The Mystery of Witch-Face Mountain and Other Stories
by Charles Egbert Craddock
THE MYSTERY OF WITCH-FACE MOUNTAIN
CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK
THE MYSTERY OF WITCH-FACE
AND OTHER STORIES
CHARLES EGBERT CRADDOCK
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
The Riverside Press, Cambridge
BY MARY N. MURFREE.
All rights reserved.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.
Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton &Co.
THE MYSTERY OF
TAKING THE BLUE
RIBBON AT THE
THE MYSTERY OF WITCH-FACE MOUNTAIN.
The beetling crags that hang here and there above the gorge hold in
their rugged rock sculpture no facial similitudes, no suggestions. The
jagged outlines of shelving bluffs delineate no gigantic profile
against the sky beyond. One might seek far and near, and scan the vast
slope with alert and expectant gaze, and view naught of the semblance
that from time immemorial has given the mountain its name. Yet the
imagination needs but scant aid when suddenly the elusive simulacrum is
revealed to the eye. In a certain slant of the diurnal light, even on
bright nights at the full of the moon, sometimes in the uncanny
electric flicker smitten from a storm-cloud, a gigantic peaked sinister
face is limned on the bare, sandy slope, so definite, with such fixity
of lineament, that one is amazed that the perception of it came no
earlier, and is startled when it disappears.
Disappearing as completely as a fancy, few there are who have ever
seen it who have not climbed from the herder's trail across the narrow
wayside stream and up the rugged mountain slopes to the spot where it
became visible. There disappointment awaits the explorer. One finds a
bare and sterile space, from which the hardy chickweed can scarcely
gain the sustenance for timorous sproutings; a few outcropping rocks; a
series of transverse gullies here and there, washed down to deep
indentations; above the whole a stretch of burnt, broken timber that
goes by the name of fire-scald, and is a relic of the fury of the
fire which was set out in the woods with the mission to burn only the
leaves and undergrowth, and which, in its undisciplined strength,
transcended its instructions, as it were, and destroyed great trees.
And this is all. But once more, at a coigne of vantage on the opposite
side of the gorge, and the experience can be utilized in
differentiating the elements that go to make up the weird presentment
of a human countenance. It is the fire-scald that suggests the great
peaked brown hood; the oblong sandy stretch forms the pallid face; the
ledges outline the nose and chin and brow; the eyes look out from the
deep indentations where the slope is washed by the currents of the
winter rains; and here and there the gullies draw heavy lines and
wrinkles. And when the wind is fresh and the clouds scud before it, in
the motion of their shadows the face will seem to mow at the observer,
until the belief comes very readily that it is the exact counterpart of
a witch's face.
Always the likeness is pointed out and insisted on by the denizens
of Witch-Face Mountain, as if they had had long and intimate
acquaintance with that sort of unhallowed gentry, and were especially
qualified to pronounce upon the resemblance.
Ain't it jes' like 'em, now? Ain't it the very moral of a witch?
Constant Hite demanded, one gusty day, when the shadows were a-flicker
in the sun, and the face seemed animated by the malice of mockery or
mirth, as he pointed it out to his companion with a sort of triumph in
its splenetic contortions.
He was a big, bluff fellow, to whose pride all that befell him
seemed to minister. He was proud of his length of limb, and his hundred
and eighty pounds of weight, and yet his slim appearance. Ye wouldn't
believe it now, would ye? he was wont to say when he stepped off the
scales at the store of the hamlet down in the Cove. It's solid meat
an' bone an' muscle, my boy. Keep on the friendly side of one hunderd
an' eighty, with a challenging wink. He was proud of his bright brown
eyes, and his dark hair and mustache, and smiling, handsome face, and
his popularity among the class that he was pleased to denominate gal
critters. He piqued himself upon his several endowments as a hardy
woodsman, his endurance, his sylvan craft, his pluck, and his luck and
his accurate aim. The buckall gray and antlered, for it was
Augustthat hung across the horse, behind the saddle, gave token of
this keen exactitude in the tiny wound at the base of the ear, where
the rifle-ball had entered to pierce the brain; it might seem to the
inexpert that death had come rather from the gaping knife-stroke across
the throat, which was, however, a mere matter of butcher-craft. He was
proud of the good strong bay horse that he rode, which so easily
carried double, and proud of his big boots and long spurs; and he
scorned flimsy town clothes, and thought that good home-woven blue
jeans was the gear in which a man who was a man should clothe himself
withal. He glanced more than once at the different toggery of his
companion, evidently a man of cities, whom he had chanced to meet by
the wayside, and with whom he had journeyed more than a mile.
He had paused again and again to point out the witch-face to the
stranger, who at first could not discern it at all, and then when it
suddenly broke upon him could not be wiled away from it. He dismounted,
hitching his horse to a sapling, and up and down he patrolled the rocky
mountain path to study the face at various angles; Constant Hite
looking on the while with an important placid satisfaction, as if he
had invented the illusion.
Some folks, though, can't abide sech ez witches, he said, with a
tolerant smile, as if he were able to defy their malevolence and make
light of it. Ye see that cabin on the spur over yander around the
bend? It looked very small and solitary from this height, and the rail
fences about its scanty inclosures hardly reached the dignity of
suggesting jackstraws. Waal, the Hanways over thar hev a full view of
the old witch enny time she will show up at all. Folks in the mountings
'low the day be onlucky when she appears on the slope thar. The old
folks at Hanway's will talk 'bout it cornsider'ble ef ye set 'em goin';
they hev seen thar time, an' it rests 'em some ter tell 'bout'n the
spites they hev hed that they lay ter the witch-face.
The ugly fascination of the witch-face had laid hold, too, on the
stranger. Twice he had sought to photograph it, and Constant Hite had
watched him with an air of lenient indulgence to folly as he pottered
about, now adjusting his camera, now changing his place anew.
And I believe I have got the whole amount of nothing at all, he
said at last, looking up breathlessly at the mountaineer. Albeit the
wind was fresh and the altitude great, the sun was hot on the unshaded
red clay path, and the nimble gyrations of the would-be artist brought
plentiful drops to his brow. He took off his straw hat, and mopped his
forehead with his handkerchief, while he stared wistfully at the siren
of his fancy, grimacing maliciously at him from the slope above. If
the confounded old woman would hold still, and not disappear so
suddenly at the wrong minute, I'd have had her charming physiognomy all
correct. I believe I've spoiled my plates,that's all. And once more
he mopped his bedewed forehead.
He was a man of thirty-five, perhaps, of the type that will never
look old or grow perceptibly gray. His hair was red and straight, and
cut close to his head. He had a long mustache of the same sanguine
tint. The sun had brought the blood near the surface of his thin skin,
and he looked hot and red, and thoroughly exasperated. His brown eyes
were disproportionately angry, considering the slight importance of his
enterprise. He was evidently a man of keen, quick temper, easily
aroused and nervous. His handsome, well-groomed horse was fractious,
and difficult for so impatient a rider to control. His equestrian
outfit once more attracted the covert glance of Con Hite, whose
experience and observation could duplicate no such attire. He was tall,
somewhat heavily built, and altogether a sufficiently stalwart specimen
of the genus town man.
I'll tell you what I'll do! he exclaimed suddenly. I'll sketch
the whole scene!
Now you're shoutin', said Con Hite capably, as if he had always
advocated this method of solving the difficulty. His interlocutor could
not for a moment have dreamed that he had never before seen a camera,
had never heard of a photograph, had not the least idea of what the
process of sketching might be which he so boldly approved; nay, the
very phrase embodying his encouragement of the project was foreign to
his vocabulary,a bit of sophisticated slang which he had adopted from
his companion's conversation, and readily assimilated.
You stay just where you are! cried the stranger, his enthusiasm
rising to the occasion; just that pose,that pose precisely.
He ran swiftly across the path to remove the inefficient camera from
the foreground, and in a moment was seated on a log by the wayside, his
quick eye scanning the scene: the close file of the ranges about the
horizon, one showing above another, and one more faintly blue than
another, for thus the distance was defined; then the amphitheatre of
the Cove, the heavy bronze-green slopes of the mountains, all with
ripple marks of clear chrome-green ruffling in the wake of the wind; in
the middle distance the still depths of the valley below, with shadows
all a-slumber and silent, and on the projecting spur the quiet, lonely
little house, so slight a suggestion of the presence of man amidst the
majestic dominance of nature; here, to the right, across the savage
gorge, with its cliffs and with its currents in the deep trough, the
nearest slope of the mountain, with the great gaunt bare space showing
that face of ill omen, sibylline, sinister, definite indeed,he
wondered how his eyes were holden that he should not have discerned it
at once; and in the immediate foreground the equestrian figure of the
mountaineer, booted and spurred, the very moral, as Hite would have
called it, of an athlete, with his fine erect pose distinct against the
hazy perspective, his expression of confident force, the details of his
handsome features revealed by the brim of his wide black hat turned up
It's a big subject, I know; I can't get it all in. I shall only
suggest it. Just keep that pose, will you? Hold the horse still. 'Stand
the storm, it won't be long!' the artist said, smiling with renewed
satisfaction as his pencil, not all inapt, went briskly to work on the
horizontal lines of the background.
But it was longer than he had thought, so still sat the
contemplative mountaineer, so alluring were the details of the
landscape. The enthusiasm of the amateur is always a more urgent motive
power than the restrained and utilitarian industry of the professional.
Few sworn knights of the crayon would have sat sketching so long in
that temperature as he did, with the sun blazing through his straw hat
and his blood mustering under his thin skin; but he stopped at a point
short of sunstroke, and it was with a tumultuous sense of success that
he at last arose, and, with the sketch-book still open, walked across
the road and laid it on the pommel of the mountaineer's saddle.
Constant Hite took it up suspiciously and looked at it askance. It
is to be doubted if ever before he had seen a picture, unless perchance
in the primary reading-book of his callow days at the public school,
spasmodically opened at intervals at the church house in the Cove. He
continued to gravely gaze at the sketch, held sideways and almost
reversed, for some moments.
Bless Gawd! hyar's Whitefoot's muzzle jes' ez nat'ralan' Me
waal, sir! don't I look proud! he cried suddenly, with a note
of such succulent vanity, so finely flavored a pride, that the stranger
could but laugh at the zest of his triumph.
Do you see the witch-face? he demanded.
Hesh! hesh! cried the mountaineer hilariously. Don't 'sturb me
'bout yer witch-face. Ef thar ain't the buck,yes, toler'ble fat,an'
with all his horns! An' look at my boot,actially the spur on it! An'
my hat turned up; he raised his flattered hand to the brim as if to
verify its position.
You didn't know you were so good looking, hey? suggested the
amused town man.
My Lord, naw! declared Hite, laughing at himself, yet laughing
delightedly. I dunno how the gals make out to do without me at
The pleased artist laughed, too. Well, hand it over, he said, as
he reached out for the book. We must be getting out of this sun. I'm
not used to it, you see.
He put his foot in the stirrup as he spoke, and as he swung himself
into the saddle the mountaineer reluctantly closed and relinquished the
book. I'd like ter see it agin, some time or other, he observed.
He remembered this wish afterward, and how little he then imagined
where and in what manner he was destined to see it again.
They rode on together into the dense woods, leaving the wind and the
sunshine and the flying clouds fluctuating over the broad expanse of
the mountains, and the witch-face silently mowing and grimacing at the
world below, albeit seen by no human being except perchance some
dweller at the little house on the spur, struck aghast by this
unwelcome apparition evoked by the necromancy of the breeze and the
sheen and the shadow, marking this as an unlucky day.
That's right smart o' a cur'osity, ain't it? said Constant Hite
complacently, as they jogged along. When the last gover'mint survey
fellers went through hyar, they war plumb smitten by the ole 'oman, an'
spent cornsider'ble time a-stare-gazin' at her. They 'lowed they hed
never seen the beat.
What was the survey for? asked the town man, with keen mundane
Constant Hite was rarely at a loss. When other men were fain to come
to a pause for the lack of information, the resources of his agile
substitutions and speculations were made manifest. They war jes'
runnin' a few lines hyar an' thar, he said negligently. They lef'
some tall striped poles planted in the ground, red an' sich colors, ter
mark the way; an' them mounting folks over yander in the furderest
coves,they air powerful ahint the times,they hed never hearn o'
sech ez a survey, noway, an' the poles jes' 'peared ter them sprung up
thar like Jonah's gourd in a single night, ez ef they kem from seed;
an' the folks, they 'lowed 't war the sign o' a new war. He laughed
lazily at the uninstructed terrors of the unsophisticated denizens of
the furderest coves. They'd gather around an' stare-gaze at the
poles, an' wonder if they'd hev ter fight the Rebs agin; them folks is
mos'ly Union. Then his interest in the subject quickening, Them
survey fellers, they ondertook, too, ter medjure the tallness o' some
o' the mountings fur the gover'mint. Now what good is that goin' ter do
the Nunited States? he resumed grudgingly. The mountings kin be
medjured by the eye,look a-yander. He pointed with the end of his
whip at a section of the horizon, visible between the fringed and
low-swaying boughs of hemlock and fir as the trail swept closer to the
verge of the range, on which was softly painted, as on ivory and with
an enameled lustre, two or three great azure domes, with here and there
the high white clouds of a clear day nestling flakelike on the summits.
They air jes' all-fired high, an' that's all. Do it make 'em seem enny
taller ter say they air six thousand or seben thousand feet? Man ain't
used ter medjurin' by the thousand feet. When he gits ter the ground he
goes by the pole. I dunno how high nor how long a thousand feet air.
The gover'mint jes' want ter spend a leetle money, I reckon. It 'pears
toler'ble weak-kneed in its mind, wunst in a while. But ef it wants ter
fool money away, it's mighty well able ter afford sech. It hev got a
power o' ways a-comin' at money,we all know that, we all know that.
He said this with a gloomy inflection and a downward look that might
have implied a liability for taxes beyond his willingness to pay. But,
barring the assessment on a small holding of mountain land, Constant
Hite seemed in case to contribute naught to his country's exchequer.
It needs all it can get, now, replied the stranger casually, but
doubtless from a sophisticated knowledge, as behooved a reader of the
journals of the day, of the condition of the treasury.
He could not account for the quick glance of alarm and enmity which
the mountaineer cast upon him. It roused in him a certain constraint
which he had not experienced earlier in their chance association. It
caused him to remember that this was a lonely way and a wild country.
He was an alien to the temper and sentiment of the people. He felt
suddenly that sense of distance in mind and spirit which is the true
isolation of the foreigner, and which even an identity of tongue and
kindred cannot annul. Looking keenly into the mountaineer's
half-averted, angry, excited face, he could not for his life discern
how its expression might comport with the tenor of the casual
conversation which had elicited it. He did not even dimly surmise that
his allusion to the finances of the government could be construed as a
justification of the whiskey tax, generally esteemed in the mountains a
measure of tyrannous oppression; that from his supposititious advocacy
of it he had laid himself liable to the suspicion of being himself of
the revenue force,his mission here to spy out moonshiners; that his
companion's mind was even now dwelling anew, and with a rueful
difference, on that masterly drawing of himself in the stranger's
But what do that prove, though? Hite thought, a certain hope
springing up with the joy of the very recollection of the simulacrum of
the brilliant rural coxcomb adorning the page. Jes' that me is Me. All he kin say 'bout me air that hyar I be goin' home from huntin' ter
kerry my game. That ain't agin the law, surely.
The revenuers, he argued, too, never rode alone, as did this man,
and spies and informers were generally of the vicinage. The stranger
was specially well mounted, and as his puzzled cogitation over the
significant silence that had supervened between them became so marked
as to strike Hite's attention, the mountaineer sought to nullify it by
an allusion to the horse. That feller puts down his feet like a
kitten, he said admiringly. I never seen nuthin' ez wears shoes so
supple. Shows speed, I s'pose? Built fur it.
Makes pretty fair time, responded the stranger without enthusiasm.
The doubt, perplexity, and even suspicion which his companion's manner
had evoked were not yet dissipated, and the allusion to the horse, and
the glow of covetous admiration in Hite's face as his eyes dwelt upon
the finely fashioned creature so deftly moving along, brought suddenly
to his mind sundry exploits of a gang of horse-thieves about these
coves and mountains, detailed in recent newspapers. These rumors had
been esteemed by urban communities in general as merely sensational,
and had attracted scant attention. Now, with their recurrence to his
recollection, their verisimilitude was urged upon him. The horse he
rode was a valuable animal, and moreover, here, ten or twenty miles
from a habitation, would prove a shrewd loss indeed. Nevertheless, it
was impossible to shake off or evade his companion; the wilderness,
with its jungle of dense rhododendron undergrowth on either side of the
path, was impenetrable. There was no alternative practicable. He could
only go on and hope for the best.
A second glance at the mountaineer's honest face served in some sort
as reassurance as to the probity of his character. Gradually a vivid
interest in the environment, which had earlier amazed and amused
Constant Hite, began to be renewed. The stranger looked about to
identify the growths of the forest with a keen, fresh enthusiasm, as if
he were meeting old friends. Once, with a sudden flush and an intent
eye, he flung the reins to the man whom he had half suspected of being
a horse-thief ten minutes before, to hastily dismount and uproot a tiny
wayside weed, which he breathlessly and triumphantly explained to the
wondering mountaineer was a rare plant which he had never seen; he
carefully bestowed it between the leaves of his sketch-book before he
resumed the saddle, and Hite was moved to ask, How d' ye know its
durned comical name, ef ye never seen it afore? By Gosh! it's got a
name longer 'n its tap-root!
The town man only laughed a trifle at this commentary upon the
botanical Latin nomenclature, and once more he was leaning from his
saddle, peering down the aisles of the forest with a smiling, expectant
interest, as if they held for him some enchantment of which duller
mortals have no ken. A brown geode, picked up in the channel of a
summer-dried stream, showed an interior of sparkling quartz crystal,
when a blow had shattered it, which Hite had never suspected, often as
he had seen the rugged spherical stones lying along the banks. All the
rocks had a thought for the stranger, close to his heart and quick on
his tongue, and as Hite, half skeptical, half beguiled, listened, his
suspicion of the man as a revenuer began to fade.
The revenuers ain't up ter no sech l'arnin' ez this, he said to
himself, with a vicarious pride. The man, though he never war in the
mountings afore, knows ez much about 'em ez ef he hed bodaciously built
'em. Fairly smelt that thar cave over t' other side the ridge jes' now,
I reckon; else how'd he know 't war thar?
A certain hollow reverberation beneath the horse's hoofs had caught
his companion's quick ear. Have you ever been in this cave hereabout?
he had asked, to Hite's delighted amazement at this brilliant feat of
mental jugglery, as it seemed to him.
Even the ground, when the repetitious woods held no new revelation
of tree or flower, or hazy, flickering insect dandering through the
yellow sunshine and the olive-tinted shadow and the vivid green
foliage, the very ground had a word for him.
This formation here, he said, leaning from his saddle to watch the
path slipping along beneath his horse's hoofs, like the unwinding of
coils of brown ribbon, is like that witch-face slope that we saw
awhile ago. It seems to occur at long intervals in patches. You see
down that declivity how little grows, how barren.
The break in the density of the woods served to show the mountains,
blue and purple and bronze, against the horizon; an argosy of white
clouds under full sail; the Cove, shadowy, slumberous, so deep down
below; and the oak leaves above their heads, all dark and sharply
dentated against the blue.
Hite had suddenly drawn in his horse. An eager light was in his eye,
a new idea in his mind. He felt himself on the verge of imminent
Now, said he, lowering his voice mysteriously, and laying his hand
on the bridle of the other's horse,and so far had the allurements of
science outstripped merely mundane considerations that the stranger's
recent doubts and anxieties touching his animal were altogether
forgotten, and he was conscious only of a responsive expectant
interest,air thar ennything in that thar 'formation,' ez ye calls it
ez could gin out fire?
No, certainly not, said the man of science, surprised, and marking
the eager, insistent look in Hite's eyes. Both horses were at a
standstill now. A jay-bird clanged out its wild woodsy cry from the
dense shadows of a fern-brake far in the woods on the right, and they
heard the muffled trickling of water, falling on mossy stones hard by,
from a spring so slight as to be only a silver thread. The trees far
below waved in the wind, and a faint dryadic sibilant singing sounded a
measure or so, and grew fainter in the lulling of the breeze, and sunk
Ennyhow, persisted Hite, won't sech yearth gin out light
somehows,in some conditions sech ez ye talk 'bout? he added vaguely.
Spontaneously? Certainly not, the stranger replied, preserving his
erect pose of inquiring and expectant attention.
Why, then the mounting's 'witched sure enough,that's all, said
Hite desperately. He cast off his hold on the stranger's horse, caught
up his reins anew, and made ready to fare onward forthwith.
Does fire ever show there? demanded his companion wonderingly.
It's a plumb meracle, it's a plumb mystery, declared Constant
Hite, as they went abreast into the dense shadow of the closing woods.
I asked ye this 'kase ez ye 'peared ter sense so much in rocks, an'
weeds, an' birds, an' sile, what ain't revealed ter the mortal eye in
gineral, ye mought be able ter gin some nateral reason fur that thar
sile up thar round the old witch-face ter show fire or sech. But it's
beyond yer knowin' or the knowin' o' enny mortal, I reckon.
How does the fire show? persisted the man of science, with keen
and attentive interest. And who has seen it?
Stranger, said Hite, lowering his voice, I hev viewed it, myself.
But fust it war viewed by the Hanways,them ez lives in that house on
the spur what prongs out o' the range nigh opposite the slope o' the
Witch-Face. One dark night,thar war no moon, but thar warn't no
storm, jes' a dull clouded black sky, ez late August weather will show
whenst it be heavy an' sultry,all of a suddenty, ez the Hanway fambly
war settin' on the porch toler'ble late in the night, the air bein'
close in the house, the darter, Narcissa by name, she calls out, 'Look!
look! I see the witch-face!' An' they all start up an' stare over
acrost the deep black gorge. An' thar, ez true ez life, war the
witch-face glimmerin' in the midst o' the black night, and agrinnin' at
'em an' a-mockin' at 'em, an' lighted up ez ef by fire.
And did no one discover the origin of the fire? asked the
Thar war no fire! Constant Hite paused impressively. Then he went
on impulsively, full of his subject: Ben Hanway kem over ter the
still-house arter me, an' tergether we went ter examinate. But the
bresh is powerful thick, an' the way is long, an' though we seen a
flicker wunst or twict ez we-uns pushed through the deep woods, 't war
daybreak 'fore we got thar, an' nare sign nor smell o' fire in all the
woods could we find; nare scorch nor singe on the ground, not even a
burnt stick or chunk ter tell the tale; everythin' ez airish an' cool
an' jewy an' sweet ter the scent ez a summer mornin' is apt ter be.
How often has this phenomenon occurred? said the stranger coolly,
but with a downcast, thoughtful eye and a pursed-up lip, as if he were
less surprised than cogitating.
Twict only, fur we hev kep' an eye on the old witch, Ben an' me.
Ben wants a road opened out up hyar, stiddier jes' this herder's trail
through the woods. Ben dunno how it mought strike folks ef they war ter
know ez the witch-face hed been gin over ter sech cur'ous ways all of a
suddenty. They mought take it fur a sign agin the road, sech ez
b'lieves in the witch-face givin' bad luck. After a pause, Then I
viewed it wunst,wunst in the dead o' the night. I war goin' home from
the still, an' I happened ter look up, an' I seen the witch-face,the
light jes' dyin' out, jes' fadin' out. She didn't hev time ter make
more 'n two or three faces at me, an' then she war gone in the night.
It's a turr'ble-lookin' thing at night, stranger. So ye can't tell what
makes it,the sile, or what?
He turned himself quite sideways as he spoke, one hand on the
carcass of the deer behind the saddle, the other on his horse's neck,
the better to face his interlocutor and absorb his scientific
speculations. And in that moment an odd idea occurred to him,nay, a
conviction. He perceived that his companion knew and understood the
origin of the illumination; and more,that he would not divulge it.
The soil? Assuredly not the soil, the stranger said mechanically.
He was looking down, absorbed in thought, secret, mysterious, yet not
devoid of a certain inexplicable suggestion of triumph; for a subtle
cloaked elation, not unlike a half-smile, was on his face, although its
intent, persistent expression intimated the following out of a careful
train of ideas.
Then what is it? demanded Hite arrogantly, as if he claimed the
right to know.
I really couldn't undertake to say, the stranger responded, his
definite manner so conclusive an embargo on further inquiries that Hite
felt rising anew all his former doubts of the man, and his fears and
suspicions as to the errand that had brought him hither.
Could it be possible, he argued within himself, that to the agency
of revenuers was due that mysterious glow, more brilliant than any
ordinary fire, steady, suffusive, continuous, rising in the dark
wilderness, in the deep midnight, to reveal that ominous face
overlooking all the countryside, with subtle flickers of laughter
running athwart its wonted contortions, more weird and sinister in this
ghastly glare than by day? And what significance might attend these
strange machinations? Revolving the idea, he presently shook his head
in conclusive negation as he rode along. The approach of raiders was
silent and noiseless and secret. Whatever the mystery might portend it
was not thus that they would advertise their presence, promoting the
escape of the objects of their search. Hite's open and candid mind
could compass no adequate motive for concealment in all the ways of the
world but the desire to evade the revenue law, or to practice the
shifts and quirks necessary to the capture of the wary and elusive
moonshiner. Nevertheless, it was impossible, on either of these obvious
bases, to account for the fact of something withheld in the stranger's
manner, some secret exultant knowledge of the phenomenon which baffled
the mountaineer's speculation. Hite, all unaware that in his impulsive
speech he had disclosed the fact of his hazardous occupation, began to
feel that, considering his liability to the Federal law for making
brush whiskey, he had somewhat transcended the limit of his wonted
hardihood in so long bearing this stranger company along the tangled
ways of the herder's trail through the wilderness. He mought be
a revenuer arter all, an' know all about me. The rest o' the raiders
mought be a-waitin' an' a-layin' fur me at enny turn, he reflected.
Leastwise he knows a deal more'n he's a-goin' ter tell.
He drew up his horse as they neared an open bluff where the beetling
rocks jutted out like a promontory above the sea of foliage below. They
might judge of the long curvature of the conformation of the range just
here, for on the opposite height was visible at intervals the road they
had traveled, winding in and out among the trees, ascending the
mountain in serpentine coils; they beheld the Cove beneath from a new
angle, and further yet the barren cherty slope on which, despite the
distance, the witch-face could still be discerned by eyes practiced in
marking its lineaments, trained to trace the popular fantasy. The
stranger caught sight of it at the same moment that Hite lifted his
hand toward it.
Thar it is! Hite exclaimed, fur all the Cove's a shadder, an' fur
all the wind's a breath.
For clouds had thickened over the sky, and much of the world was
gray beneath, and the scene had dulled in tint and spirit since last
they had had some large outlook upon it. Only on the slopes toward the
east did the sunshine rest, and in the midst of a sterile, barren slant
it flickered on that semblance of ill omen.
An onlucky day, stranger, Hite said slowly.
The man of science had drawn in his restive horse, and had turned
with a keen, freshened interest toward the witch-face. It was with a
look of smiling expectancy that he encountered the aspect of snarling
mockery, half visible or half imaginary, of that grim human similitude.
The mountaineer's brilliant dark eyes dwelt upon him curiously.
However, if he had forborne from prudential motives from earlier asking
the stranger's name and vocation, lest more than a casual
inquisitiveness be thereby implied, exciting suspicion, such queries
were surely not in order at the moment of departure. For Hite had
resolved on parting company. An onlucky day, he reiterated, an
onlucky day. An' this be ez far ez we spen' it tergether. I turn off
So ever present with him was his spirituous conscienceit could
hardly be called a bad consciencethat he half expected his companion
to demur, and the posse of a deputy marshal to spring up from their
ambush in the laurel about them. But the stranger, still with a flavor
of preoccupation in his manner, only expressed a polite regret to say
farewell so early, and genially offered to shake hands. As with
difficulty he forced his horse close to the mountaineer's saddle, Hite
looked at the animal with a touch of disparagement. That thar beastis
hev got cornsider'ble o' the devil in him; he'll trick ye some day; ye
better look out. Waal, far'well stranger, far'well.
The words had a regretful cadence. Whether because of the unwonted
interest which the stranger had excited, or the reluctance to
relinquish his curiosity, still ungratified, or the pain of parting to
an impressionable nature, whose every emotion is acute, Hite hesitated
when he had gone some twenty yards straight up the slope above, pushing
his horse along a narrow path through the jungle of the laurel, and
turned in his saddle to call out again, Far'well!
The stranger, still at the point where Hite had quitted him, waved
his hand and smiled. The jungle closed about the mountaineer, once more
pushing on, and still the smiling eyes dwelt on the spot where he had
disappeared. Farewell, my transparent friend, the stranger said, with
a half-laugh. I hope the day is not unlucky enough to put a deputy
marshal on your track. And with one more glance at the witch-face, he
gathered the reins in his hand and rode on alone along the narrow
tangled ways of the herder's trail.
Now and again, as the day wore on, Constant Hite was seized with a
sense of something wanting, and he presently recognized the deficit as
the expectation of the ill fortune which should befall the time, and
which still failed to materialize. So strong upon him was the
persuasion of evil chances rife in the air to-day that he set himself
as definitely to thwart and baffle them as if rationally cognizant of
their pursuit. He would not return to his wonted vocation at the
distillery, but carried his venison home, where his father, a very old
man, with still the fervors of an æsthetic pride, pointed out with
approbation the evidence of a fair shot in the wound at the base of the
buck's ear, and his mother, active, wiry, practical-minded, noted the
abundance of fat. He fed hisself well whilst he war about it, she
commented, an' now he'll feed us well. What diff'unce do it make
whether Con's rifle-ball hit whar he aimed ter do or no, so he fetched
him down somewhar?
The afternoon passed peacefully away. It seemed strangely long. The
sun, barring a veiled white glister in a clouded gray sky, betokening
the solar focus, disappeared; the wind fell; the very cicadæ, so loud
in the latter days of August, were dulled to long intervals of silence;
in the distance, a tree-toad called and called, with plaintive
iteration, for rain. Ye'll git it, bubby, Con addressed the creature,
as he stood in the cornfielda great yellow stretchpulling fodder,
and binding the long pliant blades into bundles. The clouds still
thickened; the heat grew oppressive; the long rows of the corn were
motionless, save the rustling of the blades as Hite tore them from the
stalk. Even his mother's spinning-wheel, wont to briskly whir through
the long afternoons, from the window of the little cabin on the rise,
grew silent, and his father dozed beneath the gourd vines on the porch.
The sun went down at last, and the gray day imperceptibly merged
into the gray dusk. Then came the lingering darkness, with a flicker of
fireflies and broad wan flares of heat lightning. Con woke once in the
night to hear the rain on the roof. The wind was blaring near at hand.
In its large, free measures, like some deliberate adagio, there was
naught of menace; but when he slept again, and awoke to hear its voice
anew, his heart was plunging with sudden fright. A human utterance was
in its midst,a human voice calling his name through the gusty night
and the sibilant rush of the rain from the eaves. He listened for a
moment at the roof-room window. He recognized with a certain relief the
tones of the constable of the district. He opened the shutter.
A new day was near to breaking. He saw the wan sky above the
periphery of dense dark woods about the clearing. A brown dusk obscured
the familiar landmarks, but beneath a gnarled old apple-tree by the
gate several men were dimly suggested, and another, more distinct, by
the wood-pile, was in the act of gathering a handful of chips to throw
at the shutter again. He desisted as he marked the face at the window.
Kem down, he said gruffly, clearing his throat in embarrassment.
Kem down, Constant. No use roustin' out the old folks.
What do you want? asked Hite in a low voice, his heart seeming to
stand still in suspense.
The constable hesitated. The cold rain dashed into Hite's face. The
rail fences, in zigzag lines, were coming into view. A mist was
floating white against the dark densities of the woods. He heard the
water splashing from the eaves heavily into the gullies below, and then
the constable once more raucously cleared his throat.
Thar's a man, he drawled, a stranger hyarabouts, killed yestiddy
in the bridle-path. The cor'ner hev kem, an' he 'lows ye know suthin'
'bout'n it, Constant,'bout'n the killin' of him. I be sent ter fetch
A chimney, half of stone, half of clay and stick, stood starkly up
in the gray rain and the swooping, shifting gray fog. It marked the
site of a cabin burned long ago, and in such melancholy wise as it
might it told of the home that had been. Now and again far-away
lightning flashed on its fireless hearth; a vacant bird's-nest in a
cranny duplicated the suggestions of desertion; the cold mist crept in
and curled up out of the smokeless flue with a mockery of semblance.
The fire that had wrought its devastating will in the black midnight in
the deep wilderness, so far from rescue or succor, had swiftly burned
out its quick fury, and was sated with the humble household belongings.
The barn, rickety, weather-beaten, deserted, and vacant, still
remained,of the fashion common to the region, with a loft above, and
an open wagonway between the two compartments below,and it was here
that the inquest was held. It was near the scene of the tragedy, and
occasionally a man would detach himself from the slow, dawdling,
depressed-looking group of mountaineers who loitered in the open space
beneath the loft, and traverse the scant distance down the bridle-path
to gaze at the spot where the stranger's body had lain, whence it had
been conveyed to the nearest shelter at hand, the old barn, where the
coroner's jury were even now engaged in their deliberations. Sometimes,
another, versed in all the current rumors, would follow to point out to
the new-comer the details, show how the rain had washed the blood away,
and fearfully mark the tokens of frantic clutches at the trees as the
man had been torn from his horse. The animal had vanished utterly; even
the prints of his hoofs were soon obliterated by the torrents and the
ever-widening puddles. And thus had arisen the suspicion of ambush and
foul play, and the implication of the mysterious gang of horse-thieves,
whose rumored exploits seemed hardly so fabulous with the disappearance
of the animal and the violent death of the rider in evidence. The
locality offered no other suggestion, and it was but a brief interval
before the way would be retraced by the awe-stricken observer, noting
with a deep interest impossible hitherto all the environment: the stark
chimney of the vanished house, monumental in the weed-grown waste; the
dripping forest; the roof of the barn, sleek and shining, and with rain
pouring down the slant of its clapboards and splashing from its eaves;
the groups of horses hitched to the scraggy apple-trees of the deserted
homestead; and here and there the white canvas cover of an ox-wagon,
with its yoke of steers standing with low-hung heads in the downpour.
The pallid circling mists enveloped the world, and limited the outlook
to a periphery of scant fifty paces; occasionally becoming tenuous, as
if to suggest the dark looming of the mountain across the narrow
valley, and the precipice close at hand behind the building, then once
more intervening, white and dense of texture, forming a background
which imparted a singular distinctness to the figures grouped in the
open space of the barn beneath the shadowy loft.
The greater number of the gathering had been summoned hither by a
sheer curiosity as coercive as a subpoena, but sundry of the group were
witnesses, reluctant, anxious, with a vague terror of the law, and an
ignorant sense of an impending implication that set both craft and
veracity at defiance. They held their heads down ponderingly, as they
stood; perhaps rehearsing mentally the details of their meagre
knowledge of the event, or perhaps canvassing the aspect of certain
points which might impute to them blame or arouse suspicion, and
endeavoring to compass shifty evasions, to transform or suppress them
in their forthcoming testimony. At random, one might have
differentiated the witnesses from the mass of the ordinary mountaineer
type by the absorbed eye, or the meditative moving lip unconsciously
forming unspoken words, or the fallen dismayed jaw as of the victim of
circumstantial evidence. It was a strange chance, the death that had
met this casual wayfarer at their very doors, and one might not know
how the coroner would interpret it. His power to commit a suspect added
to his terrors, and gave to the capable, astute official a mundane
formidableness that overtopped the charnel-house flavor of his more
habitual duties. He was visible through the unchinked logs of the
little room where the inquest was in progress, barely spacious enough
to contain the bier, the jury, and the witness under examination; and
yet so great was the sound of the rain outside and the stir of the
assemblage that little or naught was overheard without.
Now and again the waiting witnesses looked with doubt and curiosity
and suspicion at a new-comer, with an obvious disposition to hope and
believe that others knew more of the matter than they, and thus were
more liable to accusation. Occasionally, a low-toned, husky query would
be met by a curt rejoinder suggesting a cautious reticence and a rising
enmity, blockading all investigation save the obligatory inquisition of
a coroner's jury. An object of ever-recurrent scrutiny was a stranger
in the vicinity, who had been subpoenaed also. The facial effect of
culture and sophistication was illustrated in his inexpressive,
controlled, masklike countenance. He was generally known as the valley
man with the lung complaint, who had built a cabin on the mountain
during the summer, banished hither by the advice of his physician for
the value to the lungs of the soft, healing air. He wore a brown derby
hat, a fawn-colored suit, and a brown overcoat, with the collar
upturned. He was blond and young, and so impassive was his sober,
decorous aspect that the aptest detective could have discerned naught
of significance as he stood, quite silent and composed, in the centre
of the place where it was dry, exempt from the gusts of rain that the
wind now and again flung in spray upon the outermost members of the
group, one hand in the pocket of his trousers, the other toying with a
cigar which so far he held unlighted.
Of the two women present, one, seated upon the beam of a broken
plough, refuse of the agricultural industry long ago collapsed here,
was calmly smoking her pipe,a wrinkled, unimpressed personality, who
had seen many years, and whose manner might imply that all these
chances of life and death came in the gross, and that existence was a
medley at best. The other, a witness, was young. More than once the
valley man cast a covert glance at her as, clad in a brown homespun
dress, she leaned against the log wall, her face, which was very pale,
half turned toward it, as if to hide the features already much obscured
by the white sunbonnet drawn far over it. One arm was lifted, and her
hand was passed between the unchinked logs in a convulsive grasp upon
them. Her figure was tall and slender, and expressive in its rigid
constraint; it was an attitude of despair, of repulsion, of fear. It
might have implied grief, or remorse, or anxiety. Often the eyes of the
prescient victims of circumstantial evidence rested dubiously upon her.
To the great majority of men, the presence of women in affairs of
business is an intrusive evil of times out of joint. Now, since matters
of life and liberty were in the balance, the primitive denizens of
Witch-Face Mountain felt that the admission of Narcissa Hanway's
testimony to consideration and credibility evinced an essential defect
in the law of the land, and the fallibility of all human reasoning.
What distorted impression might not so appalling an event make upon one
so young, so feminine, so inexperienced! What exaggerated wild thing
might she not say, unintentionally inculpating half Witch-Face Mountain
in robbery and murder!
Constant Hite, as he bluffly entered the passageway, his head up,
his eyes wide and bright, his vigorous step elastic and light, gave no
token of the spiritual war he had waged as he came. Already he felt in
great jeopardy. On account of his illicit vocation he could ill abide
the scrutiny of the law. With scant proof, he argued, a moonshiner
might be suspected of highway robbery and murder. As he had journeyed
hither with the constable and his fellows, who conserved the air of
disinterested spectators, but who he knew had been summoned to aid the
officer in case he should evade or delay, when he would have been
forthwith arrested, he had been sorely tempted to deny having ever seen
the stranger, in whose company he had spent an hour or so of the
previous day. He had been able to put the lie from him with a normal
moral impulse. He did not appreciate the turpitude of perjury. He
esteemed it only a natural lie invested with pomp and circumstance; and
the New Testament on which he should be sworn meant no more to his
unlettered conscience than the horn-book, since he knew as little of
its contents. But a lie is a skulking thing, and he had scant affinity
He thought, with a sort of numb wonderment, that it was strange he
should feel no more compassion for the object stretched out here, dumb,
dead, bruised, and bloody, which so short a space since he had seen
full of life and interest, animated by a genial courtesy and graced
with learning and subtle insight; now so unknowing, so unlettered, so
blind! Whither went this ethereal investiture of life?for it was not
mere being; one might exist hardily enough without it. Did the darkness
close over it, too, or was it not the germ of the soul, the budding of
that wider knowledge and finer aspiration to flower hereafter in rarer
air? He did not know; he only vaguely cared, and he reproached himself
dully that he cared no more. For hehis life was threatened! With the
renewal of the thought he experienced a certain animosity toward the
man that he should not have known enough to take better care of
himself. Why must he needs die here, in this horrible unexplained way,
and leave other men, chance associates, to risk stretching hemp for
murder? He felt his strong life beating in his throat almost to
suffocation at the mere suggestion. Again the lie tempted him, to be
again withstood; and as he strode into the room upon the calling of his
name, he saw how futile, how flimsy, was every device, for, fluttering
in the coroner's hand, he recognized the sketch of the Witch-Face
which the dead man had made, and the masterly drawing of his own
imposing figure in the foreground. He had forgotten it utterly for the
time being. In the surprise and confusion that had beset him, it had
not occurred to him to speculate how he had chanced to be subpoenaed,
how the idea could have occurred to the coroner that he knew aught of
the stranger. As he stood against the batten door, the pale light from
the interstices of the unchinked logs, all the grayer because it
alternated with the sombre timbers, falling upon his face and figure,
his hat upturned in front, revealing his brow with a forelock of
straight black hair, his brilliant dark eyes, and his distinctly cut
definite features, the sketch-book was swiftly passed from one to
another of the jury, reluctantly relinquished here and there, and more
than once eliciting half-smothered exclamations of delighted wonder
from the unsophisticated mountaineers, as they glanced back and forth
from the man leaning against the door to the counterfeit presentment on
Constant Hite experienced a glow of vicarious pride as he remembered
the satisfaction that the artist had taken in the sketch, and he wished
that that still thing on the bier could know how his work, most
wonderful it seemed, was appreciated. And then, with a swift revulsion
of feeling, he realized that it was this which had entrapped him; this
bit of paper had brought him into fear and trouble and risk of his
life. The man might be of the revenue force. He might have encountered
other moonshiners, and thus have come to his violent death. If this
were his vocation, it brought Hite into dark suspicion by virtue of the
fact, known to a few of the neighborhood, that he himself was a
distiller of brush whiskey. No one else had seen the stranger till the
finding of the body. He gathered this from the trend of the inquiry
after the formal preliminary queries. The seven men, as they sat
together on a bench made by passing a plank between the logs of the
wall diagonally across the corner of the room, chewed meditatively
their quids of tobacco, and now and then spat profusely on the ground,
their faces growing more perplexed and graver as the examination
When Hite disclosed the circumstance that on the previous day he had
encountered a stranger man near the Witch-Face, there was a
palpable sensation among them. They glanced at one another meaningly,
and a sudden irritation was perceptible in the coroner's manner as he
sat in a rickety chair near the improvised bier. He was a citizen of
the valley region, a trifle more sophisticated than the jury, and
disposed to seriously deprecate the introduction of any morbid or
superstitious element into so grave a matter. He had a bald head, a
lean face, the bones very clearly defined about the temple and cheek
and jaw, a scanty grizzled beard; and he was dressed somewhat farmer
fashion, in blue jeans, with his boots drawn high over his trousers,
but with a stiffly starched white shirt,the collar and cravat in
evidence, the cuffs, however, vanished up the big sleeves of his coat.
The exact place of the meeting is not material, he said
But Hite's mercurial interest in the drawing had revived anew.
Thar she be, he exclaimed, so suddenly that the jury started with
a common impulse, the ole witch-face,he pointed at the sketch in
the coroner's hand,a mite ter the east an' a leetle south in the
pictur', ez nat'ral ez life!
One of the jurymen asked to see the sketch again. Evidently, in the
hasty delineation of the contours of the slope they had not noticed the
gigantic grimacing countenance which they all knew so well; the
picturesque figure of the mountaineer in the foreground had so
impressed the stranger that it was much more nearly complete than the
landscape, being definite in every detail, and fully shaded. The book
was handed along the row of men, each recognizing the semblance, once
pointed out, with a touch of dismayed surprise that alarmed the coroner
for the sanity of the verdict; his rational estimate rated spells and
bewitchments and omens as far less plausible agencies in disaster than
horse-thieves, highwaymen, and moonshiners.
Look at the face of the deceased, he said, with a sort of spare
enunciation, coercive somehow in its inexpressiveness. Ye are sure ye
never viewed that man afore yestiddy?
I hev said so an' swore it, said Hite, a trifle nettled.
Ye rode in comp'ny a hour or mo' an' never asked his name?
I never axed him no questions, nor he me, replied Hite, 'ceptin'
'bout'n the witch-face. He was powerful streck by that. An' I tole him
't war a onlucky day.
The jury, a dreary row of unkempt heads, and bearded anxious faces,
and crouching shoulders askew, cleared their throats, and two uncrossed
and recrossed their legs, the plank seat creaking ominously with the
motion under their combined weight. A shade of disappointment was
settling on the coroner's face. This was slight information indeed from
the only person who had seen the man alive. There was silence for a
moment. The splashing of the rain on the roof became drearily audible
in the interval. The stir of the group in the space outside was
asserted anew, with their low-toned fitful converse; a black-and-white
ox in the weed-grown garden emitted a deep, depressed low of
remonstrance against the rain, and the irking of the yoke, and the
herbage just beyond his reach. The jurymen might see him through the
logs, and now and again one of them mechanically ducked his head to
look out upon the dismal aspect of the chimney and orchard, round which
so many horses and wagons had not gathered since the daughter of the
house was long ago married here. There was a sprinkle of gray in his
hair, and he remembered the jollities of the wedding,incongruous
recollection,and once more he looked at the stark figure, its face
covered with a white cloth, which had been done in a sentiment of
atonement for the unseemly publicity of its fate.
In sparsely settled communities, death, being rare, retains much of
the terror which custom lessens in the dense crowds of cities. There
death is met at every corner. It goes on 'Change. It sits upon the
bench. It is chronicled in the columns of every newspaper. Daily its
bells toll. Its melancholy pageantry traverses the streets of wealthy
quarters, and it stalks abroad hourly in the slums, and few there are
who gaze after it. But here it comes so seldom that its dread features
are not made smug by familiarity. When Hite was told to look again at
the face and see if memory might not have played him false, to make
sure he had never seen the man before yesterday, he hesitated, and
advanced with such reluctance, and started back, dropping the cloth,
with such swift repulsion, that the coroner, habituated to such
matters, gazed at him with a doubtful scrutiny.
Oh, he looked nowise like that, he exclaimed in a raised, nervous
voice that caught the attention of the crowd outside, and resulted in a
sudden cessation of stir and colloquy, though it's him, sure enough!
And, with a burst of regret, he war a mighty pleasant man!
The coroner, intentionally taking him at a disadvantage, asked
abruptly, What do you work at mostly?
Hite turned shortly from the bier. I farms some, he hesitated;
dad bein' mos'ly out o' the field, nowadays, agin' so constant.
What do you work at mostly? reiterated the official.
Hite divined his suspicion. Some flying rumor had doubtless come to
his ears, how credible, how unimpugnable, the moonshiner could not
tell. Nevertheless, his loyalty to that secret vocation of his had
become a part of his nature, so continuous were its demands upon his
courage, his strategy, his foresight, his industry. It was tantamount
to his instinct of self-defense. He held his head down, with his
excited dark eyes looking up from under his brows at the coroner. But
he would not speak. He would admit naught of what was evidently known.
Warn't ye afeard he might be a revenuer? suggested the officer.
I never war afeard, so ter say, o' one man at a time, Hite
Didn't ye think he might take a notion that you were a moonshiner?
He never showed no suspicion o' me, noways, replied Hite warily.
We rid tergether free an' favored. He 'peared a powerful book-l'arned
man,like no revenuer ever I see.
Where did you part company?
Hite sought to identify the spot by description; and then he was
allowed to pass out, his spirits flagging with the ordeal, and with the
knowledge that his connection with the manufacture of brush whiskey was
suspected by the coroner's jury, suggesting an adequate motive on his
part for waylaying a stranger supposed to be of the revenue force. He
felt the dash of the rain in his face as he stood aside to make way for
the valley man with the lung complaint, who was passing into the
restricted apartment; and despite his whirl of anxiety and excitement
and regret and resentment, he noted with a touch of surprise the cool
unconcern of the man's face and manner, albeit duly grave and adjusted
to the decorums of the melancholy occasion.
He was sworn, and gave his name as Alan Selwyn. The jury listened
with interest to his fluent account of his occupation in the valley,
which had been mercantile, of his temporary residence here for a
bronchial affection; and when he was asked to identify the man who had
so mysteriously come to his death, they marked his quick, easy stride
as he crossed the room, with his hat in his hand, and his unmoved
countenance as he looked fixedly down into the face of the dead. He
remained a longer interval than was usual with the witnesses, as if to
make sure. Then, still quite businesslike and brisk, he stated that he
could not identify him, having certainly never seen him before.
The only papers which he had on him, said the coroner, watching
the effect of his words, were two letters addressed to you.
The young man started in palpable surprise. As he looked at the
exterior of the letters, which were stamped and postmarked, he observed
that they must have been taken out of the post-office at Sandford
Cross-Roads, to expedite their delivery; the postmaster doubtless
consenting to this request on the part of so reputable-looking a person
or a possible acquaintance.
Were you expecting a visitor? asked the coroner.
Not at all, responded the puzzled witness.
He was requested to open the letters, read and show them. But he
waived this courtesy, asking the coroner to open and read them to the
jury. They were of no moment, both on matters of casual business, and
Mr. Alan Selwyn was dismissed; the coroner blandly regretting that, in
view of his malady, he had been required to come out in so chilly a
Notwithstanding his composure he was in some haste to be gone. He
went quickly through the crowd, drawing down his hat over his brow, and
deftly buttoning his overcoat across his chest and throat. He had
reached his horse, and had placed one foot in the stirrup, when,
chancing to glance back over his shoulder, he saw Narcissa Hanway's
white, flowerlike face, her bonnet pushed far back on her tawny yellow
hair, both arms outstretched in a gesture of negation and repulsion
toward the apartment where the jury sat, while a dark-haired, slow man
urged her forward, one hand on her shoulder, and the old mountain woman
followed with insistence and encouragement. He hesitated for a moment;
then putting spurs to his horse, he rode off swiftly through the
slanting lines of rain.
A sense of helplessness in the hands of fate is in some sort
conducive to courage. Doubtless many an act of valor which has won the
world's applause was precipitated in a degree by desperation and the
lack of an alternative. The appearance of stolidity with which the
cluster of witnessesthose whose testimony was yet to be given as well
as those who had told the little they knewnoted the uncontrolled
agitation, the wild eyes, the hysteric sobs, with which Narcissa Hanway
was ushered into the contracted apartment where the inquest was in
progress, had no correlative calmness of mind or heart. What haphazard
accusation might not result from her fear, or her desire to shield
another, or the mere undisciplined horror of the place and the fact!
When one dreads the sheer possibilities, the extremes of terror are
reached. More than one of the bearded, unkempt, hardy mountaineers,
trudging back and forth in the sheltered space beneath the loft,
steadily chewing their quids of tobacco and eying the rain, would have
fled incontinently, had there been any place to run to out of reach of
the constable, who was particularly brisk to-day, participating in
exercises of so unusual an interest. The girl's brother, standing
beside the door after she had passed within, was unconscious of a
certain keen covert scrutiny of which he was the subject. He had a
square determined face, dark hair, slow gray eyes, and a tall powerful
frame; he held his head downward, his hand on the door, his even teeth
set in the intensity of his effort to distinguish the voices within.
There had been some secret speculation as to whether the man were
altogether unknown to the brother and sister, such deep feeling she had
evinced, such coercion he had exerted to induce her to give her
testimony. Still, the girl was a mere slip of a thing, unused to
horrors; and as to recalcitrant witnesses, they all knew the jail had a
welcome for the silent until such time as they might find a voice.
Nevertheless, though his urgency had been in the stead of the
constable's stronger measures, they eyed him askance as he stood and
sought to listen, with his hand on the door. The old woman turned
around, her arms falling to her sides with a sort of flounce of
triumph, her eyes twinkling beneath the shining spectacles set upon her
brow among the limp ruffles of her thrust-back sunbonnet, a laugh of
satisfaction widening her wrinkled face. Thar now! she chuckled,
Nar'sa jes' set it down she wouldn't testify, an' crossed her
heart an' hoped she'd fall dead fust. But, Ben, we beat her that time!
and she chuckled anew.
The man answered not a word, and listened to the tumult within.
It is seldom, doubtless, that the patience of a coroner's jury is
subjected to so strong a strain. But the information which had so far
been elicited was hardly more than the bare circumstance which the body
presented,a man had ridden here, a stranger, and he was dead. If the
girl knew more than this, it would necessitate some care in the
examination to secure the facts. She was young, singularly willful and
irresponsible, and evidently overcome by grief, or fear, or simply
horror. When she was asked to look at the face of the stranger, she
only caught a glimpse of it, as if by accident, and turned away,
pulling her white bonnet down over her face, and declaring that she
would not. I hev viewed him wunst, an' I won't look at him again, she
protested, with a burst of sobs.
Now set down in this cheer, daughter, an' tell us what ye know
about it all,easy an' quiet, said the coroner in a soothing,
Oh, nuthin', nuthin'! exclaimed the girl, throwing herself into
the chair in the attitude of an abandonment of grief.
Air ye cryin' 'kase ye war 'quainted with him ennywise? demanded
one of the jurymen, with a quickening interest. He was a neighbor; that
is, counting as propinquity a distance of ten miles.
The girl lifted her head suddenly. I never seen him till yestiddy,
she protested steadily. I be a heap apter ter weep 'kase my
'quaintances ain't dead! She gave him a composed, sarcastic
smile, then fell to laughing and crying together.
To the others the discomfiture of their confrère was the
first touch of comedy relief in the tragic situation. They cast at one
another a glance of appreciation trenching on a smile, and the abashed
questioner drew out a plug of tobacco, and with a manner of
preoccupation gnawed a bit from it; then replaced it in his pocket,
with a physical contortion which caused the plank on which the jury
were seated to creak ominously, to the manifest anxiety of the worthies
How did you happen to see the man? he asked, as if he had
perceived no significance in her previous answer.
'Kase I didn't happen ter be blind, her half-muffled voice
replied. Her arm was thrown over the back of the chair, and her face
was hidden on her elbow.
The coroner interposed quickly: Where were you goin', an' what did
She sobbed aloud for a moment. Then ensued an interval of silence.
Suddenly the interest of the subject seemed to lay hold upon her, and
she began to speak very rapidly, lifting her white tear-stained face,
and pushing her bonnet back on her rough curling auburn hair:
I war a-blackberryin', thar bein' only a few lef' yit, an' I went
fur an' furder yit from home; an' ez I kem out'n the woods over yon,
half rising, and pointing with a free gesture, I viewedor yit I
'lowed I viewedthe witch-face through a bunch o' honey locust, the
leaves bein' drapped a'ready, they bein' always the fust o' the year
ter git bare. An' stiddier leavin' it be, I sot my bucket o' berries at
the foot o' a tree', an started down the slope todes the bluff, ter
make sure an' view it clar o' the trees. The girl paused, her eyes
widening, her voice faltering, her breath coming fast. An' goin'
swift, some hawgs, stray, half grown, 'bout twenty shoats feedin' in
the woodsmy rustlin' in the bushes skeered 'em I reckonthey sot out
to run, possessed by the devil, like them the Scriptur' tells about.
She paused again, panting, her hand to her heart.
The disaffected juryman turned to one side, recrossing his legs, and
spitting disparagingly on the ground. She can't swear them hawgs war
possessed by the devil, he said in a low tone to his next neighbor.
Oh, why not, exclaimed the girl, when we know so many men air
possessed by the devil,why not them shoats, bein' jes' without
clothes, an' without the gift o' speech to mark the diff'unce!
She paused again, and the coroner, standing a trifle back of her
chair, shook his head at the obstructive juryman, and asked her in a
commonplace voice what the hogs had to do with it.
That's what I wanter know! she cried, half turning in her chair to
look up at him. I started 'em, an' I be at the bottom o' it all, ef
it's like I think,me, yearnin' ter look at the old witch-face!
The hawgs run through the woods like fire on dry grass, an' I be
'feared they skeered the stranger man's horsehe had none whenst I
seen him, though. I hearn loud talkin', or hollerin', a cornsiderable
piece off, an' then gallopin' hoofs
More horses than one, do you think? demanded the coroner.
Oh, how kin I swear to that? I seen none. Fur when I got thar, this
man war lyin' in the herder's trail, bruised and bloodyoh, like ye
seean' his eyes opened; an' he gin a sort o' gasp whenst I tuk his
han'an' he war dead. An' I skeered the hawgs, an' they skeered his
horse, an' he killed him; an' I be 'sponsible fur it all, an' I wisht
ye'd hang me fur it quick, an' be done with it!
She burst into sobs once more, and hid her face on her arm on the
back of the chair. Then, suddenly lifting her head, she resumed: I
jes' called and called Ben, an' bein' he hain't never fur off, he hearn
me, an' kem. An' then he rid fur the neighbors, an' kem down the valley
arter you-uns, with a side glance at the coroner. An' he lef' me a
shootin'-iron, in case of a fox, or a wolf, or suthin' kem along. 'Bout
sunset the neighbors kem. An' till then I sot thar keepin' watch, an'
a-viewin' the witch-face 'crost the Cove, plumb till the sun went
She bowed her head again on her arm, and a momentary silence ensued.
Then the coroner, clearing his throat, said reassuringly, Thar ain't
nuthin' in the witch-face, nohow. It's jes' a notion. Man and boy, I
have knowed that hillside fur forty year, an' I never could see no
witch-face; it's been p'inted out ter me a thousand times.
She looked at him in dumb amazement for a moment; then broke out,
Waal, what would ye think ef ye hed seen, like me, the witch-face
shining in the darkest night, nigh on ter midnight, like the ole 'oman
had lighted her a candle somewhars,jes' shinin', an' grinnin', an'
mockin', plain ez daybreak? That's what I hev viewedan' I 'low
ter view it aginoh, I do, I do!
He looked at her hard, but he did not say what he thought, and the
faces of the jurymen, which had implied a strong exception to his
declaration of skepticism touching the existence of the ominous facial
outline on the hillside, underwent a sudden change of expression. She
was hardly responsible, they considered, and her last incredible
assertion had gone far to nullify the effect of her previous testimony.
She was overcome by the nervous shock, or had told less than she knew
and was still concealing somewhat, or was so credulous and plastic and
fanciful as to be hardly worthy of belief. She was dismissed earlier
than she had dared to hope: and with this deterioration of the
testimony of the witness who was nearest the time and place of the
disaster, the jury presently went to work to evolve out of so slender a
thread of fact and so knotty a tangle of possibility their verdict.
For a long time, it seemed to the curious without, and to the
agitated, nervous witnesses peering through the unchinked logs of the
wall, they sat on their comfortless perch, half crouching forward, and
chewed, and discussed the testimony. There were frequent intervals of
silence, and in one of these Con Hite was disturbed to see the sketch
of the witch-face once more passed from hand to hand. They grew to
have a harried, baited look; and after a time, the rain having
slackened, they came out in a body, and walked to and fro quite
silently in the clearing, chewing their quids and their knotty problem,
with apparently as much chance of getting to the completion of the one
as of the other. They were evidently refreshed, however, by the change
of posture and scene, for they soon resumed the subject and were
arguing anew as they paused upon the bluff, their gestures wonderfully
distinct, drawn upon the sea of mist that filled the valley below and
the air above. It revealed naught of the earth, save here and there a
headland, as it were, thrusting out its dark, narrow, attenuated
demesne into the impalpable main. Further and further one might mark
this semblance of a coast-line as the vapor grew more tenuous, till far
away the series of shadowy gray promontories alternating with the
colorless inlets was as vague of essence as the land of a dream. Near
at hand, a cucumber-tree, with its great broad green leaves and its
deep red cones, leaning over the rocks, and spanning this illusive gray
landscape from the zenith to the immediate foreground, gave the only
touch of color to the scenic simulacrum in many a gradation of neutral
tone. The jurymen hovered about under the boughs for a time, and then
came back, still harassed and anxious, to their den, with perhaps some
new question of doubt. For those without could perceive that once more
they were crowding about the bier and talking together in knots. Again
they called in the country physician who had testified earlier, an
elderly personage, singularly long and thin and angular, but who had a
keen, intent, clever face and the accent of an educated man. He seemed
to reiterate some information in a clear, concise manner, and when he
came out it was evident that he considered his utility here at an end,
for he made straight for his horse and saddle.
A sudden sensation supervened among the outsiders,a flutter, and
then a breathless suspense; for within the inclosure, barred with the
heavy shadows of the logs of the walls alternating with the misty
intervals, could be seen the figures of the seven, successively
stooping at the foot of the bier to sign each his name to the
inquisition at last drawn up.
One by one they came slowly out, looking quite exhausted from their
long restraint, the unwonted mental exercitations, and the nervous
strain. Then it was developed, to the astonishment and disappointment
of the little crowd, tingling with excitement and anxiety, that this
document simply set forth the fact that at an inquisition holden on
Witch-Face Mountain, Kildeer County, before Jeremiah Flaxman, coroner,
upon the body of an unknown man, there lying dead, the jurors whose
names were subscribed thereto, upon their oaths, did say that he came
to his death from concussion of the brain consequent upon being thrown
or dragged from his horse by means or by persons to the jury unknown.
There was a palpable dismay on Constant Hite's expressive face. He
had hoped that the verdict might be death by accident. Others had
expected the implication of horse-thieves, of whose existence the jury
being of the neighborhood were well advised, and the disappearance of
the man's horse might well suggest this explanation. The coroner would
return this inquisition to the criminal court together with a list of
the material witnesses. Thus the matter was left as undecided as before
the inquest, the jeopardy, the terrors of circumstantial evidence, all
still impending, dark with doom, like the black cloud which visibly
overshadowed the landscape.
Since the knight-errantry of wolf and bear and catamount and fox has
scant need of milestones, or signposts, or ferries, or the tender
iteration of road-taxes, the casual glance might hardly perceive the
necessity of opening a thoroughfare through this wilderness, for these
freebooters seemed likely to be its chief beneficiaries. A more rugged
district could not be found in all that massive upheaval of rocks and
tangled wooded fastnesses stretching from the northeast to the
southwest some twenty miles, and known as Witch-Face Mountain; a more
scantily populated region than its slopes and adjacent coves scarcely
exists in the length and breadth of the State of Tennessee. The
physical possibilities were arrayed against the project, so steep was
the comblike summit on either side, so heavy and tortuous the
outcropping rock that served as the bony structure of the great
mountain mass. True, the river pierced it, the denudation of solid
sandstone cliffs, a thousand feet in height, betokening the untiring
energy of the eroding currents of centuries agone. This agency,
however, man might not summon to his aid, being the act of God, to
use the pious language of the express companies to describe certain
contingencies for which they very properly decline the responsibility.
Against the preëmptions of the gigantic forests and the gaunt
impassable crags and the abysmal river might be enlisted only such
enterprise as was latent in the male inhabitants of the vicinity over
eighteen years of age and under fifty, thus subject to the duty of
working on the public roads. Nevertheless, the county court had, in a
moment of sanguine exuberance, entertained and granted an application
from the adjacent landowners to order a jury of view to lay out a
public road and to report at the next quarterly session.
Precursors of the jury of view in some sort two young people might
have seemed, one afternoon, a fortnight, perhaps, after the inquest, as
they pushed through the woody tangles to the cliffs high above the
river, the opposite bank of which was much nearer than the swirling
currents, crystal brown in the romantic shadows below. They walked in
single file, the jury of view in their minds, and now and then referred
to in their sparse speech.
Mought make it along hyar, Ben. The girl, in advance, paused,
bareheaded, each uplifted hand holding out a string of her white
sunbonnet, which, thus distended, was poised, winglike, behind the
rough tangle of auburn hair and against the amber sky. She turned as
she spoke, to face her companion, taking a step or two backward as she
awaited his answer.
Look out how ye air a-walkin', Narcissa! Ye'll go over the bluff
back'ards, fust thing ye know, the man called out eagerly, and with a
break of anxiety in his voice.
She stretched the sunbonnet still wider with her upreaching arms,
and with a smile of tantalizing glee, showing her white teeth and
narrowing her brown eyes, she continued to walk backward toward the
precipice,with short steps, however; cautious enough, doubtless, but
calculated to alarm one whose affection had given much acuteness to
Still at too great a distance for interference, Ben affected
indifference. We-uns'll hev the coroner's jury hyar agin, afore the
jury o' view, ef ye keep on; an' ye ain't got on yer bes' caliker coat,
He climbed swiftly up the ascent and joined her, out of breath and
with an angry gleam in his eyes. But she had turned her face and steps
in the opposite direction, the mirth of the situation extinguished for
Quit talkin' that-a-way 'bout sech turr'ble, turr'ble things! she
cried petulantly, making a motion as if to strike him, futile at the
distance, and with her frowning face averted.
Sech ez yer new coat? I 'lowed 't war the apple o' yer eye, he
rejoined with a feint of banter.
She held her face down, with her features drawn and her eyes half
closed, rejecting the vision of recollection as if it were the sight
itself. I can't abide the name o' cor'ner's jury,I never wants ter
hear it nor see it agin! I never shall furgit how them men all looked
a-viewin' the traveler's body what I fund dead in the road; they looked
like jes' so many solemn, peekin', heejus black buzzards crowdin'
aroun' the corpse; then a-noddin' an' a-whisperin' tergether, an'
a-findin' of a verdic' ez they called it. They fund nuthin' at all. 'T
war me ez done the findin'. I fund the man dead in the road. An'
I ain't a-goin' ter be a witness no mo'. Nex' time the law wants me
fur a witness I'll go ter jail; it's cheerfuller, a heap, I'll bet!
As she still held her head down, her bonnet well on it now, her face
with its riant cast of features incongruously woebegone,
overshadowed by the tragedy she recounted even more definitely than by
the brim of her headgear or the first gray advance of the dusk, he made
a clumsy effort to divert her attention.
I 'lowed ye war mightily in favor of juries; ye talk mighty nigh
all day 'bout the jury of view.
I want a road up hyar, she exclaimed vivaciously, raising her eyes
and her joyous transfigured face, a reg'lar county road! In the fall
o' the year the folks would kem wagonin' thar chestnuts over ter sell
in town, an' camp out. An' all the mounting would go up an' down it
past our big gate ter the church house in the Cove. I'd never want ter
hear no mo' preachin'. I'd jes' set on our front porch, an' look, an'
look, an' look!
She cast up her great bright eyes with as vivid and immediate an
irradiation as if the brilliant procession which she pictured deployed
even now, chiefly in ox-wagons, before them. She caught off her bonnet
from her head,it seemed a sort of moral barometer; she never wore it
when the indications of the inner atmosphere set fair. She swung it
gayly by one string as she walked and talked; now and again she held
the string to her lips and bit it with her strong, even teeth, reckless
of the havoc in the clumsy hem.
Then county court days,goin' to county court, an' comin' from
county court,sech passels an' passels o' folks! I wisht we-uns hed it
afore the jury o' view kem, so we-uns mought view the jury o' view.
It's along o' the jury o' view ez we-uns will git the road,ef we
do git it, the young man said cautiously.
It was one of his self-imposed duties to moderate, as far as he
might, his sister's views, to temper her enthusiasms and abate her
various and easily excited anger. He had other duties toward her which
might be said to have come to him as an inheritance.
Ben's the boy! his consumptive mother had been wont to say; he's
sorter slow, but mighty sure. 'Brag is a good dog, but Hold-Fast is a
better.' Ef he don't sense nare 'nother idee in this life, he hev got
ter l'arn ez it's his business ter take keer o' Nar'sa. Folks say
Nar'sa be spoiled a'ready. So be, fur whilst Ben be nuthin' but a boy
he'll l'arn ter do her bid, an' watch over her, an' wait on her, an'
keer for her, an' think she be the top o' creation. It'll make her
proud an' headin', I know,she'll gin her stepmammy a sight o'
trouble, an' I ain't edzactly lamentin' 'bout'n that,but Ben'll take
keer o' her all her life, an' good keer, havin' been trained ter it
from the fust.
But his mother had slept many a year in the little mountain
graveyard, and her place was still empty. The worldly wise craft of the
simple mountain woman, making what provision she might for the
guardianship of her daughter, was rendered of scant effect, since her
husband did not marry again. The household went on as if she still sat
in her accustomed place, with not one deficiency or disaster that might
have served in its simple sort as a memorial,so little important are
we in our several spheres, so promptly do the ranks of life close up as
we drop dead from their alignment.
The panoply against adversity with which Narcissa had been accoutred
by a too anxious mother, instead of being means of defense, had become
opportunities of oppression. Her brother's affectionate solicitude and
submissiveness were accepted as her bounden due, as the two grew older;
her father naturally adapted himself to the predominant sentiment of
the household; and few homes can show a tyrant more arrogant and
absolute than the mountain girl whose mother had so predicted for her
much hardship and harshness, and a troubled and subordinate existence.
It was with that instinct to guard her from all the ills of life,
great and small, that Ben sought to prepare her for a possible
Mought n't git the road through, nohow, when all's said, he
What fur not? she exclaimed, bringing her dark brows together
above eyes that held a glitter of anger.
Waal, some o' the owners won't sign the application, an' air goin'
ter fight it in the Court.
She put her bonnet on, and looked from under its brim up at the
amber sky. It was growing faintly green near the zenith, toward which
the lofty topmost plumes of the dark green pines swayed. The great
growths of the forest rose on every side. There was no view, no vista,
save the infinitely repeated umbrageous tangle beneath the trees, where
their boles stood more or less distinct or dusky till merged
indefinitely into shadow and distance. Looking down into the river, one
lost the sense of monotony. The ever-swirling lines of the current drew
mystic scrolls on that wonderfully pellucid brown surface,so pellucid
that from the height above she could see a swiftly darting shadow which
she knew was the reflection of a homeward-bound hawk in the skies
higher yet. Leaves floated in a still, deep pool, were caught in a
maddening eddy, and hurried frantically away, unwilling, frenzied,
helpless, unknowing whither, never to return,allegory of many a life
outside those darkling solemn mountain woods, and of some, perhaps, in
the midst of them. The reflection of the cliffs in the never still
current, of the pines on their summits, of the changing sky growing
deeper and deeper, till its amber tint, erstwhile so crystalline,
became of a dull tawny opaqueness, she marked absently for a while as
she cogitated on his answer.
What makes 'em so contrairy, Ben? she asked at last.
Waal, old man Sneed 'lows thar'll be a power o' cattle-thievin',
with the road so open an' convenient. An' Jeremiah Sayres don't want
ter pay no road-taxes. An' Silas Boyd 'lows he don't want ter be
obligated ter work on no sech rough road ez this hyar one air obleeged
ter be; an' I reckon, fust an' last, it will take a power o'
He paused, and looked about him at the great shelving masses of rock
and the steep slants, repeated through leagues and leagues of mountain
wilderness. Then seating himself on one of the ledges of the cliff, his
feet dangling unconcernedly over the abysses below, he continued: An'
Con Hite,he's agin it, too.
She lifted her head, with a scornful rising flush.
Con Hite dunno what he wants; he ain't got a ounce o'
Waal, one thing he don't want is a road. He be 'feared it'll
go too close ter the still, an' the raiders will nose him out somehows.
Now he be all snug in the bresh, an' the revenuers none the wiser.
An' Con none the wiser, nuther, she flouted. The raiders hev
smoked out 'sperienced old mountain foxes a heap slyer'n Con be. He
ain't got the gift. He can't hide nuthin'. I kin find out everythin' he
knows by jes' lookin' in his eye.
That's just 'kase he's fool enough ter set a heap o' store by ye,
Nar'sa. He ain't so easy trapped.
Fool enough fur ennythin', she retorted.
An' then thar 's old Dent Kirby. He 'lows the road will be
obligated ter pass by the witch-face arter it gits over yander nigh ter
the valley, whar the ruver squeezes through the mounting agin. He be
always talkin' 'bout signs an' spells an' sech, an' he 'lows the very
look o' the witch-face kerries bad luck, an' it'll taint all ez goes
for'ard an' back'ard a-nigh it.
Ben, said the girl in a low voice, do you-uns b'lieve ef thar war
passin' continual on a sure enough county road that thar cur'ous white
light would kem on the old witch's face in the night-time? Ain't that a
sort'n spell fur the dark an' the lonesomeness ter tarrify a few
quaking dwellers round about? Surely many folks comin' an' goin'
wouldn't see sech. Ghostful things ain't common in a crowd. She moved
a little nearer her brother, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
Some folks can't see the witch-face at all, noways, he replied
stolidly. I hearn the coroner 'low he couldn't.
Narcissa spoke with sudden asperity: I reckon he hev got sense
enough ter view a light whenst it shines inter his eyes. He 'pears ter
be feeble-minded ginerally, and mought n't be able ter pick out the
favor o' the features on the hillside, but surely he'd blink ef a light
war flickered inter his eyeballs.
The road was her precious scheme, and she steadfastly believed that
with the order of the worshipful Quarterly County Court declaring it
open, with a duly appointed overseer and a gang of assigned work-hands
and the presidial fostering care of a road commissioner, the haggard
old semblance must needs desist from supernatural emblazonment in the
awe-stricken nights, and that logic and law would soon serve to
exorcise its baleful influence.
Her mien grew graver as she reflected on the résumé of objections to
the project. Her white bonnet threw a certain white reflection on her
flushed face. Her eyes were downcast as she looked at the river below,
the long lashes seeming almost to touch her cheek. She scarcely moved
them as she turned her gaze upon her brother, who was still seated on
the verge of the cliff.
Waal, sir, I wonder that the pore old road petition hed life enough
in it ter crawl ter the court-house door. With all them agin it, thar
ain't nobody ter be fur it, sca'cely.
Oh, yes, he admitted. Them air fur it ez b'lieves highways
improves proputty, an' hev got land lyin' right alongside whar the road
is axed ter be run; them ez ain't got proputty alongside ain't nigh so
anxious. But that thar strange valley man ez they say hev got a lung
complaint, he won't sign nuther. He owns the house he built up thar on
the flat o' the mounting an' cornsider'ble land, though he don't keep
no stock nor nuthin'. 'Lows the air be soft an' good for the lung
complaint. He 'lows he hev been tryin' ter git shet o' the railroads
an' dirt roads an' human folks, an' he s'posed he hed run ter
the jumpin'-off place, the e-ends o' the yearth; but hyar kems the road
o' civilization a-pursuin' him like the sarpient o' the Pit, with the
knowledge o' good an' evil,a grain o' wheat an' a bushel o'
chaff,an' he reckons he'll hev ter cut an' run again.
Narcissa's lips parted slightly. She listened in amazement to this
strange account of an aversion to that gay world in processional,
chiefly in white-covered wagons, which she longed to see come down the
He be a powerful queer man, said Ben slowly, this hyar Alan
And she felt that this was true.
She sat down beside her brother on the rock, and together they
looked down meditatively on the river. It was reddening now with the
reflection of the reddening clouds. The water, nevertheless, asserted
itself. Lengths of steely brilliancy showed now and again amidst the
roseate suffusion, and anon spaces glimmered vacant of all but a dusky
brown suggestion of depth and a liquid lustre.
Nar'sa, he said at last in a low voice, ye know they 'lowed that
the traveler what war killed, some say by his runaway horse, war
a-comin' ter see him,this Alan Selwyn.
The white bonnet seemed to focus and retain the lingering light in
the landscape. Without its aid he might hardly have made shift to see
They 'lowed they knowed so by the papers the traveler had on him,
though this Selwyn 'lowed he couldn't identify the dead man, he
continued after a pause.
She gazed wonderingly at him, then absently down at the sudden
scintillating white glitter of the reflection of the evening star in
the dusky red water. It burned with a yet purer, calmer radiance in the
roseate skies. She felt the weight of the darkening gloom, gathering
beneath the trees around her, as if it hung palpably on her shoulders.
Waal, he resumed, I b'lieve ef that thar traveler had been able
ter speak ter ye when ye fund him, like ye said he tried ter do, I
b'lieve he would hev tole ye suthin' 'bout that thar valley man. He
's enough likelier ter hev bed suthin' ter do with the suddint takin'
off o' the feller than Con Hite.
Her face was suddenly aghast. Who says Con HiteWhy? She paused,
her voice failing.
Waal, ye know Con be a-moonshinin' again, an' some 'lows ez this
hyar traveler warn't a traveler at all, but a revenuer,strayed off
somehows from the rest o' 'em.
Oh, how I wish he'd stop moonshinin' an' sech!
She moved so suddenly on the edge of the precipice, as she lifted
her hands and drew down her sunbonnet over her face, that Ben's glance
was full of terror.
Move back a mite, Nar'sa; ye'll go over the bluff, fust thing ye
know! Yes, Con's mighty wrong ter be moonshinin'. The law is the right
thing. It purtects us. It holps us all. We-uns owe it obejiunce, like I
hearn a man say in a speech down yander in
The law! cried Narcissa, with scorn. Con Hite kin tromp on the
revenue law from hyar ter the witch-face, fur all I keer. Purtects! I
pity a man ez waits fur the law ter purtect him; it's a heap apter ter
grind him ter pomace. I mind moonshinin' 'kase it's dangersome
fur the moonshiners. The lawI don't count the fibble old law!
She sat brooding for a time, her face downcast. Then she spoke in a
Whyn't ye find out, Ben? What ails ye ter be so good-fur-nuthin'?
Thar be other folks beside Con ez air law-breakers. She edged nearer
to him, laying her hand on his arm. Ye've got to find out, Ben, she
said insistently. Keep an eye on that thar valley man, an' find out
all 'bout'n him. Else the killin' 'll be laid ter Con, who never done
nuthin' hurtful ter nobody in all his life.
The idee jes' streck me ter-day whenst I viewed him along about
that road. Whenst that thar dead man tuk yer han' an' tried ter find a
word of speechWhy, hullo, Narcissa!
With a short cry she had struggled to her feet. The gathering gloom,
the recollection of the tragedy, the association of ideas, bore too
heavily on her nerves. She struck petulantly at his astounded face.
Why air ye always remindin' me? she exclaimed, with a sharp
upbraiding note. And then she began to cry out that she could see again
the coroner's jury pressing close about the corpse, with a keen
ravenous interest like the vile mountain vultures, and then colloguing
together aside, and nodding their heads and saying they had found their
verdict, when they had found nothing, not even the poor dead man; and
she saw them here, and she saw them there, and everywhere in the
darkling mountain woods, and she would see them everywhere as long as
she should live, and she wished with all her heart that they were every
one at the bottom of the black mountain river.
And the slow Ben wondered, as he sought to soothe her and take her
home, that a woman should be so sensitive to the mention of one dead
man, and yet given to such wishes of the wholesale destruction of the
harmless coroner's jury, because their appearance struck her amiss, and
they collogued together, and nodded their heads unacceptably, and found
Except in so far as his sedulously cultivated fraternal sentiments
were concerned, the peculiar domestic training to which Ben Hanway had
been subjected had had slight effect in softening a somewhat hard and
stern character. To continue the canine simile by which his mother had
described him, his gentleness and watchful care toward his sister were
not more reassuring to the public at large than is the tender loyalty
of a guard-dog toward the infant of a house which claims his fealty;
that the dog does not bite the baby is no fair augury that he will not
bite the peddler or the prowler. The fact that the traveler had borne
letters addressed to Alan Selwyn, and no other papers, and yet Alan
Selwyn could not or would not identify him, had already furnished
Hanway with an ever-recurrent subject of cogitation. It had been the
presumption of the coroner's jury, since confirmed by inquiry of the
postmaster, that, going for some purpose to Alan Selwyn's lodge in the
wilderness, the unknown traveler had, in passing, called for his
prospective host's mail at the Cross-Roads, some fifteen miles distant
and the nearest post-office, such being the courtesy of the region. A
visitor often insured a welcome by thus voluntarily expediting the
delivery of the mail some days, or perhaps some weeks, before its
recipient could have hoped to receive it otherwise. Hanway had long
been cognizant of this habit of the Cross-Roads postmaster to accede to
such requests on the part of reputable people, but he was reminded
forcibly of it the next morning. A neighbor, homeward bound from a
visit to the valley, had paused at Hanway's house to leave a letter,
with which he had charged himself, addressed to Selwyn.
I 'lowed ye mought be ridin' over thar some day, bein' ez ye air
toler'ble nigh neighbors, he said.
And Hanway the more willingly undertook the delivery of the missive
since it afforded him a pretext for the reconnoissance which he had
Rain-clouds had succeeded those fine aerial flauntings of the sunset
splendors, and he set out in the pervasive drizzle of a gray day. Torn
and ragged with the rain and the gusts, the white mist seemed to come
to meet him along the vistas of the dreary dripping woods. The tall
trees that shut off the sky loomed loftily through it. Sometimes, as
the wind quickened, it deployed in great luminously white columns,
following the invisible curves of the atmospheric current; and anon, in
flaky detached fragments, it fled dispersed down the avenues like the
scattered stragglers of a routed army. The wind was having the best of
the contest; and though it still rained when he reached the vicinity of
Alan Selwyn's lonely dwelling, the mist was gone, the clouds were all
resolved into the steady fall of the torrents, and the little house on
the slope of the mountain and all its surroundings were visible.
A log cabin it was, containing two rooms and the unaccustomed luxury
of glass windows; so new that the hewn cedar logs had not yet weathered
to the habitual dull gray tone, but glowed jauntily red as the timbers
alternated with the white and yellow daubing. A stanch stone chimney
seemed an unnecessary note of ostentation, since the more usual
structure of clay and sticks might serve as well. It reminded Ben
Hanway that its occupant was not native to the place, and whetted anew
his curiosity as he looked about, the reins on his horse's neck in his
slow approach. It was a sheltered spot; the great mountain's curving
summit rose high toward the north and west above the depression where
the cabin stood; across the narrow valley a still more elevated range
intercepted the east wind. Only to the south was the limited plateau
open, sloping down to great cliffs, giving upon a vast expanse of
mountain and valley and plain and far reaches of undulating country,
promising in fair weather high, pure, soft air, a tempered gentle
breeze, and the best that the sun can do.
He noted the advantages of the situation in reference to the lung
complaint, feeling a loser in some sort; for he had begun to suspect
that the consumptive tendencies of the stranger were a vain pretense,
assumed merely to delude the unwary. He could not have doubted long,
for when he dismounted and hitched his horse to the rail fence he heard
the door of the house open, and as its owner, standing on the threshold
in the wind and the gusty rain, called out to him a welcoming Hello,
the word was followed by a series of hacking coughs which told their
story as definitely as a medical certificate.
Ben Hanway was not a humane man in any special sense, but he was
conscious of haste in concluding the tethering of the animal and in
striding across the vacant weed-grown yard striped with the
Ye'd better git in out'n all this wind an' rain, he said in his
rough voice. A power o' dampness in the air.
No matter. There's no discount on me. Don't take cold nowadays.
I've got right well here already.
The passage-way was dark, but the room into which Ben was ushered,
illumined by two opposite windows, was as bright as the day would
allow. A roaring wood fire in the great chimney-place reinforced the
pallid gray light with glancing red and yellow fluctuations. The
apartment was comfortable enough, although its uses were evidently
multifarious,partly kitchen, and dining-room, and sitting-room. Its
furniture consisted of several plain wooden chairs, a table and
crockery, a few books on a shelf, a lounge in the corner, and a rifle,
after the manner of the mountaineers, over the mantelpiece. Upon the
shelf a cheap clock ticked away the weary minutes of the lonely hours
of the long empty days while the valley man abode here, exiled from
home and friends and his accustomed sphere, and fought out that
hopeless fight for his life.
Ben Hanway gave him a keen, covert stare, as he slowly and clumsily
accepted the tendered chair and his host threw another log on the fire.
Hanway had seen him previously, when Selwyn testified before the
coroner's jury, but to-day he impressed his visitor differently. He was
tall and slight, twenty-five years of age, perhaps, with light brown
hair, sleek and shining and short, a quick blue eye, a fair complexion
with a brilliant flush, and a long mustache. But the bizarre effect
produced by this smiling apparition in the jaws of death seemed to
Hanway's limited experience curiously enhanced by his attire. Its
special peculiarity was an old smoking-jacket, out at the elbows,
ragged at the cuffs, and frayed at the silk collar; Hanway had never
before seen a man wear a red coat, or such foot-gear as the slipshod
embroidered velvet slippers in which he shuffled to a chair and sat
down, tilted back, with his hands in the pockets of his gray trousers.
To be sure, he could but be grave when testifying before a coroner's
jury, but Hanway was hardly prepared for such exuberant cheerfulness as
his manner, his attire, and his face seemed to indicate.
Ain't ye sorter lonesome over hyar? he ventured.
You bet your sweet life I am, his host replied unequivocally. A
shade crossed his face, and vanished in an instant. But then, he
argued, I didn't have such a soft thing where I was. I was a
clerkthat is, a bookkeeperon a salary, and I had to work all day,
and sometimes nearly all night!
He belittled his former vocation with airy contempt, as if he did
not yearn for it with every fibre of his being,its utility, its
competence, its future. The recollection of the very feel of the fair
smooth paper under his hand, the delicate hair-line chirography
trailing off so fast from the swift pen, could wring a pang from him.
He might even have esteemed an oath more binding sworn on a ledger than
on the New Testament.
And we were a small house, anyway, and the salary was no great
shakes, he continued jauntily, to show how little he had to regret.
An' now ye ain't got nuthin' ter do but ter read yer book, said
the mountaineer acquiescently, realizing, in spite of his clumsy mental
processes, how the thorn pierced the bosom pressed against it.
Selwyn followed his guest's glance to the shelf of volumes with an
Yes, but I don't care for it. I wish I did, since I have the time.
But the liking for books has to be cultivated, like a taste for beer;
they are both a deal too sedative for me! The laugh that ensued was
choked with a cough, and the tactless Hanway was moved to expostulate.
I wonder ye ain't 'feared ter be hyar all by yerse'f hevin' the
Why, man alive, I'm well, or so near it there's no use talking. I
could go home to-morrow, except, as I have had the house built, I think
I'd better stay the winter in it. But before the cold weather comes on
they are going to send up a darky to look after me. I only hope I
won't have to wait on him,awful lazy nigger! He used to be a
porter of ours. Loafing around these woods with a gun on his shoulder,
pretending to hunt, will be just about his size. He's out of a job now,
and comes cheap. I couldn't afford to pay him wages all the time, but
winter is winter.
He was silent a moment, gazing into the fire; then Hanway, gloomily
brooding and disturbed, for the conversation had impressed him much as
if it had been post-mortem, so immediate seemed his companion's doom,
felt Selwyn's eye upon him, as if his sentiment were so obvious that
the sense of sight had detected it.
You think I'm going to die up here all by myself. Now I tell you,
my good fellow, dying is the very last thing that I expect to do.
He broke out laughing anew, and this time he did not cough.
Hanway could not at once cover his confusion. He looked frowningly
down at the steam rising from his great cowhide boots, outstretched as
they dried in the heat of the fire, and slowly shifted them one above
the other. The flush on his sunburned cheek rose to the roots of his
dark hair, and overspread his clumsy features. His appearance did not
give token of any very great delicacy of feeling, but he regretted his
transparency, and sought to nullify it.
Not that, he said disingenuously; but bein' all by yerse'f, I
wonder ye ain't willin' fur the county road ter be put through. 'T
would run right by yer gate, an' ye could h'ist the winder an' talk to
the folks passin'. Ye wouldn't be lonely never.
For the first time Selwyn looked like a man of business. His eyes
grew steady. His face was firm and serious and non-committal. He said
nothing. Hanway cleared his throat and crossed his legs anew. The
thought of his true intention in coming hither, not his ostensible
errand, had recurred more than once to his mind,to lay bare the
secret touching the visitor to Selwyn's remote dwelling, whom he could
not or would not identify; and if there were aught amiss, as the
mountaineer suspected, to take such action thereupon as in the fullness
of his own good judgment seemed fit. But since the man was evidently so
sharp, Hanway had hitherto feared even indirectly to trench upon it;
here, however, the opening was so natural, so propitious, that he was
fain to take advantage of it.
An' see, he resumed, what dangers kem o' hevin' no road. That
thar man what war killed las' month, ef we hed hed a reg'lar county
road, worked on an' kep' open, stiddier this hyar herder's trail,
this-a-way an' that, he could hev rid along ez free an' favored, an'
Why, Selwyn broke in, the testimony was to the effect that he was
riding a young, skittish horse, which was startled by stray hogs
breaking at a dead run through the bushes, and that the horse bolted
and ran away. And the man died from concussion of the brain. That would
have happened if we had had a road of the first class, twenty feet
wide, instead of this little seven-foot freak you all are so mashed
His face had not lost a tinge of its brilliant color. His animated
eyes were still fired by that inward flame that was consuming his
years, his days, even his minutes, it might seem. His hands, fine,
white, and delicate, were thrust jauntily into the pockets of his red
jacket, and Hanway felt himself no nearer the heart of the mystery than
before. The subject, evidently, was not avoided, held naught of menace.
He went at it directly.
Seems strange he war a-comin' ter visit you-uns, an' hed yer mail
in his pocket, an' ye never seen him afore, he hazarded, nor knowed
who he war.
But I have found out since, Selwyn said, his clear eyes resting on
his visitor without the vestige of an affrighted thought. He was Mr.
Keith, a chemist from Glaston; he was quite a notable authority on
matters of physical science generally. I had written to him
aboutabout some points of interest in the mountains, and as he was at
leisure he concluded to come and investigateandtake a holiday. He
didn't let me know, and as I had never seen him I didn't at first even
imagine it was he.
There was a silence. Selwyn's blue eyes dwelt on the fast-descending
lines of rain that now blurred all view of the mountains; the globular
drops here and there adhering to the pane, ever dissolving and ever
renewed, obscured even the small privilege of a glimpse of the
dooryard. The continual beat on the roof had the regularity and the
tireless suggestion of machinery.
How did ye find out? demanded Hanway, his theory evaporating into
Why, as he didn't reply to my letter about a matter of such
importancehe checked himself suddenly, then went on more slowlyit
occurred to me that he might have decided to come, and might have been
the man who was killed. So I wrote to his brother. He had not been
expected at home earlier. His brother doesn't incline to the foul-play
theory. The horse he rode is a wild young animal that has run away two
or three times. He had been warned repeatedly against riding that
horse, but he thought him safe enough. The horse has returned
home,got there the day my letter was received. So the brother and an
officer came and exhumed the body: he was buried, you know, after the
inquest, over in the little graveyard yonder on the slope of the
Selwyn shivered slightly, and the fine white hands came out of the
gaudy red pockets, and fastened the frogs beneath the lapels across his
chest, to draw the smoking-jacket closer.
Great Scott! what a fate,to be left in that desolate
burying-ground! Death is death, there.
Death is death anywhar, said the mountaineer gloomily.
No. Get you a mile or two of iron fence, and stone gates, and lots
of sculptured marble angels around, and death is peace, or rest, or
heaven, or paradise, according to your creed and the taste of the
subject; but here you are done for and dead.
Hanway, in the limited experience of the mountaineer, could not
follow the theory, and he forbore to press it further.
Well, Selwyn resumed, they took him home, and I was glad to see
him go. I was glad to see them filling that hole up. I took a pious
interest in that. I should have felt it was waiting for me. I shoveled
some of the earth back myself.
The wind surged around the house, and shook the outer doors. The
rain trampled on the roof like a squadron of cavalry. With his fate
standing ever behind him, almost visibly looking over his shoulder,
although he saw it not, the valley man was a pathetic object to the
mountaineer. Hanway's eyes were hot and burned as he looked at him; if
he had been but a little younger, they might have held tears. But
Hanway had passed by several years his majority, and esteemed himself
exempt from boyish softness.
Selwyn shook off the impression with a shiver, and bent forward to
mend the fire.
Where were you yesterday? he asked, seeking a change of subject.
At home sowin' turnip seed, mos'ly. I never hearn nuthin' 'bout'n
Selwyn threw himself back in his chair, his brow corrugated
impatiently at this renewal of the theme, and in the emergency he even
resorted to the much-mooted point of the thoroughfare.
I suppose all the family there are dead gone on that road? he
sought to make talk.
Dad an' aunt M'nervy don't keer one way nor another, but my sister
air plumb beset fur the jury of view to put it through.
Why? Selwyn had a mental vision of some elderly, thrifty mountain
dame with a long head turned toward the enhancement of the values of a
league or so of mountain land.
Hanway, slow and tenacious of impressions, could not so readily
rouse a vital interest in another subject. He still gazed with
melancholy eyes at the fire, and his heart felt heavy and sore.
Waal, he answered mechanically, she 'lows she wants ter see the
folks go up an' down, an' up an' down.
Selwyn's blue eyes opened. Folks? he asked wonderingly. The rarest
of apparitions on Witch-Face Mountain were folks.
Hanway roused himself slightly, and raucously cleared his throat to
She 'lows thar'll be cornsider'ble passin'. Folks, in the fall o'
the year, mought be a-wagonin' of chestnuts over the mounting an' down
ter Colb'ry; an' thar's the Quarterly Court days; some attends,
leastwise the jestices; an' whenst they hev preachin' in the Cove; an'
wunst in a while thar mought be a camp-meetin'. She sets
cornsider'ble store on lookin' at the folks ez will go up an' down.
There was a swift movement in the pupils of the valley man's eyes.
It was an expression closely correlated to laughter, but the muscles of
his face were still, and he remained decorously grave.
There was some thought in his mind that held him doubtful for a
moment. His craft was cautious of its kind, and his manner was quite
incidental as he said, And the others of the family?
Thar ain't no others, returned Hanway, stolidly unmarking.
Oh, so you are the eldest?
By five year. Narcissa ain't more 'n jes' turned eighteen.
The valley man's face was flushed more deeply still; his brilliant
eyes were elated.
Narcissa! he cried, with the joy of delighted
identification. She is the girl, then, that testified at the inquest.
Hanway lifted his head, with a strong look of surly objection on his
heavy features. Selwyn noted it with a glow of growing anger. He felt
that he had said naught amiss. People could not expect their sisters to
escape attracting notice, especially a sister with a remarkable name
and endowed with a face like this one's.
Narcissa,that's an odd name, he said, partly in bravado, and
partly in justification of the propriety of his previous mention of
her. I knew a man once named Narcissus. Must be the feminine of
Narcissus. Good name for her, though. The recollection of the white
flower-like face, the corolla of red-gold hair, came over him. Looks
just like 'em.
Hanway, albeit all alert now, descried in this naught more poetical
than the fact that Selwyn considered that his sister resembled a man of
his acquaintance. As for that fairest of all spring flowers, it had
never gladdened the backwoods range of his vision.
The exclusive tendency of the human mind is tested by this discovery
of a casual resemblance to a stranger. One invariably sustains an
affront at its mention. Whatever one's exterior may be, it possesses
the unique merit of being one's own, and the aversion to share its
traits with another, and that other a stranger, is universal. In this
instance the objection was enhanced by the fact that the stranger was a
man; ergo, in Hanway's opinion, more or less clumsy and burly
and ugly; the masculine type of his acquaintance presenting to his mind
few of the superior elements of beauty. He resented the liberty the
stranger took in resembling Narcissa, and he resented still more
Selwyn's effrontery in discovering the likeness.
Not ez much alike ez two black-eyed peas, now. I reckon not,I
reckon not, he sneered, as he rose to bring his visit to an end.
His host's words of incipient surprise were checked as Hanway slowly
drew forth from his pocket a letter.
Old man Binney war at the Cross-Roads Sad'day, an' he fotched up
some mail fur the neighbors. He lef' this letter fur you-uns at our
house, 'lowin' ez I would fetch it over.
Selwyn sat silent for a moment. He felt that severe reprehension and
distrust which a man of business always manifests upon even the most
trifling interference with his vested rights in his own mail matter.
The rural method of aiding in distributing the mail was peculiarly
unpalatable to him. He much preferred that his letters should lie in
the post-office at the Cross-Roads until such time as it suited his
convenience to saddle his horse and ride thither for them. The
postmaster, on the contrary, seized the opportunity whenever
responsible parties were ridin' up inter the mounting to entrust to
them the neighborhood mail, thus expediting its delivery perhaps by
three weeks, or even more, and receiving in every instance the
benediction of his distant beneficiaries of the backwoods.
I'll write to the postmaster this very day! Selwyn thought, as he
tore the envelope open and mastered its contents at a swift glance. A
half-suppressed but delighted excitement shone suddenly in his eyes,
and smoothed every line of agitation and anxiety from his brow.
I'm a thousand times obliged to you for bringing it, he exclaimed,
and for staying awhile and talking! I wish you would come again. But
I'm coming to see you, to return your call. He laughed gayly at the
sophisticated phrase. Coming soon.
Hanway's growl of pretended pleasure in the prospect was rendered
nearly inarticulate by the thought of Narcissa. He had not anticipated
a return of the courtesy. He had no welcome for this stranger, and
somehow he felt that he did not altogether understand Narcissa at
times; that she had flights of fancy which were beyond him, and took a
mischievous pleasure in tantalizing him, and was freakish and hard to
Moreover, under the influence of this reaction of feeling, a modicum
of his doubts of Selwyn had revived. Not that he suspected him, as
heretofore, but a phrase that had earlier struck his attention came
back to him. Selwyn had written, he said, to the traveler to come and
investigate, and he had hesitated and chosen his phrases, and half
discarded them, and slurred over his statement. What was there to
investigate in the mountains? What prospect of profit worth a long,
lonely journey and a risk that ended in death? The capture of
moonshiners was said to be a paying business, and an informer also
reaped a reward. Hanway wondered if Con Hite could be the point of
investigation, if the dead man were indeed of the revenue force.
Oh, you needn't shut the door on me, Selwyn said, as they stood
together in the passage, and Hanway, with his instinct to cut him off,
had made a motion to draw the door after him; this mountain air is so
bland, even when it is damp. He paused on the dripping threshold, with
his hands in the pockets of his red jacket, and surveyed with smiling
complacence the forlorn, weeping day, and the mountains cowering under
their misty veil, and the sodden dooryard, and the wild rocks and
chasms of the gorge, adown the trough of which a stream unknown to the
dry weather was tumbling with a suggestion of flight and trouble and
fear in its precipitancy. I'm well, well as a bear; and I'm getting
fat as a bear, doing nothing. Feel my arm. I'm just following the
example of the bears about this time of the year,hibernating, going
into winter quarters. I'm going to get this place into good shape to
sell some day. I have bought that land over there all down the gorge
from Squire Helm; and last July I bought all that slope at the tax
sale, but that is subject to redemption; and then I am trying to buy in
the rear of my wigwam, too,a thousand acres.
Ye kin sell it higher ef the road goes through, said Hanway
It seemed very odd that the man who protested that his stay in the
mountains was so temporary, and whose stay in the world was evidently
so short, should spend his obviously scanty substance in purchase after
purchase of the worthless mountain wilderness. To be sure, the land was
cheap, but it cost something. And Hanway looked again at the frayed
cuffs and elbows of the red smoking-jacket. In his infrequent visits to
Colbury, he had noted the variance of the men's costumes with the
mountain standard of dress. He saw naught like this, but he knew that
if ever the sober burghers lent themselves to this sort of fantastic
toggery, it was certainly whole.
Say, my friend, what day does the jury of view hold forth? Selwyn
called out after the slouching figure, striped with the diagonal lines
of rain and flouted by the wind, tramping across the weeds of the yard
to his horse.
Nex' Chewsday week, Hanway responded hoarsely.
Well, if this weather holds out, it is to be hoped that the
gentlemen of the jury are web-footed! Selwyn exclaimed.
He shut the door, and as he went back to his lonely hearth his eyes
fell upon the letter lying on the table.
Now, he said as he took it again in his hand, if fate should
truly cut such a caper as to make my fortune in this forlorn exile, I
could find it in my heart to laugh the longest and the loudest at the
If it had been within the power of the worshipful Quarterly County
Court to issue a mandamus to compel fair weather on that notable
Tuesday when the jury of view were to set forth, the god of day could
scarcely have obeyed with more alacrity that peremptory writ once
poetically ranked as one of the flowers of the crown. The burnished
yellow sunshine had a suggestion of joyous exuberance in its wide
suffusions. Even the recurrent fluctuations of shadow but gave its
pervasive sheen the effect of motion and added embellishment. The wind,
hilarious, loud, piping gayly a tuneful stave, shepherded the clouds in
the fair fields of the high sky, driving the flocculent white masses
here and there as listed a changing will. The trees were red and
yellow, the leaves firm, full-fleshed, as if the ebbing sap of summer
still ran high in every fibre; their tint seemed no hectic dying taint,
but some inherent chromatic richness. Fine avenues the eye might open
amongst the rough brown boles that stood in dense ranks,
preternaturally dark and distinct, washed by the recent rains, and
thrown into prominence by the masses of yellow and red leaves carpeting
the ground, and the red and yellow boughs hanging low above. They
dispensed to the light, clarified air an aromatic richness that the
lungs rejoiced to breathe, and all their flare of color might have
seemed adequate illumination of their demesne without serving writs of
mandamus on the sun; and indeed, the Quarterly County Court was fain to
concern itself with far lesser matters, and wield slighter weapons. The
jury of view, in a close squad, ambling along at an easy gait, mounted
on nags as diverse in appearance, age, and manner as the riders,
sufficiently expressed its authority and their own diligence in its
behests, and their spirits had risen to the propitious aspect of the
weather and the occasion. Their advent into this secluded region of the
districtfor to secure a strict impartiality they were not of the
immediate neighborhood, and had no interest which could be affected by
their reportwas not hailed with universal satisfaction.
Jes' look at 'em, now, said old man Binney, as he stood in his
door, leaning on his stick, to watch them pass,a jury o' view. An'
who ever viewed a jury a-horseback afore? An' thar ain't but seben on
'em!laboriously counting, five, six, seben. Thar's twelve
men on a sure enough jury! I counted the panel ez hung Ezekiel Tilbuts
fur a-murderin' of his wife. I war thar in town whenst they fetched in
thar verdic'. I dunno what the kentry be a-comin' ter! Shucks! I ain't
a-goin' ter abide by the say-so o' no sech skimpy jury ez this hyar.
I'll go ter town an' see old Lawyer Gryce 'bout it, fust.
And with this extremest threat of vengeance he brought his stick
down on the floor with so vigorous a thump that it had a certain
profane effect; then having from under his bushy gray eyebrows gazed at
the diminishing group till it was but a dim speck in the distance, he
went in muttering, banging the door as if to shut out and reject the
sight. His objection might have been intensified had he known that the
days were at hand when legislative wisdom would still further reduce
this engine of the law, making it consist of one road commissioner and
two freeholders, the trio still pridefully denominated a jury of
Others, however, favoring the enterprise, cheerfully fell into the
line of march; and as the way lengthened the cavalcade grew, mustering
recruits as it went.
Disputatious voices suddenly sounded loud on the clear air in front
of them, mingled with the thud of horses' hoofs, the jingle of spurs,
and now and again the whinny of a colt; and at the intersection of the
trail with a narrow winding path there rode into view old Persimmon
Sneed,as he was sometimes disrespectfully nicknamed, owing to a
juvenile and voracious fondness for the most toothsome delicacy of
autumn woods,arguing loudly, and with a lordly intolerance of
contradiction, with two men who accompanied him, while his sleek
claybank mare also argued loudly with her colt. She had much ado to
pace soberly forward, even under the coercion of whip and spur, while
her madcap scion galloped wildly ahead or lagged far in the rear, and
made now and then excursions into the woods, out of sight, to gratify
some adolescent curiosity, or perhaps, after the fashion of other and
human adolescents, to relish the spectacle of the maternal anxiety.
Ever and anon the sound of the mare's troubled call rang on the air.
Then the colt would come with a burst of speed, a turbulent rush, out
of the underbrush, and, with its keen head-tones of a whinny, all
funnily treble and out of tune, dash on in advance. The rider of this
preoccupied steed was a grizzled, lank, thin-visaged mountaineer, with
a tuft of beard on his chin, but a shaven jowl, where, however, the
black-and-gray stubble of several days' avoidance of the razor put
forth unabashed. He shook his finger impressively at the jury of view
as he approached them.
Ef ye put this hyar road through my land, he said solemnly, I'll
be teetotally ruinationed. The cattle-thievin' that'll go on, with the
woods so open an' the road so convenient, an' yit no travel sca'cely,
will be a scandal ter the jay-bird. I won't hev so much lef' ez the
horn of a muley cow!
And with this extreme statement he whirled his horse and rode on at
the head of the cavalcade in dignified silence. He was not a dweller in
the immediate vicinity, but hailed from the Cove,a man of substance
and a large cattle-owner, pasturing his herds, duly branded, on a tract
of unfenced wilderness, his mountain lands, where they roamed in the
safe solitudes of those deep seclusions during the summer, and were
rounded up, well fattened, and driven home at the approach of winter.
He was the typical man of convictions, one who entertains a serious
belief that he possesses a governing conscience instead of an abiding
delight in his own way. He had a keen eye, with an upward glance from
under the brim of his big wool hat, and he looked alert to descry any
encroachment on his vested rights to prescribe opinion. The jury of
view were destined to find it a doubtful boon that the road law
interposed no insurmountable obstacle to prevent their hearing thus
informally the views of those interested.
Persimmon Sneed's deep feeling on the subject had been evinced by
his dispensing with the customary salutations, and one of the jury of
view, with a mollifying intention, observed that they would use their
best judgment to promote the interests of all parties.
Ai-yi! said Persimmon Sneed, ruefully shaking his head. But
s'pose ye hev got mighty pore jedgmint? Ye'll be like mos' folks I
know, ef ye hev. I'd ruther use my own best jedgmint, a sight.
At which another of the jury suavely remarked that they would seek
to be impartial.
That's jes' what I kem along fur, exclaimed Persimmon Sneed
triumphantly,ter show ye edzac'ly whar the bull's eye be. Thar ain't
no use fur this road, an' ye air bound ter see it ef ye ain't nowise
one-sided and partial.
The jury relapsed into silence and rode steadily on.
The true raw material of contradiction lay in three younger men
among the spectators, contumacious, vehement, and, albeit opposed to
the road, much inclined to spoke the wheel of old Persimmon Sneed,
however that wheel might revolve.
I got caught on a jury in a criminal case with him wunst, Silas
Boyd, a heavy, thick-set, tall young fellow with a belligerent eye and
a portentously square jaw, said sotto voce to his next comrade.
I hev sarved on a jury with him,locked up fur a week 'thout no
verdic'. He ain't got no respec' fur no other man's say-so. An' he
talks 'bout his oath ez ef he war the only man in Tennessee ez
ever war swore on the 'Holy Evangelists o' Almighty Gawd' in the
court-house. He fairly stamped on my feelin's, in that Jenkins case,
ter make me agree with him; but I couldn't agree, an' it hung the jury,
ez they say. I wisht they hed hung the foreman! By Hokey, I despise a
hard-headed, 'pinionated man.
Look at his back, rejoined Jeremiah Sayres, a man of theory, who
had a light undecided tint of hair and beard and scraggy mustache, and
a blond complexion burned a permanent solid red by the summer sun. I'd
know his dispositions by his back. He waved his hand at the brown
jeans coat that draped a spare and angular but singularly erect back,
which scarcely seemed to move in response to the motions of the mare
pacing briskly along. What sorter back is that fur a man risin' fifty
year old?straight ez a ramrod, an' ez stiff. But, Silas, ef ever ye
git the better o' him, ye hev got ter break it.
I hearn his third wife married him ter git rid o' him, put in
Peter Sims, given to gossip. She 'lowed he warn't nigh so tarrifyin'
'roun' his own house, a-feedin' the peegs, an' ploughin' an' cuttin'
wood, an' sech, occupied somehows, ez he war a-settin' up in his
Sunday best at her house, with nuthin' ter do, allowin' she hed
ter marry him, whether or not, 'kase he wouldn't hev 'No' fur a
An' look at it now! exclaimed Silas Boyd, unexpectedly reinforced
by the matrimonial phase of the question. That thar man hev
bodaciously argued an' contradicted two wimmin out'n this vale o'
tears. An' everybody knows it takes a power o' contradiction to out-do
a woman. He oughter be indicted for cold-blooded murder! That's what!
He nodded vindictively at the straight jeans-clad back in advance of
Over and again the party called a halt, to push about in search of a
practicable seven-foot passage amongst crags and chasms, and to contend
with the various insistence touching devious ways preferred by the
honorary attendants, who often seemed to forget that they themselves
were not in the exercise of a delegated jury duty. Tangles impeded,
doubts beset them, although the axe by which the desired route had been
blazed out aforetime by the petitioners had been zealous and active;
but the part of a pioneer in a primeval wilderness is indeed the
threading of a clueless labyrinth, and both sun and compass were
consulted often before the continued direction of the road could be
determined and located.
In such cases, to the lovers of the consistent in character, the
respective traits of old Persimmon Sneed and Silas Boyd were displayed
in all their pristine value; for although their interests were
identical, both being opposed to the opening of the road, the
dictatorial arrogations of the elder man and the pugnacious persistence
of the younger served to antagonize them on many a minor point in
question, subsidiary to the main issue, as definitely as if they were
each arrayed against the other, instead of both being in arms under the
No Road banner.
Mighty nigh ez interestin' ez a dog-fight, said Jeremiah Sayres in
an aside to one of the jury.
Midday found them considerably advanced on their way, but brought to
a halt by an insistence on the part of Silas Boyd that the road should
be diverted from a certain depression showing marshy tendencies to a
rugged slope where the footing was dry but difficult.
That's under water more 'n haffen the winter, I'll take my
everlastin' oath. Ef the road runs thar, that piece will take enough
mendin' in a season ter keep up ten mile o' dry road, he argued
Water ain't dangersome, nowise, retorted the elderly Persimmon,
with a snarling smile. Healthier 'n whiskey, my frien',heap
healthier 'n whiskey.
Boyd's serious countenance colored darkly red with wrath. Among the
aggressive virtues of old Persimmon Sneed were certain whiskey-proof
temperance principles, the recollection of which was peculiarly
irritating to Silas Boyd, known to be more than ordinarily susceptible
to proof whiskey.
I be a perfessin' Baptis', Mr. Sneed, he retorted quickly. I got
no objection ter water, 'ceptin' fur the onregenerate an' spurners o'
Now Persimmon Sneed had argued the plan of atonement on every
possible basis known to his extremely limited polemical outlook, and
could agree with none. If any sect of eclectics had been within his
reach, he would most joyfully have cast his spiritual fortunes with
them, for he felt himself better than very many conspicuous Christians;
and as he would have joyed in a pose of sanctity, the reproach of being
a member of no church touched him deeply.
I ain't no ransomed saint, I know, he vociferated,I ain't no
ransomed saint! But ef the truth war known, ye ain't got no religion
nuther! That leetle duckin' ez ye call 'immersion' jes' diluted the
'riginal sin in ye mighty leetle. Ye air a toler'ble strong toddy o'
iniquity yit. That thar water tempered the whiskey ye drink mighty
The Christian grace of Silas Boyd was put to a stronger test than it
might have been deemed capable of sustaining. But Sneed was a far older
man, and as nothing short of breaking his stiff neck might suffice to
tame him, Silas Boyd summoned his self-control, and held his tingling
hands, and gave himself only to retort.
I wouldn't take that off'n ye, Mr. Sneed, 'ceptin' I be a
perfessin' member, an' pity them ez is still in the wiles an' delusions
What might have ensued in the nature of counterthrust, as Persimmon
Sneed heard himself called by inference an object of pity, the
subsidiary group were spared from learning, for at that moment the
sound of steps heralded an approach, and Ben Hanway came into the
circle, and sought to claim the attention of the party, inviting them
to dine and pass the nooning hour at his house. His countenance was
adjusted to the smile of hospitality, but it wore the expression like a
mask, and he seemed ill at ease. He had been contending all the morning
with Narcissa's freakishness, which he thought intensified by the
presence of the valley man, who was returning the civility of that
ill-omened visit, and who, by reason of the abnormal excitements of the
day, had been received with scant formality, and was already upon the
footing of a familiar friend. Selwyn stood smilingly in the way hard
by, speaking to those of the men as they passed who gave his presence
the meed of a start and a stare of blank surprise, or a curt nod.
Narcissa lingered in the background, beneath a great oak; her chin was
a little lifted with a touch of displeasure; the eyelids drooped over
her brown eyes; her hands, with her wonted careless gesture and with a
certain mechanical effort to dispel embarrassment, were raised to the
curtain of her white sunbonnet, and spread its folds wingwise behind
her auburn hair. Sundry acquaintances among the honorary attendants
paused to greet her pleasantly as they passed, but old Sneed's
disapprobation of a woman's appearance on so public an occasion was
plainly expressed on his features. For all the Turks are not in Turkey.
She followed with frowning, disaffected eyes the procession of men and
horses and dogs and colts wending up to the invisible house hidden
amongst the full-leaved autumn woods.
Well, that's the jury of view; and what do you think of them?
asked Selwyn, watching too, but smilingly, the cavalcade.
Some similar ter the cor'ner's jury. But they hed suthin'
ter look tormented an' tribulated 'bout, said the girl, evidently
disappointed to find the jury of view not more cheerful of aspect. But
mebbe conversin' a passel by the way with old Persimmon Sneed is
powerful depressin' ter the sperits.
Selwyn's face grew grave at the mention of the coroner's jury.
I'm afraid that poor fellow missed something good, he said.
Still holding out her sunbonnet in wide distention, she slowly set
forth along the path, not even turning back, for sheer perversity, as
she saw Ben look anxiously over his shoulder to descry if she followed
in the distance.
Thar ain't much good in life nohow. Things seem set contrariwise.
Then, after a moment, and turning her eyes upon him, for she had an
almost personal interest in the man whose tragic fate she had first of
all discovered, What sorter good thing did he miss? she asked, as she
settled her sunbonnet soberly on her head.
WellSelwyn began; then he hesitated. He had spoken rather than
thought, for he thought little, and he was not used to keeping secrets.
Moreover, despite his courageous disbelief in his coming fate, he must
have had some yearnings for sympathy; the iron of his exile surely
entered his soul at times. The girl, so delicately framed, so
flower-like of face, seemed alien to her rude surroundings and the
burly, heavy, matter-of-fact folk about her. Her spirituelle presence
did away in a measure with the realization of her limitations, her
ignorance, and the uncouth surroundings. Even her dress seemed to him
hardly amiss, for there then reigned a fleeting metropolitan fashion of
straight full flowing skirts and short waists and closely fitting
sleeves,a straining after picture-like effects which Narcissa's
attire accomplished without conscious effort, the costume of the
mountain women for a hundred years or more. The sunbonnet itself was
but the defensive appurtenance of many a Southern city girl, when
a-summering in the country, who esteems herself the possessor of a
remarkably beautiful complexion, and heroically proposes to conserve
it. Unlike the men, Narcissa's personality did not suggest the distance
between them in sophistication, in culture, in refinement, in the small
matters of external polish. She seemed not so far from his world, and
it was long since he had walked fraternally by the side of some fair
girl, and talked freely of himself, his views, his plans, his vagaries,
as men, when very young, are wont to do, and as they rarely talk to one
another. He had so sedulously sought to content himself with the
conditions of his closing existence that the process of reconciling the
habit of better things was lost in simple acceptance. He was still
young, and the sun shone, and the air was clear and pure and soft, and
he walked by the side of a girl, fair and good and not altogether
unwise, and he was happy in the blessings vouchsafed.
After a moment he replied: Well, I thought he might have made a lot
of money. I thought I might go partners with him. I had written to
Her face did not change; it was still grave and solicitous within
the white frame of her sunbonnet, but its expression did not deepen.
She did not pity the dead man because he died without the money he had
had a chance to make. She evidently had not even scant knowledge of
that most absorbing passion, the love of gain, and she did not value
Somehow whenst folks dies by accident, it 'pears ter me a
mistakesomehowsez ef they war choused out'n time what war laid off
fur them an' their'n by right. Evidently she did not lack sensibility.
Yes, he rejoined, and you know money makes a lot of difference in
people's lives there in the valley towns. Lord knows, 't would in
He swung his riding-whip dejectedly to and fro in his hand as he
spoke, and she pushed back her sunbonnet to look seriously at him. He
was a miracle of elegance in her estimation, but the fawn-colored suit
which he wore owed its nattiness rather to his own symmetry than the
cut or the cloth, and he had worn it a year ago. His immaculate linen,
somewhat flabby,for the mountain laundress is averse to starch,had
been delicately trimmed by a deft pair of scissors around the raveling
edges of the cuffs and collar, and showed rather what it had been than
what it was. His straw hat was pushed a trifle back from his face, in
which the sunburn and the inward fire competed to lay on the tints. She
did not see how nor what he lacked. Still, if he wanted it, she pitied
him that he did not have it.
Waal, can't you-uns make it, the same way?
She asked this sympathetically. She was beginning to experience a
certain self-reproach in regard to him, and it gave her unwonted
gentleness. She felt that she had been too quick to suspect. Since
Ben's report of the reconnoitring interview on which she had sent him
in Con Hite's interest, she had dismissed the idea that Selwyn was in
aught concerned with the traveler's sudden and violent death; and she
did not incline easily to the substituted suspicion that the dead man
was a revenuer, and that Selwyn had written to him to recommend the
investigation of Con Hite, whose implication in moonshining he had some
cause to divine.
Narcissa had marked with displeasure Ben's surly manner to the
valley man, connecting it with these considerations, and never dreaming
that it was her acquaintance which her brother grudged the stranger.
I ought never ter hev set Ben after him, she thought ruefully.
He'll hang on ter him like a bulldog. But aloud she only said, You
kin make the money all the same.
Oh, I'll try, like a little man! he exclaimed, rousing himself to
renewed hope. I have written to another scientific fellow, and he has
promised to come and investigate. I hope to Heaven he won't break his
She also marked the word investigate, which had so smitten Ben's
attention, and marveled what matter it might be in the mountains worth
investigating, and promissory of gain, if not the still-hunt, as it
were, of the wily moonshiners. But yet her faith in Selwyn's motives
and good will, so suddenly adopted, held fast.
Con Hite mus' l'arn ter look out fur hisse'f, she thought
fretfully, for she could not discern into what disastrous swirl she
might be guiding events as she took the helm. He's big enough, the
The little log cabin on the slope of the ascent had come into sight.
They had followed but slowly; the horses were already tethered to the
rails of the fence, and the jury of view and its escort had disappeared
within. A very spirited fracas was in progress between the visiting
dogs and the inhospitable home canines, and once Ben appeared in the
passageway and hoarsely called his hounds off.
I ain't a-goin' ter hurry, Narcissa remarked cavalierly. Let Ben
an' aunt Minervy dish up an' wait on 'em. They won't miss me. Thar's
nuthin' in this worl' a gormandizin' man kin miss at
Selwyn made no comment on this touch of reprisal in Narcissa's
manner. If old Persimmon Sneed had deemed her coming forth to meet them
superfluous, she in her own good judgment could deem her presence at
table an empty show.
I ain't a-goin' in, she continued. Ye kin go, she added, with a
hasty afterthought. Thar's a cheer sot ter the table fur you-uns. I'm
goin' ter bide hyar. They 'll git done arter a while.
She sat languidly down on a step of a stile that went over the fence
at a considerable distance from the house, and Selwyn, protesting that
he wanted no dinner, established himself on the protruding roots of a
great beech-tree that, like gigantic, knuckled, gnarled fingers,
visibly took a great grasp of the earth before sinking their tips far
out of sight beneath. The shade was dense; the sound of water trickling
into the rude horse-trough on the opposite side of the path that was to
be a road was delicious in its cool suggestion, for the landscape, far,
far to see, blazed as with the refulgence of a summer sun. The odor of
the apple orchard, heavily fruited, was mellow on the air, and the
red-freighted boughs of an old winesap bent above the girl's head as
she sat with her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand. She gazed
dreamily away at those vividly blue ranges, whither one might fancy
summer had fled, so little affinity had their aspect with the network
of intermediate brown valleys, and nearer garnet slopes, and the red
and yellow oak boughs close at hand, hanging above the precipice and
limiting the outlook.
Yes, he said, after a moment's cogitation, while he absently
turned a cluster of beech-nuts in his hands, I'll try it, for keeps,
you may bet,if you were a betting character. There's lots of good
things going in these mountains; that is, if a fellow had the money to
get 'em out.
He looked up a trifle drearily from under the brim of his straw hat
at the smiling summertide of those blue mountains yonder. Oh, fair and
feigning prospect, what wide and alluring perspectives! He drew a long
sigh. Is it better to know so surely that winter is a-coming?
An' the sense, too, remarked Narcissa, her eyes still dreamily
dwelling on the distance.
He roused himself. The unconsciously flattering inference was too
slight not to be lawfully appropriated.
Yes, the sense and the enterprise. Now, these mountaineers,he
spoke as if she had no part among them, forgetting it, indeed, for the
moment,they let marble and silver and iron, and gold too, all sorts
of natural wealth, millions and millions of the finest hard-wood
timber, lie here undeveloped, without making the least effort to
realize on it, without lifting a finger. They have got no enterprise in
the world, and they are the most dilatory, slowest gang I ever ran
across in my life.
A dimple deepened in the soft fairness of her cheek under the white
They got enterprise enough ter want a road, she drawled, fixing
her eyes upon him for a moment, then reverting to her former outlook.
He was a trifle embarrassed, and lost his balance.
Oh, I'll want a road, too, after a while, he returned. All
in good time. He laughed as if to himself, a touch of mystery in his
tone, and he took off his hat and jauntily fanned himself.
Sorter dil'tory yerse'f now; 'pears ter be a ketchin' complaint,
like the measles.
Perhaps she secretly resented the reflection on the mountaineers,
for there was a certain bellicose intention in her eye, a disposition
to push him to his last defenses.
No; but a body would think a fellow might get enough intelligent
coöperation in any promising matter from right around here without
corresponding all over the country. And the mountaineers don't know
anything, and they don't want to learn anything. Now, convincingly,
what would any of those fellows in there say if I should tell them
that I could take a match he pulled a handful of lucifers from, his
pocketand set a spring afire?
She gazed at him in dumb surprise.
They'd say I was lying, I reckon, he hazarded. With an ebullition
of laughter, he hastily scrambled to his feet and unhitched his horse;
then, as he put his foot in the stirrup, he paused and added, Or else,
'Better leave it be, sonny,' with the effrontery of mimicry. 'Mought
set the mounting afire.'
He forthwith swung himself into the saddle, and, with a jaunty wave
of the hand in adieu, fared forth homeward, leaving her staring after
him in wide-eyed amazement.
The love of contention served, in the case of old Persimmon Sneed,
in the stead of industry, of rectitude, of perseverance, of judgment,
of every quality that should adorn a man. So eager was he to be off and
at the road again that he could scarcely wait to swallow his refection.
All the charms of the profusely spread board had not availed to decoy
him from the subject, and the repast of the devoted jury of view was
seasoned with his sage advice and vehement argument against the
project, which its advocates, fully occupied, failed for the nonce to
combat. Now and again Mrs. Minerva Slade sought to interpose in their
behalf, and many a tempting trencher was thrust to his elbow to divert
the tenor of his discourse. But despite his youthful vulnerability to
the dainty which had won him his sobriquet, Persimmon Sneed's palate
was not more susceptible to the allurements of flattery than his hard
head or his obdurate heart. There was, however, at intervals, a lively
clatter of his knife and fork, and some redoubtable activity on the
part of his store teeth, frankly false, and without doubt the only
false thing about him. Then he hustled up the jury of view and their
confrères to the resumption of their duties, and was the first man
to put foot in stirrup. Certain other mountaineers would fain have
lingered, as was manifest by the triangular slices of apple custard
pie in their hands, as they stood, still munching, on the porch,
watching the departing jury of view with their active and aged
precursor, and by their loitering farewells and thanks to Aunt Minerva
Slade. A beaming countenance did she wear this day. She had cooked to
some cheerful purpose. Not one failure had marred the menu, in
testimony of which, as she afterward remarked, I never seen scraps so
skimpy. Her spectacles reflected the bland light of the day as
smilingly as the eyes above which they were poised, as she stood in the
doorway, and with fluttering graciousness received the homage of her
That youngest one, Con Hite, was sorter mild-mannered an' meek,
she afterward said, often recounting the culinary triumphs of the great
day, an' I misdoubts but he hed the deespepsy, fur he war the only one
ez didn't pitch in an' eat like he war tryin' to pervide fur a week's
fastin'. I reckon they all knowed what sort'n pitiful table they sets
out at Mis' Cornely Hood's, t'other side the mounting, whar they
expected ter stop fur supper, an' war a-goin' ter lay up suthin' agin
For an hour, perhaps, before reaching Hanway's, Con Hite had ridden
with the jury of view. He had not much expectation of influencing the
fate of the road in any respect by his presence, but he felt it was a
matter of consistency to appear with the others of the opposition. He
desired, too, to publicly urge, as his reason for objecting to the
project, the insufficiency of hands in so sparsely populated a region
to make a road and keep it in repair; lest another reason, the wish to
preserve the seclusion so dear to the moonshiner, be attributed to him.
This matter of policy had been made very palatable by the probability
that he would see Narcissa, and it was with a deep disappointment that
he beheld Selwyn beside her, and received only a slight movement of her
drooping eyelids as a token of recognition and welcome. He had been
minded to dismount and walk with her, but his heart burned with
resentment. Of what worth now were all his buoyant anticipations, while
she was listening to the sugared flatteries of the town cuss? He had
this subject for cogitation, while, in a stifling room, he was regaled
with hard cider and apple-jack by no more fascinating Hebe than old
Mrs. Slade, with her withered sallow skin, her excited, anxious eye,
her fluttered, tremulous, skinny fingers, her hysteric cap with its
maddeningly flying strings, and her wonderfully swift venerable scamper
in and out of the kitchen.
Con Hite was the last to go. He led his horse down to the
watering-trough, oblivious of the stream, with its ample supply, a
hundred yards or so further on and in full view; and as he stood there,
with his hand on the animal's shoulder, he turned his eyes, somewhat
wistful, though wont to be so bold and bright, upon Narcissa, still
seated on the stile. Her own brown long-lashed eyes had a far-away look
in them. They evidently passed him over absently, and followed the
squad of men swiftly trotting adown the road, all in good heart and
good temper again, to take up their duty where they had laid it down.
No faint vestige of a dimple was now in her daintily white cheek.
Ye be powerful sparin' o' speech ter-day, he remarked.
Her eyes did not move from the distant landscape. Folks ez hev got
nuthin' ter say would do well ter say it.
He flushed. Ye hed mo' ter say ter the stranger-man.
Don't see him so powerful frequent. When a thing is sca'ce, it's
apt ter be ch'ice, she retorted.
She experienced a certain satisfaction in her acridity. For his
sake, lest suspicion befall him, she had sought to inaugurate an
investigationnay, a persecutionof this man, and he a stranger; and
but that circumstance was kind to him, her effort might have resulted
cruelly. And now that she had done so much for Con Hite, it was her
pleasure to take it out on him, as the phrase goes. All unaware of this
curious mental attitude, he winced under her satire.
Waal, I kin make myself sca'ce, too, he said, an impulse of pride
surging in his heart.
It mought be better fur ye, she replied indifferently.
His momentary independence left him suddenly.
Narcissa, he said reproachfully, ye didn't always talk this way
That ain't news ter me. Ben 'lows ez I talk six ways fur Sunday.
Ye dunno how I feel, not knowin' how ye be set towards me, an'
hevin' ter see ye so seldom, a-workin' all the time down yander,
I wouldn't talk 'bout it so turr'ble loud. She glanced
apprehensively over her shoulder. An' ye'd better quit it, ennyhows.
Ye 'lows it be wrong, he said, his bold bright eyes all softened
as he looked at her, bein' agin the law?
I ain't keerin' fur the law. Ef the truth war knowed, the law is
aimin' ter git all the benefit o' whiskey bein' drunk itself. That's
whar the law kems in. I only keer furShe stopped abruptly. She had
nearly revealed to him that she cared only lest some disaster come to
him in his risky occupation; that she would like him to be ploughing in
a safe level field at the side of a cabin, where she might sit by the
window and sew, and look out and see that no harm befell this big bold
man, six feet two inches high. Con Hite! she exclaimed, her face
scarlet, I never see a body ez hard-hearted an' onmerciful ez ye air.
Whyn't ye water that sufferin' beast, ez air fairly honing ter drink?
Waal, she continued, after a pause in which he demonstrated the axiom
that one may lead a horse to water, but cannot make him drink, then
whyn't ye go? I ain't got time ter waste, ef ye hev.
She rose as if for departure, and he put his foot in the stirrup. I
wish ye wouldn't be so harsh ter me, Narcissa, he said meekly.
Waal, thar be a heap o' saaft-spoken gals ter be hed fur the
askin'. Ye kin take yer ch'ice.
And with this he was fain to be content, as he mounted and rode
She sat down again, and was still for a long time after the last
echo of his horse's hoofs had died on the air. Her thoughts did not
follow him, however. They turned again with renewed interest to the
fair-haired young stranger. Somehow she was ill at ease and vaguely
disillusioned. She watched mechanically, and with some unaccustomed
touch of melancholy, the burnished shimmering golden haze gradually
invest far blue domes and their purple slopes, and the brown valleys,
and the rugged rocky mountains nearer, with a certain idealized
slumberous effect like the landscape of a dream. In these still spaces
naught moved now save the imperceptible lengthening of the shadows. It
had never occurred to her to deem the scene beautiful; it was the
familiar furniture of her home. Upon this her eyes had first opened.
She had never thought to compare it to aught else,to the suffocating
experience of one visit to the metropolitan glories of the little town
in the flat woods known as Colbury. It had seemed, indeed, magnificent
to her ignorance, and the temerity of the architecture of a two-story
house had struck her aghast. She had done naught but wonder and stare.
The trip had been a great delight, but she had never desired to linger
or to dwell there. Certain sordid effects came over her; reminiscences
of the muddy streets, the tawdry shops, the jostling, busy-eyed people.
Ain't this ez good? she said to herself, as the vast scene
suddenly fluctuated beneath a flare of wind amidst the sunshine, and
light, detached white flakes of cloud went winging athwart the blue
sky; their shadows followed them fast across the sunlit valley,only
their dark and lifeless semblances, like the verbal forms of some white
illumined thought that can find no fit expression in words. The breath
of the pines came to her, the sound of the water, the sudden fanfare of
the unseen wind in the sky heralding the clouds. Ain't this ez good?
she said again, with that first deadly, subtle distrust of the things
of home, that insidious discontent so fatal to peace. He evidently did
not deem it as good, and the obvious fact rankled in her. The mountain
men, and their lack of enterprise, and their drawling speech which he
had mimicked,they too shared his disparagement; and she was conscious
that she herself did not now think so well of them,so conscious that
she made a loyal struggle against this sentiment.
So shif'less, so thrif'less, she echoed his words. An' I dunno ez
I ever viewed a waste-fuller critter'n this hyar very Mister Man.
She stooped down, gathering together the handful of matches that Selwyn
had inadvertently pulled from his pocket with the one which he had used
in illustrating his suggestion of setting the waters of a spring afire.
Ef he keeps on ez wasteful ez this, he'll get out o' matches whar he
lives over yander; an' I misdoubts ef, smart ez he 'lows he be, he
could kindle the wood ter cook his breakfus' by a flint rock,ef he
air so boastful ez ter 'low ez he kin set spring water afire.
She made the matches into a compact little budget and slipped them
into her pocket, and as she rose and looked about uncertainly, she
heard her aunt Minerva calling to her from the house that it was high
time to go and drive up the cows.
Aunt Minerva had not bethought herself to summon the girl to dinner.
The whole world seemed surfeited to her, so had dinner occupied her
day. Narcissa herself, under the stress of the abnormal excitements,
felt no lack as she slowly trod the familiar paths in search of the
Her thoughts bore her company, and she was far from home when the
aspect of the reddening sun smote her senses. She stood and watched the
last segment of the vermilion sphere sink down out of sight, and, as
she turned, the October dusk greeted her on every side. The shadows,
how dense in the woods; the valleys, darkling already! Only on the
higher eastern slopes a certain red reflection spoke of the vanishing
day. She looked vainly as yet for some faint silvery suffusion which
might herald the rising of the moon; for it was to be a bright night.
She was glad of the recollection. She had not hitherto realized it, but
she was tired. She would rest for a little while, and thus refreshed
she would be the sooner home. She sat down on a ledge of the
outcropping rock and looked about her. The spot was unfamiliar, but in
the far stretch of the darkening scene she identified many a well-known
landmark. There was the gleaming bend of the river in the valley, lost
presently amidst the foliage of its banks; and here was an isolated
conical peak on a far lower level than the summit of the range, and
known as Thimble Mountain; and nearer still, across a narrow bight of
the Cove, was a bare slope. As she glanced at it she half rose from her
place, for there was the witch-face, twilight on the grim features, yet
with the aid of memory so definitely discerned that they could hardly
have been more distinct by noonday,a face of inexplicably sinister
omen. Oh, why did I see it to-day! she exclaimed, the presage of ill
fortune strong upon her, with that grisly mask leering at her from
across the valley. But the day was well-nigh gone; only a scant space
remained in which to work the evil intent of fate. She seated herself
anew, for in the shadowy labyrinth of the woods her path could scarcely
be found. She must needs wait for the moon.
She wondered, as she sat and gazed about, how far she might be from
that new dwelling where he lived who so scorned the mountain, and who
owed to it his every breath. There was no sound, no suggestion of human
habitation. The shadowy woods stood dense about the little open ledgy
space on three sides; toward the very verge of the mountain the rocks
grew shelving and precipitous, and beyond the furthest which she could
see, the gray edge of which cut sharply against the base of a distant
dun-tinted range, she knew the descent was abrupt to the depths of the
valley. Looking up, she beheld the trembling lucid whiteness of a star;
now and again the great rustling boughs of an oak-tree swayed beneath
it, and then its glister was broken and deflected amidst the crisp
autumnal leaves, but still she saw it shine. It told, too, that there
was water near; she caught its radiant multiplied reflection, like a
cluster of scintillating white gems, on the lustrous dark surface of a
tiny pool, circular and rock-bound, close beneath the ledge on which
she sat. She leaned over, and saw in its depths the limpid fading red
sky, and the jagged brown border of the rocks, and a grotesque moving
head, which she recognized, after a plunge of the heart, as her own
sunbonnet. She drew back in dismay; she would have no more of this
weird mirror of the rocks and woods, and looked up again at the shining
of the star amidst the darkening shadows of the scarlet oak. How tall
that tree was, how broad of girth! And how curiously this stranger
talked! What was there to do with all these trees! Would he cut down
all the trees on the mountain? A sudden doubt of his sanity crossed her
mind. It was the first, and her heart stood still for a moment. But as
she slowly canvassed the idea, it accounted for much otherwise
impossible to comprehend: his evident poverty and his efforts toward
the purchase of lands; his illness and his bluff insistence on his
strength; his wild talk of enterprise and his mysterious intimations of
phenomenal opportunities. Confirmations of the suspicion crowded upon
her; above all, the mad boast that with a match he could set the waters
of a spring afire.
With a sad smile at the fatuity of the thing, in her idle waiting
she drew one of his matches from her pocket; then she struck it briskly
on the rugged rock, and cast it, blazing lightly, into the bubbling
waters of the spring.
The woods, the rocks, the black night, the fleering, flouting
witch-face, all with an abrupt bound sprang into sudden visibility. A
pyramid of yellow flame was surging up from the bubbling surface of the
water. Long, dark, slim shadows were speeding through the woods, with
strange slants of yellow light; the very skies were a-flicker. She
cowered back for a moment, covering her face with her hands. Then,
affrighted at her own sorceries, she fled like a deer through the
One by one, as the afternoon wore on, the spectators began to desert
the jury of view, their progress over the mountain being slower than
had been anticipated. So often, indeed, did insoluble difficulties
arise touching the location of the road and questions of dispute that
it might be wondered that the whole body did not perish by faction.
After the party had passed the boundary line of Persimmon Sneed's
tract, where he seemed to consider the right of eminent domain merged
in nothingness in comparison to his lordly prerogatives as owner in fee
simple, he ceased to urge as heretofore. He dictated boldly to the
jury. He rode briskly on in advance, as if doing the honors of his
estate to flattered guests, now and again waving his hand to illustrate
his proposition, his keen, high-pitched voice overcoming in its
distinct utterance the sound of hoofs and spurs, and the monotonous
bass contradictions proffered by Silas Boyd.
And the jury of view, silent and circumspect, rode discreetly on.
Persimmon Sneed's mare seemed as fresh as himself, and when he would
turn, as he often did, to face the fatigued, wilted, overwhelmed jury
jogging along on their jaded steeds, tired out with the long day's
jaunt and the rough footing, the mare would move swiftly backward in a
manner that would have done credit to the manege of a circus. And at
this extreme advantage Persimmon Sneed and his raised adjuring
forefinger seemed impossible to be gainsaid. His arguments partook of
the same unanswerable character.
Ye don't see none o' my cattle, do ye? He waved his hand toward
the woods flecked with the long slantings of the sun. I hev got more
'n a hunderd head grazin' right hyar in the bresh. Cattle-thieves could
call an' salt 'em easy enough, but they couldn't drive 'em off through
the laur'l thar; it's thick ez hell! pointing to the dense jungle.
But ef we-uns hed this hyar road what ye air aimin' ter lay off, why,
a leetle salt an' a leetle drivin' an' a moonlight night would gather
'em, an' the whole herd would be in Georgy by daybreak. I wouldn't hev
the hawn of a muley cow lef'. Now, ez it be, them cattle air ez safe
from sight ez ef I hed swallowed 'em! And he whirled again, and led
The jury of view rode disconsolately on.
They experienced a temporary relief when they had passed the
confines of his tract,for it was across but a protruding tongue of
the main body of his land that the road was expected to run,and
entered upon the domain of the valley man with the lung complaint;
for this diverted Persimmon Sneed to the more amiable task of narrating
how the stranger had sought to buy land of him, and the high prices he
had scornfully refused, the adaptability of his land to his own
especial needs being so phenomenally apt.
A sudden query from Silas Boyd rendered their respite short: What's
that man Selwyn want so much land fur, ennyhows? He hev been tryin' ter
buy all that 'crost the gorge, too. He waved his hand toward the
gloomy woods darkening on the opposite slope.
Ter graze cattle, o' course, promptly surmised Persimmon Sneed.
Jes' look at my fine chance o' yearlin's, a-layin' on fat an' bone an'
muscle every day, with no expense nor attendance, an' safe an' sound
an' sure. An' now, he cried suddenly, and the shuddering jury saw the
collocation of ideas as it bore down upon them, and Persimmon Sneed
swiftly turned, facing them, while the mare nimbly essayed a passado
backward, ye air talkin' 'bout changin' all this, ruinationin' the
vally o' my land ter me. Ye 'low ye want ter permote the interus' o'
the public! Waal, raising an impressive forefinger, ain't I
No one ventured a reply.
The jury of view rode desperately on.
They had presently more cause for depression of spirit. It began to
be evident that with the dusk some doubt had arisen in the minds of the
mountaineers of the party as to the exact trend of the herder's trail.
The doubt intensified, until further progress proved definitively that
the indistinct trail was completely lost. Darkness came on apace; the
tangled ways of the forest seemed momently more tortuous; wolves were
not rare in the vicinity; rumors of a gang of horse-thieves were rife.
After much discussion, the jury of view agreed that they would go no
further at present, but wait for the rising of the moon, on the theory
that it would then be practicable to make their way to the Hood cabin,
on the other side of the mountain, which was their immediate goal, and
which they had expected to reach by sunset; unaware that in their
devious turnings they had retraced several miles of their course, and
were now much nearer Selwyn's dwelling in the woods than the terminus
of their route.
Despite their uncertainty and anxiety, the rest was grateful. The
shades of night were cool and refreshing after the glare of the day, as
they sat smoking on the rocks about the verge of the mountain. The
horses had been unsaddled, and were picketed in an open glade at a
little distance: in recurrent pauses in the talk, the sound of their
grazing on the scanty grass came to the ear; all else was silence save
the tinkling of a mountain rill,a keen detached appoggiatura rising
occasionally above the monody of its murmurous flow,and the
melancholy chiming of some lingering cicada, the latest spared of the
The night was as yet very dark; the stars were dull in a haze, the
valley was a vague blur; even the faces of the men could not be dimly
distinguished. Strange, then, that an added visibility suddenly
invested the woods and the sky-line beyond a dense belt of timber.
'Pears ter me toler'ble early fur the moon, observed one of the
men. She's on the wane now, too.
'Tain't early, though, replied the sullen bass voice of Silas Boyd
from the darkness; it was lowered, that the others might not hear.
That thar old perverted Philistine of a Persimmon Sneed kep' us
danderin' roun' hyar till mighty nigh eight o'clock, I'll bet,
a-persistin' an' a-persistin' he knowed the road, when he war plumb
lost time we got on that cowpath. An' the jury o' view, they hed ter
take Persimmon Sneed's advice, he bein' the oldest, an' wait hyar
fur the risin' moon. Persimmon Sneed will repent he picked out this
spot,he'll repent it sure!
This dictum was only the redundancy of discontent; but when, in the
light of subsequent events, it was remembered, and special gifts of
discernment were attributed to Silas Boyd, he did not disclaim them,
for he felt that his words were surely inspired by some presentiment,
so apt were they, and so swiftly did the fulfillment follow the
There was a sudden stir among the group. The men were getting
quickly to their feet, alert, tense, with broken whispers and bated
breath. For there, on a bare slope, viewed diagonally across the gorge
and illumined with a wavering pallor, the witch-face glared down at
them from the dense darkness of the woods. The quick chilly repulsion
of the strangers as they gazed spellbound at the apparition was
outmatched by the horror of those who had known the fantasy from
childhood;never thus had they beheld the gaunt old face! What strange
unhallowed mystery was this, that it should smile and grimace and mock
at them from out the shadowy night, with flickers of light as of
laughter running athwart its grisly lineaments? What evil might it
portend? They all stood aghast, watching this pallid emblazonment of
the deep night.
Boys, said old Dent Kirby tremulously, thar's suthin' powerful
cur'ous 'bout this 'speriunce. That thar light war never kindled in
heaven or yearth.
Let's go! cried Jeremiah Sayres. We hev got ter git out'n this
Go whar? croaked Silas Boyd, his deep bass voice lowered to a
whisper. I be 'feard ter quit the trail furder. 'Pinnock's Mis'ry' be
hyar-abouts somewhar, a plumb quicksand, what a man got into an'
floundered an' sank, an' floundered agin, an' whenst they fund him his
hair war white an' his mind deranged. Or else we-uns mought run off'n a
bluff somewhar, an' git our necks bruk.
Now Persimmon Sneed was possessed of a most intrusive curiosity, and
he was further endowed with a sturdy courage.
I'll jes' step off a leetle way to'des that light, an' view whar it
kems from, he observed coolly. The woods air too wet to burn.
He would not listen to protest.
The witch-face ain't never blighted me none, he rejoined stoutly
as he set forth.
The thick tangled mass of the undergrowth presently intervened, so
that, as he broke his way through it, he wondered that its bosky
dimness should be so visible beneath the heavy shadows of the great
trees looming high overhead. Once he stopped dubiously; the glow
evidently came rather from below than above. It is too much to say that
a thrill of fear tried the fibres of Persimmon Sneed's obdurate old
heart. But he listened for a moment to hear, perchance, the sound of
voices from the group he had left, or the champing of the picketed
steeds. He was an active man, and had come fast and far since quitting
his companions. Not even a vague murmur rose from the silent autumnal
woods. The stillness was absolute. As he moved forward once more, the
impact of his foot upon the rain-soaked leaves, the rustle of the
boughs as he pressed among them, the rise and fall of his own
breathing, somewhat quicker than its wont, served to render appreciable
to Persimmon Sneed the fact that he possessed nerves which were more
susceptible to a quaver of doubt than that redoubtable endowment called
his hard head.
Somebody hev jes' sot out fire in the woods,though powerful wet,
he muttered, his intellectual entity seeking to quiet that inward
flutter of his mere bodily being. But I'm a-goin' on, he protested
obstinately, ef it be bodaciously kindled by the devil!
And as he spoke, his heart failed, his limbs seemed sinking beneath
him, his pulses beat tumultuously for a moment, and then were abruptly
still; he had emerged from the woods in a great flickering glare which
pervaded an open, rocky space shelving to a precipice, and beheld a
tall, glowing yellow flame rising unquenched from the illuminated
surface of a bubbling mountain spring. His senses reeled; a myriad of
tawny red and yellow flashes swayed before his dazzled eyes. He had
heard all his life of the wild freaks of the witches in the woods. Had
he chanced on their unhallowed pastimes in the solitudes of these
untrodden mountain wildernesses? Was this miraculous fire, blazing from
the depths of the clear water, necromancy, the work of the devil?
The next moment his heart gave a great throb. He found his voice in
a wild halloo. Among the fluttering shadows of the trees he had caught
sight of the figure of a man, and, a thousand times better, of a face
that he knew. The man was approaching the fire, with a stare of blank
amazement and fear as his distended eyes beheld the phenomenon of the
blazing spring. Their expression changed instantly upon the sound. His
face was all at once alert, grave, suspicious, a prosaic anxiety
obliterating every trace of superstitious terror. His right hand was
laid upon his hip in close proximity to a pistol-pocket, and Persimmon
Sneed remembered suddenly that his own pistol was in its holster on his
saddle, he could not say how far distant in these wild, trackless
woods, and that this man was a notorious offender against the law,
sundry warrants for his arrest for horse-stealing having been issued at
divers times and places. There had been much talk of an organized band
who had assisted in these and similar exploits in secluded districts of
the county, but Persimmon Sneed had given it scant credence until he
beheld several armed men lagging in the rear, their amazed, uncouth
faces, under their broad-brimmed hats, all weird and unnatural in the
pervasive yellow glow. They had, evidently, been led to the spot by the
strange flare in the heart of the woods; but Nick Peters could well
enough pretermit his surprise and whatever spiritual terrors might
assail him till a more convenient season for their indulgence. A more
immediate danger menaced him than the bodily appearance of the devil,
which he had momently expected as he gazed at the flaming water. He had
seen the others of his own party approaching, and he walked quickly
across the clear space to Persimmon Sneed. He was a little, slim, wiry
man, with light, sleek hair, pink cheeks, high cheek-bones, and a bony
but blunt nose. He had a light eye, gray, shallow, but inscrutable, and
there was something feline in his aspect and glance, at once smooth and
caressing and of latent fierceness.
Why, Mr. Persimmon Sneed, he exclaimed in a voice as bland as a
summer's day, how did you-uns an' yer frien's do sech ez that? and he
pointed at the flaring pyramid on the surface of the water.
Persimmon Sneed, in his proclivity to argument, forgot his lack of a
pistol and his difficult position, unarmed and alone.
I'll hev ye ter remember I hev no dealin's with the devil. I dunno
how that water war set afire, nor my friends nuther, he said stiffly.
Whar air they?
Nick Peters's keen, discerning eye had been covertly scanning the
flickering shadows and the fluctuating slants of yellow light about
them. Now he boldly threw his glance over his shoulder.
Persimmon Sneed caught himself sharply.
They ain't hyar-abouts, he said gruffly, on his guard once more.
A look of apprehension crossed the horse-thief's face. The denial
was in the nature of an affirmation to his alert suspicion; for it is
one of the woes of the wicked that, knowing no truth themselves, they
cannot recognize it in others, even in a transient way, as a chance
acquaintance. He must needs have heed. A number of men, doubtless, well
armed, were in the immediate vicinity. As he whirled himself lightly
half around on his spurred heel, his manner did not conform to his
Did you-uns an' them kem all the way from the valley ter view the
blazin' spring? he asked. Looks some like hell-fire, he added
incidentally, and with the tone of one familiar with the resemblance he
Naw; we-uns never hearn on it afore; I jes' run on it accidental,
Sneed replied succinctly, hardly daring to trust himself to an
unnecessary word; for the staring men that had gathered at a respectful
distance about the blazing spring numbered nine or ten, and an
ill-advised tongue might precipitate an immediate attack on the
dismounted, unarmed group awaiting his return at the verge of the
bluff. A genuine thrill of terror shook him as he realized that at any
moment he might be followed by men as ill prepared as he to cope with
the horse-thief's gang.
I see ye rid, said Nick Peters, observing his acquaintance's
spurs. Yer frien's rid, too, I s'pose?
Persimmon Sneed, desirous of seeming unsuspicious, merely nodded. He
seemed as suspicious, in fact, as watchful, as stanch, as ready to
spring, as a leopard in a cage. His thin lips were set, his alert eyes
keen, his unshaven, stubbly jaws rigid, his whole body at a high
tension. The man of quicker perceptions was first to drop the
transparent feint, but only to assume another.
Now, Mr. Sneed, he said, with an air of reproach and upbraiding,
do ye mean ter tell me ez ye hev kem up hyar with the sheriff or
dep'ty ter nose me out; me, who hev got no home,folks burned my house
ter the yearth, namin' me 'horse-thief' an' sech,nor frien's,
nor means, nor havin's, plumb run ter groun' like a fox or sech?
Ef ye didsaid a gigantic ruffian who had come up, backed by a
shadow twice his size, and stood assisting at the colloquy, looking
over the shoulder of his wiry little chief. He left the sentence
unfinished, a significant gesture toward the handle of the pistol in
his belt rendering the omission of slight moment.
Some o' them boys war wondering ef that fire out'n the water would
burn, observed a fat, greasy, broad-faced lout, with a foolish, brutal
grin. It mought make out ter singe this stranger's hair an' hide, ef
we war ter gin him a duckin' thar.
Air ye a-huntin' of me, too, Mr. Sneed,ye that war 'quainted with
me in the old times on Tomahawk Creek? Peters reiterated his demand in
a plaintive, melodramatic tone, which titillated his fancy, somehow,
and, like virtue, was its own exceeding great reward; for both he and
Persimmon Sneed knew right well that their acquaintance amounted only
to a mere facial recognition when they had chanced to pass on the
country road or the village street, years before. Nevertheless, under
the pressure of the inherent persuasiveness of the suggested
retribution, Persimmon Sneed made haste to aver that his errand in the
mountains was in no sense at the sheriff's instance. And so radical and
indubitable were his protestations that Nick Peters was constrained to
discard this fear, and demand, What brung ye ter Witch-Face Mounting
then, Mr. Sneed?
Waal, some fellows war app'inted by the county court ter view the
road an' report on it, said Persimmon, an' I kem along ter see how it
mought affect my interust.
How far away, how long ago, how infinitely unimportant, seemed all
those convolutions of trail and argument in which he had expended the
finest flowers of his contradictory faculties, the stanch immobility of
his obstinacy, his unswerving singleness of purpose in seeing only one
side of a question, this afternoon, a few short hours since! The
mutability of the affairs of the most immutable of human beings!
This reflection was cut short by observing the stare of blank
amazement on Nick Peters's face. Road! he said. Thar ain't no road.
They air app'inted ter lay out an' report on openin' one,
explained Persimmon Sneed.
Evidently Nick Peters's experience of the law was in its criminal
rather than in its civil phases, but the surprise died out of his face,
and he presently said, with a beguiling air of frankness, Now, Mr.
Sneed, ye see this happens right in my way of trade. Jes' tell me whar
them loafers air, an' how many horses they hev got along, an' I'll gin
ye the bes' beastis I hev got ter ride, an' a pair o' shootin'-irons
and set ye in the valley road on the way home. Ye kin say ye war lost
It is true that in this moment Persimmon Sneed remembered each of
his contumacious comrades, and saw that they outnumbered by one the
horse-thief's gang; he realized that they were out of leading-strings,
and amply capable of taking care of themselves. He had that wincing
terror which an unarmed man experiences at the sight of
shootin'-irons in the grasp of other and antagonistic men. More than
all, he looked at those hell-lighted flames, as he esteemed them,
rising out of the lustrous water, and believed the jocose barbarity of
the threat of the brutal henchman might be serious earnest in its
But the jury of view and their companions were all unprepared for
molestation in such wise as menaced them. He reflected anew upon their
dismounted condition, the horses hitched at a distance, the saddles
scattered on the ground in the darkness, with the holsters buckled to
them and the pistols within. A sudden attack meant a successful robbery
and perchance bloodshed.
I'll die fust! he said loudly, and he had never looked more
painfully obstinate. I'll die fust! He lifted his quivering hand and
shook it passionately in the air. I ain't no ransomed saint, an' I
know it, but afore I'll betray that thar jury o' view what's been
app'inted by the county court ter lay off the damned road, I'll die
fust! I ain't no ransomed saint, I ain't, but I'll die fust! I
ain't no ransomed
Stop, boys, stop! cried the wiry little horse-thief, as the others
gathered about Sneed with threatening eyes and gestures, while he
vociferated amongst them, as lordly as if he were in his oft-time
preëminence as the foreman of a jury. Nick Peters's face had changed.
There was a sudden fear upon it, uncomprehended by Persimmon Sneed. It
did not occur to him until long afterward that he had for the first
time used the expression a jury of view, and that the horse-thief's
familiarity with the idea of a jury was only in the sense of twelve
Peters spoke aside to the others, only a word or so, but there was
amongst them an obvious haste to get away, of which Persimmon Sneed was
cognizant, albeit his head was swimming, his breath short, his eyes
dazzled by the fire which he feared. His understanding, however, was
blunted in some sort, it seemed to him, for he could make no sense of
Nick Peters's observation as he took him by the arm, although afterward
it became plain enough.
Ye'll hev ter go an' 'bide along o' we-uns fur awhile, Mr. Sneed,
he said, choking with the laughter of some occult happy thought. Ye
ain't a ransomed saint yit, but ye will be arter awhile, I reckon, ef
ye live long enough.
Their shadows skulked away as swiftly as they themselves, even more
furtively, running on ahead, in great haste to be gone. The fire-light
slanted through the woods in quick, elusive fluctuations, ever dimmer,
ever recurrently flaring, and when the jury of view and their
companions, alarmed by the long absence of Persimmon Sneed, followed
the strange light through the woods to the brink of the burning spring,
they found naught astir save the vagrant shadows of the great boles of
the trees, no longer held to their accustomed orbit, but wandering
through the woods with a large freedom.
That this fire, blazing brilliantly on the surface of the clear
spring water, was kindled by supernatural power was not for a moment
doubted by the mountaineers who had never before heard of such a
phenomenon, and the spiriting away of Persimmon Sneed they promptly
ascribed to the same agency. With these thoughts upon them, they did
not linger long at the spot where he had met so mysterious a fate.
Their ringing halloos, with which the woods were enlivened, took on
vaguely appalled cadences; the echoes came back to them like mocking
shouts; and they were glad enough to ride away at last through the
quiet moonlit glades, their faltering voices silent, leaving that
mystic fire slowly dying where it had blazed so long on the face of the
* * * * *
A more extended search, later, resulting as fruitlessly, the idea
that Persimmon Sneed had been in some way lured bodily within the grasp
of the devil prevailed among the more ignorant people of the community;
they dolorously sought to point the moral how ill the headstrong fare,
and speculated gloomily as to the topic on which he had ventured to
argue with Satan, who in rage and retaliation had whisked him away. But
there was a class of citizens in Colbury who hearkened with elated
sentiments to this story of the burning spring. A company of
capitalists was promptly organized, every inch of attainable land on
the mountain was quietly bought, and machinery for boring for oil was
already at the spring when the news was brought to Selwyn by Hanway,
who, not having seen the young stranger for the past week or so, feared
he was ill. The flakes of the first snow of the season were whirling
past the windowsno more on autumn leaves they looked, no more on
far-off bare but azure mountains, feigning summer. The distant ranges
were ghostly white. The skeleton woods near at hand were stark and
black, and trembled with sudden starts, and strove wildly with the
winds, and were held in an inexorable fate, and cried and groaned
Hanway was right in his surmise, for Selwyn was ill, and lay on the
lounge wheeled up to the fire. His cheeks seemed still touched with
color, the reflection from the ragged red smoking-jacket which he wore,
but a sort of smitten pallid doom was on his brow and in his eyes. His
gaze dwelt insistently on the doctor, the tall, thin practitioner of
the surrounding country, who had just finished an examination and was
slowly returning his spectacles to their case as he stood before the
fire. It seemed as if the patient expected him to speak, but he said
nothing, and looked down gravely into the red coals.
Then it was that Hanway narrated the sensation of the neighborhood.
It roused Selwyn to a frenzy of excitement; his disjointed, despairing
exclamations, in annotation, as it were, of the story, disclosed his
own discovery of the oil, his endeavors to secure the opinion of an
expert as to its value, his efforts to buy up the land, his reasons for
opposing the premature opening of a road which might reveal the
presence of the oil springs, when the law discriminating in favor of
oil works and similar interests would later make the way thither a
public thoroughfare at all events. He cried out upon his hard fate,
when money might mean life to him; upon the bitter dispensation of the
mysterious kindling of those hidden secluded waters to blazon his
secret to the world, to enrich others through his discovery which
should have made him so rich.
The dry, spare tone of the physician interrupted,a trite phrase
Why, doctor, said Selwyn, suddenly comprehending, you think my
present wealth will last out my time!
Once more the physician looked silently into the fire. He had seen a
great deal of dying, but he had lived a quiet ascetic life, which made
his sensibilities tender, and he did not get used to death. I wish you
would stay with him, if you can, he said to Hanway at the outer door.
It will be a very short time now.
It was even shorter than they thought. The snow, falling then, had
not disappeared from the earth when the picks of the grave-diggers
cleft through the clods in the secluded little mountain burying-ground.
It was easier work than they had anticipated, although the earth was
frozen; and the grave was almost prepared when they realized that the
ground had been broken before, and that here was the deserted
resting-place of the stranger who had come so far to see him. Hanway
remembered Selwyn's words, his aversion to the idea that the spot was
awaiting him, but the dark November day was closing in, the storm
clouds were gathering anew, so they left him there, and this time the
grave held its tenant fast.
One day a letter was mailed in Colbury by an unknown hand, addressed
to Mrs. Persimmon Sneed and it fared deliberately by way of Sandford
Cross-Roads to its destination. It awoke there the wildest excitement
and delight, for although it brazenly asserted that Mr. Persimmon Sneed
was in the custody of the writer, and that he would be returned safely
to his home only upon the payment of one hundred dollars in a
mysterious manner described,otherwise the writer would not answer for
consequences,it gave assurance that he was alive and well, and might
even hope to see friends and home and freedom once more. In vain the
sheriff of the county expostulated with Mrs. Sneed, representing that
the law was the proper liberator of Persimmon Sneed, and that the
payment of money would encourage crime. The contradictory man's wife
was ready to commit crime, if necessary, in this cause, and would have
cheerfully cracked the bank in Colbury. And certainly this seemed
almost unavoidable at one time, for to possess herself of this sum of
her husband's hoard his signature was essential. The poor woman, in her
limp sunbonnet and best calico dress, clung to the grating of the
teller's window, and presented in futile succession her husband's
bank-book, his returned checks, and even his brand-new check-book, each
with a gush of tears, while the perplexed official remonstrated, and
explained, and rejected each persuasion in turn, passing them all back
beneath the grating, and alas! keeping the money on his side of those
inexorable bars. It seemed to poor Mrs. Sneed that the bank was of
opinion that Persimmon corporally was of slight consequence, the
institution having the true value of the man on deposit. To accommodate
matters, however, and that the poor woman should not be weeping daily
and indefinitely on the maddened teller's window, an intermediary
money-lender was found, who, having vainly sought to induce the bank to
render itself responsible, then Mrs. Sneed, who had naught of her own,
then a number of friends, who deemed the whole enterprise an effort at
robbery and seemed to consider Persimmon a good riddance, took heart of
grace and made the plunge at a rate of interest which was calculated to
cloy his palate forever after. The money forthwith went a roundabout
way according to the directions of the letter.
It came to its destination in this wise.
Con Hite's distilling enterprise was on so small a scale that one
might have imagined it to be altogether outside the purview of the law,
which, it is said, does not take note de minimis. One of those
grottoes under a beetling cliff, hardly caves, called in the region
rock houses, sufficed to contain the small copper and its
appurtenances, himself and his partner and the occasional jolly guest.
It was approached from above rather than from below, by a winding way,
beside the cliff between great boulders, which was so steep and brambly
and impracticable that it was hardly likely to be espied by
revenuers. The rock house opened on space. Beyond the narrow path at
its entrance the descent was sheer to the bottom of the gorge below.
In this stronghold, one night, Con Hite sat gloomy and depressed
beside the little copper still for the sake of which he risked so much.
It held all it could of singlings, and it seemed to him a cheery sight
in the shadowy recesses of the rock house. He regarded it with mingled
pride and affection, often declaring it the smartest still of its
capacity in the world. To him it was at once admirable as an object of
art and a superior industrial agent.
An' I dunno why Narcissa be so set agin it, he muttered. But for
it I wouldn't hev money enough ter git a start in this world. My mother
an' she couldn't live in the same house whenst we git married. He
meditated for a moment, and shook his head in solemn negation, for his
mother was constructed much after the pattern of Narcissa herself. An'
I wouldn't live a minit alongside o' Ben Hanway ef I war Nar'sa's
husband. Ben wouldn't let me say my soul's my own. I be 'bleeged ter
mak the money fur a start o' cattle an' sech myse'f, an' hev a house
an' home o' my own.
And then he took the pipe from his mouth and sighed. For even his
care seemed futile. It was true that the fair-haired young stranger was
dead, and he had a pang of self-reproach whenever he thought of his
jealousy, as if he had wished him ill. But she had worn a cold white
unresponsive face when he had seen her last; she did not listen to what
he said, her mind evidently elsewhere. She looked at him as if she did
not see him. She did not think of him. He was sure that this was not
caprice. It was some deep absorbing feeling in which he had no share.
The moon, like some fair presence, looked in at the broad portal.
Outside, the white tissues of her misty diaphanous draperies trailed
along the dark mountain slopes beneath the dim stars as she wended
westward. Afar down the gorge one might catch glimpses of a glossy
lustre where the evergreen laurel, white with frost, moved in the
autumn wind. He lifted his head to mark its melancholy cadence, and
while he listened, the moonlight was suddenly crowded from the door as
three men rushed in, half helping and half constraining a fourth man
Durn my boots ef I didn't furgit the password! cried Nick Peters
with his little falsetto laugh, that seemed keyed for a fleer, although
it was most graciously modulated now. Ye mought hev shot us fur
I mought hev shot ye fur wuss, Con Hite growled, rising slowly
from his chair, his big dark eyes betokening his displeasure. I dunno
how ye ever kem ter know this place.
It'll go no furder, Con, I'll swear, said the horse-thief, lifting
his hand to Hite's shoulder, and affecting to see in his words an
appeal for secrecy. This, he added blandly, is Mr. Persimmon Sneed,
ez hev been a-visitin' me. Lemme make ye acquainted.
He seemed to perceive nothing incongruous in the fact that Mr.
Persimmon Sneed should be blindfolded. But as Con Hite looked at the
elder man, standing helpless, his head held slightly forward, the sight
apparently struck his risibilities, and his wonted geniality rose to
An' do Mr. Persimmon Sneed always wear blinders? he asked, with a
Peters seemed immeasurably relieved by the change of tone.
Whilst visitin' me, he do, he remarked. Mr. Persimmon hev got
sech a fine mem'ry fur localities, ye see.
Hite with a single gesture pulled off the bandage. Waal, let him
look about him hyar. I s'pose ye hev ter be more partic'lar 'n me
'count o' that stranger man's horse.
Peters changed countenance, his attention riveted. What horse? he
The horse of the man ez war kilt,ye know folks hev laid that job
ter you-uns. Jerry, turning aside to his colleague, who had done
naught but stare, whar's yer manners? Why n't ye gin the comp'ny a
Hite shoved the chair in which he had been seated to Persimmon
Sneed, who was lugubriously rubbing his eyes, and flung himself down on
a boulder lying almost outside of the recess in the moonlight, his long
booted and spurred legs stretching far across the entrance. His hat on
the back of his head, its brim upturned, revealed his bluff open
faceit held no craft surely; he hardly seemed to notice how
insistently Peters pressed after him, unmindful of his henchmen and
Jerry imbibing appreciatively the product of the cheerful little copper
But I never done sech ez that, protested Peters. I always stop
short o' bloodshed. I never viewed the man's beastis, ye'll bear me
Me? said Con, with a laugh. I dunno nuthin' 'bout yer doin's.
Whar's Mr. Sneed's horse?
Never seen him,never laid eyes on him! How folks kin hev the
heart ter 'cuse me of sech doin's ez I never done! he lifted his eyes
as if appealing to heaven.
The killin' 's the wust; an' Mr. Sneed's critter bein' gone too
mought make folks lay it ter ye fur sure, persisted Hite.
I ain't seen Mr. Sneed's horse. Mr. Sneedye wouldn't b'lieve it
ter look at him, but he's a ransomed saint! ha! ha! The money fur him
will be fotched hyar ter yer still. I sent fur it ter kem by Jake
Glenn; he knows ye, an' ye know him.
Con Hite's open brow did not cloud. If there were any significance
perceptible in the fact that Mr. Persimmon Sneed, with so fine a head
for locality, should be able to identify only the still among his
various shelters during his visit to Nick Peters, Con Hite made no
Lord, how glad I'll be ter git rid o' him! Peters said in an
undertone to Hite. He hev mighty nigh argufied me ter death,'bout
sperits, an' witches, an' salvation, an' law, an' craps, an'
horse-flesh, an' weather signs. I be sorter 'feard his wife won't pay
nuthin' ter git him again. He 'pears sorter under the weather now, or
eavesdroppin' or suthin'. The money 'll pay me mighty pore fur my
trouble. Tharwhat's that?
He paused to listen; there was a sound other than the tinkling of
the little rill near at hand or the blare of the autumn wind. A stone
came rolling down the path, dislodged by a cautious step,then
another. Hite drew a revolver from his pocket, and, holding it in his
right hand, stepped out on the rugged little parapet and stood there,
with the depths of the gorge below him, looking up the ascent with the
moonlight in his face. He spoke in a low voice to some one approaching,
and was answered in the same tone. He stepped back to give the
new-comer space to enter, and as Jake Glenn came in held out his hand
for the package the messenger bore.
Let's see it, Nick, he said, tearing it open; it's the money sure
Old Persimmon Sneed turned his head with a certain alert interest.
Perhaps he himself had doubted whether his wife would think him worth
the money. There was a general flutter of good-natured gratulation, and
it seemed at the moment only some preposterous mistake that Con Hite
should put it into Persimmon Sneed's lean paw and close his trembling
fingers over it.
Now, scoot! he bawled out at the top of his voice, the little den
ringing with the echoes of his excitement, a second revolver drawn in
his left hand. I'll gin ye a day's start o' these fellers. He
presented the muzzle of one pistol to Peters's head, and with the other
he covered one of the two henchmen in the recess of the little rock
house. The other sprang up from a barrel where he sat wiping his mouth
with the back of his hand; but Jerry, suddenly realizing the situation,
put out a dexterous foot, and the horse-thief fell full length upon the
floor, his pistol discharging as he went down. In the clamor of the
echoes, and the smoke and the flare, Persimmon Sneed disappeared,
hearing as he went a wild protest, and a nimbleness of argument second
hardly to his own, as Nick Peters cried out that he was robbed, his
hard earnings were wrested from him, the money was his, paid him as a
price, and Con Hite had let Mr. Persimmon Sneed run off with it,
allowing him nothing for his trouble.
It war his money, Con Hite averred, when they had grown calmer,
and Jake Glenn had returned from a reconnoissance with the news that
Hite's father had lent the fleeing Persimmon a horse, and he was by
this time five miles away in the Cove. He could have paid you
for yer trouble in ketchin' him ef he had wanted ter.
It war not his money, protested Peters, with tears in his
eyes. It war sent ter me willingly, fur a valid consideration, an' ye
let him hev the money, an' his wife hev got the valid
considerationan' hyar I be lef' with the bag ter hold!
It may be that Peters had absorbed some of the craft of argument by
mere propinquity to Persimmon Sneed, or that Con Hite's conscience was
unduly tender, for he long entertained a moral doubt touching his
course in this transaction,whether he had a right to pay the ransom
money which Nick Peters had extorted from Persimmon Sneed's wife to
Persimmon Sneed himself, thereby defrauding Nick Peters of the fruit of
his labor. Perhaps this untoward state of dubitation came about from
Narcissa's scornful comment.
Ye mought hev known that old man Persimmon Sneed would have made
off with the money, she said, remembering his reproving glare at her.
I wouldn't hev trested him with a handful o' cornfield peas.
But I expected him ter make off with it, protested the amazed Con;
that's why I gin it ter him.
Then ye air jes' ez bad ez he is, she retorted coldly.
And thus it was he examined his conscience.
Persimmon Sneed had no doubts whatever as to the ownership of the
money in his pocket, when one fine morning he walked into his own door,
as dictatorial, as set in his own opinion as ever; the only change to
be detected in his manners and conversation thereafter was the
enigmatical assertion at times that he was a ransomed saint, followed
by a low chuckle of enjoyment. Those who heard this often made bold to
say to one another that he didn't act like it, and this opinion was
shared by the sheriff who futilely sought some information from him
touching the lair of the horse-thieves, looking to brilliant exploits
of capture. Such details as he could secure were so uncertain and
contradictory as to render him suspicious that the truth was purposely
Ye oughter remember these men air crim'nal offenders agin the law,
Mr. Sneed, he said.
Mebbe so, assented Persimmon Sneed, mebbe so; but the situation
of Con Hite's still was the only locality which he had visited of which
he was sure, and in gratitude to his rescuer he held his peace.
That he was not so softened to the world at large was manifested in
the fact that he threatened to plead usury against the money-lender,
and forthwith brought him down with a run to the beggaries of the legal
rate. He was wont, moreover, to go to the teller of the bank at Colbury
and demand of that distracted man such of his papers as were from time
to time lost or mislaid, having learned from his wife that she had made
the official the custodian of his valuables, these being his bank-book,
the ancient returned checks, and the unused check-book.
The points which he had so laboriously made plain to the jury of
view proved a total loss of perspicacious reasoning, for the land was
forthwith condemned and the road opened, any oil-boring company being
allowed by law a right of way thirty feet wide. The heavy hauling of
the oil company had already made a tolerable wagon track, and the
passing back and forth of the men and teams and machinery added an
element of interest and excitement to the thoroughfare such as
Narcissa's wildest dreams had never prefigured. She had no heart for it
now. When the creak of wheels on the frozen ground, and the cries of
the drivers, and the thud of the hoofs of the straining four-horse
teams heralded an approach, she was wont to draw close the batten
shutter of the window and sit brooding over the fire, staring with
moody eyes into the red coals, where she saw much invisible to the
simple Ben. He knew vaguely that her grief was for the fair-haired
stranger, but he could not dream in what remorseful wise. She had not
failed to perceive her own agency in the betrayal of his secret, when
the story of the discovery of the oil was blazoned to all the world by
those mystically flaring waters in the deeps of the mountain night. It
was she who had idly kindled them; she who had robbed him of his
rights, of the wealth that these interlopers were garnering. She had
sent him to his grave baffled, beaten, forlorn, wondering at the
mystery of the hand that out of the dark had smitten him. She kept her
own counsel. Her white face grew set and stern. Her words were few. She
had no tears. And Ben, who found his tyrant only the harder and the
colder, scarcely remonstrated, and could only marvel when one keen,
chill afternoon she sprang up, throwing her brown shawl over her head,
and declared that she was going to the oil wells to see for herself
what progress was making there.
All sylvan grace had departed from the spot. As the two stood on the
verge of the clear space, now gashed deep in every direction in the
woods and larger by a hundred acres, grim derricks rose sharply
outlined against the wintry sky. It was barred with strata of gray
clouds in such sombre neutrality of tint that one, in that it was less
gloomy than the others, gave a suggestion of blue. Patches of snow lay
about the ground. Cinders and smoke had blackened them here and there.
The steam-engine, with its cylindrical boiler, seemed in the dusk some
uncanny monster that had taken up its abode here, and rejoiced in the
desolation it had wrought, and lived by ill deeds. It was letting off
steam, and now and then it gave a puffing sigh as if it were tired
after its day's work. The laborers were of a different type from the
homely neighbors, and returned the contempt with which the mountaineers
gazed upon them. Great piles of wood showed how the forests were being
rifled for fuel. Many trees had been felled in provident foresight, and
lay along the ground in vast lengths, awaiting the axe; so many that
adown the avenues thus opened toward the valley a wan glimmering caught
the girl's eye, and she recognized the palings of the little mountain
She clutched her brother's arm and pointed to it. Her eyes grew
dilated and wild, her face was pale and drawn; her hand trembled as she
held it out.
Ye see, Ben, he's close enough ter view it allan' mebbe he
doesan' he knows now who he hev got ter thank fur it allan' I wisht
he war hyar, whar I am, an' I war thar, whar he is.
Her brother thought for the moment that she was raving. The next she
caught her shawl over her head, hoodwise, the wind tossing her bright
hair, and declared that she was cold, and upbraided him for bringing
her on this long, chilling tramp, and protested that she would come
He came often afterward. The spot seemed to have a fascination for
him. And within sound of the cheerful hubbub and busy whir of the
industry he would lean over the palings and look at the grave, covered
sometimes with a drift of leaves, and sometimes with a drift of snow,
and think of the two men that it had successively housed, and nurse his
grudge against the company. With an unreasoning hatred of it, Hanway
felt that both were victims of the great strong corporation that was to
reap the value of the discovery which was not its own save by accident.
He could not appraise the justice of the dispensation by which the keen
observation of the one man, and the science and experience that the
other had brought to the enterprise, should fall so far short of
achievement, while an idle story, the gossip of the day, should fill
the hands of those who were strangers to the very thought. He grudged
every augury of success; he welcomed every detail of difficulty. As
time went on, the well was said to be of intermittent flow, and new
borings resulted in naught but vast floods of sulphur water. Finally,
when the admitted truth pervaded the community,that the oil was
practically exhausted, that it had long since ceased to pay expenses,
that the company was a heavy loser by the enterprise,he was as a man
The result was succeeded by a change in Narcissa so radical and
immediate that Constant Hite could but perceive the fact that it was
induced by the failure and abandonment of the work. She grew placid as
of yore, and was softened, and now and again the gentle melancholy into
which she fell suggested sad and reminiscent pleasure rather than the
remorseful and desperate sorrow that she had known. He began to realize
that it was no sentimental and love-stricken grief she had felt for
Selwyn, but a sympathy akin to his own and to her brother's; and since
the disappointment of the hope of fortune must needs have come to
Selwyn at last, they made shift to resign themselves, and were wont to
talk freely of the dead with that affectionate and immediate interest
which seems to prolong the span of a mortal's day on earth, like the
tender suffusive radiance of the afterglow of a sunken sun.
The road fell quickly into disuse after the abandonment of the work.
In the storms of winter, trees were uprooted and thrown athwart the
way; overhanging rocks, splitting in the freeze, precipitated
obstructive avalanches upon the dim serpentine convolutions; the wind
piled drifts of dead leaves above the turns; and in the spring grass
began to grow in the tracks of the wheels.
It held no woeful memories now for Narcissa. She loved to sit on the
step of the stile and watch through the leafless sunlit trees the
silver haze shimmering in the valley, where the winter wheat was all of
an emerald richness, and the blue mountains afar off so near akin to
the aspect of heaven that one might hardly mark where the horizon line
merged the sweet solitudes of earth into the solitary sky. Many a day,
the spring, loitering along the shadow-flecked vistas, with the red
maple-blooms overhead and violets underfoot, was the only traveler to
be seen on the deserted road. And the pensive dusk was wont to deepen
into the serene vernal night, sweet with the scent of the budding wild
cherry, and astir with timorous tentative rustlings as of half-fledged
breezes, and illumined only with the gentle lustre of the white stars;
for never again was the darkness emblazoned with that haggard
incandescence so long the mystery of Witch-Face Mountain.
TAKING THE BLUE RIBBON AT THE COUNTY
Jenks Hollis sat on the fence. He slowly turned the quid of tobacco
in his cheek, and lifting up his voice spoke with an oracular drawl:
Ef he kin take the certif'cate it's the mos' ez he kin do. He ain't
never a-goin' ter git no premi-um in this life, sure 's ye air a
And he relapsed into silence. His long legs dangled dejectedly among
the roadside weeds; his brown jeans trousers, that had despaired of
ever reaching his ankles, were ornamented here and there with
ill-adjusted patches, and his loose-fitting coat was out at the elbows.
An old white wool hat drooped over his eyes, which were fixed absently
on certain distant blue mountain ranges, that melted tenderly into the
blue of the noonday sky, and framed an exquisite mosaic of poly-tinted
fields in the valley, far, far below the grim gray crag on which his
little home was perched.
Despite his long legs he was a light weight, or he would not have
chosen as his favorite seat so rickety a fence. His interlocutor, a
heavier man, apparently had some doubts, for he leaned only slightly
against one of the projecting rails as he whittled a pine stick, and
with his every movement the frail structure trembled. The log cabin
seemed as rickety as the fence. The little front porch had lost a
puncheon here and there in the flooringperhaps on some cold winter
night when Hollis's energy was not sufficiently exuberant to convey him
to the wood-pile; the slender posts that upheld its roof seemed hardly
strong enough to withstand the weight of the luxuriant vines with their
wealth of golden gourds which had clambered far over the moss-grown
clapboards; the windows had fewer panes of glass than rags; and the
chimney, built of clay and sticks, leaned portentously away from the
house. The open door displayed a rough, uncovered floor; a few old
rush-bottomed chairs; a bedstead with a patch-work calico quilt, the
mattress swagging in the centre and showing the badly arranged cords
below; strings of bright red pepper hanging from the dark rafters; a
group of tow-headed, grave-faced, barefooted children; and, occupying
almost one side of the room, a broad, deep, old-fashioned fireplace,
where winter and summer a lazy fire burned under a lazy pot.
Notwithstanding the poverty of the aspect of the place and the
evident sloth of its master, it was characterized by a scrupulous
cleanliness strangely at variance with its forlorn deficiencies. The
rough floor was not only swept but scoured; the dark rafters, whence
depended the flaming banners of the red pepper, harbored no cobwebs;
the grave faces of the white-haired children bore no more dirt than was
consistent with their recent occupation of making mudpies; and the
sedate, bald-headed baby, lying silent but wide-awake in an uncouth
wooden cradle, was as clean as clear spring water and yellow soap could
make it. Mrs. Hollis herself, seen through the vista of opposite open
doors, energetically rubbing the coarse wet clothes upon the resonant
washboard, seemed neat enough in her blue-and-white checked homespun
dress, and with her scanty hair drawn smoothly back from her brow into
a tidy little knot on the top of her head.
Spare and gaunt she was, and with many lines in her prematurely old
face. Perhaps they told of the hard fight her brave spirit waged
against the stern ordering of her life; of the struggles with
squalor,inevitable concomitant of poverty,and to keep together the
souls and bodies of those numerous children, with no more efficient
assistance than could be wrung from her reluctant husband in the short
intervals when he did not sit on the fence. She managed as well as she
could; there was an abundance of fine fruit in that low line of foliage
behind the housebut everybody on Old Bear Mountain had fine fruit.
Something rarer, she had good vegetablesthe planting and hoeing being
her own work and her eldest daughter's; an occasional shallow furrow
representing the contribution of her husband's plough. The
althea-bushes and the branches of the laurel sheltered a goodly number
of roosting hens in these September nights; and to the pond, which had
been formed by damming the waters of the spring branch in the hollow
across the road, was moving even now a stately procession of geese in
single file. These simple belongings were the trophies of a gallant
battle against unalterable conditions and the dragging, dispiriting
clog of her husband's inertia.
His inner lifedoes it seem hard to realize that in that uncouth
personality concentred the complex, incomprehensible, ever-shifting
emotions of that inner life which, after all, is so much stronger, and
deeper, and broader than the material? Here, too, beat the hot heart of
humanitybeat with no measured throb. He had his hopes, his pleasure,
his pain, like those of a higher culture, differing only in object, and
something perhaps in degree. His disappointments were bitter and
lasting; his triumphs, few and sordid; his single aspirationto take
the premium offered by the directors of the Kildeer County Fair for the
This incongruous and unpromising ambition had sprung up in this
wise: Between the country people of Kildeer County and the citizens of
the village of Colbury, the county-seat, existed a bitter and deeply
rooted animosity manifesting itself at conventions, elections for the
legislature, etc., the rural population voting as a unit against the
town's candidate. On all occasions of public meetings there was a
struggle to crush any invidious distinction against the country boys,
especially at the annual fair. Here to the rustics of Kildeer County
came the tug of war. The population of the outlying districts was more
numerous, and, when it could be used as a suffrage-engine,
all-powerful; but the region immediately adjacent to the town was far
more fertile. On those fine meadows grazed the graceful Jersey; there
gamboled sundry long-tailed colts with long-tailed pedigrees; there
greedy Berkshires fattened themselves to abnormal proportions; and the
merinos could hardly walk, for the weight of their own rich wardrobes.
The well-to-do farmers of this section were hand-in-glove with the
town's people; they drove their trotters in every day or so to get
their mail, to chat with their cronies, to attend to their affairs in
court, to sell or to buytheir pleasures centred in the town, and they
turned the cold shoulder upon the country, which supported them, and
gave their influence to Colbury, accounting themselves an integrant
part of it. Thus, at the fairs the town claimed the honor and glory.
The blue ribbon decorated cattle and horses bred within ten miles of
the flaunting flag on the judges' stand, and the foaming
mountain-torrents and the placid stream in the valley beheld no
cerulean hues save those of the sky which they reflected.
The premium offered this year for the best rider was, as it
happened, a new feature, and excited especial interest. The country's
blood was up. Here was something for which it could fairly compete,
with none of the disadvantages of the false position in which it was
placed. Hence a prosperous landed proprietor, the leader of the rural
faction, dwelling midway between the town and the range of mountains
that bounded the county on the north and east, bethought himself one
day of Jenkins Hollis, whose famous riding had been the feature of a
certain dashing cavalry chargeonce famous, tooforgotten now by all
but the men who, for the first and only time in their existence,
penetrated in those war days the blue mountains fencing in their county
from the outer world, and looked upon the alien life beyond that wooded
barrier. The experience of those four years, submerged in the whirling
rush of events elsewhere, survives in these eventless regions in a
dreamy, dispassionate sort of longevity. And Jenkins Hollis's feat of
riding stolidlyone could hardly say bravelyup an almost sheer
precipice to a flame-belching battery came suddenly into the landed
magnate's recollection with the gentle vapors and soothing aroma of a
meditative after-dinner pipe. Quivering with party spirit, Squire
Goodlet sent for Hollis and offered to lend him the best horse on the
place, and a saddle and bridle, if he would go down to Colbury and beat
those town fellows out on their own ground.
No misgivings had Hollis. The inordinate personal pride
characteristic of the mountaineer precluded his feeling a shrinking
pain at the prospect of being presented, a sorry contrast, among the
well-clad, well-to-do town's people, to compete in a public contest. He
did not appreciate the differencehe thought himself as good as the
And to-day, complacent enough, he sat upon the rickety fence at
home, oracularly disparaging the equestrian accomplishments of the
town's noted champion.
I dunnoI dunno, said his young companion doubtfully. Hackett
sets mighty firm onto his saddle. He's ez straight ez any shingle, an'
ez tough ez a pine-knot. He come up hyar las' summerwar it las'
summer, now? No, 't war summer afore las'with some o' them other
Colbury folks, a-fox-huntin', an' a-deer-huntin, an' one thing an'
'nother. I seen 'em a time or two in the woods. An' he kin ride jes' ez
good 'mongst the gullies and boulders like ez ef he had been born in
the hills. He ain't a-goin' ter be beat easy.
It don't make no differ, retorted Jenks Hollis. He'll never git
no premi-um. The certif'cate's good a-plenty fur what ridin' he
Doubt was still expressed in the face of the young man, but he said
no more, and, after a short silence, Mr. Hollis, perhaps not relishing
his visitor's want of appreciation, dismounted, so to speak, from the
fence, and slouched off slowly up the road.
Jacob Brice still stood leaning against the rails and whittling his
pine stick, in no wise angered or dismayed by his host's unceremonious
departure, for social etiquette is not very rigid on Old Bear Mountain.
He was a tall athletic fellow, clad in a suit of brown jeans, which
displayed, besides the ornaments of patches, sundry deep grass stains
about the knees. Not that piety induced Brice to spend much time in the
lowly attitude of prayer, unless, indeed, Diana might be accounted the
goddess of his worship. The green juice was pressed out when kneeling,
hidden in some leafy, grassy nook, he heard the infrequent cry of the
wild turkey, or his large, intent blue eyes caught a glimpse of the
stately head of an antlered buck, moving majestically in the alternate
sheen of the sunlight and shadow of the overhanging crags; or while
with his deft hunter's hands he dragged himself by slow, noiseless
degrees through the ferns and tufts of rank weeds to the water's edge,
that he might catch a shot at the feeding wild duck. A leather belt
around his waist supported his powder-horn and shot-pouch,for his
accoutrements were exactly such as might have been borne a hundred
years ago by a hunter of Old Bear Mountain,and his gun leaned against
the trunk of a chestnut-oak.
Although he still stood outside the fence, aimlessly lounging, there
was a look on his face of a half-suppressed expectancy, which rendered
the features less statuesque than was their wontan expectancy that
showed itself in the furtive lifting of his eyelids now and then,
enabling him to survey the doorway without turning his head. Suddenly
his face reassumed its habitual, inexpressive mask of immobility, and
the furtive eyes were persistently downcast.
A flare of color, and Cynthia Hollis was standing in the doorway,
leaning against its frame. She was robed, like September, in brilliant
yellow. The material and make were of the meanest, but there was a
certain appropriateness in the color with her slumberous dark eyes and
the curling tendrils of brown hair which fell upon her forehead and
were clustered together at the back of her neck. No cuffs and no collar
could this costume boast, but she had shown the inclination to finery
characteristic of her age and sex by wearing around her throat, where
the yellow hue of her dress met the creamy tint of her skin, a row of
large black beads, threaded upon a shoe-string in default of an
elastic, the brass ends flaunting brazenly enough among them. She held
in her hand a string of red pepper, to which she was adding some newly
gathered pods. A slow job Cynthia seemed to make of it.
She took no more notice of the man under the tree than he accorded
to her. There they stood, within twelve feet of each other, in utter
silence, and, to all appearance, each entirely unconscious of the
other's existence: he whittling his pine stick; she, slowly, slowly
stringing the pods of red pepper.
There was something almost portentous in the gravity and sobriety of
demeanor of this girl of seventeen; she manifested less interest in the
young man than her own grandmother might have shown.
He was constrained to speak first. Cynthyhe said at length,
without raising his eyes or turning his head. She did not answer; but
he knew without looking that she had fixed those slumberous brown eyes
upon him, waiting for him to go on. Cynthyhe said again, with a
hesitating, uneasy manner. Then, with an awkward attempt at raillery,
Ain't ye never a-thinkin' 'bout a-gittin' married?
He cast a laughing glance toward her, and looked down quickly at his
clasp-knife and the stick he was whittling. It was growing very slender
Cynthia's serious face relaxed its gravity. Ye air foolish, Jacob,
she said, laughing. After stringing on another pepper-pod with great
deliberation, she continued: Ef I war a-studyin' 'bout a-gittin'
married, thar ain't nobody round 'bout hyar ez I'd hev. And she added
another pod to the flaming red string, so bright against the yellow of
That stick could not long escape annihilation. The clasp-knife moved
vigorously through its fibres, and accented certain arbitrary clauses
in its owner's retort. Ye talk like, he said, his face as monotonous
in its expression as if every line were cut in marbleye talk
likeye thought ez how Iwar a-goin' ter ax yeter marry me. I ain't
The stick was a shaving. It fell among the weeds. The young hunter
shut his clasp-knife with a snap, shouldered his gun, and without a
word of adieu on either side the conference terminated, and he walked
off down the sandy road.
Cynthia stood watching him until the laurel-bushes hid him from
sight; then sliding from the door-frame to the step, she sat
motionless, a bright-hued mass of yellow draperies and red peppers, her
slumberous deep eyes resting on the leaves that had closed upon him.
She was the central figure of a still landscape. The mid-day
sunshine fell in broad effulgence upon it; the homely, dun-colored
shadows had been running away all the morning, as if shirking the
contrast with the splendors of the golden light, until nothing was left
of them except a dark circle beneath the wide-spreading trees. No
breath of wind stirred the leaves, or rippled the surface of the little
pond. The lethargy of the hour had descended even upon the towering
pine-trees, growing on the precipitous slope of the mountain, and
showing their topmost plumes just above the frowning, gray cragtheir
melancholy song was hushed. The silent masses of dazzling white clouds
were poised motionless in the ambient air, high above the valley and
the misty expanse of the distant, wooded ranges.
A lazy, lazy day, and very, very warm. The birds had much ado to
find sheltering shady nooks where they might escape the glare and the
heat; their gay carols were out of season, and they blinked and nodded
under their leafy umbrellas, and fanned themselves with their wings,
and twittered disapproval of the weather. Hot, hot, red-hot! said the
Now and then an acorn fell from among the serrated chestnut leaves,
striking upon the fence with a sounding thwack, and rebounding in the
weeds. Those chestnut-oaks always seem to unaccustomed eyes the
creation of Nature in a fit of mental aberrationuseful freak! the
mountain swine fatten on the plenteous mast, and the bark is highly
esteemed at the tan-yard.
A large cat was lying at full length on the floor of the little
porch, watching with drowsy, half-closed eyes the assembled birds in
the tree. But she seemed to have relinquished the pleasures of the
chase until the mercury should fall.
Close in to the muddiest side of the pond over there, which was all
silver and blue with the reflection of the great masses of white
clouds, and the deep azure sky, a fleet of shining, snowy geese was
moored, perfectly motionless too. No circumnavigation for them this hot
And Cynthia's dark brown eyes, fixed upon the leafy vista of the
road, were as slumberous as the noontide sunshine.
Cynthy! whar is the gal? said poor Mrs. Hollis, as she came
around the house to hang out the ragged clothes on the althea-bushes
and the rickety fence. Cynthy, air ye a-goin' ter sit thar in the door
all day, an' that thar pot a-bilin' all the stren'th out 'n that thar
cabbige an' roas'in'-ears? Dish up dinner, child, an' don't be so slow
an' slack-twisted like yer dad.
* * * * *
Great merriment there was, to be sure, at the Kildeer Fair grounds,
situated on the outskirts of Colbury, when it became known to the
convulsed town faction that the gawky Jenks Hollis intended to compete
for the premium to be awarded to the best and most graceful rider. The
contests of the week had as usual resulted in Colbury's favor; this was
the last day of the fair, and the defeated country population anxiously
but still hopefully awaited its notable event.
A warm sun shone; a brisk autumnal breeze waved the flag flying from
the judges' stand; a brass band in the upper story of that structure
thrilled the air with the vibrations of popular waltzes and marches,
somewhat marred now and then by mysteriously discordant bass tones; the
judges, portly, red-faced, middle-aged gentlemen, sat below in
cane-bottom chairs critically a-tilt on the hind legs. The rough wooden
amphitheatre, a bold satire on the stately Roman edifice, was filled
with the denizens of Colbury and the rosy rural faces of the country
people of Kildeer County; and within the charmed arena the competitors
for the blue ribbon and the saddle and bridle to be awarded to the best
rider were just now entering, ready mounted, from a door beneath the
tiers of seats, and were slowly making the tour of the circle around
the judges' stand. One by one they came, with a certain nonchalant
pride of demeanor, conscious of an effort to display themselves and
their horses to the greatest advantage, and yet a little ashamed of the
consciousness. For the most part they were young men, prosperous
looking, and clad according to the requirements of fashion which
prevailed in this little town. Shut in though it was from the pomps and
vanities of the world by the encircling chains of blue ranges and the
bending sky which rested upon their summits, the frivolity of the mode,
though somewhat belated, found its way and ruled with imperative rigor.
Good riders they were undoubtedly, accustomed to the saddle almost from
infancy, and well mounted. A certain air of gallantry, always
characteristic of an athletic horseman, commended these equestrian
figures to the eye as they slowly circled about. Still they
cameeightninetenthe eleventh, the long, lank frame of Jenkins
Hollis mounted on Squire Goodlet's John Barleycorn.
The horsemen received this ungainly addition to their party with
polite composure, and the genteel element of the spectators remained
silent too from the force of good breeding and good feeling; but the
roughs, always critically a-loose in a crowd, shouted and screamed
with derisive hilarity. What they were laughing at Jenks Hollis never
knew. Grave and stolid, but as complacent as the best, he too made the
usual circuit with his ill-fitting jeans suit, his slouching old wool
hat, and his long, gaunt figure. But he sat the spirited John
Barleycorn as if he were a part of the steed, and held up his head
with unwonted dignity, inspired perhaps by the stately attitudes of the
horse, which were the result of no training nor compelling reins, but
the instinct transmitted through a long line of high-headed ancestry.
Of a fine old family was John Barleycorn.
A deeper sensation was in store for the spectators. Before Jenkins
Hollis's appearance most of them had heard of his intention to compete,
but the feeling was one of unmixed astonishment when entry No. 12 rode
into the arena, and, on the part of the country people, this surprise
was supplemented by an intense indignation. The twelfth man was Jacob
Brice. As he was a mounting boy, one would imagine that, if victory
should crown his efforts, the rural faction ought to feel the elation
of success, but the prevailing sentiment toward him was that which
every well-conducted mind must entertain concerning the individual who
runs against the nominee. Notwithstanding the fact that Brice was a
notable rider, too, and well calculated to try the mettle of the town's
champion, there arose from the excited countrymen a keen, bitter, and
outraged cry of Take him out! So strongly does the partisan heart
pulsate to the interests of the nominee! This frantic petition had no
effect on the interloper. A man who has inherited half a dozen violent
quarrels, any one of which may at any moment burst into a
vendetta,inheriting little else,is not easily dismayed by the
disapprobation of either friend or foe. His statuesque features, shaded
by the drooping brim of his old black hat were as calm as ever, and his
slow blue eyes did not, for one moment, rest upon the excited scene
about him, so unspeakably new to his scanty experience. His fine figure
showed to great advantage on horseback, despite his uncouth, coarse
garb; he was mounted upon a sturdy, brown mare of obscure origin, but
good-looking, clean-built, sure-footed, and with the blended charm of
spirit and docility; she represented his whole estate, except his gun
and his lean, old hound, that had accompanied him to the fair, and was
even now improving the shining hour by quarreling over a bone outside
the grounds with other people's handsomer dogs.
The judges were exacting. The riders were ordered to gallop to the
rightand around they went. To the leftand there was again the
spectacle of the swiftly circling equestrian figures. They were
required to draw up in a line, and to dismount; then to mount, and
again to alight. Those whom these manoeuvres proved inferior were
dismissed at once, and the circle was reduced to eight. An exchange of
horses was commanded; and once more the riding, fast and slow, left and
right, the mounting and dismounting were repeated. The proficiency of
the remaining candidates rendered them worthy of more difficult
ordeals. They were required to snatch a hat from the ground while
riding at full gallop. Pistols loaded with blank cartridges were fired
behind the horses, and subsequently close to their quivering and
snorting nostrils, in order that the relative capacity of the riders to
manage a frightened and unruly steed might be compared, and the
criticism of the judges mowed the number down to four.
Free speech is conceded by all right-thinking people to be a
blessing. It is often a balm. Outside of the building and of earshot
the defeated aspirants took what comfort they could in consigning, with
great fervor and volubility, all the judicial magnates to that torrid
region unknown to polite geographical works.
Of the four horsemen remaining in the ring, two were Jenkins Hollis
and Jacob Brice. Short turns at full gallop were prescribed. The horses
were required to go backward at various gaits. Bars were brought in and
the crowd enjoyed the exhibition of the standing-leap, at an
ever-increasing height and then the flying-leapa tumultuous confused
impression of thundering hoofs and tossing mane and grim defiant faces
of horse and rider, in the lightning-like moment of passing.
Obstructions were piled on the track for the long jumps, and in one
of the wildest leaps a good rider was unhorsed and rolled on the ground
while his recreant steed that had balked at the last moment scampered
around and around the arena in a wild effort to find the door beneath
the tiers of seats to escape so fierce a competition. This accident
reduced the number of candidates to the two mountaineers and Tip
Hackett, the man whom Jacob had pronounced a formidable rival. The
circling about, the mounting and dismounting, the exchange of horses
were several times repeated without any apparent result, and excitement
rose to fever heat.
The premium and certificate lay between the three men. The town
faction trembled at the thought that the substantial award of the
saddle and bridle, with the decoration of the blue ribbon, and the
intangible but still precious secondary glory of the certificate and
the red ribbon might be given to the two mountaineers, leaving the
crack rider of Colbury in an ignominious lurch; while the country party
feared Hollis's defeat by Hackett rather less than that Jenks would be
required to relinquish the premium to the interloper Brice, for the
young hunter's riding had stricken a pang of prophetic terror to more
than one partisan rustic's heart. In the midst of the perplexing doubt,
which tried the judges' minds, came the hour for dinner, and the
decision was postponed until after that meal.
The competitors left the arena, and the spectators transferred their
attention to unburdening hampers, or to jostling one another in the
Everybody was feasting but Cynthia Hollis. The intense excitement of
the day, the novel sights and sounds utterly undreamed of in her former
life, the abruptly struck chords of new emotions suddenly set vibrating
within her, had dulled her relish for the midday meal; and while the
other members of the family repaired to the shade of a tree outside the
grounds to enjoy that refection, she wandered about the floral hall,
gazing at the splendors of bloom thronging there, all so different from
the shy grace, the fragility of poise, the delicacy of texture of the
flowers of her ken,the rhododendron, the azalea, the Chilhowee
lily,yet vastly imposing in their massed exuberance and scarlet
pride, for somehow they all seemed high colored.
She went more than once to note with a kind of aghast dismay those
trophies of feminine industry, the quilts; some were of the log cabin
and rising sun variety, but others were of geometric intricacy of
form and were kaleidoscopic of color with an amazing labyrinth of
stitchings and embroideriesit seemed a species of effrontery to dub
one gorgeous poly-tinted silken banner a quilt. But already it bore a
blue ribbon, and its owner was the richer by the prize of a glass bowl
and the envy of a score of deft-handed competitors. She gazed upon the
glittering jellies and preserves, upon the biscuits and cheeses, the
hair-work and wax flowers, and paintings. These latter treated for the
most part of castles and seas rather than of the surrounding altitudes,
but Cynthia came to a pause of blank surprise in front of a shadow
rather than a picture which represented a spring of still brown water
in a mossy cleft of a rock where the fronds of a fern seemed to stir in
the foreground. I hev viewed the like o' that a many a time, she said
disparagingly. To her it hardly seemed rare enough for the blue ribbon
on the frame.
In the next room she dawdled through great piles of prize fruits and
vegetableswater-melons unduly vast of bulk, peaches and pears and
pumpkins of proportions never seen before out of a nightmare, stalks of
Indian corn eighteen feet high with seven ears each,all apparently
attesting what they could do when they would, and that all the
enterprise of Kildeer County was not exclusively of the feminine
Finally Cynthia came out from the midst of them and stood leaning
against one of the large pillars which supported the roof of the
amphitheatre, still gazing about the half-deserted building, with the
smouldering fires of her slumberous eyes newly kindled.
To other eyes and ears it might not have seemed a scene of
tumultuous metropolitan life, with the murmuring trees close at hand
dappling the floor with sycamore shadows, the fields of Indian corn
across the road, the exuberant rush of the stream down the slope just
beyond, the few hundred spectators who had intently watched the events
of the day; but to Cynthia Hollis the excitement of the crowd and
movement and noise could no further go.
By the natural force of gravitation Jacob Brice presently was
walking slowly and apparently aimlessly around to where she was
standing. He said nothing, however, when he was beside her, and she
seemed entirely unconscious of his presence. Her yellow dress was as
stiff as a board, and as clean as her strong, young arms could make it;
at her throat were the shining black beads; on her head she wore a
limp, yellow calico sunbonnet, which hung down over her eyes, and
almost obscured her countenance. To this article she perhaps owed the
singular purity and transparency of her complexion, as much as to the
mountain air, and the chiefly vegetable fare of her father's table. She
wore it constantly, although it operated almost as a mask, rendering
her more easily recognizable to their few neighbors by her flaring
attire than by her features, and obstructing from her own view all
surrounding scenery, so that she could hardly see the cow, which so
much of her time she was slowly poking after.
She spoke unexpectedly, and without any other symptom that she knew
of the young hunter's proximity. I never thought, Jacob, ez how ye
would hev come down hyar, all the way from the mountings, to ride agin
my dad, an' beat him out'n that thar saddle an' bridle.
Ye won't hev nothin' ter say ter me, retorted Jacob sourly.
A long silence ensued.
Then he resumed didactically, but with some irrelevancy, I tole ye
t'other day ez how ye war old enough ter be a-studyin' 'bout gittin'
They don't think nothin' of ye ter our house, Jacob. Dad 's always
a-jowin' at ye. Cynthia's candor certainly could not be called in
The young hunter replied with some natural irritation: He hed
better not let me hear him, ef he wants to keep whole bones inside his
skin. He better not tell me, nuther.
He don't keer enough 'bout ye, Jacob, ter tell ye. He don't think
nothin' of ye.
Love is popularly supposed to dull the mental faculties. It
developed in Jacob Brice sudden strategic abilities.
Thar is them ez does, he said diplomatically.
Cynthia spoke promptly with more vivacity than usual, but in her
customary drawl and apparently utterly irrelevantly:
I never in all my days see no sech red-headed gal ez that thar
Becky Stiles. She's the red-headedest gal ever I see. And Cynthia once
more was silent.
Jacob resumed, also irrelevantly:
When I goes a-huntin' up yander ter Pine Lick, they is mighty
perlite ter me. They ain't never done nothin' agin me, ez I knows on.
Then, after a pause of deep cogitation, he added, Nor hev they said
nothin' agin me, nuther.
Cynthia took up her side of the dialogue, if dialogue it could be
called, with wonted irrelevancy: That thar Becky Stiles, she's got the
freckledest faceez freckled ez any turkey-aig (with an indescribable
drawl on the last word).
They ain't done nothin' agin me, reiterated Jacob astutely, nor
said nothin' nuthernone of 'em.
Cynthia looked hard across the amphitheatre at the distant Great
Smoky Mountains shimmering in the hazy September sunlightso ineffably
beautiful, so delicately blue, that they might have seemed the ideal
scenery of some impossibly lovely ideal world. Perhaps she was
wondering what the unconscious Becky Stiles, far away in those dark
woods about Pine Lick, had secured in this life besides her freckled
face. Was this the sylvan deity of the young hunter's adoration?
Cynthia took off her sunbonnet to use it for a fan. Perhaps it was
well for her that she did so at this moment; it had so entirely
concealed her head that her hair might have been the color of Becky
Stiles's, and no one the wiser. The dark brown tendrils curled
delicately on her creamy forehead; the excitement of the day had
flushed her pale cheeks with an unwonted glow; her eyes were alight
with their newly kindled fires; the clinging curtain of her bonnet had
concealed the sloping curves of her shouldersaltogether she was
attractive enough, despite the flare of her yellow dress, and
especially attractive to the untutored eyes of Jacob Brice. He relented
suddenly, and lost all the advantages of his tact and diplomacy.
I likes ye better nor I does Becky Stiles, he said moderately.
Then with more fervor, I likes ye better nor any gal I ever see.
The usual long pause ensued.
Ye hev got a mighty cur'ous way o' showin' it, Cynthia replied.
I dunno what ye 're talkin' 'bout, Cynthy.
Ye hev got a mighty cur'ous way o' showin' it, she reiterated,
with renewed animationa-comin' all the way down hyar from the
mountings ter beat my dad out'n that thar saddle an' bridle, what he's
done sot his heart onto. Mighty cur'ous way.
Look hyar, Cynthy. The young hunter broke off suddenly, and did
not speak again for several minutes. A great perplexity was surging
this way and that in his slow brainsa great struggle was waging in
his heart. He was to choose between love and ambitionnay, avarice too
was ranged beside his aspiration. He felt himself an assured victor in
the competition, and he had seen that saddle and bridle. They were on
exhibition to-day, and to him their material and workmanship seemed
beyond expression wonderful, and elegant, and substantial. He could
never hope otherwise to own such accoutrements. His eyes would never
again even rest upon such resplendent objects, unless indeed in
Hollis's possession. Any one who has ever loved a horse can appreciate
a horseman's dear desire that beauty should go beautifully caparisoned.
And then, there was his pride in his own riding, and his anxiety to
have his preeminence in that accomplishment acknowledged and recognized
by his friends, and, dearer triumph still, by his enemies. A terrible
pang before he spoke again.
Look hyar, Cynthy, he said at last; ef ye will marry me, I won't
go back in yander no more. I'll leave the premi-um ter them ez
kin git it.
Ye're foolish, Jacob, she replied, still fanning with the yellow
calico sunbonnet. Ain't I done tole ye, ez how they don't think
nothin' of ye ter our house? I don't want all of 'em a-jowin' at me,
Ye talk like ye ain't got good sense, Cynthy, said Jacob
irritably. What's ter hender me from hitchin' up my mare ter my
uncle's wagon an' ye an' me a-drivin' up hyar to the Cross-Roads,
fifteen mile, and git Pa'son Jones ter marry us? We'll get the license
down hyar ter the Court House afore we start. An' while they'll all be
a-foolin' away thar time a-ridin' round that thar ring, ye an' me will
be a-gittin' married. Ten minutes ago Jacob Brice did not think riding
around that ring was such a reprehensible waste of time. What's ter
hender? It don't make no differ how they jow then.
I done tole ye, Jacob, said the sedate Cynthia, still fanning with
With a sudden return of his inspiration, Jacob retorted, affecting
an air of stolid indifference: Jes' ez ye choose. I won't hev
ter ax Becky Stiles twict.
And he turned to go.
I never said no, Jacob, said Cynthia precipitately. I never said
ez how I wouldn't hev ye.
Waal, then, jes' come along with me right now while I hitch up the
mare. I ain't a-goin' ter leave yer a-standin' hyar. Ye're too
skittish. Time I come back ye'd hev done run away I dunno whar. A
moment's pause and he added: Is ye a-goin' ter stand thar all day,
Cynthy Hollis, a-lookin' up an' around, and a-turnin' yer neck fust
this way and then t'other, an' a-lookin' fur all the worl' like a wild
turkey in a trap, or one o' them thar skeery young deer, or sech
senseless critters? What ails the gal?
Thar'll be nobody ter help along the work ter our house, said
Cynthia, the weight of the home difficulties bearing heavily on her
What's ter hender ye from a-goin' down thar an' lendin' a hand
every wunst in a while? But ef ye're a-goin' ter stand thar like ye
hedn't no more action than aa-dunno-what,jes' like yer dad, I
ain't. I'll jes' leave ye a-growed ter that thar post, an' I'll jes'
light out stiddier, an' afore the cows git ter Pine Lick, I'll be thar
too. Jes' ez ye choose. Come along ef ye wants ter come. I ain't
a-goin' ter ax ye no more.
I'm a-comin', said Cynthia.
There was great though illogical rejoicing on the part of the
country faction when the crowds were again seated, tier above tier, in
the amphitheatre, and the riders were once more summoned into the
arena, to discover from Jacob Brice's unaccounted-for absence that he
had withdrawn and left the nominee to his chances.
In the ensuing competition it became very evident to the not
altogether impartially disposed judges that they could not, without
incurring the suspicions alike of friend and foe, award the premium to
their fellow-townsman. Straight as a shingle though he might be, more
prepossessing to the eye, the ex-cavalryman of fifty battles was far
better trained in all the arts of horsemanship.
A wild shout of joy burst from the rural party when the most portly
and rubicund of the portly and red-faced judges advanced into the ring
and decorated Jenkins Hollis with the blue ribbon. A frantic
antistrophe rent the air. Take it off! vociferated the bitter town
factiontake it off!
A diversion was produced by the refusal of the Colbury champion to
receive the empty honor of the red ribbon and the certificate. Thus did
he except to the ruling of the judges. In high dudgeon he faced about
and left the arena, followed shortly by the decorated Jenks, bearing
the precious saddle and bridle, and going with a wooden face to receive
the congratulations of his friends.
The entries for the slow mule race had been withdrawn at the last
moment; and the spectators, balked of that unique sport, and the fair
being virtually over, were rising from their seats and making their
noisy preparations for departure. Before Jenks had cleared the
fair-building, being somewhat impeded by the moving mass of humanity,
he encountered one of his neighbors, a listless mountaineer, who spoke
on this wise:
Does ye know that thar gal o' yournthat thar Cynthy?
Mr. Hollis nodded his expressionless headpresumably he did know
Waal, continued his leisurely interlocutor, still interrogative,
does ye know Jacob Brice?
Ill-starred association of ideas! There was a look of apprehension
on Jenkins Hollis's wooden face.
They hev done got a license down hyar ter the Court House an' gone
a-kitin' out on the Old B'ar road.
This was explicit.
Whar's my horse? exclaimed Jenks, appropriating John Barleycorn
in his haste. Great as was his hurry, it was not too imperative to
prevent him from strapping upon the horse the premium saddle, and
inserting in his mouth the new bit and bridle. And in less than ten
minutes a goodly number of recruits from the crowd assembled in Colbury
were also a-kitin' out on the road to Old Bear, delighted with a new
excitement, and bent on running down the eloping couple with no more
appreciation of the sentimental phase of the question and the tender
illusions of love's young dream than if Jacob and Cynthia were two
Down the red-clay slopes of the outskirts of the town John
Barleycorn thunders with a train of horsemen at his heels. Splash into
the clear fair stream whose translucent depths tell of its birthplace
among the mountain springshow the silver spray showers about as the
pursuers surge through the ford leaving behind them a foamy wake!and
now they are pressing hard up the steep ascent of the opposite bank,
and galloping furiously along a level stretch of road, with the fences
and trees whirling by, and the September landscape flying on the wings
of the wind. The chase leads past fields of tasseled Indian corn, with
yellowing thickly swathed ears, leaning heavily from the stalk; past
wheat-lands, the crops harvested and the crab-grass having its day at
last; past woods-lots and their black shadows, and out again into the
September sunshine; past rickety little homes, not unlike Hollis's own,
with tow-headed children, exactly like his, standing with wide eyes,
looking at the rush and hurry of the pursuitsometimes in the ill-kept
yards a wood-fire is burning under the boiling sorghum kettle, or
beneath the branches of the orchard near at hand a cider-mill is
crushing the juice out of the red and yellow, ripe and luscious apples.
Homeward-bound prize cattle are overtakena Durham bull, reluctantly
permitting himself to be led into a fence corner that the hunt may
sweep by unobstructed, and turning his proud blue-ribboned head angrily
toward the riders as if indignant that anything except him should
absorb attention; a gallant horse, with another floating blue streamer,
bearing himself as becometh a king's son; the chase comes near to
crushing sundry grunting porkers impervious to pride and glory in any
worldly distinctions of cerulean decorations, and at last is fain to
draw up and wait until a flock of silly over-dressed sheep, running in
frantic fear every way but the right way, can be gathered together and
guided to a place of safety.
And once more, forward; past white frame houses with porches, and
vine-grown verandas, and well-tended gardens, and groves of oak and
beech and hickory treesJohn Barleycorn makes an ineffectual but
gallant struggle to get in at the large white gate of one of these
comfortable places, Squire Goodlet's home, but he is urged back into
the road, and again the pursuit sweeps on. Those blue mountains, the
long parallel ranges of Old Bear and his brothers, seem no more a
misty, uncertain mirage against the delicious indefinable tints of the
horizon. Sharply outlined they are now, with dark, irregular shadows
upon their precipitous slopes which tell of wild ravines, and
rock-lined gorges, and swirling mountain torrents, and great, beetling,
gray crags. A breath of balsams comes on the freshening windthe lungs
expand to meet it. There is a new aspect in the scene; a revivifying
current thrills through the blood; a sudden ideal beauty descends on
'Pears like I can't git my breath good in them flat countries,
says Jenkins Hollis to himself, as John Barleycorn improves his speed
under the exhilarating influence of the wind. I'm nigh on to
sifflicated every time I goes down yander ter Colbury (with a jerk of
his wooden head in the direction of the village).
Long stretches of woods are on either side of the road now, with no
sign of the changing season in the foliage save the slender, pointed,
scarlet leaves and creamy plumes of the sourwood, gleaming here and
there; and presently another panorama of open country unrolls to the
view. Two or three frame houses appear with gardens and orchards, a
number of humble log cabins, and a dingy little store, and the
Cross-Roads are reached. And here the conclusive intelligence meets the
party that Jacob and Cynthia were married by Parson Jones an hour ago,
and were still a-kitin', at last accounts, out on the road to Old
The pursuit stayed its ardor. On the auspicious day when Jenkins
Hollis took the blue ribbon at the County Fair and won the saddle and
bridle he lost his daughter.
They saw Cynthia no more until late in the autumn when she came,
without a word of self-justification or apology for her conduct, to
lend her mother a helping hand in spinning and weaving her little
brothers' and sisters' clothes. And gradually the éclat
attendant upon her nuptials was forgotten, except that Mrs. Hollis now
and then remarks that she dunno how we could hev bore up agin Cynthy's
a-runnin' away like she done, ef it hedn't a-been fur that thar saddle
an' bridle an' takin' the blue ribbon at the County Fair.
THE CASTING VOTE.
An election of civil and judicial officers was impending in Kildeer
County when a comet appeared in the July sky, a mysterious, aloof,
uncanny presence, that invaded the night and the stereotyped routine of
nature with that gruesome effect of the phenomenal which gives to the
mind so definite a realization of how dear and secure is the prosaic
sense of custom.
All the lenses of the great observatories of the world had, in a
manner, sought to entertain the strange visitant of the heavens. The
learned had gone so far as to claim its acquaintance, to recognize it
as the returning comet of a date long gone by. It even carried amidst
its shining glories, along the far unimagined ways of its orbit, the
name of a human beingof the man who had discovered it on its former
visit, for thus splendidly does astronomy honor its votaries. Less
scientific people regarded it askance as in some sort harbinger of woe,
and spoke of presage, recalling other comets, and the commotions that
came in their trainfrom the Deluge, with the traditional cometary
influences rife in the breaking up of the fountains of the great
deep, to the victories of Mohammed II. and the threatened overthrow of
Christendom, and even down to our own war of 1812. Others, again,
scorned superstition, and entertained merely practical misgivings
concerning the weight, density, and temperature of the comet, lest the
eccentric aerial wanderer should run amuck of the earth in some
confusion touching the right of way through space.
Meanwhile, it grew from the semblance of a vaporous tissuean
illuminated haze only discernible through the telescope, the private
view of the favored fewtill it gradually became visible to the
unassisted eye of the profanum vulgus, and finally it flamed
across the darkling spaces with its white crown of glory, its splendid
wing-like train, and its effect of motion as of a wondrous flight among
the starsand all the world, and, for aught we know, many worlds,
gazed at it.
Only in some great desert, the vast stretches of unsailed seas, or
the depths of uninhabited forests, were its supernal splendors unnoted.
It sunk as wistful, as tremulous, a reflection in a lonely pool in the
dense mountain wilds as any simple star, a familiar of these haunts,
that had looked down to mark its responsive image year after year, for
countless ages, whenever the season brought it, in its place in the
glittering mail of the Archer, or among the jewels of the Northern
Crown, once more to the spot it had known and its tryst with its fair
semblance in the water.
The great silver flake which the comet struck out upon the serene
surface lay glinting there among the lesser stellar reflections, when a
man, kneeling in a gully of the steep bank sloping to the salt lick,
leaned forward suddenly to gaze at it; then, with a gasp, turned his
eyes upward to that flaming blade drawn athwart the peaceful sky. He
did not utter a sound. The habit of silence essential to the
deer-hunter kept its mechanical hold upon his nerves. Only the hand
with which he grasped the half-exposed roots of a great sycamore-tree,
denuded in some partial caving of the bank long ago, relaxed and
He was a man of scant and narrow experience, his world the
impenetrable mountain wilderness, and, though seemingly the pupil of
nature, versed in the ways of beast and bird, the signs of the clouds,
the seasons of bourgeoning and burr, it was but of casual external
aspects. He knew naught of its wondrous history, its subtler
significance, its strange recordthe flood-tides registered on that
cliff beyond the laurel; the reptilian trail in the ledge beneath the
butt of his rifle, the imprint still fast in the solid rock, albeit the
species extinct; the great bones of ancient unknown beasts sunk in the
depressions of this saline quagmire, which herds of them had once
frequented for the salt, as did of late the buffalo, and now the
timorous deer, wont to come, like shadows wavering in the wind, to lick
the briny earth. The strange, glinting blade overhead had no claim on
his recognition as the comet of Aristotle, or the evil-disposed
comet personified by the Italians as Sir Great-Lance, il Signor
Astone, or Halley's comet, or Donati's. Self is the centre of the
solar system with many souls, and around this point do all its
incidents revolve. For him that wondrous white fire was kindled
in the skies, for him, in special relation to his small life, to
the wish nearest his hot human heart, to the clumsy scheme dear to his
slow, crude brain. He thought it a warning then: and later he thought
Some vague stirthe wind perhaps, or perhaps a light-footed
dryadflitted past and was gone. The surface of the lick rippled
with her footprints, and was smooth again. All the encompassing masses
of trees and undergrowth about the place were densely black and opaque,
giving the sense of absolute solidity and weight, except upon the
verges, which were somehow shaded off into a cloudy brown against the
translucent dove-tinted tissues in which the night seemed enveloped and
obscured save for the white gleaming of the stars. This was the clear
color that the brackish water wore as it reflected the night. It
reflected suddenly a facea face with a long velvety muzzle, a pair of
spreading antlers, and dark eyes, gentle, timorous, liquidly bright.
The water stirred with a sibilant lapping sound as the buck's tongue
licked at the margin. Once he held up his head to listen, with his hoof
lifted, then he bent again to the ripples. There was slight relation
between him, the native of these woods, and that wayward waif of the
skies; but among the unnumbered influences and incidents of its course
it served to save that humble sylvan life for a space. The hunter
neither saw nor heard.
It was only when the deer with a sudden snort and a precipitate
bound fled crashing through the laurel that Walter Hoxon became aware
of his presence, and of the stealthy approach that had alarmed him. The
approach was stealthy no longer. A quick, nervous tread, a rustling of
the boughs, and as the hunter rose to his feet his elder brother
emerged from the undergrowth, taller than he as they stood together on
the margin of the lick, more active, sinewy, alert.
Whyn't ye take a shot at him, Wat? cried Justus Hoxon
tumultuously. I'll be bound ye war nappin', he added in keen rebuke.
A pause, then Walter Hoxon pulled himself together and retorted:
Nappin'! in scornful falsetto. How could I get a shot,
with ye a-trompin' up ez n'isy ez a herd o' cattle?
The reproach evidently struck home, for the elder said nothing. With
the thoroughness characteristic of the habitual liar, Walter proceeded
to add circumstance to his original statement.
I seen the buck whenst he fust kem sidlin' an' slippin' up ter the
water, oneasy an' onsartain from the fust minute. I hed jes' sighted my
rifle. An' hyar ye kem, a-bulgin' out o' the lau'l, an' sp'iled my
shot. As the verisimilitude of his representations bore upon him, he
unconsciously assumed the sentiments natural to the situation
simulated. Who tole ye ez I war hyar, anyhows? he demanded angrily.
'Dosia, replied Justus Hoxon in a mild tone. Then, with an effort
at exculpation, I 'lowed ye'd be keenplumb sharp setfur news 'bout
the prospec's o' the 'lection. An' she 'lowed ez ye hed kem down hyar
hopin' ter git a deer. 'T war The'dosia.
At the name the other had turned slightly away and looked down, a
gesture that invidious daylight might have interpreted as anxiety, or
faltering, or at the least replete with consciousness. But even if open
to observation, it could scarcely have signified aught to Justus Hoxon,
wrapped in his own thoughts, and in his absorbing interest in the
events of the day. His mental attitude was so apparent to his brother,
albeit his form was barely distinguishable as they stood together by
the salt lick, that Wat ventured a questiona bold one, it seemed to
him, and he felt a chill because of its temerity.
Glad ter see ye, I s'pose?
Plumb tickled ter death, exclaimed Justus, his laughing voice full
of reminiscent enthusiasm. Thar war a big crowd at the Cross-Roads ter
hear the speakin', an' a toler'ble gatherin' at Sycamore Gap. Everybody
inquired partic'lar arter ye, an' whenst I tole 'em ye war tuk sick,
an' couldn't be thar, an' I war 'lectioneerin' in yer place, they shuck
han's, an' shuck han's. One ole manole Sam Coggins, up ter Sims's
Millsays ter me, he says, 'I dunno yer brother, Justus Hoxon; but
blister my boots, ef I don't vote fur anybody ez air kin ter you-uns,
an' ez ye hev set yer heart on 'lectin' ter office.' An' the way folks
inquired arter ye, an'
I ain't talkin' 'bout the 'lection, Wat broke in brusquely. I war
axin' 'bout 'Dosia. She warhe hesitatedliable ter be glad ter see
ye, I reckon.
There was a note of surprise in his brother's voice from which Wat
shrank in sudden alarm. Oh, 'Dosia! Course she war glad. I seen her
jes' now, an' she told me ez ye hed kem down ter the lick ter git a
shot at the deer, bein' ez she hed 'lowed the venison war powerful good
'bout now. I never stayed but a minute. I says, ''Dosia, ye an' me hev
got the rest o' our lives ter do our courtin' in, but this 'lection hev
got ter be tended ter now, kase ef Wat ain't 'lected it'll set
him back all his life. Some folks 'low ez 't ain't perlite an'
respec'ful, nohow, fur pore folks like we-uns ter run fur office, like
ez ef we war good ez anybody.' An' 'Dosia she jes' hustled me out'n the
house. 'G'long! G'long! Do everything 'bout'n the 'lection! Turn
every stone! Time enough fur courtin' arterward! Time enough!'
Once more Justus laughed contentedly.
The man beside him stirred uneasily, then broke out irritably:
Waal, I'm powerful tired o' this 'lection foolishness, fur one.
I wisht I hed never let ye push an' boost me inter it. I reckon them
war right ez 'lowed pore folks like we-uns ain't fit ter run fur
office, an' ain't goin' ter git 'lected. I'd never hev dreamt o' sech
ef it hedn't been fur you-unsnever in this worl'. Walter's voice
sunk moodily, and he had a flouting gesture as he turned aside.
A vicarious ambition is the most ungrateful of passions. There was
something more than anger, than eager affection, than urgent reproach,
than prescient alarm, albeit all rang sharply forth, in his brother's
voice raised to reply; it was a keen note of helplessness, from which
Walter's nerves recoiled with a sense of pain, so insistently clamorous
How kin ye say that! cried Justus. Fur ye ter stan' thar, ready
ter throw away all yer good chances, jes' kase ye hev got the
rheumatics an' don't feel like viewin' the peoplethough it 'pears
like ye air well enough ter go huntin' of deer of a damp night at a
salt lick! An' then, kase a mean-spirited half-liver flings dirt on ye
an' yer fambly, fur ye ter sit down on a low stool, an' fill yer mouth
with mud, an' 'low this air plenty good enough fur we-uns! 'Pore folks
ain't fit ter git 'lected ter office!' with scornful iteration. My
Lord! this hyar is a democratic kentry! with an echo from the stump
speeches of the day. Leastwise the folks yander at Sycamore Gap
'peared ter think so. This hyar Tom Markham he war speakin' on the
issues o' the day, an' bein' he's a frien' o' Sheriff Quigley's, he tuk
a turn at me an' you-uns, o' course. Tole the folks how my dad an' mam
died whenst I war twelve year old, an' how the only reason the fambly
warn't sent ter the pore-house war kase the county folks war dil'tory,
an' put it off, till they 'lowed our own house war pore enough. An'
then he sot out ter be mighty funny, an' mocked the way I useter call
the t'other chil'n 'Fambly,' sech ez'Fambly, kem ter dinner, Fambly!'
'Shet up yer cryin', Fambly!' An' then he tole how I cookedgathered
all sorts o' yarbs an' vegetables tergether an' sot a pot ter bile, an'
whenever 'Fambly' war hongry 'Fambly' tuk a snack, an' gracefully eat
out'n the pot with thar fingers. An' sometimes 'Fambly' war moved ter
wash thar clothes, an' they all repaired ter the ruver-bank, an' rubbed
out thar rags, an' hung 'em on the bushes ter dryan', duty done,
'Fambly' went a-wadin'. Everybody jes' laffed an' laffed!
There was a strained tone in his voice, not far foreign to a sob, as
he repeated these derisive flouts at his early and forlorn estate.
An' now, resuming their rehearsal, this enlightened constituency
was asked ter bestow on a scion o' this same 'Fambly'ignorant, scrub,
pauperan office of great importance to the people, that needed to
fill it a man o' eddication an' experiunce, varsed in the ways o' the
worldasked to bestow the office o' sheriff o' the county on a man who
war so obviously incomp'tent an' illit'rate that he darsn't face the
people ter make his perposterous demand!
The wind came and went. The darkling bushes bowed and bent again.
The leaves took up their testimony in elusive, sibilant mutterings.
Justus Hoxon's eyes were cast upward for a moment, as he watched a
massive bough of an oak-tree sway against the far sky, shutting off the
stars, which became visible anew as the elastic branch swung back once
more. Only the pallor of his face and a certain lustrous liquid gleam
betokening his eyes were distinguishable to his brother, who
nevertheless watched him with anxiety and quickened breathing as he
That thar feller hed sca'cely stepped down off'n that thar stump
afore I war on ter it. I asked fur a few minutes' attention, an'
'lowed, I did, that Mr. Markham's account o' the humble beginnin's of
me an' 'Fambly' war accurate an' exac'. (Everybody hed looked fur me
ter deny it, or ter git mad, or suthin', an' they war toler'ble
s'prised.) 'Fambly' did eat out'n the pot permiscuous, an' made
a mighty pore dinner thar many a day. An' 'Fambly' washed thar clothes
ez described, infrequent enough, an' no doubt war ez ragged an' dirty
ez they war hongry. But, I said, Mr. Markham hedn't told the haffen o'
it. Cold winter nights, when the snow sifted in through the cracks, an'
the wind blew in the rotten old door, 'Fambly' liked ter hev friz ter
death. They hed the pneumonia, an' whoopin'-cough, an' croup; an' in
summer, bein' a perverse set o' brats, 'Fambly' hed fever an' ager, an'
similar ailments common ter the young o' the human race, the same ez
ef 'Fambly' war folks! 'T war 'stonishin', kem ter think of it, how
'Fambly' hed the insurance ter grow up ter look like folks, let
alone settin' out ter run fur office; an' ef God hedn't raised 'em up
some mighty good frien's in this county, I reckon thar wouldn't be much
o' 'Fambly' left. Some folks 'low ez Providence hev got mighty leetle
jedgmint in worldly affairs, an' this mus' be one o' the strikin'
instances of it. These frien's gin the bigges' boy work ter do, an'
that holped ter keep 'Fambly's' bodies an' souls tergether. I reckon,
says I, that I hev ploughed in the fields o' haffen the men in our
deestric'; I hev worked in the tan-yard; I hev been striker in the
blacksmith shop; an' all the time that pot, aforesaid, b'iled at home,
an' 'Fambly' tuk thar dinner thar constant, with thar fingers,
ez aforesaid. But 'Fambly' warn't so durned ragged, nuther. Good
neighbors gin 'em some clothes wunst in a while, an' l'arned the gals
ter sew an' cook some. An' thar kem ter be a skillet an' a fryin'-pan
on the h'a'th ter holp the pot out. Why, 'Fambly' got so prosperous
that one day, whenst a' ole, drunken, cripple, ragged man war passin',
they enj'yed themselves mightily, laffin' at somebody po'rer than
themselves. An' ole Pa'son Tyson war goin' by in his gig, an' he
tuk note o' the finger o' scorn, an' he stopped. He said mighty leetle,
but he tuk the trouble ter cut a stout hickory sprout, an' he gin
'Fambly' a good thrashin' all roun'. It lasted 'Fambly' well. They
ain't laffed at 'God's pore' sence! Waal, 'Fambly' 's takin' up too
much o' this enlightened assembly's attention. Enough to tell what's
kem o' 'Fambly.' The oldes' gal went ter free school, l'arned ter read,
write, an' cipher, an' married Pa'son Tyson's son, ez air a minister o'
the gospel a-ridin' a Methodis' circuit in north Georgy now. An' the
second galhis voice falteredshe went ter free school,
l'arned mo' still o' readin' an' writin' an' cipherin', an' taught
school two year down on Bird Creek, an' war goin' ter be married ter a
good man, well-ter-do, who had built her a house, not knowin' ez God
hed prepared her a mansion in the skies. She is livin' thar now!
An' las', the Benjamin o' all the tribe, kems my brother Walter. He
went ter school; kin read, write, an' cipher; he's been taught ez much
ez any man ez ever held the office he axes ter be 'lected ter, an' air
thoroughly competent. Fac' is, gentlemen, thar's nothin' lef' ter show
fur the humble 'Fambly' Mr. Markham's be'n tellin' 'bout, but me. I
never went ter school, 'ceptin' in yer fields. I l'arned ter cure
hides, an' temper steel, an' shoe horse-critters, so that pot mought be
kep' a-b'ilin', an' 'Fambly' mought dine accordin' to thar humble way
in them very humble days that somehow, gentlemen, I ain't got an' can't
git the grace ter be 'shamed of yit.
He paused abruptly as he concluded the recital of his speech, and
wiped his face with the back of his hand. I wisht ye could hev hearn
them men cheer. They jes' hollered tharse'fs hoarse. They shuck hands
till they mighty nigh yanked my arm out'n its socket. With the
recollection, he rubbed his right arm with a gesture of pain.
Something there was in the account of this ovation that smote upon
the younger brother's sense of values, and he hastened to take
possession of it.
Oh, I knowed I war powerful pop'lar in the Sycamore Gap deestric',
he said, dropping his lowering manner, that had somehow been
perceptible in the darkness, and wagging his head from side to side
with a gesture of great security in the affections of Sycamore Gap.
Sycamore Gap's all right, I know; I'll poll a big majority thar,
I reckon ye will; but I warn't so sure o' that at fust, replied
the elder. They 'peared ter me at fust ter be sorter set ag'in
usleastwise me, though arter a while I could hardly git away
from 'em, they war so durned friendly.
Walter cast a keen look upon him; but he evidently spoke from his
simple heart, and was all unaware that he was personally the source of
this sudden popularity in Sycamore Gaphis magnetism, his unconscious
eloquence, and his character as shown in the simple and forlorn annals
of Fambly. And yet he was not crudely unthinking. He perceived the
incongruity of his brother's successive standpoints.
I dunno how ye kin purtend ter be so all-fired sure o' Sycamore
Gap, he said suddenly. 'T ain't five minutes sence ye war 'lowin' ez
pore folks couldn't git 'lected ter office, an' ye wished ye hed hed
nothin' ter do with sech, an' 't war me ez bed jes' pushed an' boosted
ye inter it.
The resources of subterfuge are well-nigh limitless. Walter Hoxon
was an adept in utilizing them. He had seen a warning in the skies, and
it had struck terror and discouragement to his heart; but not to his
political prospects had he felt its application. Other schemes, deeper,
treacherous, secret, seemed menaced, and his conscience, or that
endowment to quake with the fear of requital that answers for
conscience in some ill-developed souls, was set astir. Nevertheless,
the election might suffice as scapegoat.
Look a-yander, Justus, he said suddenly, pointing with the muzzle
of his gun at the brilliant wayfarer of the skies, as if he might in
another moment essay a shot. That thar critter means mischief, sure ez
ye air born.
The other stepped back a pace or two, and lifted his head to look.
The comic? he demanded. Walter's silence seemed assent.
Laws-a-massy, ye tomfool, Justus cried, let it be a sign ter them ez
run ag'in' ye! Count the comic in like a qualified voterit kem hyar
on account o' the incumbent's incompetence in office. Signs! Rolf
Quigley is sign enough,if ye want signs in 'lections,with money,
an' frien's, an' a term of office, an' the reg'lar nominee o' the
party, an' ye jes' an independent candidate. No star a-waggin' a tale
aroun' the sky air haffen ez dangerous ter yer 'lection ez him. An' he
ain't lookin' at no comic! He looked this evenin' like he'd put his
finger in his mouth in one more minute, plumb 'shamed ter his boot-sole
o' the things Markham hed said. An' Markham he kem up ter me before a
crowd o' fellers, an' says, says he: 'Mr. Hoxon, I meant no reflections
on yer fambly in alludin' ter its poverty, an' I honor ye fur yer
lifelong exertions in its behalf. I take pride, sir, in makin' this
apology.' An' I says: 'I be a' illit'rate, humble man, Mr. Markham; but
I will venture the liberty to tell ye ez ye mought take mo' pride in
givin' no occasion fur apologies ter poverty.' Them fellers standin'
aroun' jes' laffed. I knowed he didn't mean a word he said then, but
war jes' slickin' over the things he hed said on Quigley's
account, kase the crowd seemed ter favor me. I say, comic! Let Rolf
Quigley take the comic fur a sign.
It is easy to pluck up fears that have no root. Oh, I be goin' ter
'lectioneer all the same ez ever. Whar 's the nex' place we air bound
Walter put his hand on his brother's shoulder as he asked the
question, and in the eager unfolding of plans and possibilities the
two, as Justus talked, made their way along the deer-path beside the
salt lick, leaving the stars coldly glittering on the ripples, with
that wonderful streak of white fire reflected among them; leaving, too,
the vaguely whispering woods, communing with the wind as it came and
went; reaching the slope of the mountain at last, where was perched,
amid sterile fields and humble garden-patch, the little cabin in which
Fambly had struggled through its forlorn youth to better days.
* * * * *
The door was closed after this. A padlock knocked against it when
the wind blew, as if spuriously announcing a visitor. The deceit failed
of effect, for there was no inmate left, and the freakish gust could
only twirl the lock anew, and go swirling down the road with a rout of
dust in a witches' dance behind it. The passers-by took note of the
deserted aspect of things, and knew that the brothers were absent
electioneering, and wondered vaguely what the chances might be. This
passing was somewhat more frequent than was normal along the road; for
when the mists that had hung about the mountains persistently during a
warm, clammy, wet season had withdrawn suddenly, and one night revealed
for the first time the comet fairly ablaze in the sky, a desire to hear
what was said and known about it at the Cross-Roads and the settlement
and the blacksmith shop took possession of the denizens of the region,
and the coteries of amateur astronomers at these centres were added to
daily. Some remembered a comet or two in past times, and if the
deponent were advanced in years his hearers were given to understand
that the present luminary couldn't hold a tallow dip to the
incandescent terrors he recollected. There were utilitarian souls who
were disquieted about the crops, and anxiously examined growing ears of
corn, expecting to find the comet's influence tucked away in the husks.
Some looked for the end of the world; those most obviously and
determinedly pious took, it might seem, a certain unfraternal joy in
the contrast of their superior forethought, in being prepared for the
day of doom, with the uncovenanted estate of the non-professor. A
revival broke out at New Bethel; the number of mourners grew in
proportion as the comet got bigger night by night. Small wonder that as
evening drew slowly on, and the flaring, assertive, red west gradually
paled, and the ranges began to lose semblance and symmetry in the dusk,
and the river gloomed benighted in the vague circuit of its course, and
a lonely star slipped into the sky, darkening, too, till, rank after
rank, and phalanx after phalanx, all the splendid armament of night had
mustered, with that great, glamourous guidon in the midstsmall wonder
that the ignorant mountaineer looked up at the unaccustomed thing to
mark it there, and fear smote his heart.
At these times certain of the little sequestered households far
among the wooded ranges got them within their doors, as if to place
between them and the uncanny invader of the night, and the threatening
influences rife in the very atmosphere, all the simple habitudes of
home. The hearthstone seemed safest, the door a barrier, the home
circle a guard. Others spent the nocturnal hours in the dooryard or on
the porch, marking the march of the constellations, and filling the
time with vague speculations, or retailing dreadful rumors of strange
happenings in the neighboring coves, and wild stories of turmoil and
misfortune that comets had wrought years ago.
It was at one of these makeshift observatories that Justus Hoxon
stopped the first evening after his electioneering tour in the interest
of his brother. The weather had turned hot and fair; a drought, a
set-off to the surplusage of recent rain, was in progress; the dooryard
on the high slope of the mountain, apart from its availability for the
surveillance of any eccentric doings of the comet, was an acceptable
lounging-place for the sake of the air, the dew, the hope of a vagrant
breeze, and, more than all, the ample elbow-room which it offered the
rest of the family while he talked with Theodosia Blakely. The rest of
the familyunwelcome wights!were not disposed to make their
existence obtrusive; on the contrary, they did much to further his
wishes, even to the sacrifice of personal predilection. Mrs. Blakely,
her arms befloured, her hands in the dough, had observed him at the
gate, while she stood at the biscuit-block in the shed-room, and
although pining to rush forth and ask the latest news from the
settlement and the comet, she only called out in a husky undertone:
'Dosia, 'Dosia, yander's Justus a-kemin' in the gate! Put on yer white
Because she had been adjured to put on her white apron, Theodosia
did not put it on. She advanced to the window, about which grew, with
its graceful habit, a hop-vine. A little slanting roof was above the
lintel, a mere board or so, with a few warped shingles; but it made a
gentle shadow, and Theodosia thought few men besides the one at the
gate would have failed to see her there. He lingered a little, turning
back to glance over the landscape, and then he deflected his course
toward a rough bench that was placed in a corner of the rail fence,
threw himself upon it, and fanned himself with his broad-brimmed hat.
The insurance o' the critter! I'm a mind ter leave ye a-settin'
thar by yerse'f till ye be wore out waitin', she muttered.
She hesitated a moment, then took her sunbonnet and went out to meet
The scene was like some great painting, with this corner in the
foreground left unfinished, so minute was the detail of the distance,
so elaborate and perfect the coloring of the curves of purple, and
amethyst, and blue mountains afar off, rising in tiers about the
cup-shaped valley. Above it hung a tawny tissue of haze, surcharged
with a deeply red, vinous splendor, as if spilled from the stirrup-cup
of the departing sun. He was already out of sight, spurring along
unknown ways. The sky was yellow here and amber there, and a pearly
flake, its only cloud, glittered white in the midst. Up the hither
slope the various green of the pine and the poplar, the sycamore and
the sweet-gum, was keenly differentiated, but where the rail fence drew
the line of demarkation, Art seemed to fail.
A crude wash of ochre had apparently sufficed for the dooryard; no
weed grew here, no twig. It was tramped firm and hard by the feet of
cow, and horse, and the peripatetic children, and poultry. The cabin
was drawn in with careless angles and lines by a mere stroke or two;
and surely no painter, no builder save the utilitarian backwoodsman,
would have left it with no relief of trees behind it, no vineyard, no
garden, no orchard, no background, naught; in its gaunt simplicity and
ugliness it stood against its own ill-tended fields flattening away in
Such as it was, however, it satisfied all of Justus Hoxon's sense of
the appropriate and the picturesque when Theodosia Blakely stepped out
from the door and came slowly to meet him. The painter's art, if she
were to be esteemed part of the foreground, might have seemed redeemed
in her. Her dress was of light blue homespun; her sunbonnet of deep red
calico, pushed back, showed her dark brown hair waving upward in heavy
undulations from her brow, her large blue eyes with their thick black
lashes, her rich brunette complexion, her delicate red lips cut in fine
lines, and the gleam of her teeth as she smiled. She had a string of
opaque white, wax-like beads around the neck of her dress, and the
contrast of the pearly whiteness of the bauble with the creamy
whiteness and softness of her throat was marked with much finish. Her
figure was hardly of medium height, and, despite the suppleness of
youth, as plump as a partridge, according to the familiar saying. The
clear iris of her eyes gave an impression of quick shifting, and by
them one could see her mood change as she approached.
She looked at him intently, speculatively, a sort of doubtful
curiosity furtively suggested in her expression; but there was naught
subtle or covert in the gaze that met hersnaught but the frankest
pleasure and happiness. He did not move, as she advanced, nor offer
formal greeting; he only smiled, secure, content, restful, as she came
up and sat down on the end of the bench. The children, playing noisily
in the back yard on the wood-pile, paused for a moment to gaze with
callow interest at them; but the spectacle of The'dosia's sweetheart
was too familiar to be of more than fleeting diversion, and they
resorted once more to their pastime. Mrs. Blakely too, who with
rolling-pin in her hand had turned to gaze out of the window, went back
to rolling out the dough vigorously, with only the muttered comment,
Wish The'dosia didn't know how much I'd like that man fur a
son-in-law, then she'd be willin' ter like him better herse'f.
He was unconscious of them all, as he leaned his elbow on the
projecting rails of the fence at their intersection close at hand.
Hev ye hed yer health, The'dosia? he said.
Don't I look like it? she replied laughingly.
There was something both of cordiality and coquetry in her manner.
Her large eyes narrowed as she laughed, and albeit they glittered
between their closing lids, the expression was not pleasant. Levity did
not become her.
Yes, ye do, he said seriously. Ye 'pear ter be real thrivin' an'
peart an' healthy.
His look, his words, were charged with no sort of recognition or
value of her beauty: clearly her challenge had fallen to the ground
He'd like me jes' ez well ef I war all pitted up with the smallpox,
or ez freckled ez a tur-r-key-aig, she thought, flushing with
Beauty is jealous of preëminence, and would fain have precedence
even of love. She could take no sort of satisfaction in a captive that
her bright eyes had not shackled. Somehow this love seemed to flout, to
diminish, her attractions. It was like an accident. She could account
for his subjection on no other grounds. As she sat silent, grave enough
now and very beautiful, gazing askance and troubled upon him, he went
I war so oneasy an' beset lest suthin' hed happened on the
mounting, whilst I war away, ter trouble you-uns or some o' yer folks.
I never hed time ter study much 'bout sech in the day, but I dreamt
'bout ye in the night, an' all night,he laughed a
little,all sort'n mixed up things. I got ter be a plumb Joseph fur
readin' dreamsonly I could read the same one forty diff'rent ways,
an' every way made me a leetle mo' oneasy than the t'other one. I
s'pose ye hev been perlite enough ter miss me a leetle, he concluded.
She flashed her great eyes at him with a pretended stare of
surprise. Myno! she exclaimed. We-uns hev hed the comet ter keep
us comp'nywe ain't missed nobody!
He laughed a little, as at a repartee, and then went on:
Waal, the comic war a-cuttin' a pretty showy figger down yander at
Colbury. 'Ston-ishin' how much store folks do 'pear ter set on it! They
hed rigged up some sort'n peepin'-glass in the Court-House yard, an'
thar war mighty nigh the whole town a-squinchin' up one eye ter
examinate the consarn through itall the court off'cers,
'torney-gin'ral, an' sech, an' old Doctor Kane an' Jedge Peters,
besides a whole passel o' ginerality folks. They 'lowed the glass made
it 'pear bigger.
Did it? she asked, with sudden interest.
Bless yer soul, chile, I didn't hev time ter waste on it.
Jedge Peters he beckoned ter me, an' 'lowed he'd interjuce me ter it;
but I 'lowed the comic outside war plenty big enough fur me. 'Jedge,' I
says, 'my mission hyar air ter make onnecessary things seem small, not magnified. That's why I'm continually belittlin' Rolf Quigley. Wat
kin go on lookin' cross-eyed at the stars, ef so minded, but I be bound
ter tend ter the 'lection.' An' the jedge laffed and says: 'Justus,
nex' time I want ter git 'lected ter office, I'm goin' ter git ye
ter boost me in. Ye hev got it a sight mo' at heart than yer brother.'
Fur thar war Wat, all twisted up at the small e-end o' the
tellingscope, purtendin' ter be on mighty close terms with the comic,
though lots o' other men said it jes' dazed thar eyes, an' they
couldn't see nuthin' through it, an' mighty leetle arterward
through sightin' so long one-eyed.
Waal, how's the prospects fur the 'lection? she asked.
Fine! Fine! he answered with gusto. Folks all be so frien'ly
everywhar ter we-uns.
He leaned his shoulder suddenly back against the rough rails of the
fence. His hat was in his hand. His hair, fine, thin, chestnut-brown,
and closely clinging about his narrow head, was thrown back from his
forehead. His clear blue eyes were turned upward, with the light of
reminiscence slowly dawning in them. It may have been the reflection of
the dazzling flake of cloud, it may have been some mental illumination,
but a sort of radiance was breaking over the keen, irregular lines of
his features, and a flush other than the floridity of a naturally fair
complexion was upon his thin cheek and hollow temple.
O The'dosia, he cried, I can't holp thinkin', hevin' so many
frien's nowadays,whenst it's 'Hail!' hyar, an' 'Howdy!' thar, an' a
clap on the shoulder ter the east, an' a 'How's yer health?' ter the
west, an' a handshake ter the north, an' 'Take a drink?' ter the south,
from one e-end o' the county ter the t'other,how I fared whenst I hed
jes' one frien' in the worl', an' that war yer mother! An' how
she looked the fust day she stood in the door o' my cabin up tharkem
ter nuss Elmiry through that spell she hed o' the scarlet fever. An'
arterward she says ter me: 'Ye do manage s'prisin', Justus; an' I be
goin' ter save ye some gyardin seed out'n my patch this year, an' ef
ye'll plough my patch I'll loan ye my horse-critter ter plough your'n.
An' the gals kin kem an' l'arn ter sew an' churn, an' sech, long o'
'Dosia.' An' how they loved ye, 'Dosiaspecial Elmiry!
His eyes filled with sudden tears. They did not fall; they were
absorbed somehow as he resumed:
Sech a superflu'ty o' frien's nowadays! Ef 't warn't they'd count
fur all they're wuth in the ballot-box, I'd hev no use fur 'em. I kin
sca'cely 'member thar names. But then I hed jes' onejes'
one in all the worl'yer mother! Bless her soul! he concluded
He was still and reflective for a moment. Then he made a motion as
though he would take one of Theodosia's hands. But she clasped both of
them demurely behind her.
I don't hold hands with no man ez blesses another 'oman's soul by
the hour, she said, with an affectation of primness.
There may have been something more serious in her playful rebuff,
but in the serenity of his perfect security he did not feel it or gauge
A glimpse of her mother at the window added its suggestiona lean,
sallow, lined face, full of anxious furrows, with a rim of scanty
gray-streaked hair about the brow, with spectacles perched above, and
beneath the flabby jaw a scraggy, wrinkled neck.
An' she's so powerful pretty! Theodosia exclaimed, with an
irreverent burst of laughter, I don't wonder ye feel obligated ter
bless her soul.
She 'pears plumb beautiful to my mind, he said
unequivocally,all of a piece with her beautiful life.
Theodosia was suddenly grave, angered into a secret, sullen
irritation. These were words she loved for herself: it was but lately
she had learned so to prize them. Her eyes were as bright as a deer's!
Had not some one protested this, with a good round rural oath as
attestation? Her hair on the back of her head, and its shape to the
nape of her neck, were so beautifulshe had never seen it: how could
she say it wasn't? Her chin and her throatwell, if people could think
snow was a prettier white, he wouldn't give much for their
head-stuffin'. And her blush! her blush! It was her own fault. He would
not have taken another kiss if she had not blushed so at the first that
he must needs again see her cheek glow like the wild rose.
These were echoes of a love-making that had lately taken hold of her
heart, that had grown insistently sweet and dear to her, that had
established its sway impetuously, tyrannically, over her life, that had
caused her to seem more to herself, and as if she were infinitely more
to her new lover.
She wondered how she could ever have even tolerated this dullard,
with his slow, measured preference, his unquestioning security of her
heart, his doltish credulity in her and her promise, his humble
gratitude to her mother,who had often enough, in good sooth, got full
value in return for aught she gave,who appeared beautiful to his
mind. She broke forth abruptly, her cheeks flushing, her eyes brave and
bright, the subject nearest her heart on her lips, in the sudden influx
of courage set astir by the mere contemplation of it.
Waal now, tell 'bout Wathow he enj'ys bein' a candidate, an'
sech. Then, with a tremor because of her temerity: I have hearn o'
that thar beautisome old 'oman a time or two afore, but Wat ez a
candidate air sorter fraish an' new.
He turned his clear, unsuspicious eyes upon her. He had replaced his
wide wool hat on his head, and he leaned forward, resting his cheek on
his hand and his elbow on his knee. He aimlessly flicked his long
spurred boot, as he talked, with a willow wand which he carried in lieu
Waal, Wat is some similar ter a balky horse. He don't seem ter
sense a word I say, nor ter be willin' ter do a thing I advise, nor
even ter take heart o' grace 'bout bein' 'lected, till we gets out
'mongst folks, an' thar handshakin's and frien'liness seems ter
hearten up the critter. I hev jes' hed ter baig an' baig, an' plead an'
plead, with that boy 'bout this an' that an' t'other, till I wouldn't
go through ag'in what I hev been through ter git 'lected
doorkeeper o' heaven. But, with a sudden change of tone and a flush of
pride, The'dosia, ye dunno what a' all-fired pretty speaker Wat hev
got ter be. Jes' stan's up ez straight an' smilin' afore all the crowd,
an' jes' tells off his p'ints, one, two, three, ez nip! An' the crowd
always cheers an' cheersjes' bawls itse'f hoarse. Whenever thar's a
chance ter speak, Wat jes' leaves them t'other candidates nowhar.
Ah, Theodosia's beauty well deserved the guerdon of sweet words. She
might have been pictured as a thirsting Hebe. She had a look of
quaffing some cup of nectar, still craving its depths, so immediate a
joy, so intense a light, were in her widely open eyes; her lips were
parted; the spray of blackberry leaves that she held near her cheek did
not quiver, so had her interest petrified every muscle. She was leaning
slightly forward; her red sunbonnet had fallen to the ground, and the
wind tossed her dark brown hair till the heavy masses, with their
curling ends disheveled, showed tendrils of golden hue. Her round,
plump arm was like ivory. The torn sleeve fell away to the elbow, and
her mother, glancing out of the window, took remorseful heed of it, and
wished that she herself had set a stitch in it.
The'dosia shows herself so back'ard 'bout mendin', an' sechshe
air enough ter skeer any man away. An' Justus knows jes' what sech
laziness means. Kin mend clothes hisse'f ez good ez the nex' one, an'
useter do it too, strong an' taut, with a double thread, whenst the
fambly war leetle chil'n an' gin ter bustin' out'n thar gear.
But Justus took no note of the significance of the torn sleeve.
Why, 'Dosia, he went on, everybody 'lowed ez Wat's speeches
seemed ter sense what the people wanted ter hear. Him an' me we'd talk
it over the night before, an' Wat he'd write down what we said on paper
an' mem'rize it; an' the nex' day, why, folks that wouldn't hev nuthin'
ter say ter him afore he spoke would be jes' aidgin' up through the
crowd ter git ter shake han's with him.
She smiled with delight at the picture. If it were sweet to him to
praise, how sweet it was to her to listen! Tell on! she said softly.
Her interest flattered him; it enriched the reminiscence, dear
though his memory held it. He had no doubt as to the unity of feeling
with which they both regarded the incidents he chronicled. He went on
with the certainty of responsive sentiment, the ease, the serenity of a
man who opens his heart to the woman he loves.
Why, 'Dosia, he said, often, often if it hed n't been fur the
folks, I could hev run up an' dragged him off'n the rostrum an' hugged
him fur pride, he looked so han'some an' spoke so peart! An' ter think
't war jes' our leetle Watthe Fambly's leetle Watgrowed up ter be
sech a man! Ye'll laff at meother folks didwhenst I tell ye that
ag'in an' ag'in I jes' cotch' myse'f cheerin' with the loudest. I could
n't holp it.
He'll be 'lected, Justus? she breathlessly inquired, and yet
imperatively, as if, even though she asked, she would brook no denial.
Oh, they all say thar's no doubtno doubt at all.
She drew a long breath of contentment, of pleasure. She leaned back,
silent and reflective, against the rail fence behind the bench, her
eyes fixed, absorbed, following the outline of other scenes than the
one before them, which indeed left no impression upon her senses,
scenes to come, slowly shaping the future. All trace of the red glow of
the sun had departed from the landscape. No heavy, light-absorbing,
sad-hued tapestries could wear so deep a purple, such sombre
suggestions of green, as the circling mountains had now assumed: they
were not black, and yet such depths of darkness hardly comported with
the idea of color. The neutral tints of the sky were graded more
definitely, with purer transparency, because of the contrast. The fine
grays were akin to pearl color, to lavender, even, in approaching the
zenith, to the palest of blueso pale that the white glitter of a star
alternately appeared and was lost again in its tranquil
inexpressiveness. The river seemed suddenly awake; its voice was lifted
loud upon the evening air, a rhythmic song without words. The frogs
chanted by the waterside. Fireflies here and there quivered palely over
the flat cornfields at the back of the house. There was a light within,
dully showing through the vines at the window.
An' then, 'Dosia, said Justus softly, when the 'lection is over,
it's time fur ye an' me ter git married.
She roused herself with an obvious effort, and looked
uncomprehendingly at him for a moment, as if she hardly heard.
The las' one o' Fambly will be off my han's then. Fambly will hev
been pervided furevery one, Wat an' all. I hev done my bes' fur
Fambly, an' I dunno but I hev earned the right ter think some fur
He would not perhaps have arrogated so much, except to the woman by
whom he believed himself beloved. She said nothing, and he went on
slowly, lingering upon the words as if he loved the prospect they
We-uns will hev the gyardin an' orchard, an' pastur' an' woods-lot
an' fields, ter tend ter, an' the cows an' bees, an' the mare an'
filly, an' peegs an' poultry, ter look arter. An' the house air all
tight, the roof an' all in good repair, an' we-uns will have it all ter
She turned upon him with sudden interest.
What will kem o' Wat?
Oh, he mus' live in town whilst sher'ff, bein' off'cer o' the court
an' official keeper o' jail, though he kin app'int a jailer.
Live in Colbury! she exclaimed in wonderment.
Justus laughed in triumph. Oh, I tell ye, Wat's 'way up in the
pictur's! He'll be a reg'lar town man 'fore long, I reckon, dandified
an' sniptious ez the nex' one, marryin' one o' them finified town gals
ez wear straw hats stiddier sunbonnets,though they do look ter
be about ez flimsy an' no-'count cattle ez any I ever see, the
sterling rural standpoint modifying his relish of Walter's frivolous
She tossed her head in defiance of some sudden unspoken thought. As
she lifted her eyes, fired by pride, she saw the comet all a-glitter in
the darkening sky.
She hardly knew that he had seized her hand; but his importunity
must be answered.
D'rec'ly after the 'lection'lection day, 'Dosia? he urged.
Ain't ye got no jedgmint, she temporized, laughing unmirthfully,
axin' sech a question ez that under that onlucky comet!
I hev been waitin' so long, 'Dosia!
It was the first suggestion of complaint she had ever heard from
Then ye air used ter waitin', an' 't won't kill ye ter wait a
leetle longer. I'll let ye know 'lection day.
It was a hot day in the little valley town, the first Thursday in
August, the climax of a drought, with the sun blazing down from dawn to
dusk, and not a cloud, not a vagrant mist, not even the stir of the
impalpable ether, to interpose. The mountains that rimmed the horizon
all around Colbury shimmered azure, through the heated air. No wind
came down those darker indentations that marked ravines. A dazzling,
stifling stillness reigned; yet now and again an eddying cloud of dust
would spring up along the streets, and go whirling up-hill and down,
pausing suddenly, and settling upon the overgrown shrubbery in the
pretty village yards, or on white curtains hanging motionless at the
windows of large, old-fashioned frame houses. Even the shade was hot
with a sort of closeness unknown in the open air, yet as it dwindled to
noontide proportions some alleviation seemed withdrawn; and though the
mercury marked no change, all the senses welcomed the post-meridian
lengthening of the images of bough and bole beneath the trees, and the
fantastic architecture of the shadows of chimney and gable and
dormer-window, elongated out of drawing, stretching across the grassy
streets and ample gardens. There among the grape trellises, and
raspberry bushes, and peach and cherry trees, the locusts chirred and
chirred a tireless, vibrating panegyric on hot weather. The birds were
hushed; sometimes under a clump of matted leaves one of the feathered
gentry might be seen with wings well held out from his panting sides.
The beautiful green beetle, here called the June-bug, hovered about
the beds of thyme, its jeweled, enameled green body and its silver
gauze wings flashing in the sun, although June was far down the
revolving year. Blue and lilac lizards basked in the garden walks,
which were cracked by the heat. Little stir was in the streets; the
languid business of a small town was transacted if absolute need
required, and postponed if a morrow would admit of contemplation. The
voters slowly repaired to the polls with a sense of martyrdom in the
cause of party, and the election was passing off in a most orderly
fashion, there being no residuum of energy in the baking town to render
it disorderly or unseemly. Often not a human being was to be seen,
coming or going.
To Theodosia it was all vastly different from the picture she had
projected of Colbury with an election in progress. In interest,
movement, populousness, it did not compare with a county-court day,
which her imagination had multiplied when she estimated the relative
importance of the events. She had made no allowance for the absence of
the country people, specially wont to visit the town when the quarterly
court was in session, but now all dutifully in place voting in their
own remote districts. The dust, the suffocating heat, the stale, vapid
air, the indescribable sense of a lower levelall these affected her
like a veritable burden, accustomed as she was to the light and rare
mountain breeze, to the tempered sun, the mist, and the cloud. The new
and untried conditions of town life trammeled and constrained her. She
had a certain pride, and she feared she continually offended against
the canons of metropolitan taste. In every passing face she saw
surprise, and she fancied contempt. In every casual laugh she heard
ridicule. Her brain was a turmoil of conflicting anxieties, hopes,
resolutions, and in addition these external demands upon her attention
served to intensify her absorbing emotions and to irritate her nerves
rather than to divert or soothe them. She had escaped from the relative
at whose house she was making a visit, craftily timed to include
election day, on the plea that she wished to see something of the town.
Ye don't live up on the mounting, Cousin Anice, 'mongst the deer, an'
b'ar, an' fox, like me, she had said jestingly, or ye'd want ter view
all the town ye kin. And once outside the shabby little palings, she
returned no more for hours.
Along the scorching streets she wandered, debating within herself
anxious questions which, she felt, affected all her future, and
unfitting herself still further to reach that just and wise conclusion
she desired to compass. She could not altogether abstract her mind,
despite the interests which she had at stake. She noticed that her
unaccustomed feet stumbled over the flag-stones of the pavementFit
fur nothin' but followin' the plough! she muttered in irritation. She
hesitated at the door of a store, then sidled sheepishly in, tearing
her dress on a nail in a barrel set well in the corner and out of the
But while looking over the pile of goods which she had neither the
wish nor the money to purchase, she could have sunk with shame with the
sudden thought that perhaps it was not the vogue in Colbury to keep a
clerk actively afoot to while away the idle time of a desperately idle
woman. She could not at once decide how she might best extricate
herself, and for considerable time the empty show of an impending
purchase went on.
I'llI'll kem an' see 'bout'n it ter-morrer, she faltered at
last. Much obleeged.
No trouble to show goods, said the martyr of the counter,
politely. In truth he had in the course of his career shown them as
futilely to women who were much older and far, far uglier, and
contemplating purchase as remotely.
She went out scarlet, slow, tremulous, and walking close into the
wall like an apprehensive cat, looking now and again over her shoulder.
She wondered if he laughed when he was alone.
Her shadow was long now as it preceded her down the street, lank,
awkward, clumsy. She took note of the late hour which it intimated, and
followed the extravagant, lurching caricature of herself to her
cousin's house, a little unpainted, humble building set far back in the
yard, against the good time coming when a more ornate structure should
be prefixed. The good time seemed still a long way off. Her cousin's
ironing-board was on the porch, and presently a lean, elderly, active
woman whisked out, her flat-iron in her hand.
Cousin Anice, called Theodosia from the gate, how's the 'lection
Cousin Anice paused to put her finger in her mouth; thus moistened,
she touched it to the flat-iron, which hissed smartly, and which she
applied then to the apron on the board.
Laws-a-massy! chile, the polls is jes' closed, an' all the country
deestric's ter be hearn from. We won't know till ter-morrertill late
Theodosia leaned against the gate. How could she wait! How could she
endure the suspense! She thought of Justus, and of her promise to fix
the date of the wedding on election day, but only as an additional
factor of trouble in her own anxiety and indecision.
Wat's been hyar ez cross ez two sticks, said Mrs. Elmer. She
paused to hold up the apron, exquisitely white, and sheer, and stiff,
and to gaze with critical professional eyes upon it; she was what is
known as a beautiful washer and ironer, although otherwise not
comely. Wat's beat plumb out o' sight, ef the truth war knowed, I
reckon. He 'lows he's powerful 'feared. Ef't war Justus, now, he'd
hev been 'lected sure. Justus is a mighty s'perior man; pity he never
hed no eddication. He could hev done anythingsharp ez a brier. Yes;
Wat's beat, I reckon.
In the instant Theodosia's heart sank. But she turned from the
palings, and sauntered resolutely on. It well behooved her to take
counsel with herself. I mought hev made a turr'ble, turr'ble mistake,
she muttered. She was sensible of a sharp pang pervading her
consciousness. Nevertheless, judgment clamored for recognition.
Everybody gins Justus a good name, better'n Wat, she argued. An'
ef Wat ain't 'lected
She walked down the street with a freer step, her head lifted, her
self-respect more secure. With the possible collapse of her prospect of
living in Colbury, and her ambition to adjust herself to the exigent
demands of its more ornate civilization, her natural untrained grace
was returning to her. She felt that she was certainly stylish enough
for the hills, where she was likely to live all her days, and with this
realization she quite unconsciously seemed easy enough, unconstrained
enough, graceful enough, to pass muster in a wider sphere. Her heart
was beating placidly now with the casting away of this new expectation
that had made all its pulses tense. The still air was cooler, or at
least darker. A roseate suffusion was in the sky, although a star
twinkled there. More people were in the streets; doors and windows were
open, and faces appeared now and again among the vines and curtains. As
she hesitated on the street corner, two young girls in white dresses
and with fair hair passed her. She watched them with darkening brow as
they drew hastily together, and suddenly she overheard the
half-smothered exclamation which had a dozen times to-day barely
escaped her ears.
What a pretty, pretty girl! Oh, my! how pretty, how pretty!
Theodosia stood like one bewitched; a light like the illumination of
jewels was in her sapphire eyes; the color surged to her cheek; she
lifted up her head on its round, white throat; her lips curved. Oh,
poor fool! she thought in pity for herself, for this was what the
Colbury people had been saying all day in their swift, recurrent
glances, their half-masked asides, their furtive turning to look after
her. And sheto have given herself a day of such keen misery
unconscious of their covert encomiums!
I live up thar in the wilderness till I jes' don't sense nothin',
All the wilting prospects of life were refreshed as a flower in the
perfumed dew-fall. She felt competent, able to cope with them all; her
restored self-confidence pervaded her whole entity, spiritual and
material. She walked back with an elastic step, a breezy, debonair
manner, and she met Justus Hoxon at the gate of her cousin's yard with
a jaunty assurance, and with all the charm of her rich beauty in the
He would fain have detained her in the twilight. What's that ye
promised to tell me 'lection day?
I 'lowed the day Wat war 'lected, she temporized, laying her hand
on the gate, which his stronger hand kept still closed.
Waal, this is the day Wat is 'lected.
She drew back. Even in the dim light he could see her blue eyes
widening with inquiry as she looked at him.
I 'lowed the returns warn't all in, she said doubtfully.
They ain't, but enough hev kem in sence the polls closed ter gin
him a thumpin' majority. He's safe. The tense ring of triumph was in
The scene was swimming before her; she was dazed by the sudden
alternations of hope and despair, of decision and counter-decision, by
the seeming instability of all this. Once more she thought, in a
tremble, and with a difference, of the mistake she might have made. She
held to the gate to keep her feet, no longer to open it.
What did ye promise ter tell me 'lection day? he demanded once
more, clasping her hand as it lay on the palings.
'Lection day? she said with a forced laugh't ain't e-ended yit.
An', with a sudden resolution of effecting a diversionafore it
is e-ended I want ter git a peep through that thar thing they call
a tellingscope, ef they let women folks look through it.
He was instantly intent.
Laws-a-massy, yes! he exclaimed. I seen Mis' Dr. Kane and Mis'
Jedge Peters, an' thar darters, an' a whole passel o' women folks over
thar one night las' week. The young folks jes' amble up an' down the
court-house yard, bein' moonlight, like a lot o' young colts showin'
thar paces. An' even ef they ain't thar ter-night, I'll take ye over
thar arter supper, with yer cousin Anice ter keep ye in countenance.
But after supper there was a sufficiency of fluttering white dresses
astir in the court-house yard, and now and again crossing the wide,
ill-paved street thither, to warrant Theodosia in dispensing with her
cousin's company, much to that sophisticated worthy's relief.
I hev seen all Colbury's got ter show, she said with sated pride.
An' bein' ez I hev hed a hard day's ironin', I hev got a stitch in my
I'd onderstan' that better if ye hed hed a hard day's sewin', said
Justus. He was in high feather, eager, jubilant, drinking in all the
rich and subtle flavors of success with the gusto of personal triumph.
He air prouder'n Wat, more than one observer opined.
There was another fine exhibition of pride on display in the
court-house yard that evening. One might have inferred that Dr. Kane
had made the comet, from his satisfaction in its proportions, his
accurate knowledge and exposition of its history, its previous
appearances, and when its coming again might be expected. He was the
principal physician of the place, and the little telescope was his
property, and he had thus generously loaned it to the public with the
hope of illuminating the general ignorance by a nearer view of the
starry heavens, while it served his own and his neighbors' interest in
the nightly progress of the great comet. Total destruction had been
prophesied as the imminent fate of the telescope, but it had so far
justified its owner's confidence in the promiscuous politeness of
Kildeer County, and had been a source of infinite pleasure to the
country folks from the coves and mountains, who had never before seen,
nor in good sooth heard of, such an instrument. For weeks past almost
all night curious groups took possession of it at intervals, and
doubtless it did much to enlarge their idea of science and knowledge of
celestial phenomena, for often Dr. Kane's idle humor induced him to
stand by and explain the various theories touching comets,their
velocity, their substance or lack of substance, their recurrence, their
status in the astral economy,and cognate themes. As he was a man of
very considerable reading and mental qualifications, of some means for
the indulgence of his taste, and a good deal of leisure, the synopsis
of astronomical science presented in the successive expositions was
very well worth listening to, especially by the more ignorant of the
community, who were thus enlightened as to facts hitherto foreign even
to their wildest imaginings.
But following hard on every benefaction is the trail of ingratitude,
and certain of the irreverent in the crowd found a piquant zest in
secret derision of the doctor, who sometimes did, in truth, present the
air of a showman with a panorama. More especially was this the case
when his enthusiasm waxed high, and his satisfaction in the glories of
the comet partook of a positive personal pride.
What's he goin' ter do about it? demanded one grinning rustic of
another on the outskirts of the crowd.
Put salt on its tail, responded his interlocutor.
Others affected to believe that the doctor was performing a great
feat with the long bow, especially in the tremendous measurements of
which he seemed singularly prodigal. A reference to the height of the
mountains of the moon as compared with the neighboring ranges elicited
a whispered hope that the roads were better there than those of the
Great Smoky; and an inquiry concerning the probable fate of the comet
provoked a speculation that when he was done with it he would sell it
at public outcry to the highest bidder at the east door of the
Close about the stand, however, the crowd took on something of the
demeanor of a literary society. Discussions were in order, questions
asked and answered, authorities quoted and refuted: the other
physician, who practiced much in consultation with Dr. Kane, two or
three clergymen, several of the officers of the court, and a number of
lawyers, all taking part. The more youthful members of the gathering
affected the role of peripatetic philosophers, and sauntered to and
fro, arm in arm, in the light of the waxing moon.
The big black shadows of the giant oaks were all dappled with silver
as the beams pierced the foliage and fell to the ground below; only the
cornice of the building threw an unbroken image, massive and sombre, on
the sward. The low clustering roofs of the town had a thin bluish haze
hovering about them, and were all softly and blurringly imposed on the
vaguely blue sky and the dim hills beyond. Among them a vertical silver
line glinted, sharply metallic,the steeple of a church. Here and
there a yellow light gleamed from a lamp within a window. No sound came
from the streets; all the life of the place seemed congregated here.
There was a continual succession of postulants to gaze through the
telescope, some gravely curious, some stolidly iconoclastic and
incredulous, others with covert levity, and still others,
self-conscious, solicitous, secretly determined to affect to see all
that other people could see, lest some subtle incapacity, some flagrant
rusticity, be inferred from failure. These last were hasty observers,
scarcely waiting to adjust the eye to the lens, fluttered, and prolific
of inapt exclamations, which too often betrayed the superficial
character of the investigation. To this class did Theodosia belong.
Plumb beautiful! she murmured under her breath, after a momentary
contact of her dazzled eye with the brass rim of the telescope.
Try ag'in, 'Dosia! exclaimed Justus, aghast at this perfunctory
dismissal of the comet, as she turned to go away.
She winced a little from his voice, clear, vibrant and urgent, for
Justus had no solicitude concerning the superior canons of Colbury
touching etiquette, and suffered none of her anxieties. She caught Dr.
Kane's eyes fixed upon him as she moved hastily away, and then he came
up beside Justus, who stood near the telescope.
Let me explain the thing to you, Hoxon, he said. Try a peep
Justus glanced after her. Walter had joined hernot so soon,
however, but that she heard a half-suppressed criticism on her lover as
he turned to the telescope and Dr. Kane's exposition.
Pity he's got no educationsmart fellow, but can't even read and
Smart enough to be an apt pupil. The others pressed close around,
listening to the measured voice of the physician and the quick,
pertinent questions of the star-gazer.
It is as an open scroll, that magnificent, wonder-compelling cult of
the skies, not the sealed book of other sciences. Since the days of the
Chaldean, all men of receptive soul in solitary places, the sailor, the
shepherd, the hunter, or the hermit, whether of the wilderness of
nature or the isolation of crowds, have read there of the mystery of
the infinite, of the order and symmetry of the plan of creation, of the
proof of the existence of a God, who controls the sweet influences of
Pleiades and makes strong the bands of Orion. The unspeakable thought,
the unformulated prayer, the poignant sense of individual littleness,
of atomic unimportance, in the midst of the vast scheme of the
universe, inform every eye, throb in every breast, whether it be of the
savant, with all the appliances of invention to bring to his cheated
senses the illusion of a slightly nearer approach, or of the
half-civilized llanero of the tropic solitudes, whose knowledge
suffices only to note the hour by the bending of the great Southern
Cross. It is the heritage of all alike.
For Justus Hoxon, who had followed the slow march of the stars
through many a year in the troubled watches of the night, when anxiety
and foreboding could make no covenant with sleep, there was, in one
sense, little to learn. He knew them all in their several seasons, the
time of their rising, when they came to the meridian, and when they
were engulfed in the west, till with another year they sparkled on the
eastern rim of the sky. He listened to Dr. Kane's explanation of this
with an air of acceptance, but he hardly heeded the detail of their
distance from the earth and from one anotherhe knew that they were
far,and he shook his head over speculations as to their physical
condition, vegetation, and inhabitation. Ye ain't got no sort o' means
o' knowin' sech, Doctor, he said reprehensively, gauging the depths of
the ignorance of the wise man.
He heard their names with alert interest, and repeated them swiftly
after his mentor to set them in his memory. By George! he cried
delightedly, I hed no idee they hed names!
And as the amateur astronomer, pleased with so responsive a glow,
began the tracing of the fantastic imagery of the constellations,
detailing the story of each vague similitude, he marked the sudden dawn
of a certain enchantment in his interlocutor's mind, the first subtle
experience of the delights of the ideal and the resources of fable. It
exerted upon Dr. Kane a sort of fascinated interest, the observation of
this earliest exploration of the realms of fancy by so keen and
receptive an intelligence. The comet, the telescope, the crowd, were
forgotten, as with Hoxon at his elbow he made the tour of the
court-house yard, from point to point, wherever the best observation
might be had of each separate sidereal etching on the deep blue. For a
time the crowd casually watched them with a certain good-natured
ridicule of their absorption, and the telescope maintained its interest
to the successive wights who peered through at the comet still
splendidly ablaze despite the light of the gibbous moon. The ranks of
young people promenaded up and down the brick walks and the grassy
spaces. Elder gossips sat on the court-house steps, or stood in groups,
and discussed the questions of the day. Gradually disintegration began.
The clangor of the gate rose now and then as homeward-bound parties
passed through, becoming constantly more frequent. Still the shifting
back and forth of the thinning ranks of the peripatetic youth went on,
and laughter and talk resounded from the court-house steps. At
intervals the telescope was deserted; the motionless trees were bright
with the moon and glossy with the dew. The voice of guard-dogs was now
and again reverberated from the hills. The languid sense of a late hour
had dulled the pulses, and when Justus Hoxon turned back to earth it
was to an almost depopulated scene, the realization of the approach of
midnight, and the sight of Theodosia sitting alone in the moonlight on
the steps of the east door of the court-house, waiting for him with a
touching patience, as it seemed to him at the moment.
Air you-uns waitin' fur me, 'Dosia, all by yerse'f? he demanded
hastily, with a contrite intonation.
I 'pear to be all by myse'f, she said, with a playful feigning of
uncertainty, glancing about her. She gave a forced laugh, and the
constraint in her tone struck his attention.
I 'lowed ez Wat war with ye, he said apologetically. Air ye ready
ter go over ter yer cousin Anice's now?
He was standing leaning against one of the columns of the portico,
his face half in the shadow of his hat and half in the moonlight.
She sat still upon the steps, looking up at him, her upturned eyes
taking an appealing expression from her lowly attitude. She was silent
for a moment, as if at a loss. Then suddenly her eyes fell.
'Pears ter me ter be right comical ter hev ter remind ye o'
what I promised ter tell ye 'lection day, she said.
Why, 'Dosia, he broke in vehemently, I hev axed ye twice ter-day,
an' I didn't ax ye jes' now 'kase ye hed been hyar so long alone, an' I
wanted ter take ye ter yer cousin Anice's ef so be ye wanted ter go.
He stopped for a moment. Then, with a change of tone, Ye can't make
out ez I hev been anything but hearty in lovin' yenearly all yer life
long! His voice rang out with a definite note of conviction, of
Reproach was an untenable ground. She desisted from the effort. Her
eyes wandered down the street that lay shadowy with gable, and
dormer-window, and long chimneys, in sharp geometric figures in the
moonshine, alternating with the deeper shadow of the trees. There were
no lights save a twinkle here and there in an upper window.
A flush rose to his pale cheeks. His heart was beating fast with
heavy presage. He hesitated to demand his fate at so untoward a moment.
He took off his hat, mechanically fanning with its broad brim, and
gazing about him at the slowly dulling splendor of the moonlight as the
disk tended further and further toward the west. The stars were
brightening gradually, and within the range of his vision flared the
great comet, every moment the lustre of its white fire intensifying. He
only saw; he did not note. His every faculty was concentrated on the
girl's drawling voice as she began again, hesitating, and evidently at
Waal, I hate ter tell ye, Justus, but I hev ter do it, an' I mought
ez well the day that I promised ter set the day. It'sit's
never! I ain't goin' ter marry ye at all!
He recoiled as from a blow. And yet he could not accept the fact.
The'dosia, he said, air ye mad with me 'kase ye 'low I forgot ye
Theodosia had recovered her poise. Now that she had begun she felt
suddenly fluent. It did not accord with her estimate of her own
attractions to dismiss a lover because he had forgotten her. She began
to find a relish in the situation, and sought to adjust its details
more accurately to her preferences.
Justus, I know ye never furgot me fur one minute. I kin find no
fault with yer likin' fur me.
She had never seen a stage. She had never heard of a theatre, but
she was posing and playing a part as definitely as if it graced the
He detected a certain spurious note in her voice. It bewildered him.
He stared silently at her.
I can't marry you-uns. I never kin.
Why? he demanded in a measured tone. How kem ye hev changed yer
mind? Ye hev told me often that ye would.
W-a-al, she drawled, looking away at the skies, her unthinking
eyes arrested, too, by the blazing comet, I did 'low wunst I
would. But a man with eddication would suit me bes', an' ye hain't got
No more hev ye, he argued warmly. He was clinging for dear life to
his vanishing hope of happiness. He did not realize depreciation in his
wordsonly the facts that made them suited to each other. Ye know ye
wouldn't take l'arnin' at schoolan' I couldn't git it;
'pears ter me we air 'bout ekal.
It air a differ in a 'oman, said Theodosia, quickly. A 'oman hev
got no call to be l'arned like a man.
This very subordinate view failed in this instance of the
satisfaction it is wont to give to the masculine mind.
Waal, ye didn't git enough l'arnin' ter hurt ye, he retorted.
Then, relenting, he added, But I don't find no fault with ye fur that
The color flared into her face. How she resented his clemency to her
ignorance! She still sat in her lowly posture on the step, leaning her
bare head against the column of the porch, for her bonnet lay on the
floor beside her; but there was a suggestion of self-assertion in her
I ain't expectin' ter live all my days in the woods, like a deer or
suthin' wild. I expec' ter live in town with eddicated folks, ez be
looked up ter, an' respected by all, an' kin make money, an' hev a
sure-enough house. Her ambitious eyes swept the shadowy gables down
He broke out laughing; his voice was softer; his face relaxed.
Laws-a-massy! Dosia, he exclaimed, yer head's plumb turned by one
day's roamin' round town. Ye won't be in sech a hurry ter turn me off
whenst we git back ter the mountings.
I ain't goin' back ter the mountings! she cried; I be a-goin' ter
marry a town man ez hev got position, an' eddication, an' place. She
paused, stung by the fancied incredulity in his eyes. Why not? Ain't I
She had risen to her feet; her eyes flashed upon him; her beautiful
face wore a look of pride. It might have elicited from another man a
protest of its beauty. He stared at her with an expression of alarm
that was almost ghastly.
Other men like me fur my looks, ef ye don't, Justus Hoxon, she
said in indignation.
Ef they jes' likes ye fur yer looks they won't like ye long, Hoxon
said severely. I'll like ye when yer brown head is ez white ez
cottonez much ez I like ye nowmore!more, I'll be bound! O
'Dosia, with a sudden renewal of tenderness, don't talk this hyar
cur'ous way! I dunno what's witched ye. But let's go home ter the
mountings, ter yer mother, an' see ef she can't straighten out any
tangle yer feelin's hev got inter.
It needed only thisthe allusion to her commonplace mother, the
recollection of the forlorn little mountain home, the idea of her
mother's insistent championship of Justus Hoxonto bring the avowal so
long trembling on her lips.
I won't! I ain't likin' ye nowadays, Justus Hoxon, nor fur a long
time past. I ain't keerin' nothin' 'bout ye.
There was something in her tone that carried conviction.
Air ye in earnest? he said, appalled.
He gazed at her in the ever dulling light, that yet was clear enough
to show every lineamenteven the long black eyelashes that did not
droop or quiver above her great blue eyes.
Then thar's no more to be said. He spoke in a changed voice, calm
and clear, and she stared at him in palpable surprise. She had expected
an outburst of reproach, of beseechings, of protestation. She had
braced herself to meet it, and she felt the reaction. She was hardly
capable of coping with seeming indifference. It touched her pride. She
missed the tribute of the withheld pleadings. She sought to rouse his
It's another man I like, she said, betteroh, a heap
That's all right, then.
He wondered to hear the words so glibly enunciated. His lips seemed
to him stiff, petrifying. He looked very white about them. She did not
heed. She was angered, wounded, perplexed, by his acquiescence, his
calmness, his taciturnity. A wave of anxiety that was half regret went
over her. She felt lost in the turmoil of these complex emotions. With
that destructive impulse to hurl down, to tear, to strike, that is an
element of a sort of blind irritation, she went on tumultuously:
He is a man ez hev got eddication, an' a place, an' a fine chance
an' show in lifeit'sit'syer brother Walter.
Her aim was true that time. Her shaft struck in the very core of his
heart: but the satisfaction of this knowledge was denied her. He looked
very white, it is true, but the pale moonlight was on his face; and he
only said in an undertone:
She laughed aloud, a sort of mockery of glee. She had expected to
enjoy the revelation, and her laughter was an incident of the scene as
she had planned it.
We war a-courtin' consider'ble o' the time whilst ye war off
electioneerin', she said, with the side glance of her old coquetry.
She saw his long shadow on the pavement bend forward and recoil
suddenly. She did not look at him.
An' so ter-night, she went on briskly,she had truly thought it a
very good joke,whilst you-uns war a-star-gazing an' sech, Wat an' me
jes stepped inter the register's office thar, an' the Squair married
us. We 'lowed ye didn't see nothin' of it through the tellingscope, did
ye? So Wat said I must tell ye, ez he didn't want ter tell ye.
She could not see his face, the light was dulling so, and he had
replaced his wide hat. There was a moment's silence. Then his voice
rang out quite strong and cheerful, Why, then thar's no more to be
He stood motionless an instant longer. Then suddenly he turned with
a wave of his hand that was like a gesture of farewell, and she marked
how swiftly his shadow seemed to slink from before him as he walked
away, and passed the corner of the house, and disappeared from view.
She gazed silently after him for a moment. Then, leaning against the
column, she burst into a tumult of tears.
* * * * *
Daylight found Justus Hoxon far on the road to the mountains. In the
many miles, as he fared along, his thoughts could hardly have been
pleasant company. As he sought to discover fault or flaw in himself,
search as he might, he could find naught that might palliate the
flippant faithlessness of his beloved, or the treachery of his brother.
His ambition might have been too worldly a thing, but not a pulse of
that most vital emotion beat for himself. He realized it nowhe
realized his life in looking back upon this completed episode, as he
might have done in the hour of death. He had so expended himself in the
service of others that there was naught left for him. He had no
gratulation in it, no sense of the virtue of unselfishness, no
preception of achievement; it only seemed to him that his was the most
flagrant folly that ever left a man in the world, but with no place in
it. A sorry object for pride he seemed to himself, but he quivered, and
scorched, and writhed in its hot flames. His one object was to take
himself out of the sight and sound of Colbury, till he might have
counsel within himself, and perfect his scheme of revengenot upon the
woman. Poor Theodosia, with her limitations, could hardly have
conceived how she had shattered the ideal to which her image had
conformed in his mind, as she had stood on the porch and vaunted her
beauty, and her belief in its power, and her pitiful ambitions. The
woman was heartily welcome to the lot she had chosen. But the
treacherous man,it was not in Justus Hoxon's scheme of things to
receive a blow and return nothing. A hardy fighter he was esteemed,
albeit his prowess was eclipsed by his more peaceful virtues. This,
however, should be returned in kind. He would make no attack to be put
in the wrong, arrested, perhaps, after the Colbury interpretation of
assault and battery. But Walter had many a weak point in his armor,
glaringly apparent now to the once fond brother.
Only a surly, bitter word he had for greeting to the few neighbors
whom he met, and who went their way in the conviction that his brother
had lost his election; for none ascribed any emotion of Justus Hoxon's
to his own sake.
He reached in the evening the little cabin where the padlock hung on
the door, and the heavy, untrodden dust of the drought lay without; and
so it was that the old days when Fambly had struggled through their
humble experiences came back to him with that incomparable sweetness of
the irrevocable past. Hardships! How could there be, with fond faith in
one another, and in all the world! Povertyso rich they were in love!
Life, after all, is more than meat, and there is no hunger like that of
a famished heart. He reviewed that forlorn, anxious, struggling
orphanage, transfigured in the subtle glow of regretful, loving memory,
as one might gaze into the rich glamours of a promised land. Alas, that
our promised land should be so often the land we made haste to leave!
As he sat down on the step he saw the ragged cluster of children troop
down the road from twenty years agone, almost as if he actually beheld
them, himself at the head. He could still feel their plump palms
clinging to his hand at the first suggestion of danger. He had led them
a right thorny path, each to a successful goal. And now could he turn
against Fambly? Should he denounce the treachery of one of the little
group that he could see huddling together for warmth on the meagre
hearthstone, while outside the snows of a long-vanished winter were
a-whirl? Should he pull down the temple on Walter's successthe pride
of them all? He remembered how his sisters, with that feminine
necessity of hero-worship in their untaught little hearts, had clung
about Walter. He remembered too that almost every thought of his own
life had been given to this man, who had ruthlessly and secretly robbed
him of all that was dear to him, and in such wise as to hold him up to
ridicule, a scoffing jest, a very good joke! So Walter considered it,
and so doubtless would all Colbury. It would have surprised Walter, but
his sometime mentor's cheek burned with shame for him.
No; the claims of Fambly were paramount. He gave it precedence, as
in the old days he had denied himself when Fambly dined at the
skillet, and the bone and the broken bit he took for his share. He
could not bring discredit upon it. He would not lift his hand against
it. It was the object of a lifelong allegiance, and he only marveled
that, since the uses of the loyalty were at an end, the empty life
should go on. He gazed mechanically at the padlock as he sat there with
his dreary thoughts, remembering with what different heart he had
turned the key. Ah, Happinessto pass out from a door, and knock there
He rose at last, his burden adjusted to his strength. He had never
worked for thanks. It hardly mattered to him now how his efforts were
requited. And though he encountered treachery at close quarters,of
his own household,it was not in his heart to be a traitor to Fambly
and its obvious interests. So he too went out from the door in the
footprints of Happinesslikewise to return no more.
* * * * *
Walter Hoxon had not altogether ill-gauged the general proclivity to
deem all fair in love or war. He was accounted to have performed
something of a feat in the clever outwitting of his unsuspecting rival,
and to the minds of the many there was an element of the romantic in
this hasty wedding of the damsel of his choice almost under the eyes of
the expectant bridegroom. He had added to the prestige of success in
politics the lustre of valiance in the lists of love, and he
encountered laughing congratulations from his friends and political
supporters, which served much to reassure him and to banish a vague and
subtle anxiety as to public opinion that had begun to gnaw at his
heart. They all seemed to think he had done a very fine thing, and that
it was a very good joke, and he was soon most jauntily of their
persuasion. He could not know that here and there people were saying to
one another, aside, the words he had feared to hear in reproachthat
the swain whom he and his lady-love had conspired to dupe was his
brother, who had done everything for himhad, as a mere child,
encountered and vanquished poverty, had clothed and educated this man
and his sisters, had served his every interest with a perfect
self-abnegation all his life; that it was his brother who had won his
election, being a man of much influence and untaught eloquence, and of
great native tact and intelligence; that the secrecy, the conspiracy,
and the publicity of the dramatic dénouement, in lieu of an open
rivalry, rendered it a case of the most flagrant ingratitude, and
argued much unworthiness in the people's choice.
But suddenly a doubt began to prevail as to whether he were the
people's choice. In the returns from the farthest districts, not heard
from till quite late in the day, in which Walter Hoxon had felt secure,
Quigley developed unexpected strength. In great perturbation Walter
swiftly patrolled the town in search of Justus; unprecedented
developments were imminent, and he hardly dared face the emergency
without his valiant backer at hand. Justus had disappeared as utterly
as if the night had swallowed him up.
Consarn the tormentin' critter! exclaimed Walter, mopping his brow
as he stood at the little gate of Mrs. Elmer's yard, returning thither,
after his fruitless searching, in the hope of finding his brother among
the familiar faces. Mad ez a hornet, I'll be bound, an' lef' me in the
lurch. Beat arter all, I'll bet!
Theodosia listened, tremulous, aghast. All the fine prospects that
had seemed so near, into whose charming perspectives she might in
another moment have stepped as actually as upon that path to the gate,
were drawing away, dissolving, as tenuous, as intangible, as those
morning sunlit mists shifting and rising from before the massive blue
ranges of the Great Smoky Mountains, and dallying with the distances
I tole ye ag'in an' ag'in ye bes' not be too sure, she
said, a sob in her throat, with an obvious disposition to wreak her
disappointment upon him.
It was crushed in the moment.
He turned a frowning face full upon her. Hold yer jaw! he cried
violently. Ef 't warn't for you-uns I'd hev Justus hyar, an' I'll be
bound he could fix it. Ye miserable deceitful crittersettin'
two own brothers at loggerheads! I'll take no word from you-uns
He shook his head indignantly at her, clapped his hat upon it, and
turned desperately away as a man came running up. Have ye found
Justus? Wat exclaimed.
Justus? No. But they say it's a tiea tie!
For the news was already bruited throughout the townin a ferment
of excitement, because of the closeness of the contestthat the two
candidates, racing gallantly neck and neck, had come under the wire
together with not so much as the point of a nose to distinguish the
Walter stood still for a moment, his dark eyes dilated with
eagerness and anxiety. Suddenly he leaned back against the gate-post
with a deep sigh of relief and relaxation.
Then it's all right, he exclaimed breathlessly. The coroner's my
frien', ef I ain't got another in the worl'. Old Beckett will stan' by
As the coroner held the election, the sheriff himself being a
candidate, it was his duty to give the casting vote. This prolongation
of the jeopardy of the result heightened the popular interest, the more
as the officer did not immediately decide upon his action in the
I want a leetle time ter think it overa leetle time fur the
casting vote, he said, as he gnawed at a plug of tobacco, then crossed
his ponderous legs while he leaned back in a splint-bottomed chair in
the register's office.
He was a tall, portly man, with a large, round imperious face,
thatched heavily with iron-gray hair. He wore no beard, and was dressed
in brown jeans, which imparted a certain sallowness to his dark
complexion. He had small gray eyes, at once shrewd and good-natured,
but his manner was bluff, imperative, and all the judiciary of the
State could hardly have compassed an expression of a greater sense of
He was observed with much interest by a number of men who lounged
about the room. A tense sub-current of curiosity underlay the suspense
natural to the occasion, for it was well known to the gossips about the
court-house that he and the sheriff had not been on the best of terms;
when their official functions had happened to bring them into contact
they had clashed smartly, and the county rang with their feuds. His
course was obvious to allhis hesitation only an affectation, lest a
too vehement animosity be imputed to him.
Poor Quigley's cake is dough, observed one of the incumbent's
friends in an undertone, standing with his hands in his pockets, and
gazing through the long dark vista of the hall out of the door into the
sunlight's glow, as it fell upon the few houses and the great stretch
of arable land beyond. A horizontal shadow of a cloud lay at its
extremity, as definite as a material barrier, and far above it rose
tiers of green and bronze hills like a moulding to the base of the
This never happened in this county before, said the register,
glancing up from a big book in which he was copying the doings of the
party of the first part and the party of the second partthe
familiar spirits of his den.
Why, no! exclaimed the coroner, with a pleased laugh. To me the
castin' vote is ez phee-nomenal an' ez astonishin' ez the
comet. He chuckledthe fat man's unctuous laugh. Something like the
comet, too: it has its place in the legal firmament, but 't ain't often
necessary to use it.
That war a toler'ble funny tale 'bout the comet they air a-tellin'
roun' town, observed a young countryman pausing in front of the two,
his hands in his pockets, his hat on the back of his red head, a wide
grin of enjoyment on his freckled face,about the feller that hed his
sweetheart a-courtin' out hyar in the yard last night, an' tuk ter
lookin' at the comet through the spy-glass, an' whilst he war busy
a-star-gazin' the comet, another feller stepped up with the Squair, an'
married his galha! ha! ha!
Beckett looked up interested. Incongruously enough a vein of romance
ran through the massive strata of conceit, and intolerance, and
vainglory, and pertinacity, and pugnacity that made up the very
definite structure of his nature. He dearly loved a lover. He was as
sentimental as a girl of eighteen, and he melted instantly into suavest
amenities at the first intimation of a love-story in abeyance.
I ain't heard 'bout that, he said in a mellifluous voice. Ye know
I was tucked up in yonderhe jerked his thumb over his
shouldertendin' to the countin' of the votes, bein'
returnin'-officer. Who married?
Why this hyar Walter Hoxonhim ez is candidate fur sher'ff, said
the red-haired interlocutor, widening his grin.
Beckett elevated his heavy, grizzled eyebrows. A sudden, secret,
important look, as if he were colloguing with some one vanquished in
argument, crossed his face. He nodded once or twice, but only said
acquiescently: Ahha! Ahha! Toler'ble enterprisin'. Run fur office
an git married 'lection day.
He smiled broadly. Any innovation on the stereotyped methods
appealed to him with the grace and relish of a new metre to a neophytic
Wat's a nice boy, a mighty good boy, too, he went on, with his
oily voice quite soft. Run mighty well in this 'lection, too. He's a
mighty smart, good boy.
He nodded his big head approvingly. I don't wonder he cut the
t'other feller out. Mighty fine feller Wat is.
Well, now, said the register, suddenly putting his pen behind his
ear, and leaving the party of the first part and the party of the
second part to their own devices, I'm blest if I don't think Justus is
worth a hundred of Wat, lock, stock, an' barrel.
Once more the grizzled eyebrows went up toward the iron-gray thatch
of the coroner's forehead. Justus! I'm free ter say I dunno
nobody equal ter Justus. I hev known Justus sence he war knee-high ter
a pa'tridgethe way he did keer fur them chil'n, an' brung 'em up ter
be equal ter anybody in the lan'! An' smartsmart ain't the
word fur him! Ef he hed education he could do anything; but he hed ter
stan' back an' let the t'other chil'n git it. Whar would Wat be ef 't
warn't fur Justus?
That's what makes me say 't was a mighty mean trick he played on
Justus, the register broke in.
Who? How? demanded the coroner.
Why, Justus was the t'other feller. Wat an' the girl never let
him have an inklin' of it. They just fooled him along, believin'
she was goin' ter marry him. An' las' night when it was reported
all over town that Wat was elected, an' Justus took time from
electioneerin' fur his brother to breathe, they tolled him out to look
at the comet, an' slipped off an' married.
The man of sentiment, with the election in his hand, sat looking
loweringly about him. His satisfaction was wilted; his fat hung
flabbily on his big bones; his small eyes were hard and cold.
Waal, he said, rising at last, these extry an' occasional
opportunities like comets an' castin' votes oughter be took full
advantage offull advantage of; no doubt about that.
And thus it was that the casting vote tipped the scale in favor of
He's ez hard-headed, an' ty_rannical, an' per_verse, an'
cantankerous a critter ez ever lived, with no feelin's, nor softness,
nor perliteness in himbut he's a square man. He'll do the fair
thingevery time, the coroner said in explanation.
And so he braced himself for another term of official wrangling.
* * * * *
Poor Theodosia! She never forgot that return home, through all the
dust of the drought and the glare of the midsummer sun. Even to herself
her nature seemed too small for the magnitude of the various anguish
which she was called upon to endure. The sharp alternations of
certainty and doubt which she had undergone seemed slight, seemed
naught, in comparison with the desolate finality of despair, the fang
of hopeless regret, and the dread of the veiled future with which she
had made no covenant of expectation or preparation, that preyed upon
every plodding step as she went. Her anxiety as to the wisdom of her
course was not assuaged by the aghast dismay of her mother's face, when
she reached the little house overlooking the encircling mountains,as
still, as meditative, as majestically unmoved, as if no more troublous
world existed,and unfolded the story of her visit to Colbury. She
felt for the first time in her life how Justus Hoxon's friend merited
his confidence. Her mother had no reproaches, no sarcasms, no outbursts
of grief. She addressed herself to the support and the comforting of
her daughter, but with so evident a hopelessness and an expectation of
bitter things to come that the girl burst out sobbing afresh.
D' ye think Wat air so wuthless ez all that!
The discipline of life began for her here. As the price of his
political defeat, Walter had scant relish for the triumph he had scored
in love. He was surly, taciturn, or else loud with reproaches and
criminations, which grew more vehement and contumelious if she
answered, seeking to exculpate or justify herself; and if she were
silent, her submission seemed to exasperate him and to develop a crafty
ingenuity in finding fault. He brooded grimly on his brother's probable
exultation when he should return and hear the news of the casting vote.
To fortify himself for the encounter he spent much time at the still,
and his drunken, reasonless wrath was even more formidable to the
object of his displeasure than his sober, surly resentment against her
as the cause of all his disasters. But Justus did not come. Walter
began to doubt if the news of the untoward result of the election, in
which he had spent all his energies, had reached him. He also began to
desire, contradictorily enough, that his brother should know it. For
although Justus must needs recognize it as a mortal blow to his dearest
foe, it had the capacity of doing much execution in its recoil. Justus
had had the election so greatly at heart; he had struggled, and
planned, and managed with such preternatural activity and tact and
energy from the first, that it would smite him hard to know that it was
all in vain. And then his vicarious ambitions, his pride, his pleasure,
in the elevation of Fambly! Walter cast about futilely for an
assurance that he might have the satisfaction of reducing all this. He
knew that Justus, in his mistaken certainty of the result of the
election, would not ask for information, and that he could not read the
newspapers. A lettereven if there were any remote presumption as to
his addresswould lie indefinitely in the mail, and find its way at
last to the Dead Letter Office.
Walter realized after a time that Justus intended to return no
morethe woman he loved was his brother's wife. Justus had probably
put the breadth of the State between them, Walter sneeringly concluded.
He made haste to quarrel with his wife's mother, in his perverse
relish of aught that might give Theodosia pain, and they quitted her
home and took up their residence in the house in which Theodosia had
once expected to live, the scene of the early struggles of Fambly.
Theodosia's beauty could hardly be said to fade; it disappeared in
the overblowing. She grew very fat and unwieldy as the years wore on;
her face broadened, her florid complexion degenerated into a mottled
red and purple. She was no prettier than her mother had been when she
ridiculed her lover's eulogy of her mother's spiritual beauty. She had
a hard life with her drunken, idle, slothful husband, who habitually
imputed to her agency every evil that had ever befallen him, holding it
to excuse him from all exertion to better their very poor estate, and
whose affection had been easily kindled by her beauty and as easily
* * * * *
Justus, self-exiled from the mountains, tramped the valley roads,
hardly caring whither, and drifted finally to the outskirts of one of
the large manufacturing towns of Tennessee. He worked for some seasons
doggedly, drudgingly, on a farm near by, but found a sort of
entertainment in the sights and sounds within the city limits, as
having no association with the past which his memory dreaded. He
prospered in some sort, for although he was ignorant of all methods of
skilled labor, fidelity is an art with so few proficients that friends
and opportunities were not lacking. His progress was somewhat hampered,
however, despite his evident intelligence, by a doubt which prevailed
concerning his mental balance. He was often observed to stand and gaze
smilingly, fondly, after any group of ragged, dirty children; he,
although of the poorest, was profuse in gratuities to any callow beggar
who did not know enough of the world's ways to expect nothing of such
as he, as did the older ones. He could not read, but he bought
newspapers from the smallest of the guild of newsboys, and meditatively
turned the sheets in his hand, and then softly and slowly tore them to
bits. And these things created a doubt of his sanity, for who could
know how Fambly looked at him from the pinched face of every poor,
and cold, and hungry child?
At last, despite this unsuspected drawback, a congenial occupation
came to him. He was night watchman at a great factory, and as he paced,
all solitary, back and forth in the yard, he was wont to note the stars
as the infallible seasons brought them into place; and he began to
remember their names, and to trace the strange configuration of the
constellations, and to con again the stories woven into their shining
meshes which he heard at the time that the great comet blazed among
And this is his never failing interestdark summer nights, when the
Galaxy opens a broad avenue of constellated light across the heavens,
seeming a veritable road, as if it might be the way to God's throne,
beaten hard and bright by the feet of saints and martyrs; or when the
moon is full, and autumnal glamours reign, and only the faint sidereal
outlines prevail; or when winter winds are high, and the snow lies on
slanting roofs, and spires gleam with icicles, and Orion draws his
scintillating blade; or when, all bedight in scarlet, Arcturus and his
sons are guided into the vernal sky.