it should
suffer in its long, cold ride. His heart glowed with vicarious
gratitude for her forethought, and he shook her hand warmly and wished
her well, and hoped that she might prosper in her new home, and stood
still to watch the white wagon out of sight in the avenue of the
snow-laden trees, above which the moon was visible, a-journeying too,
swinging down the western sky.
Laurelia Sudley sat in stunned amazement when, half-frozen, but
triumphant and flushed and full of his story, he burst into the warm
home atmosphere, and put the animated bundle down upon the hearth-stone
in front of the glowing fire. For one moment she met its forlorn gaze
out of its peaked and pinched little face with a vague hesitation in
her own worn, tremulous, sorrow-stricken eyes. Then she burst into a
tumult of tears, upbraiding her husband that he could think that
another child could take the place of her dead childall the dearer
because it was dead; that she could play the traitor to its memory and
forget her sacred grief; that she could do aught as long as she should
live but sit her down to bewail her loss, every tear a tribute, every
pang its inalienable right, her whole smitten existence a testimony to
her love. It was in vain that he expostulated. The idea of substitution
had never entered his mind. But he was ignorant, and clumsy of speech,
and unaccustomed to analyze his motives. He could not put into words
his feeling that to do for the welfare of this orphaned and unwelcome
little creature all that they would have done for their own was in some
sort a memorial to him, and brought them nearer to himthat she might
find in it a satisfaction, an occupationthat it might serve to fill
her empty life, her empty arms.
But no! She thought, and the neighbors thought, and after a time
Tyler Sudley came to think also, that he had failed in the essential
duty to the deadthat of affectionate remembrance; that he was
recreant, strangely callous. They all said that he had seemed to esteem
one baby as good as another, and that he was surprised that his wife
was not consoled for the loss of her own child because he took it into
his head to go and toll off the Yerby baby from his father's
half-brothers ez war movin' away an' war glad enough ter get rid o'
one head o' human stock ter kerry, though, bein human, they
oughter been ashamed ter gin him away like a puppy-dog, or an extry
cat, all hands consarned.
From the standpoint she had taken Laurelia had never wavered. It was
an added and a continual reproach to her husband that all the labor and
care of the ill-advised acquisition fell to her share. She it was who
must feed and clothe and tend the gaunt little usurper; he needs must
be accorded all the infantile prerogatives, and he exacted much time
and attention. Despite the grudging spirit in which her care was given
she failed in no essential, and presently the interloper was no longer
gaunt or pallid or apprehensive, but grew pink and cherubic of build,
and arrogant of mind. He had no sensitive sub-current of suspicion as
to his welcome; he filled the house with his gay babbling, and if no
maternal chirpings encouraged the development of his ideas and his
powers of speech, his cheerful spirits seemed strong enough to thrive
on their own stalwart endowments. His hair began to curl, and a
neighbor, remarking on it to Laurelia, and forgetting for the moment
his parentage, said, in admiring glee, twining the soft tendrils over
her finger, that Mrs. Sudley had never before had a child so
well-favored as this one. From this time forth was infused a certain
rancor into his foster-mother's spirit toward him. Her sense of
martyrdom was complete when another infant was born and died, leaving
her bereaved once more to watch this stranger grow up in her house,
strong and hearty, and handsomer than any child of hers had been.
The mountain gossips had their own estimate of her attitude.
I ain't denyin' but what she hed nat'ral feelin' fur her own
chil'ren, bein' dead, said the dame who had made the unfortunate
remark about the curling hair, but Laurelia Sudley war always a
contrary-minded, lackadaisical kind o' gal afore she war married,
sorter set in opposition, an' now ez she ain't purty like she useter
was, through cryin' her eyes out, an' gittin' sallow-complected an'
bony, I kin notice her contrariousness more. Ef Tyler hedn't brung that
chile home, like ez not she'd hev sot her heart on borryin' one herself
from somebody. Lee-yander ain't in nowise abused, ez I kin seeain't
acquainted with the rod, like the Bible say he oughter be, an' ennybody
kin see ez Laurelia don't like the name he gin her, yit she puts up
with it. She larnt him ter call Ty 'Cap'n,' bein' she's sorter proud of
it, 'kase Ty war a cap'n of a critter company in the war: 'twarn't sech
a mighty matter nohow; he jes got ter be cap'n through the other
off'cers bein' killed off. An' the leetle boy got it twisted somehows,
an' calls her 'Cap'n 'an' Ty 'Neighbor,' from hearin' old man
Jeemes, ez comes in constant, givin' him that old-fashioned name.
'Cap'n' 'bout fits Laurelia, though, an' that's a fac'.
Laurelia's melancholy ascendency in the household was very complete.
It was characterized by no turbulence, no rages, no long-drawn argument
or objurgation; it expressed itself only in a settled spirit of
disaffection, a pervasive suggestion of martyrdom, silence or sighs, or
sometimes a depressing singing of hymn tunes. For her husband had long
ago ceased to remonstrate, or to seek to justify himself. It was with a
spirit of making amends that he hastened to concede every point of
question, to defer to her preference in all matters, and Lauretta's
sway grew more and more absolute as the years wore on. Leander Yerby
could remember no other surroundings than the ascetic atmosphere of his
home. It had done naught apparently to quell the innate cheerfulness of
his spirit. He evidently took note, however, of the different
standpoint of the Captain and his Neighbor, for although he was
instant in the little manifestations of respect toward her which he had
been taught, his childish craft could not conceal their spuriousness.
That thar boy treats me ez ef I war a plumb idjit, Laurelia said
one day, moved to her infrequent anger. Tells me, 'Yes, ma'am, cap'n,'
an' 'Naw, ma'am, cap'n,' jes ter quiet melike folks useter do ter old
Ed'ard Green, ez war in his dotagean' then goes along an' does the
very thing I tell him not ter do.
Sudley looked up as he sat smoking his pipe by the fire, a shade of
constraint in his manner, and a contraction of anxiety in his slow,
dark eyes, never quite absent when she spoke to him aside of Leander.
She paused, setting her gaunt arms akimbo, and wearing the manner of
one whose kindly patience is beyond limit abused. Kems in hyar, he do,
a'totin' a fiddle. An' I says, 'Lee-yander Yerby, don't ye know that
thar thing's the devil's snare?' 'N'aw, ma'am, cap'n,' he says,
grinnin' like a imp; 'it's my snare, fur I hev bought it from
Peter Teazely fur two rabbits what I cotch in my trap, an' my big red
rooster, an' a bag o' seed pop-corn, an' the only hat I hev got in the
worl'. An' with that the consarn gin sech a yawp, it plumb went through
my haid, An' then the critter jes tuk ter a-bowin' it back an' forth,
a-playin' 'The Chicken in the Bread-trough' like demented, a-dancin'
off on fust one foot an' then on t'other till the puncheons shuck. An'
I druv him out the house. I won't stan' none o' Satan's devices hyar! I
tole him he couldn't fetch that fiddle hyar whenst he kems home
ter-night, an' I be a-goin' ter make him a sun-bonnet or a nightcap ter
wear stiddier his hat that he traded off.
Her husband had risen, the glow of his pipe fading in his unheeding
hand, his excited eyes fixed upon her. Laurely, he exclaimed, ye
ain't meanin' ez that thar leetle critter could play a chune fust off
on a fiddle 'thout no larnin'!
She nodded her head in reluctant admission.
He opened his mouth once or twice, emitting no sound. She saw how
his elation, his spirit of commendation, his pride, set at naught her
displeasure, albeit in self-defence, perchance, he dared not say a
word. With an eye alight and an absorbed face, he laid his pipe on the
mantel-piece, and silently took his way out of the house in search of
the youthful musician.
Easily found! The racked and tortured echoes were all aquake within
half a mile of the spot where, bareheaded, heedless of the threatened
ignominy alike of sun-bonnet or nightcap, Leander sat in the flickering
sunshine and shadow upon a rock beside the spring, and blissfully
experimented with all the capacities of catgut to produce sound.
Listen, Neighbor! he cried out, descrying Tyler Sudley, who,
indeed, could do naught elselisten! Ye won't hear much better
fiddlin' this side o' kingdom come! And with glad assurance he capered
up and down, the bow elongating the sound to a cadence of frenzied
glee, as his arms sought to accommodate the nimbler motions of his
Thus it was the mountaineers later said that Leander fell into bad
company. For, the fiddle being forbidden in the sober Laurelia's house,
he must needs go elsewhere to show his gift and his growing skill, and
he found a welcome fast enough. Before he had advanced beyond his
stripling youth, his untutored facility had gained a rude mastery over
the instrument; he played with a sort of fascination and spontaneity
that endeared his art to his uncritical audiences, and his endowment
was held as something wonderful. And now it was that Laure-lia, hearing
him, far away in the open air, play once a plaintive, melodic strain,
fugue-like with the elfin echoes, felt a strange soothing in the sound,
found tears in her eyes, not all of pain but of sad pleasure, and
assumed thenceforth something of the port of a connoisseur. She said
she couldn't abide a fiddle jes sawed helter-skelter by them ez hedn't
larned, but ter play saaft an' slow an' solemn, and no dancin' chune,
no frolic songshe warn't set agin that at all. And she desired of
Leander a repetition of this sunset motive that evening when he had
come home late, and she discovered him hiding the obnoxious instrument
under the porch. But in vain. He did not remember it. It was some vague
impulse, as unconsciously voiced as the dreaming bird's song in the
sudden half-awake intervals of the night. Over and again, as he stood
by the porch, the violin in his arms, he touched the strings
tentatively, as if, perchance, being so alive, they might of their own
motion recall the strain that had so lately thrilled along them:
He had grown tall and slender. He wore boots to his knees now, and
pridefully carried a shoot-in'-iron in one of the long legsto his
great discomfort. The freckles of his early days were merged into the
warm uniform tint of his tanned complexion. His brown hair still
curled; his shirt-collar fell away from his throat, round and full and
whitethe singer's throatas he threw his head backward and cast his
large roving eyes searchingly along the sky, as if the missing strain
The inspiration returned no more, and Laurelia experienced a sense
of loss. Some time, Lee-yander, ef ye war ter kem acrost that chune
agin, try ter set it in yer remembrance, an' play it whenst ye kem
home, she said, wistfully, at last, as if this errant melody were
afloat somewhere in the vague realms of sound, where one native to
those haunts might hope to encounter it anew.
Yes, ma'am, cap'n, I will, he said, with his facile assent. But
his tone expressed slight intention, and his indifference bespoke a too
great wealth of chunes; he could feel no lack in some unremembered
combination, sport of the moment, when another strain would come at
will, as sweet perchance, and new.
She winced as from undeserved reproach when presently Leander's
proclivities for the society of the gay young blades about the
countryside, sometimes reputed evil men, were attributed to this
exile of the violin from the hearth-stone. She roused herself to
disputation, to indignant repudiation.
They talk ez ef it war me ez led the drinkin', an' the
gamin', an' the dancing and sech, ez goes on in the Cove, 'kase whenst
Lee-yander war about fryin' size I wouldn't abide ter hev him a-sawin'
away on the fiddle in the house enough ter make me deef fur life. At
fust the racket of it even skeered Towse so he wouldn't come out from
under the house fur two days an' better; he jes sot under thar an'
growled, an' shivered, an' showed his teeth ef enny-body spoke ter him.
Nobody don't like Lee-yan-der's performin' better'n I do whenst he
plays them saaft, slippin'-away, slow medjures, ez sound plumb
religiousef 'twarn't a sin ter say so. Naw, sir, ef ennybody hev sot
Lee-yander on ter evil ways 'twarn't me. My conscience be clear.
Nevertheless she was grievously ill at ease when one day there rode
up to the fence a tall, gaunt, ill-favored man, whose long, lean,
sallow countenance, of a Pharisaic cast, was vaguely familiar to her,
as one recognizes real lineaments in the contortions of a caricature or
the bewilderments of a dream. She felt as if in some long-previous
existence she had seen this man as he dismounted at the gate and came
up the path with his saddle-bags over his arm. But it was not until he
mustered an unready, unwilling smile, that had of good-will and
geniality so slight an intimation that it was like a spasmodic grimace,
did she perceive how time had deepened tendencies to traits, how the
inmost thought and the secret sentiment had been chiselled into the
face in the betrayals of the sculpture of fifteen years.
Nehemiah Yerby! she exclaimed. I would hev knowed ye in the happy
land o' Canaan.
Let's pray we may all meet thar, Sister Sudley, he responded.
Let's pray that the good time may find none of us unprofitable
Mrs. Sudley experienced a sudden recoil. Not that she did not echo
his wish, but somehow his manner savored of an exclusive arrogation of
piety and a suggestion of reproach.
That's my prayer, she retorted, aggressively. Day an' night,
that's my prayer.
Yes'm, fur us an' our households, Sister Sudleywe mus' think o'
them c'mitted ter our charge.
She strove to fling off the sense of guilt that oppressed her, the
mental attitude of arraignment. He was a young man when he journeyed
away in that snowy dawn. She did not know what changes had come in his
experience. Perchance his effervescent piety was only a habit of
speech, and had no significance as far as she was concerned. The
suspicion, however, tamed her in some sort. She attempted no retort.
With a mechanical, reluctant smile, ill adjusted to her sorrow-lined
face, she made an effort to assume that the greeting had been but the
conventional phrasings of the day. Kem in, kem in, Nehemiah; Tyler
will be glad ter see ye, an' I reckon ye will be powerful interested
ter view how Lee-yander hev growed an' prospered.
She felt as if she were in some terrible dream as she beheld him
slowly wag his head from side to side. He had followed her into the
large main room of the cabin, and had laid his saddle-bags down by the
side of the chair in which he had seated himself, his elbows on his
knees, his hands held out to the flickering blaze in the deep
chimney-place, his eyes significantly narrowing as he gazed upon it.
Naw, Sister Sudley, he wagged his head more mournfully still. I
kin but grieve ter hear how my nevy Lee-yander hev 'prospered,' ez ye
call it, an' I be s'prised ye should gin it such a name. Oh-h-h, Sister
Sudley! in prolonged and dreary vocative, I 'lowed ye war a godly
woman. I knowed yer name 'mongst the church-goers an' the
church-members. A faint flush sprang into her delicate faded cheek; a
halo encircled this repute of sanctity; she felt with quivering
premonition that it was about to be urged as a testimony against her.
Elsewise I wouldn't hev gin my cornsent ter hev lef the leetle lam',
Lee-yander, in yer fold. Precious, precious leetle lam'!
Poor Laurelia! Were it not that she had a sense of fault under the
scathing arraignment of her motives, her work, and its result, although
she scarcely saw how she was to blame, that she had equally with him
esteemed Leander's standpoint iniquitous, she might have made a better
fight in her own interest. Why she did not renounce the true culprit as
one on whom all godly teachings were wasted, and, adopting the
indisputable vantage-ground of heredity, carry the war into the enemy's
country, ascribing Leander's shortcomings to his Yerby blood, and with
stern and superior joy proclaiming that he was neither kith nor kin of
hers, she wondered afterward, for this valid ground of defence did not
occur to her then. In these long mourning years she had grown dull; her
mental processes were either a sad introspection or reminiscence. Now
she could only take into account her sacrifices of feeling, of time, of
care; the illnesses she had nursed, the garments that she had made and
mendedah, how many! laid votive on the altar of Leander's vigor and
his agility, for as he scrambled about the crags he seemed, she was
wont to say, to climb straight out of them. The recollection of all
thisthe lesser and unspiritual maternal values, perchance, but
essentialsurged over her with bitterness; she lost her poise, and
'Precious leetle lam',' she repeated, scornfully. Precious he
mus' hev been! Fur when ye lef him he hedn't a whole gyarmint ter his
back, an' none but them that kivered him.
Nehemiah Yerby changed color slightly as the taunt struck home, but
he was skilled in the more aesthetic methods of argument.
We war poremighty pore indeed, Sister Sudley.
Now, consciously in the wrong, Sister Sudley, with true feminine
inconsistency, felt better. She retorted with bravado.
Needle an' thread ain't 'spensive nowhar ez I knows on, an' the
gov'mint hev sot no tax on saaft home-made soap, so far ez hearn from.
She briskly placed her chair, a rude rocker, the seat formed of a
taut-stretched piece of ox-hide, beside the fire, and took up her
knitting. A sock for Leander it wasone of many of all sizes. She
remembered the first that she had measured for the bare pink toes which
he had brought there, forlorn candidates for the comfortable
integuments in which they were presently encased, and how she had
morbidly felt that every stitch she took was a renunciation of her own
children, since a stranger was honored in their place. The tears came
into her eyes. It was only this afternoon that she had experienced a
pang of self-reproach to realize how near happiness she wasas near as
her temperament could approach. But somehow the air was so soft; she
could see from where she sat how the white velvet buds of the
aspen-trees in the dooryard had lengthened into long, cream-tinted,
furry tassels; the maples on the mountain-side lifted their red
flowering boughs against the delicate blue sky; the grass was so green;
the golden candlesticks bunched along the margin of the path to the
rickety gate were all a-blossoming. The sweet appeal of spring had
never been more insistent, more coercive. Somehow peace, and a placid
content, seemed as essential incidents in the inner life as the growth
of the grass anew, the bursting of the bud, or the soft awakening of
the zephyr. Even within the house, the languors of the fire drowsing on
the hearth, the broad bar of sunshine across the puncheon floor, so
slowly creeping away, the sense of the vernal lengthening of the
pensive afternoon, the ever-flitting shadow of the wren building under
the eaves, and its iterative gladsome song breaking the fireside
stillness, partook of the serene beatitude of the season and the hour.
The visitor's drawling voice rose again, and she was not now
constrained to reproach herself that she was too happy.
Yes'm, pore though we war thenan' we couldn't look forward ter
the Lord's prosperin' us some sencewe never would hev lef the
precious leetle lam'his voice dwelt with unvanquished emphasis upon
the obnoxious words'mongst enny but them persumed ter be godly
folks. Tyler war a toler'ble good soldier in the war, an' hed a good
name in the church, but ye war persumed to be a plumb special
Christian with no pledjure in this worl'.
Laurelia winced anew. This repute of special sanctity was the pride
of her ascetic soul. Few of the graces of life or of the spirit had she
coveted, but her pre-eminence as a religionist she had fostered and
cherished, and now through her own deeds of charity it seemed about to
be wrested from her.
Lee-yander Yerby hev larnt nuthin' but good in this house, an' all
my neighbors will tell you the same word. The Cove 'lows I hev been
Nehemiah was glancing composedly about the room. That thar 'pears
ter be a fiddle on the wall, ain't it, Mis' Sudley? he said, with an
incidental air and the manner of changing the subject.
Alack, for the aesthetic perversion! Since the playing of those
melancholy minor strains in that red sunset so long ago, which had
touched so responsive a chord in Laurelia's grief-worn heart, the crazy
old fiddle had been naturalized, as it were, and had exchanged its
domicile under the porch for a position on the wall. It was boldly
visible, and apparently no more ashamed of itself than was the big
earthen jar half full of cream, which was placed close to the fireplace
on the hearth in the hope that its contents might become sour enough by
to-morrow to be churned.
Laurelia looked up with a start at the instrument, red and lustrous
against the brown log wall, its bow poised jauntily above it, and some
glistening yellow reflection from the sun on the floor playing among
the strings, elusive, soundless fantasies.
Her lower jaw dropped. She was driven to her last defences, and sore
beset. It air a fiddle, she said, slowly, at last, and with an air of
conscientious admission, as if she had had half a mind to deny it. A
fiddle the thing air. Then, as she collected her thoughts, Brother
Pete Vickers 'lows ez he sees no special sin in playin' the fiddle. He
'lows ez in some kentriesI disremember wharthey plays on 'em in
church, quirin' an' hymn chunes an' sech.
Her voice faltered a little; she had never thought to quote this
fantasy in her own defence, for she secretly believed that old man
Vickers must have been humbugged by some worldly brother skilled in
drawing the long bow himself.
Nehemiah Yerby seemed specially endowed with a conscience for the
guidance of other people, so quick was he to descry and pounce upon
their shortcomings. If one's sins are sure to find one out, there is
little doubt but that Brother Nehemiah would be on the ground first.
Air you-uns a-settin' under the preachin' o' Brother Peter
Vickers? he demanded in a sepulchral voice.
Naw, naw, she was glad to reply. 'Twar onderstood ez Brother
Vickers wanted a call ter the church in the Cove, bein' ez his
relations live hyar-abouts, an' he kem up an' preached a time or two.
But he didn't git no call. The brethren 'lowed Brother Vickers war too
slack in his idees o' religion. Some said his hell warn't half hot
enough. Thar air some powerful sinners in the Cove, an' nuthin' but
good live coals an' a liquid blazin' fire air a-goin' ter deter them
from the evil o' thar ways. So Brother Vickers went back the road he
She knit off her needle while, with his head still bent forward,
Nehemiah Yerby sourly eyed her, feeling himself a loser with Brother
Vickers, in that he did not have the reverend man's incumbency as a
He 'pears ter me ter see mo' pleasure in religion 'n penance,
ennyhow, he observed, bitterly. An' the Lord knows the bes' of us air
An' he laughs loud an' frequentmightily like a sinner, she
agreed. An' whenst he prays, he prays loud an' hearty, like he jes
expected ter git what he axed fur sure's shootin.' Some o' the
breth-erin' sorter taxed him with his sperits, an' he 'lowed he
couldn't holp but be cheerful whenst he hed the Lord's word fur it ez
all things work tergether fur good. An' he laffed same ez ef they
hedn't spoke ter him serious.
Look at that, now! exclaimed Nehemiah. An' that thar man ez good
ez dead with the heart-disease.
Laurelia's eyes were suddenly arrested by his keen, pinched, lined
face. What there was in it to admonish her she could hardly have said,
nor how it served to tutor her innocent craft.
I ain't so sure 'bout Brother Vickers bein' so wrong, she said,
slowly. He 'lowed ter me ez I hed spent too much o' my life
a-sorrowin', 'stiddier a-praisin' the Lord for his mercies. Her face
twitched suddenly; she could not yet look upon her bereavements as
mercies. He 'lowed I would hev been a happier an' a better 'oman ef I
hed took the evil ez good from the Lord's hand, fur in his sendin' it's
the same. An' I know that air a true word. An' that's what makes me
'low what he said war true 'bout'n that fiddle; that I ought never ter
hev pervented the boy from playin' 'round home an' sech, an' 'twarn't
no sin but powerful comfortable an' pleasurable ter set roun' of a cold
winter night an' hear him play them slow, sweet, dyin'-away chunes
She dropped her hands, and gazed with the rapt eyes of remembrance
through the window at the sunset clouds which, gathering red and purple
and gold on the mountain's brow, were reflected roseate and amethyst
and amber at the mountain's base on the steely surface of the river.
Brother Vickers 'lowed he never hearn sech in all his life. It brung
the tears ter his eyesit surely did.
He'd a heap better be weepin' fur them black sheep o' his
congregation an' fur Lee-yander's short-comin's, fur ez fur ez I kin
hear he air about ez black a sheep ez most pastors want ter wrestle
with fur the turnin' away from thar sins. Yes'm, Sister Sudley, that's
jes what p'inted out my jewty plain afore my eyes, an' I riz up an' kem
ter be instant in a-do-in' of it. 'I'll not leave my own nevy in the
tents o' sin,' I sez. 'I hev chil'in o' my own, hearty feeders an' hard
on shoe-leather, ter support, but I'll not grudge my brother's son a
home.' Yes, Laurely Sudley, I hev kem ter kerry him back with me. Yer
jewty ain't been done by him, an' I'll leave him a dweller in the tents
o' sin no longer.
His enthusiasm had carried him too far. Lau-relia's face, which at
first seemed turning to stone as she gradually apprehended his meaning
and his mission, changed from motionless white to a tremulous scarlet
while he spoke, and when he ceased she retorted herself as one of the
Ye mus' be mighty ambitious ter kerry away a skin full o' broken
bones! Jes let Tyler Sudley hear ez ye called his house the tents o'
the ungodly, an' that ye kem hyar a-faultin' me, an' tellin' me ez I
'ain't done my jewty ennywhar or ennyhow! she exclaimed, with a pride
which, as a pious saint, she had never expected to feel in her
husband's reputation as a high-tempered man and a mighty handy
fighter, and with implicit reliance upon both endowments in her
Only in a speritchual sense, Sister Sudley, Nehemiah gasped, as he
made haste to qualify his asseveration. I only charge you with havin'
sp'iled the boy; ye hev sp'iled him through kindness ter him, an' not
ye so much ez Ty. Ty never hed so much ez a dog that would mind
him! His dog wouldn't answer call nor whistle 'thout he war so
disposed. I never faulted ye, Sister Sudley; 'twar jes Ty I
faulted. I know Ty.
He knew, too, that it was safer to call Ty and his doings in
question, big and formidable and belligerent though he was, than his
meek-mannered, melancholy, forlorn, and diminutive wife. Nehemiah rose
up and walked back and forth for a moment with an excited face and a
bent back, and a sort of rabbit-like action. Now, I put it to you,
Sister Sudley, air Ty a-makin' that thar boy plough terday?jes
be-you-ti-ful field weather!
Sister Sudley, victorious, having regained her normal position by
one single natural impulse of self-assertion, not as a religionist, but
as Tyler Sud-ley's wife, and hence entitled to all the show of respect
which that fact unaided could command, sat looking at him with a
changed facea face that seemed twenty years younger; it had the
expression it wore before it had grown pinched and ascetic and
insistently sorrowful; one might guess how she had looked when Tyler
Sudley first went up the mountain a-courtin, She sought to assume no
other stand-point. Here she was intrenched. She shook her head in
negation. The affair was none of hers. Ty Sudley could take ample care
Nehemiah gave a little skip that might suggest a degree of triumph.
Aha, not ploughin'! But Ty is ploughin', I seen him in the
field. An' Lee-yander ain't ploughin'! An' how did I know? Ez I war
a-ridin' along through the woods this mornin' I kem acrost a striplin'
lad a-walkin' through the undergrowth ez onconsarned ez a killdee an'
ez nimble. An' under his chin war a fiddle, an' his head war craned
down ter it. He mimicked the attitude as he stood on the hearth. He
never looked up wunst. Away he walked, light ez a plover, an'
a-ping, pang, ping, pang, in a high falsetto, went that fiddle! I
war plumb 'shamed fur the critters in the woods ter view sech idle
sinfulness, a ole owel, a-blinkin' down out'n a hollow tree, kem
ter see what ping, pang, ping, pang meant, an' thar war a rabbit
settin' up on two legs in the bresh, an' a few stray razor-back hawgs;
I tell ye I war mortified 'fore even sech citizens ez them, an' a lazy,
impident-lookin' dog ez followed him.
How did ye know 'twar Lee-yander? demanded Mrs. Sudley,
recognizing the description perfectly, but after judicial methods
requiring strict proof.
Oh-h! by the fambly favor, protested the gaunt and hard-featured
Nehemiah, capably. I knowed the Yerby eye.
He hev got his mother's eyes. Mrs. Sudley had certainly changed
her stand-point with a vengeance. He hev got his mother's
be-you-ti-ful blue eyes and her curling, silken brown hairsorter
red; little Yerby in that, mebbe; but sech eyes, an' sech
lashes, an' sech fine curling hair ez none o' yer fambly ever hed, or
Mebbe so. I never seen him more'n a minit. But he might ez well hev
a be-you-ti-ful curlin' nose, like the elephint in the show, for
all the use he air, or I be afeard air ever likely ter be.
Tyler Sudley's face turned gray, despite his belligerent
efficiencies, when his wife, hearing the clank of the ox-yoke as it was
flung down in the shed outside, divined the home-coming of the
ploughman and his team, and slipped out to the barn with her news. She
realized, with a strange enlightenment as to her own mental processes,
what angry jealousy the look on his face would have roused in her only
so short a time agojealousy for the sake of her own children, that
any loss, any grief, should be poignant and pierce his heart save for
them. Now she was sorry for him; she felt with him.
But as he continued silent, and only stared at her dumfounded and
piteous, she grew frightenedshe knew not of what.
Shucks, Ty! she exclaimed, catching him by the sleeve with the
impluse to rouse him, to awaken him, as it were, to his own old
familiar identity; ye ain't 'feared o' that thar snaggle-toothed
skeer-crow in yander; he would be plumb comical ef he didn't look so
mean-natured an' sech a hyper-crite.
He gazed at her, his eyes eloquent with pain.
Laurely! he gasped, this hyar thing plumb knocks me down; it jes
takes the breath o' life out'n me!
She hesitated for a moment. Any anxiety, any trouble, seemed so
incongruous with the sweet spring-tide peace in the air, that one did
not readily take it home to heart. Hope was in the atmosphere like an
essential element; one might call it oxygen or caloric or vitality,
according to the tendency of mind and the habit of speech. But the
heart knew it, and the pulses beat strongly responsive to it. Faith
ruled the world. Some tiny bulbous thing at her feet that had impeded
her step caught her attention. It was coming up from the black earth,
and the buried darkness, and the chill winter's torpor, with all the
impulses of confidence in the light without, and the warmth of the sun,
and the fresh showers that were aggregating in the clouds somewhere for
its nurturea blind inanimate thing like that! But Tyler Sudley felt
none of it; the blow had fallen upon him, stunning him. He stood
silent, looking gropingly into the purple dusk, veined with silver
glintings of the moon, as if he sought to view in the future some event
which he dreaded, and yet shrank to see.
She had rarely played the consoler, so heavily had she and all her
griefs leaned on his supporting arm. It was powerless now. She
perceived this, all dismayed at the responsibility that had fallen upon
her. She made an effort to rally his courage. She had more faith in it
than in her own.
'Feard o' him! she exclaimed, with a sharp tonic note of
satire. Kem in an' view him.
Laurely, he quavered, I oughter hev got it down in writin' from
him; I oughter made him sign papers agreein' fur me ter keep the boy
till he growed ter be his own man.
She, too, grew pale. Ye ain't meanin' ter let him take the boy sure
enough! she gasped.
I moughtn't be able ter holp it; I dun'no' how the law stands. He
air kin ter Lee-yander, an' mebbe hev got the bes' right ter him.
She shivered slightly; the dew was falling, and all the budding
herbage was glossed with a silver glister. The shadows were sparse. The
white branches of the aspens cast only the symmetrical outline of the
tree form on the illumined grass, and seemed scarcely less bare than in
winter, but on one swaying bough the mocking-bird sang all the joyous
prophecies of the spring to the great silver moon that made his
gladsome day so long.
She was quick to notice the sudden cessation of his song, the alert,
downward poise of his beautiful head, his tense critical attitude. A
mimicking whistle rose on the air, now soft, now keen, with swift
changes and intricate successions of tones, ending in a brilliant
borrowed roulade, delivered with a wonderful velocity and elan.
The long tail feathers, all standing stiffly upward, once more drooped;
the mocking-bird turned his head from side to side, then lifting his
full throat he poured forth again his incomparable, superb, infinitely
versatile melody, fixing his glittering eye on the moon, and heeding
the futilely ambitious worldling no mote.
The mimicking sound heralded the approach of Leander. Laurelia's
heart, full of bitterness for his sake, throbbed tenderly for him. Ah,
what was to be his fate! What unkind lot did the future hold for him in
the clutches of a man like this! Suddenly she was pitying his
motherher own children, how safe!
She winced to tell him what had happened, but she it was who,
bracing her nerves, made the disclosure, for Sudley remained silent,
the end of the ox-yoke in his trembling hands, his head bare to the
moon and the dew, his face grown lined and old.
Leander stood staring at her out of his moonlit blue eyes, his hat
far back on the brown curls she had so vaunted, damp and crisp and
clinging, the low limp collar of his unbleached shirt showing his round
full throat, one hand resting on the high curb of the well, the other
holding a great brown gourd full of the clear water which he had busied
himself in securing while she sought to prepare him to hear the worst.
His lips, like a bent bow as she thought, were red and still moist as
he now and then took the gourd from them, and held it motionless in the
interest of her narration, that indeed touched him so nearly. Then, as
she made point after point clear to his comprehension, he would once
more lift the gourd and drink deeply, for he had had an active day,
inducing a keen thirst.
[Illustration: An active day, inducing a keen thirst 241]
She had been preparing herself for the piteous spectacle of his
frantic fright, his futile reliance on them who had always befriended
him, his callow forlorn helplessness, his tears, his reproaches; she
He was silent for a reflective moment when she had paused. But
what's he want with me, Cap'n? he suddenly demanded. Mought know I
warn't industrious in the field, ez he seen me off a-fiddlin' in the
woods whilst Neighbor war a-ploughin'.
Mebbe he 'lows he mought make ye industrious an' git
cornsider'ble work out'n ye, she faltered, flinching for him.
After another refreshing gulp from the gourd he canvassed this
dispassionately. Say his own chil'n air 'hearty feeders an' hard on
shoe-leather?' Takes a good deal o' goadin' ter git ploughin' enough
fur the wuth o' feed out'n a toler'ble beastis like old Blaze-face
thar, don't it, Neighbor?an' how is it a-goin' ter be with a human ez
mebbe will hold back an' air sot agin plough-in' ennyhow, an' air
sorter idle by profession? 'Twould gin him a heap o' troublemore'n
the ploughin' an' sech would be wutha heap o' trouble. Once more he
bowed his head to the gourd.
He 'lowed ye shouldn't dwell no mo' in the tents o' sin. He seen
the fiddle, Lee; it's all complicated with the fiddle, she quavered,
very near tears of vexation.
He lifted a smiling moonlit face; his half-suppressed laugh echoed
gurglingly in the gourd. Cap'n, he said, reassuringly, jes let's
hear Uncle Nehemiah talk some mo', an' ef I can't see no mo' likely
work fur me 'n ploughin', I'll think myself mighty safe.
They felt like three conspirators as after supper they drew their
chairs around the fire with the unsuspicious Uncle Nehemiah. However,
Nehemiah Yerby could hardly be esteemed unsuspicious in any point of
view, so full of vigilant craft was his intention in every
anticipation, so slyly sanctimonious was his long countenance.
There could hardly have been a greater contrast than Tyler Sudley's
aspect presented. His candid face seemed a mirror for his thought; he
had had scant experience in deception, and he proved a most unlikely
novice in the art. His features were heavy and set; his manner was
brooding and depressed; he did not alertly follow the conversation; on
the contrary, he seemed oblivious of it as his full dark eyes rested
absently on the fire. More than once he passed his hand across them
with a troubled, harassed manner, and he sighed heavily. For which his
co-conspirators could have fallen upon him. How could he be so dull, so
forgetful of all save the fear of separation from the boy whom he had
reared, whom he loved as his own son; how could he fail to know that a
jaunty, assured mien might best serve his interests until at any rate
the blow had fallen; why should he wear the insignia of defeat before
the strength of his claim was tested? Assuredly his manner was
calculated to greatly reinforce Nehemiah Yerby's confidence, and to
assist in eliminating difficulties in the urging of his superior rights
and the carrying out of his scheme. Mrs. Sudley's heart sank as she
caught a significant gleam from the boy's eyes; he too appreciated this
disastrous policy, this virtual surrender before a blow was struck.
An' Ty ain't afeard o' bars, she silently commented, nor wolves,
nor wind, nor lightning, nor man in enny kind o' a free fight; but
bekase he dun'no' how the law stands, an' air afeard the law
mought be able ter take Lee-yander, he jes sets thar ez pitiful ez
a lost kid, fairly ready ter blate aloud.
She descried the covert triumph twinkling among the sparse light
lashes and crow-feet about Nehemiah's eyes as he droned on an
ever-lengthening account of his experiences since leaving the county.
It's a mighty satisfyin' thing ter be well off in yearthly goods
an' chattels, said Laurelia, with sudden inspiration. Ty, thar, is in
For Uncle Nehemiah had been dwelling unctuously upon the extent to
which it had pleased the Lord to prosper him. His countenance fell
suddenly. His discomfiture in her unexpected disclosure was twofold, in
that it furnished a reason for Tyler's evident depression of spirits,
demolishing the augury that his manner had afforded as to the success
of the guest's mission, and furthermore, to Nehemiah's trafficking
soul, it suggested that a money consideration might be exacted to
mollify the rigors of parting.
For Nehemiah Yerby had risen to the dignities, solvencies, and
responsibilities of opening a store at the cross-roads in Kildeer
County. It was a new and darling enterprise with him, and his mind and
speech could not long be wiled away from the subject. This abrupt
interjection of a new element into his cogitations gave him pause, and
he did not observe the sudden rousing of Tyler Sud-ley from his revery,
and the glance of indignant reproach which he cast on his wife. No man,
however meek, or however bowed down with sorrow, will bear unmoved a
gratuitous mention of his debts; it seems to wound him with all the
rancor of insult, and to enrage him with the hopelessness of adequate
retort or reprisal. It is an indignity, like taunting a ghost with
cock-crow, or exhorting a clergyman to repentance. He flung himself all
at once into the conversation, to bar and baffle any renewed allusion
to that subject, and it was accident rather than intention which made
him grasp Nehemiah in the vise of a quandary also.
Ye say ye got a store an' a stock o' truck, Nehemiah. Air ye ekal
ter keepin' store an' sech? he demanded, speculatively, with an
inquiring and doubtful corrugation of his brows, from which a restive
lock of hair was flung backward like the toss of a horse's mane.
I reckon so, Nehemiah sparely responded, blinking at him across
An' ye say ye hev applied fur the place o' postmaster? Tyler
prosed on. All that takes a power o' knowledgereadin' an' writin'
an' cipher-in' an' sech. How air ye expectin' to hold out, 'kase I know
ye never hed no mo' larnin' than me, an' I war acquainted with ye till
ye war thirty years old an' better?
The tenor of this discourse did not comport with his customary
suavity and tactful courtesy toward a guest, but he was much harassed
and had lost his balance. He had a vague idea that Mrs. Sudley hung
upon the flank of the conversation with a complete summary of amounts,
dates, and names of creditors, and he sought to balk this in its
inception. Moreover, his forbearance with Nehemiah, with his presence,
his personality, his mission, had begun to wane. Bitter reflections
might suffice to fill the time were he suffered to be silent; but since
a part in the conversation had been made necessary, he had for it no
I'd make about ez fit a postmaster, I know, ez that thar old ow_el
a-hootin' out yander. I could look smart an' sober like him, but that's
'bout all the fur my school-larnin' kerried me, an' yourn didn't reach
ter the nex' mile-postan' that I know.
Nehemiah's thin lips seemed dry. More than once his tongue appeared
along their verges as he nervously moistened them. His small eyes had
brightened with an excited look, but he spoke very slowly, and to
Laurelia it seemed guardedly.
I tuk ter my book arterward, Brother Sudley. I applied myself ter
larnin' vigorous. Bein' ez I seen the Lord's hand war liberal with the
gifts o' this worl', I wanted ter stir myself ter desarve the good
Sudley brought down the fore-legs of his chair to the floor with a
thump. Despite his anxiety a slow light of ridicule began to kindle on
his face; his curling lip showed his strong white teeth.
Waal, by gum! ye mus' hev been a sight ter be seen! Ye, forty or
fifty years old, a-settin' on the same seat with the chil'n at the
deestric' school, an' a-competin' with the leetle tadpoles fur 'Baker
an' Shady' an sech!
He was about to break forth with a guffaw of great relish when
Nehemiah spoke hastily, forestalling the laughter.
Naw; Abner Sage war thar fur a good while las' winter a-visitin'
his sister, an' he kem an' gin me lessons an' set me copies thar at my
house, an' I larnt a heap.
Leander lifted his head suddenly. The amount of progress possible to
this desultory and limited application he understood only too well. He
had not learned so much himself to be unaware how much in time and
labor learning costs. The others perceived no incongruity. Sudley's
face was florid with pride and pleasure, and his wife's reflected the
Ab Sage at the cross-roads! Then he mus' hev tole ye 'bout
Lee-yander hyar, an' his larnin'. Ab tole, I know.
Nehemiah drew his breath in quickly. His twinkling eyes sent out the
keenest glance of suspicion, but the gay, affectionate, vaunting laugh,
as Tyler Sudley turned around and clapped the boy a ringing blow on his
slender shoulder, expressed only the plenitude of his simple vainglory.
Lee-yander hyar knows it all! he boasted. Old Ab himself
don't know no mo'! I'll be bound old Ab went a-braggin'hey,
But the boy shrank away a trifle, and his smile was mechanical as he
silently eyed his relative.
Ab 'lowed he war tur'ble disobejient, said Nehemiah, after a
pause, and cautiously allowing himself to follow in the talk, an' gi'n
over ter playin' the fiddle. He hesitated for a moment, longing to
stigmatize its ungodliness; but the recollection of Tyler Sudley's
uncertain temper decided him, and he left it unmolested. But Ab 'lowed
ye war middlin' quick at figgers, Lee-yandermiddlin' quick at
Leander, still silent and listening, flushed slightly. This measured
praise was an offence to him; but he looked up brightly and obediently
when his uncle wagged an uncouthly sportive head (Nehe-miah's anatomy
lent itself to the gay and graceful with much reluctance), thrust his
hands into his pockets, and, tilting himself back in his chair,
I'll try ye, sonnyI'll try ye. How much air nine times
seven?nine times seven?
Forty-two! replied the boy, with a bright, docile countenance
fixed upon his relative.
There was a pause. Right! exclaimed Nehe-miah, to the relief of
Sudley and his wife, who had trembled during the pause, for it seemed
so threatening. They smiled at each other, unconscious that the
examination meant aught more serious than a display of their prodigy's
An', now, how much air twelve times eight? demanded Nehemiah.
Sixty-six! came the answer, quick as lightning.
Right, sir, every time! cried Nehemiah with a glow of genuine
exultation, as he brought down the fore-legs of the chair to the floor,
and the two Sudleys laughed aloud with pleasure.
Leander saw them all distorted and grimacing while the room swam
round. The scheme was clear enough to him now. The illiterate Nehemiah,
whose worldly prosperity had outstripped his mental qualifications, had
bethought himself of filling the breach with his nephew, given away as
surplusage in his burdensome infancy, but transformed into a unique
utility under the tutelage of Abner Sage. It was his boasting of his
froward pupil, doubtless, that had suggested the idea, and Leander
understood now that he was to do the work of the store and the
post-office under the nominal incumbency of this unlettered lout. Had
the whole transaction been open and acknowledged, Leander would have
had scant appetite for the work under this master; but he revolted at
the flimsy, contemptible sham; he bitterly resented the innuendoes
against the piety of the Sudleys, not that he cared for piety, save in
the abstract; he was daunted by the brutal ignorance, the doltish
inefficiency of the imposture that had so readily accepted his patently
false answers to the simple questions. He had a sort of crude reverence
for education, and it had seemed to him a very serious matter to take
such liberties with the multiplication table. He valued, too, with a
boy's stalwart vanity, his reputation for great learning, and he would
not have lightly jeopardized it did he not esteem the crisis momentous.
He knew not what he feared. The fraud of the intention, the groundless
claim to knowledge, made Nehemiah's scheme seem multifariously guilty
in some sort; while Tyler Sudley and his wife, albeit no wiser
mathematically, had all the sanctions of probity in their calm,
Ef Cap'n or Neighbor wanted ter run a post-office on my larnin', or
ter keep store, they'd be welcome; but I won't play stalkin'-horse fur
that thar man's still-hunt, sure ez shootin', he said to himself.
The attention which he bent upon the conversation thenceforth was an
observation of its effect rather than its matter. He saw that he was
alone in his discovery. Neither Sudley nor his wife had perceived any
connection between the store, the prospective post-office, and the
desire of the illiterate would-be postmaster to have his erudite nephew
restored to his care.
It may be that the methods of his Neighbor and the Captain in
the rearing of Leander, the one with unbridled leniency, the other with
spurious severity and affected indifference, had combined to foster
self-reliance and decision of character, or it may be that these
qualities were inherent traits. At all events, he encountered the
emergency without an instant's hesitation. He felt no need of counsel.
He had no doubts. He carried to his pallet in the roof-room no
vacillations and no problems. His resolve was taken. For a time, as he
listened to the movements below-stairs, the sound of voices still rose,
drowsy as the hour waxed late; the light that flickered through the
cracks in the puncheon flooring gradually dulled, and presently a harsh
grating noise acquainted him with the fact that Sudley was shovelling
the ashes over the embers; then the tent-like attic was illumined only
by the moonlight admitted through the little square window at the gable
endso silent, so still, it seemed that it too slept like the silent
house. The winds slumbered amidst the mute woods; a bank of cloud that
he could see from his lowly couch lay in the south becalmed. The bird's
song had ceased. It seemed to him as he lifted himself on his elbow
that he had never known the world so hushed. The rustle of the quilt of
gay glazed calico was of note in the quietude; the impact of his bare
foot on the floor was hardly a sound, rather an annotation of his
weight and his movement; yet in default of all else the sense of
hearing marked it. His scheme seemed impracticable as for an instant he
wavered at the head of the ladder that served as a stairway; the next
moment his foot was upon the rungs, his light, lithe figure slipping
down it like a shadow. The room below, all eclipsed in a brown and
dusky-red medium, the compromise between light and darkness that the
presence of the embers fostered, was vaguely revealed to him. He was
hardly sure whether he saw the furniture all in place, or whether he
knew its arrangement so well that he seemed to see. Suddenly, as he
laid his hand on the violin on the wall, it became visible, its dark
red wood richly glowing against the brown logs and the tawny clay
daubing. A tiny white flame had shot up in the midst of the gray ashes,
as he stood with the cherished object in his cautious hand, his excited
eyes, dilated and expectant, searching the room apprehensively, while a
vague thrill of a murmur issued from the instrument, as if the spirit
of music within it had been wakened by his touchtoo vague, too
faintly elusive for the dormant and somewhat dull perceptions of
Nehemiah Yerby, calmly slumbering in state in the best room.
The faint jet of flame was withdrawn in the ashes as suddenly as it
had shot forth, and in the ensuing darkness, deeper for the contrast
with that momentary illumination, it was not even a shadow that deftly
mounted the ladder again and emerged into the sheeny twilight of the
moonlit roof-room. Lean-der was somehow withheld for a moment
motionless at the window; it may have been by compunction; it may have
been by regret, if it be possible to the very young to definitely feel
either. There was an intimation of pensive farewell in his large
illumined eyes as they rested on the circle of familiar things about
himthe budding trees, the well, with its great angular sweep against
the sky, the still sward, the rail-fences glistening with the dew, the
river with the moonlight in a silver blazonry on its lustrous dark
surface, the encompassing shadows of the gloomy mountains. There was no
sound, not even among the rippling shallows; he could hear naught but
the pain of parting throbbing in his heart, and from the violin a faint
continuous susurrus, as if it murmured half-asleep memories of the
melodies that had thrilled its waking moments. It necessitated careful
handling as he deftly let himself out of the window, the bow held in
his mouth, the instrument in one arm, while the other hand clutched the
boughs of a great holly-tree close beside the house. It was only the
moonlight on those smooth, lustrous leaves, but it seemed as if smiling
white faces looked suddenly down from among the shadows: at this lonely
hour, with none awake to see, what, strange things may there not be
astir in the world, what unmeasured, unknown forces, sometimes felt
through is the dulling sleep of mortals, and then called dreams! As he
stood breathless upon the ground the wind awoke. He heard it race
around the corner of the house, bending the lilac bushes, and then it
softly buffeted him full in the face and twirled his hat on the ground.
As he stooped to pick it up he heard whispers and laughter in the
lustrous boughs of the holly, and the gleaming faces shifted with the
shadows. He looked fearfully over his shoulder; the rising wind might
waken some one of the household. His Neighbor was, he knew,
solicitous about the weather, and suspicious of its intentions lest it
not hold fine till all the oats be sown. A pang wrung his heart; he
remembered the long line of seasons when, planting corn in the pleasant
spring days, his Neighbor had opened the furrow with the plough, and
the Captain had followed, dropping the grains, and he had brought up
the rear with his hoe, covering them over, while the clouds floated
high in the air, and the mild sun shone, and the wind kept the shadows
a-flicker, and the blackbird and the crow, complacently and craftily
watching them from afar, seemed the only possible threatening of evil
in all the world. He hastened to stiffen his resolve. He had need of
it. Tyler Sudley had said that he did not know how the law stood, and
for himself, he was not willing to risk his liberty on it. He gazed
apprehensively upon the little batten shutter of the window of the room
where Nehe-miah Yerby slept, expecting to see it slowly swing open and
disclose him there. It did not stir, and gathering resolution from the
terrors that had beset him when he fancied his opportunity threatened,
he ran like a frightened deer fleetly down the road, and plunged into
the dense forest. The wind kept him company, rollicking, quickening,
coming and going in fitful gusts. He heard it die away, but now and
again it was rustling among a double file of beech-trees all up the
mountainside. He saw the commotion in their midst, the effect of swift
movement as the scant foliage fluttered, then the white branches of the
trees all a-swaying like glistening arms flung upward, as if some bevy
of dryads sped up the hill in elusive rout through the fastnesses.
The next day ushered in a tumult and excitement unparalleled in the
history of the little log-cabin. When Leander's absence was discovered,
and inquiry of the few neighbors and search of the vicinity proved
fruitless, the fact of his flight and its motive were persistently
forced upon Ne-hemiah Yerby's reluctant perceptions, with the
destruction of his cherished scheme as a necessary sequence. With some
wild craving for vengeance he sought to implicate Sudley as accessory
to the mysterious disappearance. He found some small measure of solace
in stumping up and down the floor before the hearth, furiously railing
at the absent host, for Sudley had not yet relinquished the bootless
quest, and indignantly upbraiding the forlorn, white-faced,
grief-stricken Laurelia, who sat silent and stony, her faded eyes on
the fire, heedless of his words. She held in her lap sundry
closely-rolled knitted ballsthe boy's socks that she had so carefully
made and darned. A pile of his clothing lay at her feet. He had carried
nothing but his fiddle and the clothes he stood in, and if she had had
more tears she could have wept for his improvidence, for the
prospective tatters and rents that must needs befall him in that
unknown patchless life to which he had betaken himself.
Nehemiah Yerby argued that it was Sudley who had prompted the whole
thing; he had put the boy up to it, for Leander was not so lacking in
feeling as to flee from his own blood-relation. But he would set the
law to spy them out. He would be back again, and soon.
He may have thought better of this presently, for he was in great
haste to be gone when Tyler Sudley returned, and to his amazement in a
counterpart frame of mind, charging Nehemiah with the responsibility of
the disaster. It was strange to Laurelia that she, who habitually
strove to fix her mind on religious things, should so relish the aspect
of Ty Sudley in his secular rage on this occasion.
Ye let we-uns hev him whilst so leetle an' helpless, but now that
he air so fine growed an' robustious ye want ter git some work out'n
him, an' he hev runned away an' tuk ter the woods tarrified by the very
sight of ye, he averred. He'll never kem back; no, he'll never kem
back; fur he'll 'low ez ye would kem an? take him home with you; an'
now the Lord only knows whar he is, an' what will become of him.
His anger and his tumultuous grief, his wild, irrepressible anxiety
for Leander's safety, convinced the crafty Nehemiah that he was no
party to the boy's scheme. Sudley's sorrow was not of the kind that
renders the temper pliable, and when Nehemiah sought to point a moral
in the absence of the violin, and for the first time in Sudley's
presence protested that he desired to save Leander from that device of
the devil, the master of the house shook his inhospitable fist very
close indeed to his guest's nose, and Yerby was glad enough to follow
that feature unimpaired out to his horse at the bars, saying little
He aired his views, however, at each house where he made it
convenient to stop on his way home, and took what comfort there might
be in the rôle of martyr. Leander was unpopular in several localities,
and was esteemed a poor specimen of the skill of the Sudleys in rearing
children. He had been pampered and spoiled, according to general
report, and more than one of his successive interlocutors were polite
enough to opine that the change to Nehemiah's charge would have been a
beneficent opportunity for much-needed discipline. Nehemiah was not
devoid of some skill in interrogatory. He contrived to elicit
speculations without giving an intimation of unduly valuing the answer.
He's 'mongst the moonshiners, I reckon, was the universal surmise.
He'll be hid mighty safe 'mongst them.
For where the still might be, or who was engaged in the illicit
business, was even a greater mystery than Leander's refuge. Nothing
more definite could be elicited than a vague rumor that some such work
was in progress somewhere along the many windings of Hide-and-Seek
Nehemiah Yerby had never been attached to temperance principles,
and, commercially speaking, he had thought it possible that whiskey on
which no tax had been paid might be more profitably dispensed at his
store than that sold under the sanctions of the government. These
considerations, however, were as naught in view of the paralysis which
his interests and schemes had suffered in Leander's flight. He dwelt
with dismay upon the possibility that he might secure the
postmastership without the capable assistant whose services were
essential. In this perverse sequence of events disaster to his
application was more to be desired than success. He foresaw himself
browbeaten, humiliated, detected, a butt for the ridicule of the
community, his pretensions in the dust, his pitiful imposture unmasked.
And beyond these aesthetic misfortunes, the substantial emoluments of
keepin' store, with a gallant sufficiency of arithmetic to regulate
prices and profits, were vanishing like the elusive matutinal haze
before the noontide sun. Nehemiah Yerby groaned aloud, for the
financial stress upon his spirit was very like physical pain. And in
this inauspicious moment he bethought himself of the penalties of
violating the Internal Revenue Laws of the United States.
Now it has been held by those initiated into such mysteries that
there is scant affinity between whiskey and water. Nevertheless, in
this connection, Nehemiah Yerby developed an absorbing interest in the
watercourses of the coves and adjacent mountains, especially their more
remote and sequestered tributaries. He shortly made occasion to meet
the county surveyor and ply him with questions touching the topography
of the vicinity, cloaking the real motive under the pretence of an
interest in water-power sufficient and permanent enough for the sawing
of lumber, and professing to contemplate the erection of a saw-mill at
the most eligible point. The surveyor had his especial vanity, and it
was expressed in his frequent boast that he carried a complete map of
the county graven upon his brain; he was wont to esteem it a gracious
opportunity when a casual question in a group of loungers enabled him
to display his familiarity with every portion of his rugged and
mountainous region, which was indeed astonishing, even taking into
consideration his incumbency for a number of terms, aided by a strong
head for locality. Nehemiah Yerby's scheme was incalculably favored by
this circumstance, but he found it unexpectedly difficult to support
the figment which he had propounded as to his intentions. Fiction is
one of the fine arts, and a mere amateur like Nehemiah is apt to fail
in point of consistency. He was inattentive while the surveyor dilated
on the probable value, the accessibility, and the relative height of
the fall of the various sites, and their available water-power, and
he put irrelevant queries concerning ineligible streams in other
localities. No man comfortably mounted upon his hobby relishes an
interruption. The surveyor would stop with a sort of bovine surprise,
and break out in irritable parenthesis.
That branch on the t'other side o' Panther Ridge? Why, man alive,
that thread o' water wouldn't turn a spider web.
Nehemiah, quaking under the glance of his keen questioning eye,
would once more lapse into silence, while the surveyor, loving to do
what he could do well, was lured on in his favorite subject by the
renewed appearance of receptivity in his listener.
Waal, ez I war a-sayin', I know every furlong o' the creeks once
down in the Cove, an' all their meanderings, an' the best part o' them
in the hills amongst the laurel and the wildernesses. But now the ways
of sech a stream ez Hide-an'-Seek Creek are past finding out. It's a
'sinking creek,' you know; goes along with a good volume and a swift
current for a while to the west, then disappears into the earth, an'
ain't seen fur five mile, then comes out agin running due north, makes
a tre-menjious jumpthe Hoho-hebee Fallsthen pops into the ground
agin, an' ain't seen no more forever, he concluded, dramatically.
How d'ye know it's the same creek? demanded Nehemiah, sceptically,
and with a wrinkling brow.
By settin' somethin' afloat on it before it sinks into the
grounda piece of marked bark or a shingle or the likean' finding it
agin after the stream comes out of the caves, promptly replied the man
of the compass, with a triumphant snap of the eye, as if he entertained
a certain pride in the vagaries of his untamed mountain friend. Nobody
knows how often it disappears, nor where it rises, nor where it goes at
last. It's got dozens of fust-rate millin' sites, but then it's too fur
off fur you ter think about.
Oh no 'tain't! exclaimed Nehemiah, suddenly.
The surveyor stared. Why, you ain't thinkin' 'bout movin' up inter
the wilderness ter live, an' ye jes applied fur the post-office down at
the crossroads? Ye can't run the post-office thar an' a sawmill thirty
mile away at the same time.
Nehemiah was visibly disconcerted. His wrinkled face showed the
flush of discomfiture, but his craft rallied to the emergency.
Moughtn't git the post-office, arter all's come an' gone. Nothin'
is sartin in this vale o' tears.
An' ye air goin' ter take ter the woods ef ye don't? demanded the
surveyor, incredulously. Thought ye war goin' ter keep store?
Waal, I dun'no'; jes talkin' round, said Nehemiah, posed beyond
recuperation. I mus' be a-joggin', ennyhow. Time's a-wastin'.
As he made off hastily in the direction of his house, for this
conversation had taken place at the blacksmith's shop at the
cross-roads, the surveyor gazed after him much mystified.
What is that old fox slyin' round after? He ain't studyin' 'bout no
saw-mill, inquirin' round about all the out-o'-the-way water-power in
the ken-try fifty mile from where he b'longs. He's a heap likelier to
be goin' ter start a wild-cat still in them wild placesgit his
whiskey cheap ter sell in his store.
He shook his head sagely once for all, for the surveyor's mind was
of the type prompt in reaching conclusions, and he was difficult to
divert from his convictions.
A feature of the development of craft to a certain degree is the
persuasion that this endowment is not shared. A fine world it would be
if the Nehemiah Yerbys were as clever as they think themselves, and
their neighbors as dull. He readily convinced himself that he had given
no intimation that his objects and motives were other than he
professed, and with unimpaired energy he went to work upon the lines
which he had marked out for himself. A fine chase Hide-and-Seek Creek
led him, to be sure, and it tried his enthusiasms to the uttermost.
What affinity this brawling vagrant had for the briers and the rocks
and the tangled fastnesses! Seldom, indeed, could he press in to its
banks and look down upon its dimpled, laughing, heedless face without
the sacrifice of fragments of flesh and garments left impaled upon the
sharp spikes of the budding shrubs. Often it so intrenched itself
amidst the dense woods, and the rocks and chasms of its craggy banks,
that approach was impossible, and he followed it for miles only by the
sound of its wild, sweet, woodland voice. And this, too, was of a
wayward fancy; now, in turbulent glee among the rocks, riotously
chanting aloud, challenging the echoes, and waking far and near the
forest quiet; and again it was merely a low, restful murmur, intimating
deep, serene pools and a dallying of the currents, lapsed in the
fulness of content. Then Nehemiah Yerby would be beset with fears that
he would lose this whisper, and his progress was slight; he would pause
to listen, hearing nothing; would turn to right, to left; would take
his way back through the labyrinth of the laurel to catch a thread of
sound, a mere crystalline tremor, and once more follow this transient
lure. As the stream came down a gorge at a swifter pace and in a
succession of leapsa glassy cataract visible here and there, airily
sporting with rainbows, affiliating with ferns and moss and marshy
growths, the bounding spray glittering in the sunshineit flung forth
continuously tinkling harmonies in clear crystal tones, so penetrating,
so definitely melodic, that more than once, as he paced along on his
jaded horse, he heard in their midst, without disassociating the
sounds, the ping, pang, ping, pang, of the violin he so
condemned. He drew up at last, and strained his ear to listen. It did
not become more distinct, always intermingled with the recurrent rhythm
of the falling water, but always vibrating in subdued throbbings, now
more acute, now less, as the undiscriminated melody ascended or
descended the scale. It came from the earth, of this he was sure, and
thus he was reminded anew of the caves which Hide-and-Seek Creek
threaded in its long course. There was some opening near by, doubtless,
that led to subterranean passages, dry enough here, since it was the
stream's whim to flow in the open sunshine instead of underground. He
would have given much to search for it had he dared. His leathery,
lean, loose cheek had a glow of excitement upon it; his small eyes
glistened; for the first time in his life, possibly, he looked young.
But he did not doubt that this was the stronghold of the illicit
distillers, of whom one heard so much in the Cove and saw so little. A
lapse of caution, an inconsiderate movement, and he might be captured
and dealt with as a spy and informer.
Nevertheless his discovery was of scant value unless he utilized it
further. He had always believed that his nephew had fled to the secret
haunts of the moonshiners. Now he only knew it the more surely; and
what did this avail him, and how aid in the capture of the recusant
clerk and assistant postmaster? He hesitated a moment; then fixing the
spot in his mind by the falling of a broad crystal sheet of water from
a ledge some forty feet high, by a rotting log at its base that seemed
to rise continually, although the moving cataract appeared motionless,
by certain trees and their relative position, and the blue peaks on a
distant skyey background of a faint cameo yellow, he slowly turned his
horse's rein and took his way out of danger. It was chiefly some
demonstration on the animal's part that he had feared. A snort, a
hoof-beat, a whinny would betray him, and very liable was the animal to
any of these expressions. One realizes how unnecessary is speech for
the exposition of opinion when brought into contradictory relations
with the horse which one rides or drives. All day had this animal
snorted his doubts of his master's sanity; all day had he protested
against these aimless, fruitless rambles; all day had he held back with
a high head and a hard mouth, while whip and spur pressed him through
laurel almost impenetrable, and through crevices of crags almost
impassable. For were there not all the fair roads of the county to pace
and gallop upon if one must needs be out and jogging! Unseen objects,
vaguely discerned to be moving in the undergrowth affrighted the old
plough-horse of the levelsinfinitely reassured and whinnying with
joyful relief when the head of horned cattle showed presently as the
cause of the commotion. He would have given much a hundred times that
day, and he almost said so a hundred times, too, to be at home, with
the old bull-tongue plough behind him, running the straight rational
furrow in the good bare open field, so mellow for corn, lying in the
sunshine, inviting planting.
Ef I git ye home wunst more, I'll be bound I'll leave ye thar,
Nehemiah said, ungratefully, as they wended their way along; for
without the horse he could not have traversed the long distances of his
search, however unwillingly the aid was given.
He annotated his displeasure by a kick in the ribs; and when the old
equine farmer perceived that they were absolutely bound binward, and
that their aberrations were over for the present, he struck a sharp
gait that would have done honor to his youthful days, for he had worn
out several pairs of legs in Nehemiah's fields, and was often spoken of
as being upon the last of those useful extremities. He stolidly shook
his head, which he thought so much better than his master's, and
bedtime found them twenty miles away and at home.
Nehemiah felt scant fatigue. He was elated with his project. He
scented success in the air. It smelled like the season. It too was
suffused with the urgent pungency of the rising sap, with the fragrance
of the wild-cherry, with the vinous promise of the orchard, with the
richness of the mould, with the vagrant perfume of the early flowers.
He lighted a tallow dip, and he sat him down with writing materials
at the bare table to indite a letter while all his household slept. The
windows stood open to the dark night, and Spring hovered about outside,
and lounged with her elbows on the sill, and looked in. He constantly
saw something pale and elusive against the blackness, for there was no
moon, but he thought it only the timid irradiation with which his
tallow dip suffused the blossoming wands of an azalea, growing lithe
and tall hard by. With this witness only he wrote the letteran
anonymous letter, and therefore he was indifferent to the inadequacies
of his penmanship and his spelling. He labored heavily in its
composition, now and then perpetrating portentous blots. He grew warm,
although the fire that had served to cook supper had long languished
under the bank of ashes. The tallow dip seemed full of caloric, and
melted rapidly in pendulous drippings. He now and again mopped his red
face, usually so bloodless, with his big bandanna handkerchief, while
all the zephyrs were fanning the flying tresses of Spring at the
window, and the soft, sweet, delicately attuned vernal chorus of the
marshes were tentatively running over sotto voce their allotted
melodies for the season. Oh, it was a fine night outside, and why
should a moth, soft-winged and cream-tinted and silken-textured, come
whisking in from the dark, as silently as a spirit, to supervise
Nehe-miah Yerby's letter, and travel up and down the page all befouled
with the ink? And as he sought to save the sense of those significant
sentences from its trailing silken draperies, why should it rise
suddenly, circling again and again about the candle, pass through the
flame, and fall in quivering agonies once more upon the page? He looked
at it, dead now, with satisfaction. It had come so very near ruining
his letteran important letter, describing the lair of the illicit
distillers to a deputy marshal of the revenue force, who was known to
be in a neighboring town. He had good reason to withhold his signature,
for the name of the informer in the ruthless vengeance of the region
would be as much as his life was worth. The moth had not spoiled the
letterthe laborious letter; he was so glad of that! He saw no
analogies, he received not even a subtle warning, as he sealed and
addressed the envelope and affixed the postage-stamp. Then he snuffed
out the candle with great satisfaction.
The next morning the missive was posted, and all Nehemiah Yerby's
plans took a new lease of life. The information he had given would
result in an immediate raid upon the place. Leander would be captured
among the moonshiners, but his youth and his uncle's
representationsfor he would give the officers an inkling of the true
state of the casewould doubtless insure the boy's release, and his
restoration to those attractive commercial prospects which had been
devised for him.
The ordering of events is an intricate process, and to its
successful exploitation a certain degree of sagacious prescience is a
prerequisite, as well as a thorough mastery of the lessons of
experience. For a day or so all went well in the inner consciousness of
Nehemiah Yerby. The letter had satisfied his restless craving for some
action toward the consummation of his ambition, and he had not the
foresight to realize how soon the necessity of following it up would
supervene. He first grew uneasy lest his letter had not reached its
destination; then, when the illimitable field of speculation was thus
opened out, he developed an ingenuity of imagination in projecting
possible disaster. Day after day passed, and he heard naught of his
cherished scheme. The revenuerscraven wretches he deemed them, and he
ground his teeth with rage because of their seeming cowardice in their
duty, since their duty could serve his interestsmight not have felt
exactly disposed to risk their lives in these sweet spring days, when
perhaps even a man whose life belongs to the government might be
presumed to take some pleasure in it, by attempting to raid the den of
a gang of moonshiners on the scanty faith of an informer's word,
tenuous guaranty at best, and now couched in an anonymous letter,
itself synonym for a lie. Oh, what fine eulogies rose in his mind upon
the manly virtue of courage! How enthusing it is at all times to
contemplate the courage of others!and how safe!
Then a revulsion of belief ensued, and he began to fear that they
might already have descended upon their quarry, and with all their
captives have returned to the county town by the road by which they
camenearer than the route through the crossroads, though far more
rugged. Why had not this possibility before occurred to him! He had so
often prefigured their triumphant advent into the hamlet with all their
guarded and shackled prisoners, the callow Leander in the midst, and
his own gracefully enacted rôle of virtuous, grief-stricken, pleading
relative, that it seemed a recollectionsomething that had really
happenedrather than the figment of anticipation. But no word, no
breath of intimation, had ruffled the serenity of the crossroads. The
calm, still, yellow sunshine day by day suffused the land like the
benignities of a dreamalmost too good to be true. Every man with the
heart of a farmer within him was at the plough-handles, and making the
most of the fair weather. The cloudless sky and the auspicious forecast
of fine days still to come did more to prove to the farmer the
existence of an all-wise, overruling Providence than all the polemics
of the world might accomplish. The furrows multiplied everywhere save
in Nehemiah's own fields, where he often stood so long in the turn-row
that the old horse would desist from twisting his head backward in
surprise, and start at last of his own motion, dragging the plough, the
share still unanchored in the ground, half across the field before he
could be stopped. The vagaries of these lands that the absent-minded
Nehemiah laid off attracted some attention.
What ails yer furrows ter run so crooked, Nehemiah? observed a
passer-by, a neighbor who had been to the blacksmith-shop to get his
plough-point sharpened; he looked over the fence critically. Yer
eyesight mus' be failin' some.
I dun'no', rejoined Nehemiah, hastily. Then reverting to his own
absorption. War it you-uns ez I hearn say thar war word kem ter the
crossroads 'bout some revenuers raid in' 'round some-whar in the
The look of surprise cast upon him seemed to his alert anxiety to
betoken suspicion. Laws-a-massy, naw! exclaimed his interlocutor. Ye
air the fust one that hev named sech ez that in these diggin's, fur I'd
hev hearn tell on it, sure, ef thar hed been enny sech word goin' the
Nehemiah recoiled into silence, and presently his neighbor went
whistling on his way. He stood motionless for a time, until the man was
well out of sight, then he began to hastily unhitch the plough-gear.
His resolution was taken. He could wait no longer. For aught he knew
the raiders might have come and gone, and be now a hundred miles away
with their prisoners to stand their trial in the Federal court, his
schemes might have all gone amiss, leaving him in naught the gainer. He
could rest in uncertainty no more. He feared to venture further
questions when no rumor stirred the air. They rendered him doubly
liable to suspicionto the law-abiding as a possible moonshiner, to
any sympathizer with the distillers as a probable informer. He
determined to visit the spot, and there judge how the enterprise had
When next he heard that fine sylvan symphony of the sound of the
falling waterthe tinkling bell-like tremors of its lighter tones
mingling with the sonorous, continuous, deeper theme rising from its
weight and volume and movement; with the surging of the wind in the
pines; with the occasional cry of a wild bird deep in the new verdure
of the forests striking through the whole with a brilliant, incidental,
detached effectno faint vibration was in its midst of the violin's
string, listen as he might. More than once he sought to assure himself
that he heard it, but his fancy failed to respond to his bidding,
although again and again he took up his position where it had before
struck his ear. The wild minstrelsy of the woods felt no lack, and
stream and wind and harping pine and vagrant bird lifted their voices
in their wonted strains. He could hardly accept the fact; he would
verify anew the landmarks he had made and again return to the spot, his
hat in his hand, his head bent low, his face lined with anxiety and
suspense. No sound, no word, no intimation of human presence. The
moonshiners were doubtless all gone long ago, betrayed into captivity,
and Leander with them. He had so hardened his heart toward his
recalcitrant young kinsman and his Sudley friends, he felt so entirely
that in being among the moonshiners Leander had met only his deserts in
coming to the bar of Federal justice, that he would have experienced
scant sorrow if the nephew had not carried off with his own personality
his uncle's book-keeper and postmaster's clerk. And soalas, for
Leander! As he meditated on the untoward manner in which he had
overshot his target, this marksman of fate forgot the caution which had
distinguished his approach, for hitherto it had been as heedful as if
he fully believed the lion still in his den. He slowly patrolled the
bank below the broad, thin, crystal sheet, seeing naught but its
rainbow hovering elusively in the sun, and its green and white
skein-like draperies pendulous before the great dark arch over which
the cataract fell. The log caught among the rocks in the spray at the
base was still there, seeming always to rise while the restless water
No trace that human beings had ever invaded these solitudes could he
discover. No vague, faint suggestion of the well-hidden lair of the
moonshiners did the wild covert show forth. The revenuers war
smarter'n me; I'll say that fur 'em, he muttered at last as he came to
a stand-still, his chin in his hand, his perplexed eyes on the ground.
And suddenlya footprint on a marshy spot; only the heel of a boot,
for the craggy ledges hid all the ground but this, a mere sediment of
sand in a tiny hollow in the rock from which the water had evaporated.
It was a key' to the mystery. Instantly the rugged edges of the cliff
took on the similitude of a path. Once furnished with this idea, he
could perceive adequate footing all adown the precipitous way. He was
not young; his habits had been inactive, and were older even than his
age. He could not account for it afterward, but he followed for a few
paces this suggestion of a path down the precipitous sides of the
stream. He had a sort of triumph in finding it so practicable, and he
essayed it still farther, although the sound of the water had grown
tumultuous at closer approach, and seemed to foster a sort of
responsive turmoil of the senses; he felt his head whirl as he looked
at the bounding, frothing spray, then at the long swirls of the current
at the base of the fall as they swept on their way down the gorge. As
he sought to lift his fascinated eyes, the smooth glitter of the
crystal sheet of falling water so close before him dazzled his sight.
He wondered afterward how his confused senses and trembling limbs
sustained him along the narrow, rugged path, here and there covered
with oozing green moss, and slippery with the continual moisture. It
evidently was wending to a ledge. All at once the contour of the place
was plain to him; the ledge led behind the cataract that fell from the
beetling heights above. And within were doubtless further recesses,
where perchance the moonshiners had worked their still. As he reached
the ledge he could see behind the falling water and into the great
concave space which it screened beneath the beetling cliff. It was as
he had expectedan arched portal of jagged brown rocks, all dripping
with moisture and oozing moss, behind the semi-translucent
green-and-white drapery of the cascade.
But he had not expected to see, standing quietly in the great
vaulted entrance, a man with his left hand on a pistol in his belt, the
mate of which his more formidable right hand held up with a steady
finger on the trigger.
This much Nehemiah beheld, and naught else, for the glittering
profile of the falls, visible now only aslant, the dark, cool recess
beyond, that menacing motionless figure at the vanishing-point of the
perspective, all blended together in an indistinguishable whirl as his
senses reeled. He barely retained consciousness enough to throw up both
his hands in token of complete submission. And then for a moment he
knew no more. He was still leaning motionless against the wall of rock
when he became aware that the man was sternly beckoning to him to
continue his approach. His dumb lips moved mechanically in response,
but any sound must needs have been futile indeed in the pervasive roar
of the waters. He felt that he had hardly strength for another step
along the precipitous way, but there is much tonic influence in a
beckoning revolver, and few men are so weak as to be unable to obey its
behests. Poor Nehemiah tottered along as behooved him, leaving all the
world, liberty, volition, behind him as the descending sheet of water
fell between him and the rest of life and shut him off.
That's it, my leetle man! I thought you could make it! were the
first words he could distinguish as he joined the mountaineer beneath
Nehemiah Yerby had never before seen this man. That in itself was
alarming, since in the scanty population of the region few of its
denizens are unknown to each other, at least by sight. The tone of
satire, the gleam of enjoyment in his keen blue eye, were not
reassuring to the object of his ridicule. He was tall and somewhat
portly, and he had a bluff and offhand manner, which, however, served
not so much to intimate his good-will toward you as his abounding
good-humor with himself. He was a man of most arbitrary temper, one
could readily judge, not only from his own aspect and manner, but from
the docile, reliant, approving cast of countenance of his reserve
forcea half-dozen men, who were somewhat in the background, lounging
on the rocks about a huge copper still. They wore an attentive aspect,
but offered to take no active part in the scene enacted before them.
One of themeven at this crucial moment Yerby noticed it with a pang
of regretful despairheld noiseless on his knee a violin, and more
than once addressed himself seriously to rubbing rosin over the bow.
There was scant music in his facea square physiognomy, with thick
features, and a shock of hay-colored hair striped somewhat with an
effect of darker shades like a weathering stack. He handled the bow
with a blunt, clumsy hand that augured little of delicate skill, and he
seemed from his diligence to think that rosin is what makes a fiddle
play. He was evidently one of those unhappy creatures furnished with
some vague inner attraction to the charms of music, with no gift, no
sentiment, no discrimination. Something faintly sonorous there was in
his soul, and it vibrated to the twanging of the strings. He was far
less alert to the conversation than the others, whose listening
attitudes attested their appreciation of the importance of the moment.
Waal, observed the moonshiner, impatiently, eying the tremulous
and tongue-tied Yerby, hev ye fund what ye war a-huntin' fur?
So tenacious of impressions was Nehemiah that it was the violin in
those alien hands which still focussed his attention as he stared
gaspingly about. Leander was not here; probably had never been here;
and the twanging of those strings had lured him to his fate. Well might
he contemn the festive malevolence of the violin's influence! His
letter had failed; no raider had intimidated these bluff, unafraid,
burly law-breakers, and he had put his life in jeopardy in his
persistent prosecution of his scheme. He gasped again at the thought.
Waal. said the moonshiner, evidently a man of short
patience, and with a definite air of spurring on the visitor's account
of himself, we 'ain't been lookin' fur any spy lately, but I'm 'lowin'
ez we hev fund him.
His fear thus put into words so served to realize to Yerby his
immediate danger that it stood him in the stead of courage, of brains,
of invention; his flaccid muscles were suddenly again under control; he
wreathed his features with his smug artificial smile, that was like a
grimace in its best estate, and now hardly seemed more than a
contortion. But beauty in any sense was not what the observer was
prepared to expect in Nehemiah, and the moonshiner seemed to accept the
smile at its face value, and to respect its intention.
Spies don't kem climbin' down that thar path o' yourn in full view
through the waterfor the landscape was as visible through the thin
falling sheet as if it had been the slightly corrugated glass of a
windowdo they? Yerby asked, with a jocose intonation. That thar
shootin'-iron o' yourn liked ter hev skeered me ter death whenst I fust
His interlocutor pondered on this answer for a moment. He had an
adviser among his corps whose opinion he evidently valued; he exchanged
a quick glance with one of the men who was but dimly visible in the
shadows beyond the still, where there seemed to be a series of troughs
leading a rill of running water down from some farther spring and
through the tub in which the spiral worm was coiled. This man had a
keen, white, lean face, with an ascetic, abstemious expression, and he
looked less like a distiller than some sort of divinesome rustic
pietist, with strange theories and unhappy speculations and unsettled
mind. It was a face of subtle influences, and the very sight of it
roused in Nehemiah a more heedful fear than the shootin'-iron in the
bluff moonshiners hand had induced. He was silent, while the other
resumed the office of spokesman.
Ye ain't 'quainted hyar he waved his hand with the pistol in it
around at the circle of uncowering men, although the mere movement made
Nehemiah cringe with the thought that an accidental discharge might as
effectually settle his case as premeditated and deliberate murder. Ye
dun'no' none o' us. What air ye a-doin' hyar?
Why, that thar war the very trouble, Yerby hastily explained.
I didn't know none o' ye! I hed hearn ez thar war a still somewhars
on Hide-an'-Seek Creekonce more there ensued a swift exchange of
glances among the partybut nobody knew who run it nor whar 'twar.
An' one day, considerable time ago, I war a-passin' nigh 'bouts an' I
hearn that fiddle, an' that revealed the spot ter me. An' I kem ter-day
'lowin' ye an' me could strike a trade.
Once more the bluff man of force turned an anxious look of inquiry
to the pale, thoughtful face in the brown and dark green shadows beyond
the copper gleam of the still. If policy had required that Nehemiah
should be despatched, his was the hand to do the deed, and his the
stomach to support his conscience afterward. But his brain revolted
from the discriminating analysis of Nehemiah's discourse and a decision
on its merits. Trade fur what? he demanded at last, on his own
responsibility, for no aid had radiated from the face which his looks
Fur whiskey, o' course. Nehemiah made the final plunge boldly. I
be goin' ter open a store at the cross-roads, an' I 'lowed I could git
cheaper whiskey untaxed than taxed. I 'lowed ye wouldn't make it ef ye
didn't expec' ter sell it. I didn't know none o' you-uns, an' none o'
yer customers. An' ez I expec' ter git mo' profit on sellin' whiskey 'n
ennything else in the store, I jes took foot in hand an' kem ter see
'boutn it mysef. I never 'lowed, though, ez it mought look cur'ous ter
you-uns, or like a spy, ter kem ez bold ez brass down the path in full
The logic of the seeming security of his approach, and the apparent
value of his scheme, had their full weight. He saw credulity gradually
overpowering doubt and distrust, and his heart grew light with relief.
Even their cautious demur, intimating a reserve of opinion to the
effect that they would think about it, did not daunt him now. He
believed, in the simplicity of his faith in his own craft, now once
more in the ascendant, that if they should accept his proposition he
would be free to go without further complication of his relations with
wild-cat whiskey. He could not sufficiently applaud his wits for the
happy termination of the adventure to which they had led him. He had
gone no further in the matter than he had always intended. Brush
whiskey was the commodity that addressed itself most to his sense of
speculation. For this he had always expected to ferret out some way of
safely negotiating. He had gone no further than he should have done, at
all events, a little later. He even began mentally to figger on the
price down to which he should be able to bring the distillers, as he
accepted a proffered seat in the circle about the still. He could
neither divide nor multiply by fractions, and it is not too much to say
that he might have been throttled on the spot if the moonshiners could
have had a mental vision of the liberties the stalwart integers were
taking with their price-current, so to speak, and the preternatural
discount that was making so free with their profits. So absorbed in
this pleasing intellectual exercise was Nehemiah that he did not
observe that any one had left the coterie; but when a stir without on
the rocks intimated an approach he was suddenly ill at ease, and this
discomfort increased when the new-comer proved to be a man who knew
Waal, Nehemiah Yerby! he exclaimed, shaking his friend's hand, I
never knowed you-uns ter be consarned in sech ez moonshinin'. I hev
been a-neighborin' Isham hyar, he laid his heavy hand on the tall
moonshiner's shoulder, fur ten year an' better, but I won't hev
nuthin' ter do with bresh whiskey or aidin' or abettin' in illicit
'stillin'. I like Isham, an' Isham he likes me, an' we hev jes agreed
Nehemiah dared not protest nor seek to explain. He could invent no
story that would not give the lie direct to his representations to the
moonshiners. He felt that their eyes were upon him. He could only hope
that his silence did not seem to them like denialand yet was not
tantamount to confession in the esteem of his upbraider.
Yes, sir, his interlocutor continued, it's a mighty bad
government ter run agin. Then he turned to the moonshiner, evidently
taking up the business that had brought him here. Lemme see what
sorter brand ye hev registered fur yer cattle, Isham.
Yerby's heart sank when the suspicion percolated through his brain
that this man had been induced to come here for the purpose of
recognizing him. More fixed in this opinion was he when no description
of the brand of the cattle could be found, and the visitor finally went
away, his errand bootless.
From time to time during the afternoon other-men went out and
returned with recruits on various pretexts, all of which Nehemiah
believed masked the marshalling of witnesses to incriminate him as one
of themselves, in order to better secure his constancy to the common
interests, and in case he was playing false to put others into
possession of the facts as to the identity of the informer. His
liability to the law for aiding and abetting in moonshining was very
complete before the day darkened, and his jeopardy as to the
information he had given made him shake in his shoes.
For at any moment, he reflected, in despair, the laggard raiders
might swoop down upon them, and the choice of rôles offered to him was
to seem to them a moonshiner, or to the moonshiners an informer. The
first was far the safer, for the clutches of the law were indeed feeble
as contrasted with the popular fury that would pursue him unwearied for
years until its vengeance was accomplished. From the one, escape was to
the last degree improbable; from the other, impossible.
Any pretext to seek to quit the place before the definite
arrangements of his negotiation were consummated seemed even to him,
despite his eagerness to be off, too tenuous, too transparent, to be
essayed, although he devised several as he sat meditative and silent
amongst the group about the still. The prospect grew less and less
inviting as the lingering day waned, and the evening shadows, dank and
chill, perceptibly approached. The brown and green recesses of the
grotto were at once murkier, and yet more distinctly visible, for the
glow of the fire, flickering through the crevices of the metal door of
the furnace, had begun to assert its luminous quality, which was hardly
perceptible in the full light of day, and brought out the depth of the
shadows. The figures and faces of the moonshiners showed against the
deepening gloom. The sunset clouds were still red without; a vague
roseate suffusion was visible through the falling water. The sun itself
had not yet sunk, for an oblique and almost level ray, piercing the
cataract, painted a series of faint prismatic tints on one side of the
rugged arch. But while the outer world was still in touch with the
clear-eyed day, night was presently here, with mystery and doubt and
dark presage. The voice of Hoho-hebee Falls seemed to him louder, full
of strange, uncomprehended meanings, and insistent iteration. Vague
echoes were elicited. Sometimes in a seeming pause he could catch their
lisping sibilant tones repeating, repeatingwhat? As the darkness
encroached yet more heavily upon the cataract, the sense of its unseen
motion so close at hand oppressed his very soul; it gave an idea of the
swift gathering of shifting invisible multitudes, coming and goingwho
could say whence or whither? So did this impression master his nerves
that he was glad indeed when the furnace door was opened for fuel, and
he could see only the inanimate, ever-descending sheet of waterthe
reverse interior aspect of Hoho-hebee Fallsall suffused with the
uncanny tawny light, but showing white and green tints like its diurnal
outer aspect, instead of the colorless outlines, resembling a drawing
of a cataract, which the cave knew by day. He did not pause to wonder
whether the sudden transient illumination was visible without, or how
it might mystify the untutored denizens of the woods, bear, or deer, or
wolf, perceiving it aglow in the midst of the waters like a great
topaz, and anon lost in the gloom. He pined to see it; the momentary
cessation of darkness, of the effect of the sounds, so strange in the
obscurity, and of the chill, pervasive mystery of the invisible, was so
grateful that its influence was tonic to his nerves, and he came to
watch for its occasion and to welcome it. He did not grudge it even
when it gave the opportunity for a close, unfriendly, calculating
scrutiny of his face by the latest comer to the still. This was the
neighboring miller, also liable to the revenue laws, the distillers
being valued patrons of the mill, and since he ground the corn for the
mash he thereby aided and abetted in the illicit manufacture of the
whiskey. His life was more out in the world than that of his
underground confrères, and perhaps, as he had a thriving
legitimate business, and did not live by brush whiskey, he had more to
lose by detection than they, and deprecated even more any unnecessary
risk. He evidently took great umbrage at the introduction of Nehemiah
Oh yes, he observed, in response to the cordial greeting which he
met; an' I'm glad ter see ye all too. I'm powerful glad ter kem ter
the still enny time. It's ekal ter goin' ter the settlemint, or plumb
ter town on a County Court day. Ye see everybody, an' hear
all the news, an' meet up with interesting strangers, I tell
ye, now, the mill's plumb lonesome compared ter the still, an' the
mill's always hed the name of a place whar a heap o' cronies gathered
ter swap lies, an' sech.
The irony of this description of the social delights and hospitable
accessibilities of a place esteemed the very stronghold of secrecy
itselfthe liberty of every man in it jeopardized by the slightest
lapse of vigilance or judgmentwas very readily to be appreciated by
the group, who were invited by this fair show of words to look down the
vista of the future to possible years of captivity in the jails of
far-away States as Federal prisoners. The men gazed heavily and
anxiously from one to another as the visitor sank down on the rocks in
a relaxed attitude, his elbow on a higher ledge behind him, supporting
his head on his hand; his other hand was on his hip, his arm stiffly
akimbo, while he looked with an expression of lowering exasperation at
Yerby. It was impossible to distinguish the color of his garb, so
dusted with flour was he from head to foot; but his long boots drawn
over his trousers to the knee, and his great spurs, and a brace of
pistols in his belt, seemed incongruous accessories to the habiliments
of a miller. His large, dark hat was thrust far back on his head; his
hair, rising straight in a sort of elastic wave from his brow, was
powdered white; the effect of his florid color and his dark eyes was
accented by the contrast; his pointed beard revealed its natural tints
because of his habit of frequently brushing his hand over it, and was
distinctly red. He was lithe and lean and nervous, and had the
impatient temper characteristic of mercurial natures. It mattered not
to him what was the coercion of the circumstances which had led to the
reception of the stranger here, nor what was the will of the majority;
he disapproved of the step; he feared it; he esteemed it a grievance
done him in his absence; and he could not conceal his feelings nor wait
a more fitting time to express them in private. His irritation and
objection evidently caused some solicitude amongst the others. He was
important to them, and they deprecated his displeasure. Isham Beaton
listened to the half-covert sneers of his words with perturbation
plainly depicted on his face, and the man whom Nehemiah had at first
noticed as one whose character seemed that of adviser, and whose
opinion was valued, now spoke for the first time. He handed over a
broken-nosed pitcher with the remark, Try the flavor of this hyar
whiskey, Alfred; 'pears like ter me the bes' we-uns hev ever hed.
His voice was singularly smooth; it had all the qualities of
culture; every syllable, every lapse of his rude dialect, was as
distinct as if he had been taught to speak in this way; his tones were
low and even, and modulated to suave cadences; the ear experienced a
sense of relief after the loud, strident voice of the miller,
poignantly penetrating and pitched high.
Naw, Hilary, I don't want nuthin' ter drink. 'Bleeged ter ye, but I
ain't wantin' nuthin' ter drink, reiterated the miller, plaintively.
Isham Beaton cast a glance of alarm at the dimly seen, monastic face
of his adviser in the gloom. It was unchanged. Its pallor and its keen
outline enabled its expression to be discerned as he himself went
through the motions of sampling the rejected liquor, shook his head
discerningly, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, and deposited
the pitcher near by on a shelf of the rock.
A pause ensued. Nehemiah, with every desire to be agreeable, hardly
knew how to commend himself to the irate miller, who would have none of
his very existence. No one could more eagerly desire him to be away
than he himself. But his absence would not satisfy the miller; nothing
less than that the intruder should never have been here. Every
perceptible lapse of the moonshiners into anxiety, every recurrent
intimation of their most pertinent reason for this anxiety, set
Nehemiah a-shaking in his shoes. Should it be esteemed the greatest
good to the greatest number to make safely away with him, his fate
would forever remain unknown, so cautious had he been to leave no trace
by which he might be followed. He gazed with deprecating urbanity, and
with his lips distended into a propitiating smile, at the troubled face
powdered so white and with its lowering eyes so dark and petulant. He
noted that the small-talk amongst the others, mere un individualized
lumpish fellows with scant voice in the government of their common
enterprise, had ceased, and that they no longer busied themselves with
the necessary work about the still, nor with the snickering interludes
and horse-play with which they were wont to beguile their labors. They
had all seated them-selves, and were looking from one to the other of
the more important members of the guild with an air which betokened the
momentary expectation of a crisis. The only exception was the man who
had the violin; with the persistent, untimely industry of incapacity,
he twanged the strings, and tuned and retuned the instrument, each time
producing a result more astonishingly off the key than before.
He was evidently unaware of this till some one with senses ajar
would suggest that all was not as it should be in the drunken reeling
catch he sought to play, when he would desist in surprise, and once
more diligently rub the bow with rosin, as if that mended the matter.
The miller's lowering eyes rested on his shadowy outline as he sat thus
engaged, for a moment, and then he broke out suddenly:
Yes, this hyar still is the place fur news, an' the place ter look
out fur what ye don't expec' ter happen. It's powerful pleasant ter be
a-meetin' of folks hyarthis hyar stranger this evenin' his
gleaming teeth in the semi-obscurity notified Yerby that a smile of
spurious politeness was bent upon him, and he made haste to grin very
widely in responsean' that thar fiddle 'minds me o' how unexpected
'twar whenst I met up with Lee-yander hyar'pears ter me, Bob, ez ye
air goin' ter diddle the life out'n his fiddlean' Hilary jes begged
an' beseeched me ter take the boy with me ter help 'round the mill, ez
he war a-runnin' away. Ye want me ter 'commodate this stranger too, ez
mebbe air runnin' from them ez wants him, hey Hilary?
The grin was petrified on Nehemiah's face. He felt his blood rush
quickly to his head in the excitement of the moment. So here was the
bird very close at hand! And here was his enterprise complete and
successful. He could go away after the cowardly caution of the
moonshiners should have expended itself in dallying and delay, with his
negotiation for the wild-cat ended, and his accomplished young
relative in charge. He drew himself erect with a sense of power. The
moonshiners, the miller, would not dare to make an objection. He knew
too much! he knew far too much!
The door of the furnace was suddenly flung ajar, but he was too much
absorbed to perceive the change that came upon the keen face of Hilary
Tarbetts, who knelt beside it, as the guest's portentous triumphant
smile was fully revealed. Yerby did not lose, however, the glance of
reproach which the moonshiner cast upon the miller, nor the miller's
air at once triumphant, ashamed, and regretful. He had in petulant
pique disclosed the circumstance which he had pledged himself not to
This man's name is Yerby too, Hilary said, significantly, gazing
steadily at the miller.
The miller looked dumfounded for a moment. He stared from one to the
other in silence. His conscious expression changed to obvious
discomfiture. He had expected no such result as this. He had merely
given way to a momentary spite in the disclosure, thinking it entirely
insignificant, only calculated to slightly annoy Hilary, who had made
the affair his own. He would not in any essential have thwarted his
comrade's plans intentionally, nor in his habitual adherence to the
principles of fair play would he have assisted in the boy's capture. He
drew himself up from his relaxed posture; his spurred feet shuffled
heavily on the stone floor of the grotto. A bright red spot appeared on
each cheek; his eyes had become anxious and subdued in the quick
shiftings of temper common to the red-haired gentry; his face of
helpless appeal was bent on Hilary Tarbetts, as if relying on his
resources to mend the matter; but ever and anon he turned his eyes,
animated with a suspicious dislike, on Yerby, who, however, could have
snapped his fingers in the faces of them all, so confident, so
hilariously triumphant was he.
Yerby, I b'lieve ye said yer name war, an' so did Peter Green,
said Tarbetts, still kneeling by the open furnace door, his pale cheek
reddening in the glow of the fire.
Thus reminded of the testimony of his acquaintance, Yerby did not
venture to repudiate his cognomen.
An' what did ye kem hyar fur? blustered the miller. A-sarchin'
fur the boy?
Yerby's lips had parted to acknowledge this fact, but Tarbetts
suddenly anticipated his response, and answered for him:
Oh no, Alfred. Nobody ain't sech a fool ez ter kem hyar ter this
hyar still, a stranger an' mebbe suspected ez a spy, ter hunt up stray
children, an' git thar heads shot off, or mebbe drownded in a mighty
handy water-fall, or sech. This hyar man air one o' we-uns. He air
a-tradin' fur our liquor, an' he'll kerry a barrel away whenst he
Yerby winced at the suggestion conveyed so definitely in this crafty
speech; he was glad when the door of the furnace closed, so that his
face might not tell too much of the shifting thoughts and fears that
The miller's fickle mind wavered once more. If Yerby had not come
for the boy, he himself had done no damage in disclosing Leander's
whereabouts. Once more his quickly illumined anger was kindled against
Tarbetts, who had caused him a passing but poignant self-reproach.
Waal, then, Hilary, he demanded, what air ye a-raisin' sech a row
fur? Lee-yander ain't noways so special precious ez I knows on.
Toler'ble lazy an' triflin', an' mightily gi'n over ter moonin' over a
readin'-book he hev got. That thar mill war a-grindin' o' nuthin' at
all more'n haffen ter-day, through me bein' a-nap-pin', and Lee-yander
plumb demented by his book so ez he furgot ter pour enny grist inter
the hopper. Shucks! his kin is welcome ter enny sech critter ez that,
though I ain't denyin' ez he'd be toler'ble spry ef he could keep his
nose out'n his book, he qualified, relenting, or his fiddle out'n his
hands. I made him leave his fiddle hyar ter the still, an' I be goin'
ter hide his book.
No need, thought Nehemiah, scornfully. Book and scholar and it
might be fiddle too, so indulgent had the prospect of success made him,
would by tomorrow be on the return route to the cross-roads. He even
ventured to differ with the overbearing miller.
I dun'no' 'bout that; books an' edication in gin'ral air toler'ble
useful wunst in a while; he was thinking of the dark art of dividing
and multiplying by fractions. The Yerbys hev always hed the name o'
bein' quick at thar book.
Now the democratic sentiment in this country is bred in the bone,
and few of its denizens have so diluted it with Christian grace as to
willingly acknowledge a superior. In such a coterie as this eating
humble-pie is done only at the muzzle of a shootin'-iron.
Never hearn afore ez enny o' the Yerbys knowed B from bull-foot,
remarked one of the unindividualized lumpish moonshiners, shadowy,
indistinguishable in the circle about the rotund figure of the still.
He yet retained acrid recollections of unavailing struggles with the
alphabet, and was secretly of the opinion that education was a painful
thing, and, like the yellow-fever or other deadly disease, not worth
having. Nevertheless, since it was valued by others, the Yerbys should
scathless make no unfounded claims. Ef the truth war knowed, nare one
of 'em afore could tell a book from a bear-trap.
Nehemiah's flush the darkness concealed; he moistened his thin lips,
and then gave a little cackling laugh, as if he regarded this as
pleasantry. But the demolition of the literary pretensions of his
family once begun went bravely on.
Abner Sage larnt this hyar boy all he knows, another voice took up
the testimony. Ab 'lows ez his mother war quick at school, but his
dadlaw! I knowed Ebenezer Yerby! He war a frien'ly sorter cuss,
good-nachured an' kind-spoken, but ye could put all the larnin' he hed
in the corner o' yer eye.
An' Lee-yander don't favor none o' ye, observed another of the
undiscriminated, unimportant members of the group, who seemed to the
groping scrutiny of Nehemiah to be only endowed with sufficient
identity to do the rough work of the still, and to become liable to the
Federal law. Thar's Hil'ryhe seen it right off. Hil'ry he tuk a look
at Lee-yander whenst he wanted ter kem an' work along o' we-uns, 'kase
his folks wanted ter take him away from the Sudleys. Hil'ry opened the
furnace doorjes so; an' he cotch the boy by the armthe great
brawny fellow, unconsciously dramatic, suited the action to the word,
his face and figure illumined by the sudden red glowan' Hil'ry, he
say, 'Naw, by Godye hev got yer mother's eyes in yer head, an' I'll
swear ye sha'n't larn ter be a sot!' An' that's how kem Hil'ry made Alf
Bixby take Lee-yander ter work in the mill. Ef ennybody tuk arter him
he war convenient ter disappear down hyar with we-uns. So he went ter
An' I wisht I hed put him in the hopper an' ground him up, said
the miller, in a blood-curdling tone, but with a look of plaintive
anxiety in his eyes. He hev made a heap o' trouble 'twixt Hil'ry an'
me fust an' last. Whar's Hil'ry disappeared to, en-nyways?
For the flare from the furnace showed that this leading spirit
amongst the moonshiners had gone softly out. Nehemiah, whose courage
was dissipated by some subtle influence of his presence, now made bold
to ask, An' what made him ter set store on Lee-yander's mother's
eyes? His tone was as bluffly sarcastic as he dared.
Shucksye mus' hev hearn that old tale, said the miller,
cavalierly. This hyar Malviny Hixonez lived down in Tanglefoot Cove
thenher an' Hil'ry war promised ter marry, but the revenuers captured
himhe war a-runnin' a still in Tanglefoot thenan' they kep' him in
jail somewhar in the North fur five year. Waal, she waited toler'ble
constant fur two or three year, but Ebenezer Yerby he kem a-visitin'
his kin down in Tanglefoot Cove, an' she an' him met at a bran dance,
an' the fust thing I hearn they war married, an' 'fore Hil'ry got back
she war dead an' buried, an' so war Ebenezer.
There was a pause while the flames roared in the furnace, and the
falling water desperately dashed upon the rocks, and its tumultuous
voice continuously pervaded the silent void wildernesses without, and
the sibilant undertone, the lisping whisperings, smote the senses anew.
He met up with cornsider'ble changes fur five year, remarked one
of the men, regarding the matter in its chronological aspect.
Nehemiah said nothing. He had heard the story before, but it had
been forgotten. A worldly mind like his is not apt to burden itself
with the sentimental details of an antenuptial romance of the woman
whom his half-brother had married many years ago.
A persuasion that it was somewhat unduly long-lived impressed others
of the party.
It's plumb cur'us Hil'ry ain't never furgot her, observed one of
them. He hev never married at all. My wife says it's jes
contrariousness. Ef Mal-viny hed been his wife an' died, he'd hev
married agin 'fore the year war out. An' I tell my wife that he'd hev
been better acquainted with her then, an' would hev fund out ez no
woman war wuth mournin' 'bout fur nigh twenty year. My wife says she
can't make out ez how Hil'ry 'ain't got pride enough not ter furgive
her fur givin' him the mitten like she done. An' I tell my wife that
holdin' a gredge agin a woman fur bein' fickle is like holdin' a gredge
agin her fur bein' a woman.
He paused with an air, perceived somehow in the brown dusk, of
having made a very neat point. A stir of assent was vaguely suggested
when some chivalric impulse roused a champion at the farther side of
the worm, whose voice rang out brusquely:
Jes listen at Tom! A body ter hear them tales he tells 'bout
argufyin' with his wife would 'low he war a mighty smart, apt man, an'
the pore foolish 'oman skeercely hed a sensible word ter bless herself
with. When everybody that knows Tom knows he sings mighty small round
home. Ye stopped too soon, Tom. Tell what yer wife said to that.
Tom's embarrassed feet shuffled heavily on the rocks, apparently in
search of subterfuge. The dazzling glintings from the crevices of the
furnace door showed here and there gleaming teeth broadly agrin.
Jes called me a fool in gineral, admitted the man skilled in
An' didn't she 'low ez men folks war fickle too, an' remind ye o'
yer young days whenst ye went a-courtin' hyar an' thar, an' tell over a
string o' gals' names till she sounded like an off'cer callin' the
Ye-es, admitted Tom, thrown off his balance by this preternatural
insight, but all them gals war a-tryin' ter marry menot me tryin'
ter marry them.
There was a guffaw at this modest assertion, but the disaffected
miller's tones dominated the rude merriment.
Whenst a feller takes ter drink folks kin spell out a heap o'
reasons but the true onean' that's 'kase he likes it. Hil'ry 'ain't
never named that 'oman's name ter me, an' I hev knowed him ez well ez
ennybody hyar. Jes t'other day whenst that boy kem, bein' foolish an'
maudlin, he seen suthin' on-common in Lee-yander's eyesthey'll be
mighty oncommon ef he keeps on readin' his tomfool book, ez he knows by
heart, by the firelight when it's dim. Ef folks air so sot agin strong
drink, let 'em drink less tharsefs. Hear Brother Peter Vickers preach
agin liquor, an' ye'd know ez all wine-bibbers air bound fur hell.
But the Bible don't name 'whiskey' once, said the man called Tom,
in an argumentative tone. Low wines I'll gin ye up; he made the
discrimination in accents betokening much reasonable admission; but
nare time does the Bible name whiskey, nor yit peach brandy, nor
Nor cider nor beer, put in an unexpected recruit from the
The miller was silent for a moment, and gave token of succumbing to
this unexpected polemic strength. Then, taking thought and courage
together, Ye can't say the Bible ain't down on 'strong drink'? There
was no answer from the vanquished, and he went on in the overwhelming
miller's voice: Hil'ry hed better be purtectin' his-self from strong
drink, 'stiddier the boyby makin' him stay up thar at the mill whar
he knows thar's no drinkin' goin' onez will git chances at it other
ways, ef not through him, in the long life he hev got ter live. The
las' time the revenuers got Hil'ry 'twar through bein' ez drunk ez a
fraish-biled owl. It makes me powerful oneasy whenever I know ye air
all drunk an' a-gallopadin' down hyar, an' no mo' able to act
reasonable in case o' need an' purtect yersefs agin spies an' revenuers
an' sech 'n nuthin' in this worl'. The las' raid, ye 'member, we hed
the still over yander; he jerked his thumb in the direction present to
his thoughts, but unseen by his coadjutors; a man war wounded, an' we
dun'no' but what killed in the scuffle, an' it mought be a hang-in'
matter ter git caught now. Ye oughter keep sober; an' ye know, Isham,
ye oughter keep Hil'ry sober. I dun'no' why ye can't. I never could
abide the nasty stuffit's enough ter turn a bullfrog's stomach.
Whiskey is good ter sellnot ter drink. Let them consarned idjits in
the flat woods buy it, an' drink it. Whiskey is good ter sellnot ter
This peculiar temperance argument was received in thoughtful
silence, the reason of all the mountaineers commending it, while
certain of them knew themselves and were known to be incapable of
profiting by it.
Nehemiah had scant interest in this conversation. He was conscious
of the strain on his attention as he followed it, that every point of
the situation should be noted, and its utility canvassed at a leisure
moment. He marked the allusion to the man supposed to have been killed
in the skirmish with the raiders, and he appraised its value as
coercion in any altercation that he might have in seeking to take
Leander from his present guardians. But he felt in elation that this
was likely to be of the slightest; the miller evidently found himself
hampered rather than helped by the employment of the boy; and as to the
moonshiner's sentimental partisanship, for the sake of an old
attachment to the dead-and-gone mountain girl, there was hardly
anything in the universe so tenuous as to bear comparison with its
fragility. A few drinks ahead, he said to himself, with a sneer, an'
he won't remember who Malviny Hixon was, ef thar is ennything in the
old talewhich it's more'n apt thar ain't.
He began, after the fashion of successful people, to cavil because
his success was not more complete. How the time was wasting here in
this uncomfortable interlude! Why could he not have discovered
Leander's whereabouts earlier, and by now be jogging along the road
home with the boy by his side? Why had he not bethought himself of the
mill in the first instancethat focus of gossip where all the news of
the countryside is mysteriously garnered and thence dispensed
bounteously to all comers? It was useless, as he fretted and chafed at
these untoward omissions, to urge in his own behalf that he did not
know of the existence of the mill, and that the miller, being an
ungenial and choleric man, might have perversely lent himself to
resisting his demand for the custody of the young runaway. No, he told
himself emphatically, and with good logic, too, the miller's acrimony
rose from the fact of a stranger's discovery of the still and the
danger of his introduction into its charmed circle. And that reflection
reminded him anew of his own danger herenot from the lawless denizens
of the place, but from the forces which he himself had evoked, and
again he glanced out toward the water-fall as fearful of the raiders as
any moonshiner of them all.
But what sudden glory was on the waters, mystic, white, an opaque
brilliance upon the swirling foam and the bounding spray, a crystalline
glitter upon the smooth expanse of the swift cataract! The moon was in
the sky, and its light, with noiseless tread, sought out strange,
lonely places, and illusions were astir in the solitudes. Pensive
peace, thoughts too subtle for speech to shape, spiritual yearnings,
were familiars of the hour and of this melancholy splendor; but he knew
none of them, and the sight gave him no joy. He only thought that this
was a night for the saddle, for the quiet invasion of the woods, when
the few dwellers by the way-side were lost in slumber. He trembled anew
at the thought of the raiders whom he himself had summoned; he forgot
his curses on their laggard service; he upbraided himself again that he
had not earlier made shift to depart by some meansby any
meansbefore the night came with this great emblazoning bold-faced
moon that but prolonged the day; and he started to his feet with a
galvanic jerk and a sharp exclamation when swift steps were heard on
the rocks outside, and a man with the lightness of a deer sprang down
the ledges and into the great arched opening of the place.
'Tain't nobody but Hil'ry, observed Isham Beaton, half in
reproach, half in reassurance. The pervasive light without dissipated
in some degree the gloom within the grotto; a sort of gray visibility
was on the appurtenances and the figures about the still, not strong
enough to suggest color, but giving contour. His fright had been
marked, he knew; a sort of surprised reflectiveness was in the manner
of several of the moonshiners, and Ne-hemiah, with his ready fears,
fancied that this inopportune show of terror had revived their
suspicions of him. It required some effort to steady his nerves after
this, and when footfalls were again audible outside, and all the
denizens of the place sat calmly smoking their pipes without so much as
a movement toward investigating the sound, he, knowing whose steps he
had invited thither, had great ado with the coward within to keep
still, as if he had no more reason to fear an approach than they.
A great jargon in the tone of ecstasy broke suddenly on the air upon
this new entrance, shattering what little composure Nehemiah had been
able to muster; a wide-mouthed exaggeration of welcome in superlative
phrases and ready chorus. Swiftly turning, he saw nothing for a moment,
for he looked at the height which a man's head might reach, and the
new-comer measured hardly two feet in stature, waddled with a very
uncertain gait, and although he bore himself with manifest complacence,
he had evidently heard the like before, as he was jovially hailed by
every ingratiating epithet presumed to be acceptable to his infant
mind. He was attended by a tall, gaunt boy of fifteen, barefooted, with
snaggled teeth and a shock of tow hair, wearing a shirt of unbleached
cotton, and a pair of trousers supported by a single suspender drawn
across a sharp, protuberant shoulder-blade behind and a very narrow
chest in front.
But his face was proud and happy and gleeful, as if he occupied some
post of honor and worldly emolument in attending upon the waddling
wonder on the floor in front of him, instead of being assigned the
ungrateful task of seeing to it that a very ugly baby closely related
to him did not, with the wiliness and ingenuity of infant nature,
invent some method of making away with himself. For he was an
ugly baby as he stood revealed in the flare of the furnace door, thrown
open that his admirers and friends might feast their eyes upon him. His
short wisps of red hair stood straight up in front; his cheeks were
puffy and round, but very rosy; his eyes were small and dark, but
blandly roguish; his mouth was wide and damp, and had in it a small
selection of sample teeth, as it were; he wore a blue checked homespun
dress garnished down the back with big horn buttons, sparsely set on;
he clasped his chubby hands upon a somewhat pompous stomach; he sidled
first to the right, then to the left, in doubt as to which of the
various invitations he should accept.
Kem hyar, Snooks! Right hyar, Toodles! Me hyar, Monkey Doodle!
Hurrah fur the lee-tle-est moonshiner on record! resounded fulsomely
about him. Many were the compliments showered upon him, and if his
flatterers told lies, they had told more wicked ones. The pipes all
went out, and the broken-nosed pitcher languished in disuse as he
trotted from one pair of outstretched arms to another to give an
exhibition of his progress in the noble art of locomotion; and if he
now and again sat down, unexpectedly to himself and to the spectator,
he was promptly put upon his feet again with spurious applause and
encouragement. He gave an exhibition of his dancinga funny little
shuffle of exceeding temerity, considering the facilities at his
command for that agile amusement, but he was made reckless by
praiseand they all lied valiantly in chorus. He repeated all the
words he knew, which were few, and for the most part unintelligible,
crowed like a cock, barked like a dog, mewed like a cat, and finally
went away, his red cheeks yet more ruddily aglow, grave and excited and
with quickly beating pulses, like one who has achieved some great
public success and led captive the hearts of thousands.
The turmoils of his visit and his departure were great indeed. It
all irked Nehemiah Yerby, who had scant toleration of infancy and
little perception of the jocosity of the aspect of callow human nature,
and it seemed strange to him that these men, all with their liberty,
even their existence, jeopardized upon the chances that a moment might
bring forth, could so relax their sense of danger, so disregard the
mandates of stolid common-sense, and give themselves over to the
puerile beguilements of the visitor. The little animal was the son of
one of them, he knew, but he hardly guessed whom until he marked the
paternal pride and content that had made unwontedly placid the brow of
the irate miller while the ovation was in progress. Nehemiah greatly
preferred the adult specimen of the race, and looked upon youth as an
infirmity which would mend only with time. He was easily confused by a
stir; the gurglings, the ticklings, the loud laughter both in the deep
bass of the hosts and the keen treble of the guest had a befuddling
effect upon him; his powers of observation were numbed. As the great,
burly forms shifted to and fro, resuming their former places, the red
light from the open door of the furnace illumining their laughing,
bearded countenances, casting a roseate suffusion upon the white
turmoils of the cataract, and showing the rugged interior of the place
with its damp and dripping ledges, he saw for the first time among them
Leander's slight figure and smiling face; the violin was in his hand,
one end resting on a rock as he tightened a string; his eyes were bent
upon the instrument, while his every motion was earnestly watched by
the would-be fiddler.
Nehemiah started hastily to his feet. He had not expected that the
boy would see him here. To share with one of his own household a secret
like this of aiding in illicit distilling was more than his hardihood
could well contemplate. As once more the contemned ping-pang of the
process of tuning fell upon the air, Leander chanced to lift his eyes.
They smilingly swept the circle until they rested upon his uncle. They
suddenly dilated with astonishment, and the violin fell from his
nerveless hand upon the floor. The surprise, the fear, the repulsion
his face expressed suddenly emboldened Nehemiah. The boy evidently had
not been prepared for the encounter with his relative here. Its only
significance to his mind was the imminence of capture and of being
constrained to accompany his uncle home. He cast a glance of indignant
reproach upon Hilary Tarbetts, who was not even looking at him. The
moonshiner stood filling his pipe with tobacco, and as he deftly
extracted a coal from the furnace to set it alight, he shut the door
with a clash, and for a moment the whole place sunk into invisibility,
the vague radiance vouchsafed to the recesses of the grotto by the
moonbeams on the water without annihilated for the time by the contrast
with the red furnace glare. Nehemiah had a swift fear that in this
sudden eclipse Leander might slip softly out and thus be again lost to
him, but as the dull gray light gradually reasserted itself, and the
figures and surroundings emerged from the gloom, resuming shape and
consistency, he saw Leander still standing where he had disappeared in
the darkness; he could even distinguish his pale face and lustrous
eyes. Leander at least had no intention to shirk explanations.
Why, Uncle Nehemiah! he said, his boyish voice ringing out tense
and excited above the tones of the men, once more absorbed in their
wonted interests. A sudden silence ensued amongst them. What air ye
Waal, ah, Lee-yander, boy Nehemiah hesitated. A half-suppressed
chuckle among the men, whom he had observed to be addicted to
horse-play, attested their relish of the situation. Ridicule is always
of unfriendly intimations, and the sound served to put Nehemiah on his
guard anew. He noticed that the glow in Hilary's pipe was still and
dull: the smoker did not even draw his breath as he looked and
listened. Yerby did not dare avow the true purpose of his presence
after his representations to the moonshiners, and yet he could not, he
would not in set phrase align himself with the illicit vocation. The
boy was too young, too irresponsible, too inimical to his uncle, he
reflected in a sudden panic, to be intrusted with this secret. If in
his hap-hazard, callow folly he should turn informer, he was almost too
young to be amenable to the popular sense of justice. He might, too, by
some accident rather than intention, divulge the important knowledge so
unsuitable to his years and his capacity for guarding it. He began to
share the miller's aversion to the introduction of outsiders to the
still. He felt a glow of indignation, as if he had always been a party
in interest, that the common safety should not be more jealously
guarded. The danger which Leander's youth and inexperience threatened
had not been so apparent to him when he first heard that the boy had
been here, and the menace was merely for the others. As he felt the
young fellow's eyes upon him he recalled the effusive piety of his
conversation at Tyler Sudley's house, his animadversions on
violin-playing and liquor-drinking, and Brother Peter Vickers's mild
and merciful attitude toward sinners in those un-spiced sermons of his,
that held out such affluence of hope to the repentant rather than to
the self-righteous. The blood surged unseen into Nehe-miah's face. For
shame, for very shame he could not confess himself one with these
outcasts. He made a feint of searching in the semi-obscurity for the
rickety chair on which he had been seated, and resumed his former
attitude as Leander's voice once more rang out:
What air ye a-doin' hyar, Uncle Nehemiah?
Jes a-visitin', sonny; jes a-visitin'.
There was a momentary pause, and the felicity of the answer was
demonstrated by another chuckle from the group. His senses, alert to
the emergency, discriminated a difference in the tone. This time the
laugh was with him rather than at him. He noted, too, Leander's
dumfounded pause, and the suggestion of discomfiture in the boy's
lustrous eyes, still widely fixed upon him. As Leander stooped to pick
up the violin he remarked with an incidental accent, and evidently in
default of retort, I be powerful s'prised ter view ye hyar.
Nehemiah smarted under the sense of unmerited reproach; so
definitely aware was he of being out of the character which he had
assumed and worn until it seemed even to him his own, that he felt as
if he were constrained to some ghastly masquerade. Even the society of
the moonshiners as their guest was a reproach to one who had always
piously, and in such involuted and redundant verbiage, spurned the ways
and haunts of the evil-doer. According to the dictates of policy he
should have rested content with his advantage over the silenced lad.
But his sense of injury engendered a desire of reprisal, and he
impulsively carried the war into the enemy's country.
I ain't in no ways s'prised ter view you-uns hyar, Lee-yander, he
said. From the ways, Lee-yander, ez ye hev been brung up by them
slack-twisted Sud-leysungodly folks 'ceptin' what little regeneration
they kin git from the sermons of Brother Peter Vick-ers, who air
onsartain in his mind whether folks ez ain't church-members air goin'
ter be damned or noI ain't s'prised none ter view ye hyar. He
suddenly remembered poor Laurelia's arrogations of special piety, and
it was with exceeding ill will that he added: An' Mis' Sudley in
partic'lar. Ty ain't no great shakes ez a shoutin' Christian. I dun'no'
ez I ever hearn him shout once, but his wife air one o' the reg'lar,
mournful, unrejicing members, always questioning the decrees of
Providence, an' what ain't no nigher salvation, ef the truth war
knowed, 'n a sinner with the throne o' grace yit ter find.
Leander had not picked up the violin; this disquisition had arrested
his hand until his intention was forgotten. He came slowly to the
perpendicular, and his eyes gleamed in the dusk. A vibration of anger
was in his voice as he retorted:
Mebbe somebbe they air sinners; but they'd look powerful comical
Ty Sudley ain't one o' the drinkin' kind, interpolated the miller,
who evidently had the makings of a temperance man. He never sot foot
hyar in his life.
Them ez kem a-visitin' hyar, blustered the boy, full of the
significance of his observations and experience, air either wantin' a
drink or two 'thout payin' fur it, or else air tradin' fur liquor ter
sell, an' that's the same ez moonshinin' in the law.
There was a roar of delight from the circle of lumpish figures about
the still which told the boy that he had hit very near to the mark.
Nehemiah hardly waited for it to subside before he made an effort to
divert Leander's attention.
An' what air you-uns doin' hyar? he demanded. Tit for
Why, bluffly declared Leander, I be a-runnin' away from you-uns.
An' I 'lowed the still war one place whar I'd be sure o' not meetin'
ye. Not ez I hev got ennything agin moonshinin' nuther, he added,
hastily, mindful of a seeming reflection on his refuge. Moonshinin'
is business, though the United States don't seem ter know it. But I
hev hearn ye carry on so pious 'bout not lookin' on the wine whenst it
be red, that I 'lowed ye wouldn't like ter look on the still
whenstwhenst it's yaller. He pointed with a burst of callow
merriment at the big copper vessel, and once more the easily excited
mirth of the circle burst forth irrepressibly.
Encouraged by this applause, Leander resumed: Why, I even
turns my back on the still myself out'n respec' ter the familyCap'n
an' Neighbor bein' so set agin liquor. Cap'n's ekal ter preachin' on it
ef ennything onexpected war ter happen ter Brother Vickers. An' when I
hev ter view it, I look at it sorter cross-eyed. The flickering
line of light from the crevice of the furnace door showed that he was
squinting frightfully, with the much-admired eyes his mother had
bequeathed to him, at the rotund shadow, with the yellow gleams of the
metal barely suggested in the brown dusk. So I tuk ter workin' at the
mill. An' I hev got nuthin' ter do with the still. There was a
pause. Then, with a strained tone of appeal in his voice, for a future
with Uncle Nehe-miah had seemed very terrible to him, So ye warn't
a-sarchin' hyar fur me, war ye, Uncle Nehemiah?
Nehemiah was at a loss. There is a peculiar glutinous quality in the
resolve of a certain type of character which is not allied to
steadfastness of purpose, nor has it the enlightened persistence of
obstinacy. In view of his earlier account of his purpose he could not
avow his errand; it bereft him of naught to disavow it, for Uncle
Nehemiah was one of those gifted people who, in common parlance, do not
mind what they say. Yet his reluctance to assure Lean-der that he was
not the quarry that had led him into these wilds so mastered him, the
spurious relinquishment had so the aspect of renunciation, that he
hesitated, started to speak, again hesitated, so palpably that Hilary
Tarbetts felt impelled to take a hand in the game.
Why don't ye sati'fy the boy, Yerby? he said, brusquely. He took
his pipe out of his mouth and turned to Leander. Naw, bub. He's jes
tradin' fur bresh whiskey, that's all; he's sorter skeery 'bout bein' a
wild-catter, an' he didn't want ye ter know it.
The point of red light, the glow of his pipe, the only exponent of
his presence in the dusky recess where he sat, shifted with a quick,
decisive motion as he restored it to his lips.
The blood rushed to Nehemiah's head; he was dizzy for a moment; he
heard his heart thump heavily; he saw, or he fancied he saw, the
luminous distention of Leander's eyes as this Goliath of his battles
was thus delivered into his hands. To meet him here proved nothing; the
law was not violated by Nehemiah in the mere knowledge that illicit
whiskey was in process of manufacture; a dozen different errands might
have brought him. But this statement put a sword, as it were, into the
boy's hands, and he dared not deny it.
'Pears ter me, he blurted out at last, ez ye air powerful slack
with yer jaw.
Lee-yander ain't, coolly returned Tarbetts. He knows all thar is
ter know 'bout we-unsan' why air ye not ter share our per'ls?
I ain't likely ter tell, Leander jocosely reassured him. But I
can't help thinkin' how it would rejice that good Christian 'oman,
Cap'n Sudley, ez war made ter set on sech a low stool 'bout my pore old
And thus reminded of the instrument, he picked it up, and once more,
with the bow held aloft in his hand, he dexterously twanged the
strings, and with his deft fingers rapidly and discriminatingly turned
the screws, this one up and that one down. The earnest would-be
musician, who had languished while the discussion was in progress, now
plucked up a freshened interest, and begged that the furnace door might
be set ajar to enable him to watch the process of tuning and perchance
to detect its subtle secret. No objection was made, for the still was
nearly empty, and arrangements tending to replenishment were beginning
to be inaugurated by several of the men, who were examining the mash in
tubs in the further recesses of the place. They were lighted by a
lantern which, swinging to and fro as they moved, sometimes so swiftly
as to induce a temporary fluctuation threatening eclipse, suggested in
the dusk the erratic orbit of an abnormally magnified fire-fly. It
barely glimmered, the dullest point of white light, when the rich flare
from the opening door of the furnace gushed forth and the whole rugged
interior was illumined with its color. The inadequate moonlight fell
away; the chastened white splendor on the foam of the cataract, the
crystalline glitter, timorously and elusively shifting, were
annihilated; the swiftly descending water showed from within only a
continuously moving glow of yellow light, all the brighter from the
dark-seeming background of the world glimpsed without. A wind had
risen, unfelt in these recesses and on the weighty volume of the main
sheet of falling water, but at its verge the fitful gusts diverted its
downward course, tossing slender jets aslant, and sending now and again
a shower of spray into the cavern. Nehemiah remembered his rheumatism
with a shiver. The shadows of the men, instead of an unintelligible
comminglement with the dusk, were now sharp and distinct, and the light
grotesquely duplicated them till the cave seemed full of beings who
were not there a moment beforestrange gnomes, clumsy and burly, slow
of movement, but swift and mysterious of appearance and disappearance.
The beetling ledges here and there imprinted strong black similitudes
of their jagged contours on the floor; with the glowing, weird
illumination the place seemed far more uncanny than before, and
Leander, with his face pensive once more in response to the gentle
strains slowly elicited by the bow trembling with responsive ecstasy,
his large eyes full of dreamy lights, his curling hair falling about
his cheek as it rested upon the violin, his figure, tall and slender
and of an adolescent grace, might have suggested to the imagination a
reminiscence of Orpheus in Hades. They all listened in languid
pleasure, without the effort to appraise the music or to compare it
with other performancesthe bane of more cultured audiences; only the
ardent amateur, seated close at hand on a bowlder, watched the bowing
with a scrutiny which betokened earnest anxiety that no mechanical
trick might elude him. The miller's half-grown son, whose ear for any
fine distinctions in sound might be presumed to have been destroyed by
the clamors of the mill, sat a trifle in the background, and sawed away
on an imaginary violin with many flourishes and all the exaggerations
of mimicry; he thus furnished the zest of burlesque relished by the
devotees of horse-play and simple jests, and was altogether unaware
that he had a caricature in his shadow just behind him, and was doing
double duty in making both Leander and himself ridiculous. Sometimes he
paused in excess of interest when the music elicited an amusement more
to his mind than the long-drawn, pathetic cadences which the violinist
so much affected. For in sudden changes of mood and in effective
contrast the tones came showering forth in keen, quick staccato, every
one as round and distinct as a globule, but as unindividualized in the
swift exuberance of the whole as a drop in a summer's rain; the bow was
but a glancing line of light in its rapidity, and the bounding movement
of the theme set many a foot astir marking time. At last one young
fellow, an artist too in his way, laid aside his pipe and came out to
dance. A queer pas seul it might have been esteemed, but he was
light and agile and not ungraceful, and he danced with an air of
elationalbeit with a grave facewhich added to the enjoyment of the
spectator, for it seemed so slight an effort. He was long-winded, and
was still bounding about in the double-shuffle and the pigeon-wing, his
shadow on the wall nimbly following every motion, when the violin's
cadence quavered off in a discordant wail, and Leander, the bow pointed
at the waterfall, exclaimed: Look out! Somebody's thar! Out thar on
[Illustration: Look out! Somebody's thar! 313]
It was upon the instant, with the evident intention of a surprise,
that a dozen armed men rushed precipitately into the place. Nehemiah,
his head awhirl, hardly distinguished the events as they were
confusedly enacted before him. There were loud, excited calls,
unintelligible, mouthing back in the turbulent echoes of the place, the
repeated word Surrender! alone conveying meaning to his mind. The
sharp, succinct note of a pistol-shot was a short answer. Some quick
hand closed the door of the furnace and threw the place into protective
gloom. He was vaguely aware that a prolonged struggle that took place
amongst a group of men near him was the effort of the intruders to
reopen it. All unavailing. He presently saw figures drawing back to the
doorway out of the mêlée, for moonshiner and raider were alike
indistinguishable, and he became aware that both parties were equally
desirous to gain the outer air. Once more pistol-shotsoutside this
timethen a tumult of frenzied voices. Struck by a pistol-ball,
Tarbetts had fallen from the ledge under the weight of the cataract and
into the deep abysses below. The raiders were swiftly getting to saddle
again. Now and then a crack mountain shot drew a bead upon them from
the bushes; but mists were gathering, the moon was uncertain, and the
flickering beams deflected the aim. Two or three of the horses lay dead
on the river-bank, and others carried double, ridden by men with
riddled hats. They were in full retreat, for the catastrophe on the
ledge of the cliff struck dismay to their hearts. Had the man been
shot, according to the expectation of those who resist arrest, this
would be merely the logical sequence of events. But to be hurled from,
a crag into a cataract savored of atrocity, and they dreaded the
reprisals of capture.
It was soon over. The whole occurrence, charged with all the
definitiveness of fate, was scant ten minutes in transition. A laggard
hoof-beat, a faint echo amidst the silent gathering of the moonlit
mists, and the loud plaint of Hoho-hebee Falls were the only sounds
that caught Nehemiah's anxious ear when he crept out from behind the
empty barrels and tremulously took his way along the solitary ledges,
ever and anon looking askance at his shadow, that more than once
startled him with a sense of unwelcome companionship. The mists, ever
thickening, received him into their midst. However threatening to the
retreat of the raiders, they were friendly to him. Once, indeed, they
parted, showing through the gauzy involutions of their illumined folds
the pale moon high in the sky, and close at hand a horse's head just
above his own, with wild, dilated eyes and quivering nostrils. Its
effect was as detached as if it were only drawn upon a canvas; the
mists rolled over anew, and but that he heard the subdued voice of the
rider urging the animal on, and the thud of the hoofs farther away, he
might have thought this straggler from the revenue party some wild
illusion born of his terrors.
The fate of Hilary Tarbetts remained a mystery. When the stream was
dragged for his body it was deemed strange that it should not be found,
since the bowlders that lay all adown the rocky gorge so interrupted
the sweep of the current that so heavy a weight seemed likely to be
caught amongst them. Others commented on the strength and great
momentum of the flow, and for this reason it was thought that in some
dark underground channel of Hide-and-Seek Creek the moonshiner had
found his sepulchre. A story of his capture was circulated after a
time; it was supposed that he dived and swam ashore after his fall, and
that the raiders overtook him on their retreat, and that he was now
immured, a Federal prisoner. The still and all the effects of the
brush-whiskey trade disappeared as mysteriously, and doubtless this
silent flitting gave rise to the hopeful rumor that Tarbetts had been
seen alive and well since that fateful night, and that in some farther
recesses of the wilderness, undiscovered by the law, he and like
comrades continue their chosen vocation. However that may be, the
vicinity of Hoho-hebee Falls, always a lonely place, is now even a
deeper solitude. The beavers, unmolested, haunt the ledges; along their
precipitous ways the deer come down to drink; on bright days the
rainbow hovers about the falls; on bright nights they glimmer in the
moon; but never again have they glowed with the shoaling orange light
of the furnace, intensifying to the deep tawny tints of its hot heart,
like the rich glamours of some great topaz.
This alien glow it was thought had betrayed the place to the
raiders, and Nehemiah's instrumentality was never discovered. The
post-office appointment was bestowed upon his rival for the position,
and it was thought somewhat strange that he should endure the defeat
with such exemplary resignation. No one seemed to connect his candidacy
with his bootless search for his nephew. When Leander chanced to be
mentioned, however, he observed with some rancor that he reckoned it
was just as well he didn't come up with Lee-yander; there was generally
mighty little good in a runaway boy, and Lee-yander had the name of
being disobejent an' turr'ble bad.
Leander found a warm welcome at home. His violin had been broken in
the mêlée, and the miller, though ardently urged, never could
remember the spot where he had hidden the booksuch havoc had the
confusion of that momentous night wrought in his mental processes.
Therefore, unhampered by music or literature, Leander addressed himself
to the plough-handles, and together that season he and Neighbor made
the best crop of their lives.
Laurelia sighed for the violin and Leander's music, though, as she
always made haste to say, some pious people misdoubted whether it were
not a sinful pastime. On such occasions it went hard with Leander not
to divulge his late experiences and the connection of the pious Uncle
Nehemiah therewith. But he always remembered in time Laurelia's
disability to receive confidences, being a woman, and consequently
unable to keep a secret, and he desisted.
One day, however, when he and Ty Sudley, ploughing the corn, now
knee-high, were pausing to rest in the turn-row, a few furrows apart,
in an ebullition of filial feeling he told all that had befallen him in
his absence. Ty Sudley, divided between wrath toward Nehemiah and
quaking anxiety for the dangers that Leander had been constrained to
runex post facto tremors, but none the less acutefelt moved
now and then to complacence in his prodigy.
So 'twar you-uns ez war smart enough ter slam the furnace
door an' throw the whole place inter darkness! That saved them
moonshiners and raiders from killin' each other. It saved a deal o'
bloodshedez sure ez shootin'! 'Twar mighty smart in ye.
Butsuddenly bethinking himself of sundry unfilial gibes at Uncle
Nehemiah and the facetious account of his plightLee-yander, ye
mustn't be so turr'ble bad, sonny; ye mustn't be so turr'ble
Naw, ma'am, Neighbor, I won't, Leander protested.
And he went on following the plough down the furrow and singing loud